The first time I offered a group yoga class to people with disabilities, only one student showed up. She was an experienced yogi who had fractured her elbow, so we focused on standing poses followed by restorative shapes to soothe her nervous system. After class, she said that it was the first time her nerves had stopped jangling since her injury and that she looked forward to coming back.
Great! I thought. Next week, I’ll create a sequence that’s designed to support her.
The following week, she didn’t attend. Instead, she was replaced by a student who had never practiced yoga and who used a wheelchair. Needless to say, that lovingly designed sequence had to be tossed out the window.
Every experienced vinyasa yoga teacher has stories of creating sequences that were completely wrong for the students who came to class, but when teaching adaptive yoga, the challenges can be more dramatic. I’ve also found these classes to be some of the richest, most enjoyable, and engaging that I’ve taught, and they’ve made me a better teacher in my able-bodied classes too.
Here are a few of the most important lessons I’ve learned:
1) Be aware of your own ableism.
This can range from careless language choices (I still cringe at the time I thoughtlessly described myself as “spazzy” in one of my classes), to deeply rooted and perhaps unexamined assumptions. For example, not everyone who uses a wheelchair sees that as a burden or has the goal of one day getting out of their chair. Take the time to really listen to your students and learn what their goals are, rather than setting out to “fix” them according to your own values and priorities.
2) Consider the purpose of each pose.
As you create a class – whether by planning it in advance or developing it in the moment – take time to reflect on your true goal with each shape. Take tree pose, for example. Your primary goal with the shape could be grounding, a gentle hip opening, increasing core strength, building the stabilizing muscles of the ankle and foot, teaching about drishti, or something else entirely. Once you know your true goal, you’ll have a much better sense of how to adapt the pose for a wide variety of bodies.
Tree pose can be done with the foot as a kickstand, using the wall for support, from a chair, with a block to support the shape, or even on the floor, pressing into a wall for grounding.
3) Take your time.
Many people with disabilities are expected to spend most of their lives adapting to the able-bodied world. That often includes having other people move their bodies for them. In my experience, many disabled students savor the opportunity to take a class that moves at their pace. Sometimes that means me giving five minutes for a student to move themselves from their chair to the floor, or collaborating with them to find a prop set-up that will allow them to settle into a pose rather than being expected to skip past it. Don’t be afraid to converse with your students so that they have space to tell you how you can best support them.
4) Move through the joints.
Feeling overwhelmed about where to start? One structure that I’ve found helpful is to move through the major joints of the body, starting at either the top or the bottom. So, I might start class with neck releases, then shoulder circles, then moving the spine through its major movements (forward bending, back bending, side bending, and twists). Next would come elbow, wrist, and finger movements, then hip releases, followed by knee, ankle, and toe movements. If you move slowly and mindfully through the class, and take time to make each shape work for each student (which might include them physically manipulating parts of their bodies, such as using their hands to move their legs through hip circles), this is often a sufficient physical practice. If you add in a bit of breathwork and some restorative shapes and savasana, this work can comfortably fill a 60-90 minute class.
If you want to learn more about how to teach students with disabilities, one great resource is Accessible Yoga. They offer trainings around the country, an annual conference, an educational blog, and an online community that is readily available to answer questions and offer fresh perspectives.
For me, it started with a concussion. I’d been hit in the head while sparring in tae kwon do, which led to a headache and mental fog that lingered for months. I couldn’t maintain any of my regular physical activities while I was unfocused, in pain, and unhappy. Then I walked into a yoga class and for the first time in months I felt better. So I kept coming back, eventually falling so deeply in love with the physical and internal practices that I decided to become a teacher.
While each of our stories are unique, most of us became yoga teachers because we experienced the power of practice in our own lives and witnessed its power in the lives of others. In theory, these benefits should be widely accessible—you can practice yoga virtually anywhere, without any special clothing or equipment, and there are adaptations that can make it available to any body type or ability level. Yet many people face barriers that can stop them from ever experiencing yoga. Studio memberships are expensive and attending a class can be challenging with transportation or childcare needs. The “Instagram yogi” – typically a white female who is young, slim, and remarkably flexible – can lead many people to feel like yoga isn’t for them.
