Just as each woman journeying towards Mamahood is unique, every trimester of pregnancy brings about different experiences—both wondrous... and, well, less than glamorous. From a glowing complexion to backache and swelling, our bodies go through incredible changes as we nourish and grow the Little Ones within us. Whether or not you practiced yoga before pregnancy, prenatal yoga is an excellent way to stay fit, connect with Baby, and prepare for labor as you journey through all the ups and downs of becoming a Mama.
Today we’re sharing six yoga poses you can begin today, which are ideal for women in their 1st trimester.
1. Easy Pose
What better way to begin your prenatal yoga practice than by connecting with your growing Baby. After all, this practice is for you both! Begin by finding a comfortable seat. Bringing one hand to your heart and the other to Baby, grow tall through the spine. Let every inhale fill your belly, making lots of space for your Little One. With every exhale, draw Baby in & up into a cozy abdominal hug. Now is the perfect time to contemplate a special wish or intention for your pregnancy journey. Continue for 5-10 breaths.
Tip: Sitting on a bolster or block will keep your hips comfortable and relaxed so you can focus on Baby.
Cat/Cow is a favourite warm-up posture, which promotes spinal mobility while gently working core strength. Begin with a neutral spine, palms beneath shoulders and knees beneath hips. On an exhale, curl your spine into Cat pose, drawing Baby in & up as you drop your gaze to your belly. Really empty your lungs before your next energizing inhale! As you breath in, return to a long neutral spine. Continue for 5-10 breaths.
Tip: Many women experience lower backache as their growing bump may cause them to sway their spine throughout the day. Make a conscious effort not to exaggerate the arch of your “cow” pose, and instead focus on a strong neutral spine position.
3. Open Twist
Gentle twisting not only promotes good spinal health, it also feels wonderful after a night of trying to sleep exclusively on your left side! This twist opens both the chest and back while stretching the inner thigh. Begin in Tabletop position. Extend your right leg along the mat, foot inline with the supporting knee. Inhale to sweep your right arm up as you open your chest to the right side wall. Exhale to lower your right arm, threading it under the left supporting arm. Continue for 3-5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Tip: Avoid “closed” twists throughout your pregnancy (where your leg and shoulders travel in opposite directions across your midline) . Instead, focus on “open” twists, which won’t over-stretch the muscles and ligaments connected to your growing uterus.
4. Low Lunge
Low Lunge encourages openness through the hips and lengthening along the thighs. Beginning in Tabletop, step your left leg to the outer edge of your left hand. Inhale to sweep both arms up, fingers extending towards the ceiling. As you exhale, focus on lifting through the crown of your head and sliding your shoulder blades down your back to create a nice long neck. Be sure to draw Baby in & up throughout the pose in order to protect your lower back from over-arching. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Tip: To focus on strengthening rather than stretching, vary this pose by simply lifting the knee to straighten the lower leg for a High Lunge.
5. Downward Dog
Did you know Downward Dog is considered by many yogis to be an inversion? While you may not be practicing headstands during your 1st trimester, you can reap the benefits of elevating your heart above your head with this classic pose, including increased oxygen and blood to the brain. Begin in Tabletop position with fingers spread and palms planted evenly on your mat. Inhale to curl your toes under and engage your shoulders. Exhale to lift the knees and straighten your legs. Inhale to create a long spine, and exhale to lower your heels towards the earth. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Tip: Be sensitive to feelings of nausea, which are all too familiar to 1st trimester Mamas. If inverting your torso triggers sickness, try sitting in Staff Pose; extend both legs in front of you as you lengthen your torso towards the ceiling. Hands rest at your sides.
6. Dolphin Pushup
Many prenatal yoga practices focus on opening the hips and strengthening the legs, but don’t forget about your upper body! Dolphin Push-Ups work the upper back, shoulders, chest, AND arms, all while challenging the abdominals – Bonus. Beginning in Tabletop position, lower your forearms to the ground and interlace the fingers. Lift your knees off the ground, to straighten your legs as in Downward Dog. Inhale to hinge forward until your chin hovers above your hands, keeping shoulder blades drawn down your back. Exhale to return to Dolphin Pose. Repeat for 3-5 breaths.
Tip: If the transition from Dolphin Pose to Push-Up position feels too intense for your abdominals, gently lower your knees to the ground for more support.
To make this a complete practice, be sure to end with your favourite resting poses. And, as with every yoga class you enjoy, be sure to listen to your body’s changing needs. We hope these yoga poses help you to feel open and strong throughout your journey!
