Strength and Ease
There's only one mention of the physical practice of yoga in all of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Conveniently, and in my humble opinion, it perfectly captures what asana is all about. Sutra 2.46: sthira sukham asanam. Loosely translated, this sutra states that postures should achieve a balance of effort and ease and be both steady and comfortable. I'll talk about ease a bit more in my next post, as we could all use a bit of that as the holidays approach. This week, effort, strength, stability: qualities deeply necessary in yoga, pregnancy, labor, motherhood, and life. I know that we all agree that pregnant women, laboring women, and mothering women are incredibly strong. With that said, prenatal yoga often conjures up images of pregnant women breathing deeply and luxuriating in gentle stretching. Or, as Claire Dederer wrote in her book "Poser," "nine ladies lying on the floor in a sunny room, farting." And, sure, there's deep breathing, gentle stretching and the occasional GI issue. Any form of physical exercise is more challenging when you're pregnant. Even lying on the floor requires some effort when you're growing a human. In reality, though, creating and maintaining physical strength throughout pregnancy can be really helpful in supporting balance and avoiding pain during the prenatal period, can assist in easing labor and delivery, and can be very useful as your body heals after birth.
We'll get to the rolling around and farting luxuriating in my next post. For now, a small sample of poses that can be strengthening to add to your prenatal practice include:
- Warriors 1 - 3. Any of the three warrior poses increase strength in the glutes, legs and hips. Practice each of them for a few breaths. If balance is an issue, or Warrior 3 is feeling a little intense, try this variation: standing a few feet away from a wall, press your hands into the wall and walk your feet back until your back body is parallel to the ground. Press your hands actively into the wall and picture a strong line of energy extending through your arms and back to your sitting bones. Take a few deep breaths into the sides of your waist and then slowly lift one leg off of the floor. It doesn't have to come up as high as it might normally in warrior 3, although it can if it works for you. Try to keep your hips fairly level as you lift your leg and flex your foot to activate muscular engagement in your legs. Repeat on the other side.
- Goddess Pose. With your feet a little wider than shoulder distance apart, turn your feet out slightly and bend your knees to a point that feels challenging but comfortable (see sutra above). Your arms can come out to your sides in cactus position, or you can place your hands on your thighs for a little more support.
- Chair pose. In utkatasana you can actually feel your legs getting stronger. Bring your feet hip distance apart (or wider if you need to create more room for your baby or your pelvis) and sit back as though you were sitting down in a chair. Sit as deeply as you'd like. Or not. For added support and the bonus of helping to release the lower back, you can also do chair pose with your back up against the wall. Press your lower back into the wall as you bend your knees.
- Cobblers Pose. Thought of more as a hip opener than a strengthening pose, perspectives shift when you add the use of a block. Have a seat and bring the soles of your feet together. Press the four corners of your feet together and notice what activates when you do that. If it activates enough of the groin and inner thigh, you can choose to do without the block. For more challenge, bring a block in between your feet (start with the thinnest width - you can always work your way up) and press your feet into the block, working to release the muscles in your body that don't need to be active here. After a few breaths with the block in one position, switch and try another. Release the block completely when you're ready and notice how much more easeful baddha konasana feels.