Originally published on Elephant Journal!
As pregnancy progresses, some women start to feel tension in the mid-back region, sometimes resulting in pain. This could be for a variety of reasons, but one thing is for sure: soon enough it could get worse with activities that lie ahead like lifting baby and breastfeeding. It’s a good time to address these potential issues now, while mom still has some self-care time easily available, because once the baby comes it will take more diligence to carve it out.
Growing breast size is one thing in pregnancy that can cause this strain. Opening the heart and chest with yoga will definitely help open this area up. I’ve also noticed that if the pregnancy is creating a strain on the mother emotionally, for whatever reason, and she feels the need to guard herself, she will round her upper back and compromise her posture, protecting her heart in a way, which leads to pain in the upper back as well.
It is said in yoga that our thoughts affect the breath, which affects the body; the body affects the breath, which affects the thoughts. No one piece of us is in isolation – everything is connected. Yoga teaches us and gives us permission to tune inward and listen to this dialogue, which is incredibly important work for new mothers developing their intuitions and instincts!
Pregnancy is a time where many fears and feelings of vulnerability arise for many women. It’s also a sacred time, and this desire to feel sacred and to be treated as such isn’t always reflected in our actual day-to-day interactions in the world. These mixed messages can feel very isolating for women, and cause deep sadness and even depression, during pregnancy and after birth.
The prevention of postnatal depression starts in early pregnancy and continues through as an opportunity for personal empowerment. Aside from proper nutrition, keeping a healthy outlook and positive mindset should be a mother-to-be and her family’s prime objective.
This approach is two fold, and my suggestions break through the conventional understanding of Yoga and go a little deeper into its true meanings. Part physical and part psychological. Use these tools in tandem and break open your guarded heart and feelings of fear!
Strive to Understand your Feelings. Embrace your vulnerability – this makes you strong!
When we do the inner work to understand our triggers and diffuse them, and then forgive ourselves, we harness the true strength in vulnerability. When we have faced our fears and sought to forgive them, no one has the power to disrupt our happiness any longer. This stability is exactly what a growing infant needs for nurturance and uninhibited growth.
Ways for Opening the Heart:
Express yourself! Whether it is conversation, writing, drawing or movement; when you digest your experiences, expression of them becomes freeing and joyful! Truth is revealed! Expressing your feelings requires ingredients of love, self-responsibility, clarity and courage – All high honors of motherhood!
- When have you suppressed your feelings?
- What sensations did that suppression create in your body? (pain in the upper back and heart region, lower back, belly, pelvis…)
- What is your truth?
- How can you allow for healthy expression of your truth?
“Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer. Crying includes all the principles of Yoga.”
Heart Opening Yoga for Mamas to be:
Each pose can be done individually or in this sequence for maximum happiness!
Easy Pose: Sit cross legged on a blanket, tipping the hips forward, clasp hands softly behind the back and lower them toward the sacrum, allowing elbows to bend of needed. Roll the shoulders back, together & down, with a deep inhale, lift the heart to the sky. Stay for a while and be easygoing.
Heart Chakra Pose: Come onto hands and knees. Then reach the hands forward on the mat about a foot or two and sink the heart toward the floor. Keep arms active, elbows lifted, and shoulder blades drawing together. Keep hips just above or slightly behind the knees. Melt the heart and breathe fully and easefully.
Gate Pose: Start kneeling facing the wide side of the yoga mat, hands at hips. Take one leg out wide and plant the foot with toes facing forward. Find strength in both legs. Lift both arms to parallel, and begin to hinge at the hips over the extended leg until the lower arm comes to rest there. Bring the upper arm to the heart and find some slight opening and rotation of the heart upward. Eyes remain soft and focused, gaze either straight ahead or up to the sky. Repeat second side.
Easy Camel: Start with knees wide, at hip width or so, and bring hands to lumbar spine, fingertips pointing up. This will encourage neutrality here, and even a grounding sensation at the sacrum. Root through the legs, and find strength there. Lift the heart open, draw shoulder blades together and create a plate to rest your heart upon. Offer up your heart slowly by leaning slightly up and back, creating this opening at the mid back, not lower back. Maybe close the eyes and drink in deep breaths.
Tree pose: (More restorative and grounding version at the wall) Start standing, and bring one leg up, bent at the knee, and connect that foot to inner thigh or calf. Focus on the standing leg and stability, once that feels steady, bring both hands to overlap at the heart and breathe here. Lift the heart into the hands. Keep eyes soft and gaze unwavering. Balancing postures bring a sense of serenity and capability. Repeat second side.
Triangle: Take a slightly wider stance, like on cross-country ski tracks. Use a brick under your lower arm, and bring your upper arm to place hand upon heart. Find strength in the legs, with a grounding through outer legs and a lifting up through the inner legs, drawing up arches towards the pelvic floor. Rotate the heart skyward to a degree that creates lightness and satisfies; play around with closing the eyes briefly and breathing into the entire body at once. Repeat second side.
Warrior 2: Take a slightly wider stance, like on cross-country ski tracks. Keep breath even and long, with careful foot and knee alignment. Stay grounded in the legs, but find lightness of being in the upper body, perhaps rotating just the palms up to the sky. Eyes bright and focused. Heart shines like a Care Bear Stare. Repeat second side.
Easy Dancer: (More restorative and grounding version at the wall) (may be easier with a belt) Stand evenly and take a deep breath. Tip the weight into one leg and bend the opposite knee, leg angles behind you. Reach back with the same side arm and clasp the ankle, or take a belt around the ankle. Reach the opposite side arm straight ahead of you, parallel to the earth. As you feel balanced and ready, start to kick the bent leg foot into the hand and open the heart. Stay tall in the stance and only work as hard as your very first edge. Smile. Breathe. Cultivate gratitude in your heart! Repeat second side.
Goddess Pose: Take legs wide and face the wide side of the yoga mat. Angle toes out slightly, and slowly bend the knees until the legs are nice and deep, no lower than 90 angles at the knees. Work dynamically with breath, inhale up out of the pose, and exhale back into the depth of the pose. Cactus the arms as you exhale into the pose, with a slight tilt back to angle the heart skyward. Straighten arms up to the sky as you inhale. Repeat as many times as you like, using strong vocal exhales (HA! sound) to clear out anything that is stuck in the heart or chest!
Low Yogi Squat: Squatting is one of the best things a preparing mother can do to open up the pelvis and create space. Stand with legs about the width of your yoga mat, toes out. Have a brick handy for support. Take an easy forward bend, staying here as long as you like actually, the hamstring opening might feel lovely. When you are ready, bend the knees and lower your pelvis toward the earth as you lift your head up. Hands can come together at the heart, giving gentle pressure to the inner knees if desired. Lean back to slowly bring the shins to perpendicular with the floor. Here you can squat and allow the breath to go down deep towards the perineum. Imagine the entire pelvis softening. If you need to, bring the brick under your sitting bones and sit on it.
Legs Up the Wall: A lovely restorative savasana variation. Lie on your back at a wall, with support under the upper back and head, so the body is like a ‘V’ with legs up the wall and head above heart above pelvis, breathe deeply.
Allow your practice to open the floodgates to your heart space. Allow for whatever expression of emotion presents itself. Be reassured that your body is performing a miracle and hold space for that wonder!
Sarah Louisignau is a CAPPA trained Doula, Yoga + Ayurveda Specialist, Pelvis and Abdominal Empoweress, Thai Yoga Massage Therapist and Athlete. She loves mushroom hunting and foraging, riding motorcycles, touching people’s bodies, hearts and minds, and her ever-growing community. She and her fiancé Justin and their hairy son Angus live in Golden, CO.