If you’d like to take yoga from the studio and into the wider community, here are some ways to get started:
What first drew you to yoga? What made you fall in love with it? If you could only teach one theme for the rest of your career, what would it be and why? What skills, insights, or gifts can you offer? What cause or group are you most passionate about?
2. Really Reflect
What really draws you towards the work you identified? Is it because of unhealed wounds? Is it out of a desire for positive attention? What are the gaps in your training, and what are you truly ready for?
As a social worker, I know many people who want to work in domestic violence shelters because of their own history of being abused, who want to work in addiction treatment centers because a loved one has struggled with addiction, and so on. That’s a beautiful response to pain, but if you haven’t worked through your own experiences – in therapy or treatment – then you are likely to bring your baggage into your classes. The best thing you can do here is to heal yourself first, and then offer support to others.
Or maybe you were just born with a deep desire to help others. That’s beautiful too. However, that desire is only a starting point. If, for example, you have no experience or training in working with trauma, you shouldn’t jump straight into teaching classes to people who have experienced a great deal of it. If you’re really invested in working with a particular population, look into training opportunities so you can support them effectively.
In either case, you can still do some things right away. For example, maybe you aren’t ready to teach students who are living at a domestic violence shelter, but you could teach classes to the staff who work there. They’re likely to be less vulnerable, but they still carry an enormous burden of stress and secondary trauma. By supporting them, you are also helping support their clients.
3. Reach Out
Once you have an idea of what kind of work you’d like to do, start researching and reaching out to organizations. In addition to more obvious spaces such as domestic violence shelters, rehabilitation clinics, etc., consider contacting local community centers, places of worship, and studios to see if they’d be willing to donate space for a class. I’ve taught weekly donation-based classes to people with disabilities at a local studio and weekly self-care classes to social workers at a local church, and in each case they provided the space for free because they believed in the cause.
If possible, visit your site ahead of time and talk to someone who works there. Ask them about the population you’ll be teaching, including:
What language(s) they speak. Don’t assume that everyone is fluent in English.
Their overall physical fitness levels. Many students may be less fit than those in a “beginner” studio yoga class. Things like transitioning between sitting and standing or spending time on hands and knees can be difficult for many people.
The space you’ll be teaching in. One local organization had trouble retaining students because they offered classes in an open, central area with a lot of foot traffic. Many students felt uncomfortable practicing there, and the class quickly grew once they moved into a separate room. Brainstorm with the organization to find an arrangement that will lead to the greatest sense of safety and ease.
Props. Unless you’re teaching at a studio, it’s unlikely that mats or other props will be provided, but the organization may be able to purchase them if you ask. If not, this is a great opportunity to solicit community support for your work. Many studios are willing to donate used mats, or you may be able to organize a fundraiser so you can buy them yourself. Just make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to do so before classes begin.
If this is a “top-down” class (initiated by you or the organization, rather than being requested by the clients), it may take more effort to promote the class. Some effective approaches include:
Offering an ‘intro to yoga’ session that includes a brief, accessible teaching demonstration and time to answer questions.
Communicating with clients to find the best time to offer classes. I’ve seen classes grow from 2 to 20 students, simply by changing the schedule.
Being intentional about promotional materials. This includes considering what language(s) to present the information in, and what images to use. For example, if you’re new to yoga and not very physically active, which of these images would make you feel more open to trying out a class?
6. Protect Yourself
I am not a lawyer, and you’d be smart to talk to one before you get started. At a minimum, make sure that your teaching insurance covers what you’ll be offering, ask your organization about their insurance coverage, and ask all of your students to sign liability waivers before their first class.
Beyond your legal protections, make sure that you’re creating boundaries and self care practices for yourself. By stepping into spaces with more vulnerable populations, you’re likely to hear difficult stories. Take time to ground yourself before and after each class to recognize that you are only there to serve as their yoga teacher. Give yourself space to process your own experiences and reactions in a healthy way – perhaps with a therapist, through journaling, or with a trusted loved one. Most of all, notice if you’re become more anxious, reactive, or burned out over time. If so, that’s a strong indication that you need to change or increase your self care practices and re-evaluate your boundaries as a teacher.