Written by Psychotherapist, Lisha Cash, MSW, RSW
Why does this impact sleep? Well, if you're a "thinker", you probably have analyzed every single thing on your to-do list from every possible angle. You go over your options, brainstorm ways to meet your goals, list all of the pros and cons to your plans/ideas, and the various paths you could take to get there. At times, in between all of the planning, comes doubt. You may start feeling like you are unable reach your goals, which may be due to a lack of time or other elements of life taking priority. Cue "Mom Guilt" here. AKA you feel guilty for even thinking about doing tasks other than spending time with your children. It is a hard balance, reaching personal goals and aspirations, when the reality is, you also want to live in a world where you can feel inspired, while fully nurturing your family to the best of your ability. This is all enough to keep you up at night, let alone the day-to-day tasks, schedule changes, planning and preparation that come with being a parent.
It is common to use lists as a way to reduce anxiety when you feel life is a bit out of control or you require some type of organization. Lists can equate productivity. When generating a list, it may seem like you are being proactive rather than reactive. For mamas, this can feel great. That being said, lists have also been known to increase anxiety when it feels like they keep getting longer and nothing seems to be getting done. So, dependant on how you perceive list-making, you'll determine if this is a helpful practice or not. Seeing that the "to-do" list route is not always the best method for everyone, here are some alternative exercises you can utilize during the late hours of the evening, when you need to quiet, intrusive, ruminating thoughts.
1. Tell your story
Whether it be talking out loud (maybe you can get your partner some ear plugs), writing a journal entry, creating a blog post, writing a poem, or utilizing whatever medium you gravitate towards, telling your story might help to release some of your anxious energy. Similar to how we all have different learning styles, processing our day and our thoughts is very individual. Getting it down on paper or using your medium/creativity to simply put it out into the universe, may allow you to process your thoughts in a different way and facilitate your ability to move into a more rested state of mind.
2. Practice slow, deep breathing.
This is a common strategy used to calm yourself, and can be helpful in so many different aspects of your life. Finding a way to ground yourself through breath can be calming and may help you move into a rested mindset, which will allow you to drift off to sleep without even noticing it. If you feel safe closing your eyes, take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly release the air out of your nose or mouth, whichever you prefer. I usually say a minimum of ten slow, deep breaths, but you can keep going until you're ready for sleep. While doing this task, aim to clear your mind and focus solely on your breath. How it feels filling your lungs and expanding into your belly. Pulling your focus to the breath and your body, should help calm your mind.
3. Get some water.
Sometimes stepping out of the physical space and/or situation can reset the body and mind. By leaving the room and getting some water, you have a task to do and it helps to break the cycle you're in. Rather than continuing to sit in your ruminating thoughts, this break may facilitate your ability to refocus, helping to ground you, bring you back to neutral, get out of your head, which will help to settle you down for sleep.
If you have had any experience with mindfulness-based counselling, you may have gone through a visualization. The purpose of a visualization exercise is to bring awareness inwards, essentially allowing you to feel present in your body and be mindful of your thoughts. Visualizations are great because you can do them while still in bed and it takes your mind away from ruminating thoughts and refocus from a more relaxed state of mind. There are visualization exercises online or phone/tablet apps that you can get to walk you through one but it could be as simple as closing your eyes and visualizing a different place. A place that you find to be calm and beautiful, peaceful and free. It is recommended to couple your visualization with slow, deep, breathing. This not only relaxes the mind, it can bring awareness to your body and help you to settle into a calmer state of mind.
5. Count your blessings. Literally.
We know that counting sheep is definitely helpful from time-to-time and this is a similar exercise. Please note, this exercise is not meant to add to your ruminating thoughts. So, if you feel it could go that route, do not practice this method. Also, if you feel that you are not in a place where you can think of anything positive in your life, take a reflective moment to consider seeking outside support. If you are in this space, receiving outside support from people you love and trust and/or a professional would be a good next step for your emotional well-being.
This exercise is intended to redirect your negative thoughts/self-talk and focus your thoughts on a more positive wavelength. Go over elements of your life that you’re happy and grateful for. More often than not, we tend to ruminate on the negative aspects of our life or our “to do” list. Do your best to calm your mind by thinking about all of the elements in your life that make you happy and that you feel confident in. Negative thoughts may creep in, so try to work on recognizing them, accepting that they exist but, for now, you’ll say good night and you will tackle them tomorrow. You can also utilize visualization in this practice as you drift off to sleep.
6. Read a book. (A physical copy, if possible)
Pick up a good book, whether it be an old faithful or something you have had sitting on the sidelines. Be sure to make a choice that does not generate any other emotion than happiness/zen. How often have you read a book and you find yourself slowly falling asleep, needing to re-read those pages over again? It can be helpful to lose ourselves in a good book. It may simply bring you out of your own head and into another story. This story should not have any personal stake in your life, so you do not have to worry about the details, just simply enjoy the visualization it creates. I also suggest a physical copy for good sleep hygiene. I know with the technology these days, it is probably getting better with e-readers and issues with the blue light . However, it is suggested no back-lit devices prior to bed as it leads to less melatonin production, which impacts your ability to fall asleep. That is why they also say no televisions and cell phones before bed... I wonder the impact of our baby monitors on our nightstand... might explain a few things.
