Blog

9 months pre-natal, 9 months post natal

Mum-and-baby-Pilates.jpg

It seems socially acceptable and expected for a woman to adapt her exercise during pregnancy to make it safe and appropriate (and rightly so!) but once the baby arrives there is often a rush to return to "normal" with rigorous physical activity. 

If it takes 9 months for the body to adapt and change to grow a baby, we should see the 9 months after as just as important for the body to regain strength, for hormones to calm and for things to return "as they were". 

The advise given to re-start exercise after birth is to wait 4-6 weeks after a vaginal birth and 12 weeks after a caesarean (once the doctor has given the all-clear). All too often I have had women turn up to my classes with babies as young as 10 days old - though I am in deep admiration of anyone who can get themselves up and out of the house with a baby that young, I really would advise that they wait the allocated 4 weeks as a minimum to give the body time to heal. 

Though it may seem frustrating if you have always had a regular exercise routine, it is important to follow a post natal course for the following reasons:

  • To adapt exercises for the diastasis recti (the gap between the abdominal muscles) 
  • To rebuild the pelvic floor strength
  • To work with any pelvic girdle pain or issues
  • To rebuild deep core strength
  • To ensure that we counteract the repetitive and heavy demands of looking after and feeding baby with postural exercises
  • Not over-stretching as joints and ligaments are more supple and pliable after birth

Diastsis Recti - sounds scary but is perfectly normal. It's the separation of the rectus abdominus muscles. They separate to make space for the baby. 

diastsis recti.jpg

It seems that for some women, the muscles return to normal fairly quickly, whilst for others it can take months or even, in some cases, surgery. The important thing to know is how big a gap you have as you can't work your abdominal muscles too much until it is safe to do so. Deep stability work and safe, gentle abdominal exercise will help muscles knit back together but this shouldn't be rushed. 

Rebuilding strength from the inside takes time but ensuring that you build from a strong and safe foundation without rushing is well worth the time and effort. I would strongly advise every woman to take the time to find a post-natal Pilates class to ensure that she is in safe hands. 

Simple yoga stretches for Runners

Running is addictive. What starts as a way to counteract our largely inactive 21st century lives, can quickly draw you in to a world of PBs, Pace tracking, early morning runs in the dark and marathons. But it is a very yang activity. In a world where we are constantly rushing around, meeting deadlines and squeezing things in, it might not be helping us to find a balance. It is an activity which requires muscles to activate and contract, but not to release. It is also a fairly linear exercise with the majority of the work being done by pulling arms and legs forwards and backwards and completely excluding spinal movements such as lateral flexion and extension.

These yoga poses will lengthen out your muscles, especially your back and legs and balance out the body with a more yin activity that encourages release.

Try to keep your breath steady and deep throughout, holding poses for around 8 breaths and move slowly between the poses to help find space in the body.

 

1. Child's Pose - Bālāsana

This pose is about switching on the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) which is the complete antithesis to the literal fight or flight of running.

Step 1

Starting on your hands and knees, draw your bottom to your heels reaching your arms ahead of you on the floor. Let your forehead be supported by either the ground, block or blanket. This lets the Vagus nerve, which runs across your forehead and is directly linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, be activated.

Step 2

Ensure that your bottom is on your heels - if it doesn't reach then place a block or blanket between the heels and bottom. You can also place a blanket behind the back of the knees if they feel too compressed. Be sure that you are supported rather than hanging in the air so that you can fully release. Your hands, forehead and bottom should be grounded.

Step 3

Breathe into the back of the body, drawing your attention to the parts of your back that feel the tightest.

You might like to gently roll your head from side to side.

2.  Down Dog - Adho Mukha śvānāsana

This pose will allow you to create space in the back of the legs and spine.

Step 1

Start on the floor, on your hands and knees, placing your knees below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spreading your hands, index fingers parallel, tuck your toes under. On a exhale, lift your knees away from the floor sending your hips up and back.

Step 2

Keep a deep bend in the knees and the heels lifted away from the floor. This allows the spine to fully lengthen. From here think about lifting your sitting bones up towards the ceiling making a pyramid shape with your body.

Then with your next exhale breath, start to straighten the legs by pushing your thighs back and allow your heals to stretch toward the floor. Do this only as far as your lower back can stay long and open.

Step 3

Reach your hands into the floor, lengthening the arms and allow that length to continue into the spine, up to the hips reaching for the sky. Position your head between your upper arms to avoid it hanging, this allows the full length of the spine to stay aligned. Draw your gaze between your feet but keep your focus soft.

