Yoga for 2: Prenatal and Postnatal Artwork
Season 3 - Episode 9

Backbending for Mamas

30 min - Practice
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Maria guides us in a gentle backbend exploration with modifications to help counterpose the forward-rounding of the neck, shoulders, chest, and upper back that comes with pregnancy and motherhood.
What You'll Need: Mat, Wall, Blanket, Strap, Block (2)

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(ocean waves) Welcome. Today, we're gonna be doing backbending. We don't really do a lot of backbends from our back, when we're pregnant. Some women can, and I have at different stages, but all of the backbends that we're gonna do today will either be from standing or from the knees. Benefits of backbending while you're pregnant are, of course, as the belly starts to get bigger, we start to hunch forward, and so we get some tightness, here.

That can often cause some pain either in the low back, but, really very often, even in the shoulders. We'll get neck pain, shoulder pain. I see this a lot in my clinical practice with acupuncture for pregnant women. And then, furthermore, after the baby's born, we're often holding the baby or nursing, and so, that pattern of hunching forward, it just gets even more amplified. So, spending time to actually open up the upper back and really lift the chest can be really beneficial and preventative for that neck and shoulder pain that can sometimes come along with motherhood (laughs) or pregnancy.

So we'll just come onto our hands and knees for Cat-Cow, just to warm up the spine a bit. I'll take the hands shoulder distance apart, knees hip distance, and the toes can be pointed. And, with inhalation, we'll just drop the chest through, reach the chest forward, lift the head. And, with exhalation, we'll round the back. And, when I say, "Round the back," really focus on the upper back.

Push the hands to the floor, round between the shoulders. And, same with this backbend, really bending the upper back, remember, we're focusing mostly on the shoulders and the upper back, here. Very minimal movement in the low back. Exhale to round. Inhale to lift the chest through the upper arms, pull the shoulders back.

You can lift the head. Exhale again. Inhale, particularly if you're finding a lot of stretching in your abdominal wall, or the muscles feel like they're separating. We really wanna minimize the backbend in the middle body, through the belly. And, one more time, inhaling rounding.

I'm sorry, lifting the chest forward, and then exhaling to round. And then we'll just start some little gentle rolls. So, walk the hands forward, and you can watch me at first. We're just gonna take some movement in Child's Pose, so we'll take the hips back to the left, and then scoot them over to the right. Then come forward, and then we'll do that a few times on each side.

Little Child's Pose circles to kind of warm up the spine, warm up the hips. And most importantly, just to connect to the breath, bring the breath into the movements. So just make sure that you're breathing the whole time as you're moving. And do these at your own pace, so if slower feels better, go slower. If you feel like you can pick up the pace a little, go a little faster, and then we'll switch directions.

So now, taking the hips back to the right, scooting them over to the left, and then coming forward. And really let that movement travel through the whole spine. Feel how the shoulders affect the upper back, especially as we scoot the hips back. And, one more round. And then, we'll come back to neutral.

Move the hands, maybe a couple inches back, depending on where you're at. Curl your toes under, and we're gonna take Downward-Facing Dog. First, Down Dog, maybe bend your knees a little. Start to hinge the hips forward. So, we're getting a nice, deep crease in the hips.

Press the hands flat, wrap the outer upper arms around to your face, then push the floor away from you, so we're lengthening the spine, lengthening the side bodies. And then, if it feels appropriate, you can straighten the legs, or you can peddle the feet one at a time just to ease into the hamstrings. And then, we'll find our Down Dogs. From Down Dog, we'll come forward to Plank, really using Plank just to find some support for the spine. If you need to, you can drop the knees, and that can be your Plank, and you can go Plank to Child's Pose from here.

Otherwise, taking it with the legs straight, and exhale, pressing back to Down Dog. Inhale again, coming forward to Plank, pushing into the hands, keeping the middle and upper back supported. Exhale, pressing back. And once again, inhale coming forward to Plank. And exhale, pressing back.

And then walking the feet... I'm sorry, the hands, back towards the feet. Bend your knees as needed. Keep your feet pretty wide, so there's space for your belly. Just take a gentle little forward fold here.