7. Utilize sound.
When your brain won’t stop, sometimes it is helpful to fill it with something else. If you’re a music guru you probably already have a great playlist for sleep. If not, try it out. Focus on a playlist that is calming and does not generate emotional thoughts from past, present or future, and is a tone that resembles what calm feels like. We want to ensure that the music does not generate unnecessary energy. Pick something soothing, that will lull you into a sleep. If you want to, set a timer, so the music will turn off automatically as a means of avoiding waking back up to do so. Disrupted sleep is no better. Additional options would be to turn on a fan or use a sound machine (they can help adults too).
8. Utilize an App.
Good sleep hygiene suggests no screens close to bedtime. So, if you utilize a meditation app on your device, try to cue it up prior to starting your bedtime routine. This will help you avoid screen time and distractions prior to bed, and allow you to quickly put away the phone after. An app I would recommend is, The Calm App. It helps guide you through meditation exercises, has calming music, has sleep stories etc. Load up the app, lay back, close your eyes, and listen.
A large majority of what I have listed here would be considered activities associated with meditation. You can actually flow through a few of these exercises in sequence and make it a regular part of your meditative practice. For meditation exercises, you could easily find a guided version on the Calm App, but here is an example of a meditation using some of the exercises listed in this post:
Put on some light, calming music, lay in bed, and find a comfortable position. Closing your eyes, ease into the meditation by taking slow, deep breaths. As you lay on the mattress, begin to feel grounded as you visualize your body slowly sinking into the cushion. Check in with your mind and body. Notice any points in your body where you feel tightness or pain, and breath into those areas. Focus on your breath and let go of any thoughts that may be trying to make their way back into your consciousness. Pay attention to the rising and falling of your breath, notice your chest breathing, and how that feels in your body. Be mindful of any thoughts that have entered your mind, and let them go. Focusing on breath for a few more minutes. If you are still not ready for bed and your mind continues to wander, visualize your day. From start to finish, what brought you to this moment. Only take a few minutes to get yourself to this present time, focusing on the important part of your story from the day, and not getting wrapped up in any new thoughts and feelings. Now bring awareness back to your body, slowly starting from the feet to the top of your head. Putting each and every part of your body to rest, every toe and finger all the way up to the last hair on your head. Sinking deeper into the mattress, grounding yourself in the present and focusing on your breath. Allowing yourself to feel rested, and paying only minor attention to fleeting thoughts until you fall asleep.
10. When all else fails. Write a list.
Okay. I know, I said writing a list does not work for everyone. However, sometimes getting it down on paper can help clear the mind. We may ruminate on information simply because we do not want to forget that it needs to be done. Having a pad of paper and pen in your nightstand is a great way to jot it down and put it to rest, so you can rest. I do not recommend using your notes app on your phone because by doing so, you are reintroduced to the blue light, which is disruptive to your sleep hygiene. In addition, it can create a whole new distraction, especially if someone has emailed or messaged you. Keeping it very simple, pen to paper, saves us from potential distractions. Do your best to only list the thoughts or tasks that are on your mind in that moment. Avoid trying to brainstorm everything else you can add because that can generate a whole new world of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes the simple task of putting the thought out in the universe can ease your mind and help you put it to rest. Sometimes it is helpful to actually say out loud. “I recognize the importance of this task, but I cannot do it right now, so I will write it down and revisit it tomorrow.” I know it may seem silly, but telling yourself this out loud helps relieve some of the concern that you will not make it a priority/forget to do it.
To sum it all up…
Getting adequate sleep is a difficult battle. You can feel utterly exhausted yet be wide awake and unable to sleep. It is truly a difficult concept to wrap your head around. You feel that you would do literally anything to get some sleep, and yet you simply cannot get yourself into the right mindset to actually fall asleep. It can be frustrating, disheartening, anxiety provoking and leave you feeling defeated. These feelings can be especially heightened when you are a sleep deprived pre or postnatal mama. We know that sleep deprivation is a huge risk factor for perinatal mood disorders. Therefore, sleep needs to be protected and so often, it is not. Getting adequate sleep is one of the most vital goals for our perinatal well-being. Focus on your breath, calm your mind and body, and try to focus on being present. What is the saying? Worrying about tomorrow's troubles only takes away today's peace… well, some things are much easier said than done but I wish nothing but sweet dreams for you, Mama.
If you feel that this post has brought up overwhelming or unpleasant emotions, please book a counselling consultation/session here. You may also check out the Psychology Today website. You can search perinatal counsellors based on location. In the case of an emergency, please go to your nearest hospital. Your well-being is of the utmost importance. Be mindful to practice self-care and seek outside support when you need it. With help, it will get better.