3. Low lunge - Anjaneyāsana

This pose opens up the front of the hips (the hip flexors) which have to work really hard when running to pull your leg forward.

Step 1

Start in mountain pose at the top of your mat. Step one leg backwards into a long lunge and drop the back knee gently to the ground. Ensure your that your front knee is over your front foot making a 90 degree angle. If your back knee is sore you can place a blanket underneath. Try to keep the weight on the back leg forward of the kneecap.

Step 2

Place your hands on your hips and ensure that they are square to the front. You can keep your back toes tucked under or untucked, whatever feels better for your back knee.

Step 3

On an inhale, raise your arms to the sky. Keep the arms inline with the ears. With every inhale breathe encourage the front of the hips to lift and continue that movement up into the front of the body, allowing the chest to draw gently to the sky. Do not drop your head back. After 8 breaths, place your hands back down on the floor alongside your front foot, lift your back knee off the floor and step to the front of the mat, returning to mountain pose. Repeat the pose on the other leg.

4. Lizard Pose  - Utthan Pristhasana

Opening up the hips will give you an easier stride in your running. This pose will create some much needed space in the inner hips.

Step 1

Starting on hands and knees bring one foot forward to the outside of your hand. Turn the toes out very slightly so that they face the same direction as the knee. Ease your back leg back keeping the knee down so that you feel a stretch at the front of the back hip. Just like with the lunge, you can pad the back knee with a blanket and keep forward of the kneecap.

Step 2

Keep your hands underneath your shoulders inline with your front foot. If they don't reach the floor, use some bricks under them instead. Be high up enough so that your spine can stay long and keep your head lifted inline with your spine.

Step 3

If you feel like you can go deeper into the pose, bring your elbows down onto the floor or bricks. Keep the spine long. Allow the front knee to open further by rolling onto the outside of the front foot.  After holding this pose for 8 breathes, bring your hands back underneath your shoulders and step your front foot back so that you are on hands and knees. Repeat the pose on the other leg.

5. Locust pose - Salabhasana

It's crucial to keep your spine healthy by strengthening it in extension (backbend) and this pose will do just that.

Step 1

Come to lie on your front. Bring your legs together, draw your arms alongside your body and allow your shoulders to relax. You can turn one cheek to the floor if that is more comfortable than having your forehead down.  

Step 2

On an inhale lift your head, chest and legs, and draw your arms in line with the side of your body, turning the palms to face the body. Squeeze your legs together, keeping them parallel.

Step 3

Keep reaching your fingers long behind you and keep your gaze forward and down to ensure the back of your neck remains in line with the rest of your spine. Try to lift your head and chest as high as your legs and vice versa. Once you release from the pose, take child's pose to rest.

6.  Bridge Pose - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Simultaneously open the back of your body and front of hips with this pose.

Step 1

Lying on the floor, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, hip distance apart, bringing the heels close to your sitting bones. Inhale and pressing into your feet, lift your buttocks off the floor so that your hips become the highest point. Press strongly into the feet and arms to find as much lift as possible.

Step 2

On your next inhale, lift your chest a little higher so that you can roll your shoulders underneath you and clasp the hands together to help open the chest even further. If you can't clasp the hands, grab the edges of the mat instead.

Step 3

Imagine you are squeezing the brick between your knees so that you keep them parallel, rather than swinging out. Keep pressing your hips up by squeezing your glutes strongly. To come out of the pose, move your shoulders out from underneath you and then slowly roll down the spine to relax.

7. Reclining Hand To Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana

This is a good pose to stretch the back and outside of the legs.

Step 1

Lying down on your back, legs lengthened along the floor, bend in one knee and bring your thigh into your torso. Hug your thigh to your belly and take some deep inhales and exhales.

Step 2

From here, you can start to lengthen the foot up towards the ceiling, straightening the leg. Use a strap or a scarf around the foot so that you can keep your shoulders on the floor. Don't feel like you have to fully straighten your leg, you'll still be stretching the back of it if your knee is bent. It's important that you don't strain to reach your foot if that means your shoulders lift.

Step 3

Once you've stayed with the foot reaching for the sky for 8 breathes, take the strap or scarf into the opposite hand to the leg you're working with and draw the leg over to that side so that it comes across the body. Allow the leg to reach all the way to the earth, but feel free to bend the knee again if the stretch is too intense. Take the free arm out, along the floor so that you are in a spinal twist and gaze to the hand.

Hold for another 8 breathes then swap sides and repeat on the other leg.