7. Consider Safety
Teaching outside the yoga studio isn’t inherently dangerous, but you may be offering classes to populations at higher risks for outbursts, in less safe communities, or without easy access to back-up if a situation does occur. At a minimum, ensure that you have contact information for at least one person within the organization where you’re teaching who can support you when needed, and consider partnering with a co-teacher. That has the added advantage of providing you with a built-in substitute when needed, as well as someone to share ideas and process your experiences with.
When the time comes to teaching, leave perfection at the door! Teaching in the community is quite different from teaching in a studio space, and you may feel like a beginning teacher all over again. Embrace the opportunity to learn, and focus on connecting with your students in a meaningful way. As long as you leave them feeling better than they did when they began your class, you’re doing a beautiful job.
The last few weeks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, have been a new frontier in the 28 years that I have practiced medicine. As a breast cancer surgeon, I am often the first caregiver a woman meets when facing a new cancer diagnosis. Me leading the charge, expediting a multidisciplinary plan and moving swiftly to treatment has been a way to help curtail anxiety for my patients. The viral pandemic has created an unseen enemy amidst the delivery of patient care. Moving surgeries, delaying standard treatment for less invasive cancer care, so not to compromise the immune function an individual’s health while awaiting the surge of the pandemic. Nationally and locally, new guidelines for treatment have emerged based on the need for systemic preparation to care for ventilated viral patients had lead to closing operating rooms, furloughing some healthcare providers, reassigning others. Paradigm shifts of uncertainty for all of us, well beyond medicine. Each decision I have made with thoughtfulness and compassion, bears weight for uncharted trajectory of patient care.
Bewildering as our circumstance is, my yoga training has taught me to dive within. To cultivate compassion for myself and others as I settle in to the discomfort of this moment. Realizing we are all connected, and that such immobilizing circumstances can be liberated with mindfulness to quell fear and isolation.
There are many things we can do as the Yoga Medicine Community. Our intentions, thoughts and actions, the sum of our choices can help others during this pandemic. In times of great challenge, is an opportunity to stand witness to uncertainty and fear, yet move beyond to inspire elevation. Inspiring elevation is the embodiment of altruism, connection to all, reaching through suffering to uplift, and create change within ourselves and others. Reach out to others, check in on neighbors and loved ones. Stay connected to your community.
Yoga Medicine® is closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19. Please check our COVID-19 Resources Page for informational resources and training updates.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Diane Malaspina Ph.D., Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist and Applied Psychologist. Combining yoga tradition and modern science, she teaches evidenced-based methods for healing, stress prevention, and sustainable well-being through yoga sessions, workshops, and teacher training — both locally and across the globe.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
As a graduate student, I was burned out and carried a lot of stress, like most grad students, and a friend recommended that I try yoga. My area of study in school was coping with stress and resilience and when I came out of my first yoga class I was completely hooked — I felt like I genuinely tapped into the experience of what I was studying about — a mind-body modality that also helps me feel more connected to life. Through the years I maintained a consistent yoga practice, and later in life, as a psychology professor, I dedicated most of my free time to take as many yoga and meditation workshops and training that I could find, while also teaching yoga on the side. Eventually, I took a deeper look at my life, felt that it was too stressful, with too much pressure, and that I wasn’t able to directly help others like I wanted to — so I left my career and went into business for myself. Along the way, I completed an advanced certification with Yoga Medicine® which brought together my two passions of blending Eastern and Western modalities as therapeutic approaches to healing and well-being, that I incorporate in my work as both an Applied Psychologist and yoga instructor.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I opened a yoga studio and ran it from 2010–2016. In the 2 -year transition from leaving academia to opening the studio, I had a few side jobs to help sustain me financially. When one of the contracted jobs I was working was about to end, I didn’t have a solid plan for what was to come next. So I embarked on a 30 -day meditation practice with the intention of ‘staying open.’ By day 15, it came to me that I wanted to run a yoga studio. On day 17 of the practice, I entered negotiations with a local studio to see if I could buy their business. On day 22 the owners decided not to sell. On day 26 my friend told me her mother’s Pilates studio had a space for rent that could be used as a separate business entity. And on day 29 of my ‘staying open’ meditation, I garnered a business license, started an LLC, and obtained the keys to my first location for a yoga studio! The meditation practice provided me with the space and insight to connect to something that I didn’t even realize was a dream. The experience of owning the studio gave me a lot of teaching experience, pushed me to learn and offer different styles of yoga, create workshops and a teacher training, and provided me with business experience that I still rely on. Five years into owning the studio I went on a 2-week meditation retreat. I found myself very emotional and crying uncontrollably for several days. As I delved into the emotions, I realized I was ready to move on from owning a studio. I uncovered a new vision for my work, eventually closed the studio, and started taking the steps which brought me to my current work as both a Psychologist and yoga teacher trainer (with the perks of international travel)! I have never felt so fulfilled professionally. Again, meditation paved the way for me to connect to my deeper intuition and inspired me into the next phase of growth.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle is a book that I come back to time and time again, and every time I discover something new or relate to a lesson in a different way. One of my favorite passages in the book is the re-telling of a Zen story where two monks are walking and pass a woman who is trying to cross the road, but she can’t get across because there is a deep mud hole, and if she were to go through, she would ruin her kimono. One of the monks picks her up and carries her across the road, sets her down and the two monks continue on their way. Several hours pass, and one monk says: “Why did you carry her across the road? We are not supposed to do that.” The monk who carried her responds: “I put her down hours ago, are you still carrying her?” I love this story because as humans we carry around so many grievances and stories that take us out of the present and block our ability to see clearly, thus creating stress and burden. These thoughts keep us from living in the reality and beauty of the present and affect many aspects of our life.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
Mindfulness is a practice and like anything that is a practice it needs to be done over and over again. There is no end point. It requires the honing of all of our senses and taking in each experience through the five senses while turning off the internal dialog. It is a state of allowing the mind to be full of the current experience and not full of thoughts. The state of being mindful is the ability to get quiet and apply focus to each moment. I also see it as a place where we can just ‘be’ — versus having to take action or do anything.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
Physically, practicing mindfulness reduces stress which has positive effects on the nervous system. When our nervous system is more balanced, we see a variety of health outcomes including enhanced cardiovascular health, immunity, and reduced muscular tension and inflammation which could be related to feeling less pain in the body and lower risk for disease-causing states. There is also evidence that practices reduce cell aging, affecting the integrity of specific proteins (called telomeres), which may be related to enhanced longevity and protection from the effects of aging. Mentally, mindfulness practice is associated with improved focus and executive functioning — which includes better problem-solving and decision making. In addition, mindfulness-based practices minimize activity in an area of the brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN) which is where we tend to engage in mind wandering and often times this mind wandering is related to negative thinking. Mindfulness may also slow the cognitive decline associated with aging and Alzheimer’s Disease. Emotional benefits include improved mood, increases in positive emotions, and decreases in anxiety, emotional reactivity, and other stress-related conditions like feelings of overwhelm and burnout. Since mindfulness practice re-directs neural circuity, it takes the patterns away from the emotional centers related to fight or flight and into the areas of the brain where we can process emotions and respond versus react.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
Minimize the amount of exposure you have to all media, including television and screen time. Choose a trusted source for news and read articles, versus watching videos or live updates. Stay current on events but limit your news intake to two times per day. I have found that when I mindlessly look at social media or have the television running that there is sensory overload which is highly stimulating and evokes fear responses. We don’t experience the same sensory overwhelm when reading the written word versus seeing and hearing it on a screen.
Spend time outside daily. Look up at the sky and broaden your perspective to take in the landscape around you. Close your eyes and notice the smells, breeze on your skin, and sounds of nature. I live near the ocean and I make a point to spend time on the beach daily (no matter the weather). The sounds, smells, and sights help me to be in the moment and recognize the larger scope of all life as it lives on this planet. My daily world seems less significant when I ponder and expose myself to the vastness of the natural world.
Start your morning reading something inspiring. Avoid looking at a screen for the first 30 minutes of your day. I wake up early enough to read 3–4 pages of an inspirational book to set the tone for my day.
Practice being quiet and still, with the eyes closed and focus on the breath. I do this after I read, but it can be done at any time during the day. Start with 1 minute (you can use a timer). Commit to sitting, eyes closed, quietly observing your breath. When ready, increase to 2 minutes, then 3. You might build up to 10 minutes, but don’t make it a goal. Simply practice sitting quietly and following your breath and naturally, you’ll crave more time doing this.
