Using yoga poses to alleviate back and hip pain and give the body extra love and attention during pregnancy
During pregnancy, the body experiences many beautiful and exciting changes but these changes can also cause major physical discomfort. First, I encourage you to look inward and take note of every physical discomfort and embrace the mental and emotional experience you have as a result of these discomforts. To view the uncomfortable sensations as an opportunity to learn from your body and recognize the extra love and attention it needs at this time.
As your baby grows, your uterus grows as much as 1,000 times its original size and because it is centered in one area this amount of growth affects the balance of your body and is the main cause of back discomfort. As your belly grows you begin to lean back, which strains your spine. Also, due to this weight, your shoulders will begin to round forward which causes additional strain on the back.
A big culprit for hip pain is the pregnancy hormone relaxin that, as the name suggests, relaxes and loosens your joints and muscles to help prepare for delivery of the baby. Hip pain is usually caused by the loosening of the ligaments in the sacroiliac joint, which connects your spine to your pelvis. This causes SI dysfunction that leads to pain in the hips, lower back and legs. Additionally, a change in gait as you move through trimesters (think waddle) can add extra stress to this joint.
HOW TO FIND RELIEF:
Support your posture
A good position to find relief is to sit in a chair on a pillow and to have a pillow behind your back. Another option is to lay on your side with a pillow or towel between your knees to take the pressure off your lower back and hips. If you have taken one of my prenatal yoga classes it is how we take Savasana at the end 😊.
While numerous yoga poses are great for pregnancy, below are my personal favorites for helping to alleviate back and hip pain. I advise holding each pose for 30 seconds. Always remember to take it slow and consult with your physician for any concerns.
- Seated Side Bends
The seated side bend is a pose that lengthens the abdominal muscles, hips, and thigh muscles, and improves flexibility in the spine. Additionally, it expands the chest with stretching the pecs and intercostals (muscles between the ribs). It also stretches a muscle called your quadratus lumborum (QL) which attaches the lowest rib to the top of the pelvis and is located on both left and right sides of the body. When the QL is short and tight it becomes painful and can even go into spasm with lower back and sacroiliac injuries.
- Start in a seated position with your legs crossed. Rest your right hand on the ground.
- Now stretch your left arm up straight above you, and then laterally flex toward your right side. You want to keep your body facing forward and chest open, as you look up toward your left hand. As you bend, use your right arm for support. Be cautious of not lifting the hips while going into the side bend as this will cause you to lose stability in the spine. Repeat on your other side.
This stretch will decrease hip and lower back pain, increase spinal mobility, and help with round ligament pain. Begin on all fours. Keep the tops of your feet flat on the mat, shoulders directly over your wrists, and hips directly over your knees.
- As you inhale, drop your belly, letting your back arch, but keep your shoulders rolled back and down while looking forward and slightly up. This is Cow.
- As you exhale, press into your hands and round your upper back, while looking at your belly. This is Cat.
- Continue to arch (cow) on your inhales and round (cat) on your exhales.
- Ardha Kapotasana (Half Pigeon)
This pose improves flexibility and mobility in the hips, stretches the thighs, glutes and external hip rotators, specifically the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located in the glutes near the top of the hip joint that can spasm during pregnancy. This can often cause back and leg pain (sciatica) because it is close to the sciatic nerve.
- From downward facing dog or all fours, stretch one leg behind you.
- Bring the leg forward in between your hands as you bend your knee, placing your foot near the opposite wrist.
- Your back leg will be stretched out straight behind you, knee and top of the foot on the floor.
- Your arms are on either side of your leg to help prop you up. Make sure your hips are level. If there is a great discrepancy between the height and position of each hip, place a folded blanket under the hip of the bent leg in order to support it.
- Keep your spine long as you inhale walk your hands out in front of you and fold over your front thigh. Exhale and sink into your hips. Repeat on other side.
*If this variation is to hard for you to get into you can always do this pose in a chair. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Cross one foot over the other knee in the shape of the number “4.” As you exhale, slowly lean forward keeping a flat back until you feel a stretch in your lower back and glutes. Think about elongating your spine rather than curling your shoulders in toward your lap. Repeat on other side.
- Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
Triangle pose strengthens the back and spine, opens the chest and shoulders, and stretch the hips/hamstrings and pelvic area.
- While standing, spread your feet 3–4 feet apart. Raise your arms out parallel to the floor.
- Open your arms into a wide “T” shape, and slide your shoulders away from your ears so that your chest can open. Distribute the weight evenly through your feet and lift up with the quadricep muscles in your thighs so that your base is strong and grounded, and your knees are not locking.
- Reach down on your left side with your left hand, while extending your other arm straight up toward the ceiling. Turn your left foot out pointing fully to the left, and your right foot at a 90-degree angle facing in front of you.
- Maintaining this “T” shape with your arms, look down towards your front toes as you shift your pelvis toward the back of your mat, allowing your torso to elongate out over your front leg. The tilting forward occurs from the hip joint, not the back or the waist. Your front hand will rest either on your shin or on a block on the inside of your front foot. Exhale as you tilt forward.
- Keeping your chest open, focus on reaching up toward the ceiling with your raised arm. Repeat on the other side.
If you experience difficulty balancing or too much strain in the lumbar spine take a chair in front of you, seat facing you. Practice the pose as described above, only instead of bringing your front hand onto your shin or a block, place it onto the seat of the chair.
- Malasana (Yoga Squat)
Squatting helps to open your hips, lengthen and stretch your pelvic floor and inner thighs. It also is a great pose to aid in ankle flexibility.
- Stand at the top of your mat with hips externally rotated (toes and knees will be rotated out towards corners of the map) and feet on outer corners of your map.
- Start to bend your knees and come into a low, wide squat.
- Keep your back straight and as you inhale bring both hands together between knees in prayer, pressing elbows into inner thighs.
- If this feels uncomfortable for you or causes too much pressure in the hips, inner thighs or ankles try a variation where you are supported by an object under your glutes, like a yoga block or small stool. If you have pain in the knees keep your feet parallel.
- Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
This stretch increases the flexibility and mobility of the hamstrings and quadriceps without straining your back.
- Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed slighted inward.
- Exhale and lean forward with a flat back and slowly lower your hands toward the floor. Continue until you feel a stretch down the back of your legs. You can place your hands/arms onto a chair in front of you, or if your flexibility allows, hold onto your elbows with opposite hands which will help to increase the spine stretch.*
If you want to increase the hamstring stretch, walk your hands from side to side.
- Balasana (Childs Pose)
A restorative pose that will take pressure off of your growing belly and stretch your erector spinae muscles (the muscles that run along your spine). It will also help open your external hip rotators and stretch your glutes.
- Begin on all fours on the mat, with your knees directly under your hips.
- Take your knees apart and bring your big toes to touch. This will give your belly room to slide between your knees and avoid putting strain on your hips. You can also widen your toes if having them touch puts any pressure on your knees or does not provide enough room for your belly.
- As you exhale, take your glutes to your heels and lower your head towards the mat while stretching your arms out in front of you.
- Rest here, with your forehead on the ground. You can also fold a blanket or use a yoga block, bolster/large pillow to let your head rest on if the ground is too far away. Keep your arms outstretched.
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