8. Reclined spinal twist - Supta Matsyendrasana

This pose will twist out your spine, releasing muscles in your back and glutes.

 

Step 1

Lying on the floor, hug both knees in towards your chest. Gently let your knees roll over to the floor on one side but keep your shoulders grounded. Keep your knees high up towards your chest so that they are at least as high as your hips and stacked on one another.

Step 2

Allow the hand nearest the knees to gently rest on them and take the opposite arm out, inline with the shoulder. Take your gaze to that hand allowing your head to turn in the opposite direction to your knees.

 

Step 3

Allow the breath to expand your ribs and to soften the body. Don't worry if the your shoulder is not on the floor, just let it feel weighted and ground it down gently with each exhale. Once you have stayed here for at least 8 breathes, draw the knees back into the centre, the chest and repeat on the other side.

 

Yoga: all things to all people

You've seen the pictures on Instagram, yogis posing- beautiful surroundings, perfectly balanced and stretched, bathed in light while their face shows the sort of enlightened smile you can only imagine comes with a blissful life. And you think, "yeah, I could do with some of that, let's try this yoga thing, it could be just the answer".

Yeah, I'm guilty of it too...

Yeah, I'm guilty of it too...



Yoga promises so many things these days. You want yoga to help your lower back; stretch your tight muscles; help you lose weight; help with your IBS; alleviate stress; part the way through depression; cure your acne; give you a baby; support you through illness. How can it possibly be all things to all people?

There are so many reasons turn to yoga. How can it possibly deliver on all of these very big promises?

Fundamentally, the practice of yoga is removing the limited notion of the self. It's about uncovering unconscious patterns of thoughts or behaviour and revealing the vastness of the self. It's opening up beyond how we define ourselves and tries to teach us about the divine aspects of self. 

There's lots of paths to get there as there are lots of different people, so I guess, yoga can live up to everyone's expectations. Whatever brings you first to yoga may not be why you continue to practice. It is a continuum of theory and practice. 

As the yoga sutras of Patanjali begin, 

"Atha Yoganusasanam"

Translation: "Now the exposition of Yoga is being made" (Sri Swami Satchidananda)

It is the process of uncovering the truth, what is already there. It's not about making you a better self or masking the things that are hard or unpleasant. Like an ocean, our minds are always moving, shifting. Sometimes they are calm on top, other times stormy, but underneath there is a huge vastness that is always moving, gently or strongly. And that vast ocean also reveals the connectedness of ourselves to the universe. 

It is not enough to just think about the philosophy, it requires practice. Words alone will not work. And it all begins in the mind. 

"Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah" 

Translation: "The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga" (Sri Swami Satchidananda)

If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples (of the ocean) you will experience Yoga. But controlling the mind is hard, isn't it. Yeah, that's why it's always a practice.


 

What yoga means to me (or how neurotic do I get without it)

Where do I begin? 

lotuspose


Do you know that for a lot of us, yoga is a lifeline. Gripping on with both hands, putting one foot in front of the other. Those of us who practice a lot of yoga is because, quite frankly, we would fall apart without it. 

I'm a worrier. I like to plan. I like to execute the plan. I don't like it when the plan doesn't work out how I planned it. I don't have plan b. 

Yoga, for me, is learning to live without a plan, without control. It's about trying, truly, to live in the moment through breath, through movement and through awareness. 

That's what yoga is about. Trying to live in the present moment because it's the only life that we have. When we get stuck in the past or worry about the future we're missing our lives. We live too much in our minds. Yoga is about living breath to breath, moment to moment. 

The present moment doesn't need to be perfect. It doesn't have to be happy. It is reflective of what is going on - happy, sad, painful, confusing. It's not about shying away from these feelings, it's about embracing them. Experiencing them fully and not suppressing them. And so it's not about hiding our neuroses. Hiding them won't make them disappear. Expose them. Explore them and then perhaps they will diminish a little of their own accord. 

Yoga has taught me so many things. To leave the ego behind (sometimes). To find softness in strength. To have my body as a functional unit, rather than an aesthetic sculpture. To give myself permission to rest. To breathe. To sit still. To live beyond the perceived physical constraints of my body. To explore. 

It is hard to explain to those who have not tried yoga or are perhaps using yoga as a physical workout that there is more to it than meets the eye. I'd urge everyone to try and make time to find a mat in 2016. 

