When I’m not paying careful attention, I walk a bit like a duck. Thanks to my father, hip opening poses have always been accessible to me. I recall many nights watching my dad play with one of our dogs while he sat, for extended periods of time, in agnistambhasana. Comfortably. While I can easily lay my head on the ground in cobblers pose, things that require a little more pelvic stability (i.e. graceful walking) have posed a bit of a challenge over the years. Thanks to relaxin, the hormone that runs rampant during pregnancy, that challenge became even more apparent during my own prenatal experiences. While there is a real power in letting go and surrendering to the way things naturally unfold I’d also argue that it’s helpful to feel as if your pelvis and lower back are within some semblance of your own control.
At the beginning of each of my prenatal yoga classes, everyone shares a bit about what’s going on in their lives and pregnancies. My friend and fellow yoga teacher, Sara, is pregnant with her first child. Her pregnancy has been a good and relatively smooth one and so her check-ins generally consist of sharing with the group some new food craving. For the past few weeks, though, she has lamented the current instability of her legs. “I feel like they’re going to fall off.” Like an itchy belly, restless leg syndrome, and losing feeling in your hands, having legs that feel so disconnected is an odd side effect of pregnancy, and one that doesn’t happen to all of us. That said, relaxin DOES have an effect on all of us, whether we are fully aware of it or not. This odd instability can be reflective of how we feel mentally and emotionally about pregnancy, as well as physically. While being present with the ebb and flow of the emotional current of this time is a good practice, working to counter the physical instability can be crucial for a number of reasons. Remaining upright, for one. (Ask to see the scar from my random parking lot spill during my pregnancy with Laine)
There are a few actions that you can take to encourage physical stability in your yoga practice, both before and after pregnancy. (Relaxin remains in your system up to four months after birth and, if you’re breastfeeding, can remain for much longer). Keeping the following in mind can be helpful in preventing injury as a result of joint instability.
- Steer clear of hot yoga classes. In addition to the impact that heat can have on your body temperature, it can also increase flexibility in a body that is already getting used to a new way of moving and being.
- Work to strengthen muscle groups surrounding the joints that, for you, tend to be particularly prone to instability. For a great number of women, it’s the lower back and sacroiliac joint that fall into this category. This is good news for childbirth, but not so great for the nine months prior. Some poses/actions in poses that can help to strengthen this area include:
- Squatting – While great for opening the pelvic floor and creating space and room in the hips and lower back, squatting can also provide great stability. Encourage stable action in your squat by pressing your upper arms into your inner legs and engaging back with your inner thighs. Pay attention to the four corners of your feet and ensure that you are pressing down evenly through the entire sole of both of your feet.
- Tadasana – In the deceptively simple mountain pose, a great deal of stability can be located by placing a block between your upper inner thighs. Practice gently squeezing the block while keeping the tops of your thighs rooting back and your lower back long. If your belly and baby aren’t infringing too greatly on your ability to move, you can even try to hold a block between your thighs as you move through a half sun salutation, or from downward dog to plank pose and back. Alexandra offers a fantastic use of the block between the thighs for postpartum stability in this previous post.
- In any asymmetrical pose, engage your muscles to draw back to the midline of your body. In a low lunge position, for example, instead of just allowing your hips and thighs to open as much as possible, press your back knee and front foot down into your mat and, without moving them, draw them energetically together. If any asymmetrical poses cause pain or discomfort because of the instability they cause, substitute a pose that does feel good to you, or ask an instructor for their recommendations.
- To actively strengthen the muscles in the butt and lower back, stand an arms length away from a wall and lift one foot directly out from your hip a few inches off of the ground. With control, lift the leg straight back a few more inches, pulsing the foot straight forward and back several times. Repeat on the other side.
- In everyday life, think about symmetry as you get into and out of the car, move around at work and at home, switch positions in bed, etc. Just the act of slowing down to contemplate the most safe and effective way to move can provide a stabilizing force.
- If things continue to feel a little unwound, many birth centers, maternity and baby stores and, of course, Amazon, sell maternity support belts that can help with both pelvic instability and back pain.
And, just like that, the lyrics to Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” start playing in my mind….