If it feels appropriate, then go ahead and straighten out the legs. And from here, you're gonna come up to standing for Surya Namaskara, and then with an inhalation, we'll come all the way up to standing. Reach the arms up overhead. They can stay shoulder distance apart, or touch the palms together, and exhale, arms down, alongside the body. Surya Namaskara A, inhale arms reach.

Exhale, hinge at the hips and fold. Inhale, look up and lengthen, bending the knees if needed. Exhale, walk the hands forward to Down Dog. Inhale, come forward to Plank. Exhale, lower down, knees can come to the floor here, if you'd like.

Inhale to Cobra, or Up Dog. And exhale, back to Downward-Facing Dog. Couple breaths here. If you're still warming up the hamstrings, go ahead and peddle out the feet, or keep the knees a little bent. End of your next exhale, look forward, and walk the feet to the hands.

Inhale, look up and lengthen. Exhale, fold. Inhale, come all the way up to the top, reach the arms up over our head, and exhale, arms down, alongside the body. Inhale, arms reach. Exhale and fold.

Inhale, look up and lengthen. Exhale, bend the knees, set the hands down in front of the feet, step back to Down Dog. Inhale, come forward to Plank. And exhale, lower. Inhale, Cobra or Up Dog.

And exhale back, Downward-Facing Dog. Holding and breathing, wrapping the upper outer arms around to the face, and pressing the roots of the fingers evenly. Push the hips up and back. At this point, maybe you can straighten out the legs, press the tops of the thighs back. End of your next exhalation, look forward, walk your feet to your hands.

Inhale, look up and lengthen. Exhale and fold. Inhale, come all the way up to the top, reach up overhead, and exhale, Samastitihi. Surya Namaskara B, bend the knees, sit the hips back, inhale, Chair Pose, Utkatasana. Exhale, fold forward, lengthening the head and neck.

Inhale, look up and lengthen. Exhale, bend the knees, set the hands, step back to Down Dog. Inhale, come forward to Plank. Exhale, lower. Inhale, Up Dog or Cobra, and exhale, Down Dog.

From Down Dog we'll just take the knees to the floor, step the right foot forward, behind the right hand. We'll keep the hands on the floor. Some of you may wanna bring your hands to blocks, here. For the first one, we're just gonna take a low lunge. So, adjust your foot, as needed.

We're gonna bend into the right knee and let the hips drop. So we'll just sink the hips. Why you need to adjust the foot, is we don't want the knee going past the ankle, so just put the foot in place where you can achieve that. Still find a bit of the right hip pulling back and the left hip pulling forward, so that the hips stay pretty much square to the front. You may wish to stay here.

If you wanna go a little deeper, place the weight into your left hand, bend your left knee, and reach back for your right knee... Your left foot with your right hand. (laughs) And then, you'll just start to pull the foot in towards your hip. You still have lots of room for the belly. You get the benefits of a little bit of a twist here, as well.

Keep pulling the shoulders back and opening the chest through. I'm gonna offer one other variation here, one that I like a lot. It's my modification for Bakasana, which is a pose in second series of Ashtanga. I release the foot. I'm gonna set the right hand down to the floor, bend the left knee again, reach my left hand back.

I come to my fingertips. I even bring my elbow to the knee, and then I flip the hand around, and I pull my chest through. And the heel starts to come to the outside of the hip. So, it requires a good amount of range of motion for the shoulder. If Bakasana isn't a pose you were practicing before pregnancy, now's probably not the time to start it.

(laughs) So, just stick with one of the previous variations. (breathes deeply) And then, we'll just release that left leg, set the hands down flat, inside the right foot. Curl the back toes under, straighten the back leg, press to Downward-Facing Dog. Inhale, come forward to Plank. Exhale, lower.

Inhale, Upward-Facing Dog or Cobra, and exhale, Downward-Facing Dog. And bring the knees to the floor, again. Step the left foot forward, and just adjust your foot to where it needs to be, so that you can come into that deep low lunge. Letting the hips drop, the knee is above the ankle, the chest nice and open. Feel free to use blocks, here.

We all have different ranges of motion. And furthermore, our bodies are all going through very different things. So if you're having too much stretching in the belly, or the pubic symphysis is starting to separate, then you may wanna modify here. You can take the option of bending the right knee and reaching back with the left hand, if that feels appropriate for you today. Pull the shoulders back, lift the chest forward.