Namaste

Sophia x


How to sit still when you're no good at sitting still

The Buddhist saying goes, “Everyone should meditate for at least 10 minutes a day. Those who are too busy, should meditate for an hour.” 

sittinginmeditationwithpuppy

By far the hardest aspect of my yoga practice is my meditation. It just doesn't come naturally for me to stop moving, sit quietly and live in the quiet. That's why my asana practice is a strong and physically challenging one - so that at the end I surrender and give up resisting. When I get there I'm so thankful but it is quite an effort to reach that quietness each time. 

If you're like me, wanting to make meditation a regular and meaningful part of your life but find it a challenge here as some things to consider. 

  1. It's not a test. If you "fail" at keeping your mind still and focused/unfocused it just means you're exactly like everyone else. 
  2. Find the time of day that works for you. Though there is a strong tradition of early morning practice, that just doesn't work for me. Drop the guilt and if you can't sit until 8pm, so what. 
  3. Yes, you can have that cup of tea/coffee/juice etc. OK, so don't drink it during the meditation but if you need something to get you in the zone, why not. Think of it as a  part of the preparation like getting your seat ready. 
  4. Start small and build up. If it's just 5 minutes that is better than none. Meditation is a practice just like every other skill and needs work, patience and progress. Build up one extra minute at a time and see how that extra length affects your practice. Not everyone has time for a whole hour of meditation so even 10 minutes is worth doing. 
  5. Get some help. From a book, a teacher, a centre or an app. They will give you the tools you need to explore the mind. And yes, you'll probably need a whole roster of techniques!
  6. Work with what you've got. So if it's a sleeping puppy or baby, so be it. Life doesn't always hand you the time, space and energy to meditate so sometimes you have to shove it in amongst the chaos. 

In short, unless you have dedicated your life to a monastic existence, you're going to have to deal with what's going on with you and all that means. You'll have good days and bad, but isn't that true of everything?

If you have any tips or thoughts, please share them with me. 

 

 

6 Must-do Post Run Stretches

So you're tired after a run and would rather jump in the shower or devour your own body weight in carbs after a run- but first make time to stretch. Stretching after exercising (running) helps maintain muscle flexibility. After working those muscles hard to power you through the run, it's equally important that they stretch back to their normal length afterwards to ensure they remain fully functional no matter what activity you do. 

Here's some guidance on stretching:

  • ensure your body and muscles are warm before to stretching
  • stretch before and after exercise (active stretching during the warm up, static stretching during the cool down)
  • stretch all muscle groups that are involved in the activity
  • stretch gently and slowly
  • never bounce or stretch rapidly
  • stretch gently to the point of mild discomfort, never pain
  • don't hold your breath when stretching; breathing should be slow and easy

After a run you should stretch your:

  • Calf
  • Hamstring
  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Inner Thighs
  • Back - especially the lower


Yoga and Pilates mats - what's the difference?

You might think that shops sell Pilates and Yoga mats to get you to buy two different mats and spend more money but there is actually a difference.

Yoga Mats -

yogamat

You should pick a mat that is:

thin - so you can feel the floor and it doesn't stretch around when you're pulling it in different directions

sticky - so you don't slip around

long - so you don't have to shift your position, especially if you're long!

Pilates Mats -

pilatesmat

You should pick a mat that is:

thick - so when you're rolling around on your spine or lying on your side there is enough squishiness to support you. 5mm or more. 

long and wide: so you don't have to shift your position when you move from one position to the next


Cutting to the heart of my yoga - Samtosa

When you attend a yoga class, often you are asked to set yourself an intention. Sometimes this can be as simple as dedicating your practice to someone that needs your energy - someone you love, or even someone that you are not getting along with. Other times you can dedicate your practice to yourself, with an intention. 

To be honest, most of the time when I hit the mat I bring the intention of samtosa, one of the niyamas, observances, from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Samtosa can be translated as contentment. 

Contentment, something quite intangible to many these days. As we're pushed to achieve, to strive, to be better, sometimes we forget what we have, where we are, who we are and what is truly important to us. For me samtosa, contentment, has had the most positive effect on me and my yoga practice. 

If you boil down to why I practice yoga, and perhaps why I usually dedicate my practice to myself, it's because I take the time to be thankful for and remember what I already have. To be kinder, more loving, more generous and understanding with those around me. To put it bluntly, I try to be a nicer person for those who share my life.

If I could teach only one thing in yoga, it is for us all to be a little kinder to ourselves. Combining ahimsa, non-violence (to ourselves) with samtosa, contentment really cuts to the heart of yoga. Don't hurt your body or your mind, be mindful of what you already have, and be happy to be exactly where you are. Start each day, each task, each pose exactly where you are now, not trying to be something you're not and not wishing for something else. Be a little kinder to yourself.