At the end of 2012, I gave birth to 6 ½ lb twins – and discovered first-hand the challenges of maintaining good posture when hauling that much baby around in your abdomen! As I grew larger during my pregnancy, my ability to move decreased and the pull of the babies on my low back challenged the well-being of my spine. Finding Tadasana (Mountain Pose) throughout the activities of my daily life became the mainstay of my yoga and movement practice to avoid back and other pregnancy related pains.
Tadasana is neutral standing posture that supports and sleeves the natural wave-like curves of the spine. The curves in your spine allow your body to maintain balance in standing and sitting, move in multiple directions and act as a shock absorber, to more evenly distribute the strain and stress placed on the spine during movement and stillness. Maintaining the integrity of these curves sounds easy on paper, but can be hard under the best of circumstances—let alone with 10+ lbs of baby dragging your lumbar spine forward. While my situation was prolonged and somewhat unique, we all place odd loads on our body with regular frequency, pregnant or not: lifting a potted plant to move it across your patio, sliding a dresser away from the wall to retrieve something that fell behind it, carrying a large box from IKEA into your home or something as simple as supporting the weight of your own head and torso as you lean over to brush your teeth at your sink.
The benefits of good posture are many – from reduced back pain, better breathing, more efficient digestion and elimination, injury prevention and more. However, most of us have things in our lives that interfere with good posture, be it pregnancy, structural asymmetries like scoliosis or muscular weakness and imbalances caused by occupation or habits. The fact that our feet, the foundation of standing and Tadasana, lose mobility in most stiff-soled shoes doesn’t help, as what happens downstream affects what happens upstream in our interconnected body. In addition, most of us spend a lot of time sitting, which shortens our hip flexors (especially the psoas, which runs from your inner upper thigh to the vertebrae of your lower back)— which can create a pull on the lower back while standing—even without a load. We need to be able to safely support the spine in a variety of movements, but stability and the basics of a neutral spine need to come before flexibility.
I wish I could share with you an instant recipe for good posture and while there are a number of ingredients that go into spinal mobility and stability, the recipe is different for everyone because we all are unique. For instance, I also have slight structural scoliosis that causes flattening of my upper back and neck, so some things I work on will be different from somebody with kyphosis, an exaggerated thoracic curve.
That being said, there are a few common starting points. All of us can benefit from regularly stretching our hip flexors in lunge-type poses to combat the hours we spend sitting. Crescent Pose and Ardha Apanasana on a Block are two great moves to lengthen your hip flexors.
Additionally, there is a universal benefit from core work that addresses the deepest abdominal layers. These tissues run in every direction, so a wide variety of movement is necessary to target them. Three of my favorite core exercises are Coreso Leg Lifts, Jithara Parivartanasana, and the Supta Padangusthasana Series, which also is great for learning to propriocept and maintain a neutral pelvis and healthy spinal curves. (Note for pregnant yogis: at a certain point you want to minimize certain twisting actions and generally focus more on the obliques and transverse abdominus than rectus abdominus, so these poses might be modified or eliminated. Check with your doctor and favorite yoga/fitness teacher for more guidance about this.) Lastly, we all need to physically mobilize areas that are stuck. I have not found a better tool for this than regular self-massage with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls.
I was in great shape after my pregnancy—strong and able to shoulder (literally) the many physical demands of motherhood. I credit this to the yoga and movement practices I had prior to conceiving and the focus I placed throughout my pregnancy on maintaining neutral posture and that work has not stopped. I continue to practice Tadasana now, often in squatting positions, which is perfect practice for lifting 30-pound toddlers up and down from the floor or in and out of cribs and car seats—sometimes while carrying gear. Frankly, I have found motherhood to be infinitely more challenging to my body than twin pregnancy… but that’s a blog post for another day!
Come back on Friday to learn how to improve your standing posture to facilitate a healthy, happy spine and pregnancy.