(breathes deeply) And then I'm gonna take my favorite variation, because for me, it feels so good. Taking the heel to the outside of the hip and starting to swoop the shoulders forward. Squaring off to the front, but then pulling the shoulder blade back and pressing it into the chest. (breathes deeply) And two sides could be completely different, so respect each side equally. And then, we'll release.

Bring the hands to the floor, curl the back toes under, straighten your back leg, and step back to Downward-Facing Dog. Inhale, come forward to Plank. Exhale, lower down. Inhale, Cobra or Up Dog, and exhale back, Downward-Facing Dog. Let's just take one Worrier One, here.

So, step the right foot forward, pivot the left heel down, press the outer edge of your left foot to the floor. If you need the support of your hands and your knees to come up, take that support. Inhale, we'll just lift up into a Worrier One. And exhale, we'll release, set the hands down inside the foot, pick up the back heel, step to Down Dog. Inhale, Plank.

Exhale, lower. Inhale to Up Dog or Cobra. Exhale, back. And then, the left side. Step the left foot forward, pivot the right heel down.

Use your hands and your knees if you need it. Inhale, come up. And then, exhale, release. Bring the hands down inside the foot, pick up the back heel, step back to Down Dog. Inhale, Plank.

Exhale. Up Dog or Cobra. And exhale to Down Dog. (breathes deeply) From Downward-Facing Dog, we'll look forward and walk the feet to the hands. Inhale, look up and lengthen.

Exhale, fold. Bend the knees, sit the hips back. Inhale, Chair. And exhale, Samastitihi. And now, you're gonna take Dancer's Pose.

So, you might wanna go over to a wall, especially if your balance has been a little off. If you're comfortable in the middle of the room, you've done it in the middle of the room before, and you know that it's okay for you, then we're gonna take the weight to the left foot, bend the left knee, bend the right knee, grab ahold of the right ankle. Now, before we go into the pose, this right shoulder's gonna have a tendency to internally rotate and come forward. We wanna reverse that pattern by pulling the shoulder back and opening up, so that if it comes forward, you can really see the collar bones. We wanna make them disappear.

So, pull the shoulder back so the collar bones come into your body. And then, from there, we're gonna raise the left arm up, start to press the right shinbone back, and maybe start to fold forward, but more importantly, just open up through the chest. And breathe. (breathes deeply) And then, we'll inhale, bring it back. Finding my balance again.

(laughs) And exhale, we'll release that. And we'll take it to the other side. Put a slight bend in your right knee. And, the reason I say that is just so that the leg isn't locked out, and it's actually active. We can use our muscles here.

Bend the left knee, reach back for the left ankle. Inhale, we'll raise the right arm up. Before going any further, pull the left shoulder back, so we open up the chest. And then, we'll start to fold out into our Dancer Pose. (breathes deeply) Steady focus, steady breathing.

(breathes deeply) And then, coming up out of that, and releasing the left leg down. And stepping the feet to the floor. So our peak pose, the pose we've been warming up for, is Ustrasana, and we're gonna come down to our knees. You're probably gonna need two blocks and maybe a blanket, here. So, grab those if you don't have them, and we'll come to kneeling.

For Ustrasana, first round, we're just gonna keep our knees about hip distance. And, pay attention to where your hips are at, now. They may be a little wider, and that may feel good, to go a little wider with your knees and your feet. Point the toes and press the tops of the ankles down into the floor. And, you might wanna use some blocks here, especially if it's been a while since you've done backbends.

And, we'll take the blocks outside the ankles. We'll bring the hands to the hips, roll the shoulders back, lift the chest up, and just press your thumbs on your sacrum to lift the chest up out of the sacrum and start to tilt the head back. You can always stay here in this variation, just pulling the shoulders back, lifting the heart up. Or, you can reach the hands back to the blocks. Can be fingertips or hands flat.

And then coming up on an inhale. And exhale. I'm gonna move the blocks to the side. We're gonna do another round of that. If you were using the blocks before, and that felt right for you, then stay with the blocks.

Otherwise, we have the option to bring the hands towards the feet. Again, starting with the hands at the waist, can press the thumbs into the sacrum to lift up out of the low back. Keep pressing the tops of the feet. Tip the head back, and then we'll reach the hands back towards the feet. And press the tops of the feet to inhale and come up.

And exhale. So notice, as we're taking Ustrasana, we're not just dumping into the low back and closing off the chest. We really wanna lift and have it be like a nice, even arch, mostly emphasized in the upper back. So, the next little variation, you may wanna stay with one of the previous two variations, but this next one is kind of a prep for a Kapotasana, which is a pretty advanced and deep pose. Again, if you weren't practicing it before, it's not a good time to start it, but you could do reaching to the wall.

So, I'll show a few variations on this. You'll just take the feet, still pointed back, tops of the ankles pressing the floor. Inhale, lift up, just as Ustrasana. Then, reach the right arm up, and reach back towards the wall. And then, come up.

And then, the left arm. And, come up. And we have the option to reach both arms, inhaling. And exhaling. And then, inhale, come up.

And exhale. Sit your hips back to your heels, and that of course, can move deeper. You can always walk the hands down the wall. You could do it in the middle of the room depending on your level of practice. For now, I'll just take a gentle Child's Pose.

Sitting hips back to the heels, let the head relax to the floor. Or a block. (breathes deeply) And then, walking the hands in to help you come up, and we're gonna take Supta Hasta Padangusthasana, so you're probably gonna want a strap. And, we'll turn around to face the wall, and bring your feet to the wall. Start with a little bend in your knees only because as you lay down, the legs will straighten, and you don't wanna be too far away from the wall where your feet start to come away from the wall.

And we won't be on our backs for too long. If this doesn't feel appropriate for you to be on your back at all, then skip it. You can do the standing version, or just take Dandasana or a Paschimottanasana. And we'll just bend the right knee, straighten the right leg, and then start to press the left thigh down towards the floor. Hold on to your strap.

See if you can get both shoulders down to the ground. Breathe into the chest. Left hand can be on your left thigh. (breathes deeply) And again, here, you can bring the foot a little more to the right, so there's more space for the belly, as well. And then, we'll take the leg out to the right.

Keep pushing the left foot into the wall for support. And you can turn to look over your left shoulder. A few breathes, here. And inhale, bring the leg back to center, and release the strap from the foot, straighten the right leg. Make any adjustments if you need to.

I'm gonna come a little closer to the wall. We'll take the left foot, strap up the left foot, straighten out the left leg, press into the right foot. Pressing the right leg nice and straight, shoulder blades on the floor. Breathing. And then, taking the left leg out to the left, spinning the thigh bone out from in the hip socket.

And, maybe turning to look over the right shoulder. Both hips should be on the floor, here. The foot may have to stay a little higher in order to do that. And inhale, we'll bring the left leg back to center. Unloop the strap from the foot.

We'll just move the strap to the side. We'll come up. We're gonna take legs ups the wall, so we have two options, here. If you don't wanna lie flat on your back, then I'll have an option for you in a moment. The first option is just to take and elevate the hips a little bit on a blanket or a bolster, and then you'll come to the wall, sit the hips up on the blanket, and you'll lie down on your back with your legs up the wall.

From there, you can take what I call Scarecrow Arms. Like this, or you can take them out to the side. Then, our second option. We're gonna set ourselves up with a ramp. This would be a good option, if you've been told not to let your heart go above your head, so no inverting.

Let's set our blocks up. You wanna give yourself enough space. We're basically gonna create a V shape for the body. I'm gonna go a little further up, away from the wall. We take the sacrum back to the blocks, and we'll lie down.

And we'll take the legs up the wall, here, so you still get the benefit of inverting, but the head can stay above the heart. The palms can be open to the ceiling, here. (breathes deeply) We'll stay here for a good three minutes just resting and restoring. Let the breath be nice and relaxed. Smooth, even.

(breathes deeply) If it's feeling good, and you wanna stay here longer, please do. Otherwise, starting to wiggle the fingertips. We'll all bend our knees. We'll just roll over to our side. Use your elbow for support.

Press yourself up to seated. We'll come to a comfortable seat. Bring the hands to Prayer position at the heart. Roll the shoulders back, chest nice and lifted. Gently bow the head in gratitude.

Thank you all, and Namaste.


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