When you find yourself overwhelmed or in a negative state, write down all of your concerns on a piece of paper or in a journal. Free write without editing, just to get it all out. After writing down concerns, evaluate which ones you could actually have an influence on. Take a moment to reflect, how much time do you spend thinking/worrying about these concerns? Next to the ones that you can do something about, record 1 -2 things that you will do to shift the concern so that it loses its power. Reflect again, wouldn’t it be a better use of your mental time and energy to focus on things you can influence versus the concerns you can’t do much about? Every thought creates a mental map for better or for worse. Spending time in a proactive state vs a reactive state will rewire your mind and prime you toward creative solutions. When we are in a fear state, we activate the parts of the brain that create more stress and worry. When we are in a solution state, we broaden and build our thought repertoires towards creativity, flexible thinking, and inviting social support.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Reach out and let them know you are thinking of them. I just recently went through a hard time and receiving messages from others was really helpful in knowing that I wasn’t alone and that someone took a moment to let me know they care.
Listen empathically. Try not to interject and make the conversation about yourself — allow them to express/vent. Ask: “How can I help?”
Encourage self-care on a regular basis and share ways that you are engaging in self-care, too. This might be a daily exercise, taking a bath, watching a funny movie, or something else that brings joy or relaxation.
Bring attention to what is going well. Right now we are exposed to a lot of negative information and fear. Emphasize areas that are going well and celebrate those successes.
Encourage reaching out for mental health support. Many therapists are offering tele-therapy sessions. I had a Zoom call with my therapist recently and it was really supportive in helping me navigate some grief and anger that I was experiencing.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Awareness is always the first step in starting a new behavior or changing a habit. Taking the time to learn about what mindfulness is and how it is beneficial is a great place to start. There are several yoga and meditation classes offered online for beginners that can be helpful. I personally like YogaGlo as they have a large library and classes that range from 5 minutes up. I also suggest reading articles and books on mindful practices which can bring help with learning new perspectives.
Keeping an end of day log of what went well today and what seemed challenging today can enhance reflective capacity and bring awareness to day-to-day living. Once we have an idea of the current state of life, we can start coming up with strategies for doing things differently. I recommend starting with small steps — doing one thing a day differently that will increase being more mindful and feeling more serene. Then, at the end of the day, reflect: how did that make me feel? If it made you feel good, you’ll be more likely to keep doing it as it will become an important part of daily living. As these feel-good strategies start to take up more of our time, it becomes a lifestyle versus one more thing to add to our day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” Oprah Winfrey
I recently experienced the unexpected loss of my beloved dog. It was a tremendously difficult experience as she was very healthy and through the negligence of a vet, her life went from thriving to not surviving. In the course of it all, I was by her side for weeks, praying and doing all that I could in hopes of her getting better. Unfortunately, she did not, and I had to let her go. I experienced deep shock, anger, and loss. I connected back to what my dog’s life taught me, and that was unwavering love. My original reaction was seeped in the negativity of anger, but I shifted my center of gravity toward love and have found a new way to stand. I’ve always been drawn to work that helps others, but now I am even more inspired with a sense of service in the healing power of support and love.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to see more awareness around mental health, stress reduction, and ways to live more connected in our bodies and minds start early in life and in school curriculums. Based on my own research and that of others, we can clearly see social and emotional challenges as early as kindergarten. Not enough time is devoted to developing the whole person. I’d love to see a paradigm shift where mind-body education and wellness is an inherent part of our life-long educational system with supports embedded for those who are struggling. This should be a community-wide approach with guidance for students, school personnel, and families. We could be learning effective coping strategies and lifestyle habits throughout our life that prevent anxiety and depression and that enhance overall well-being.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
If you’ve been curled up on your couch on a steady diet of wine, cable news and coffee, and/or your step count is barely escaping triple digits, it’s time for a reset. But maintaining, let alone starting, a fitness routine during the current COVID-19 situation poses unique challenges. Mainly: how to exercise during a pandemic.
And hey, if you’re kicking yourself for not ordering that Peloton bike over the winter, don’t beat yourself up. There are very efficient, effective ways to work out at home with zero gym equipment by simply using things lying around your house, regardless of your current state of fitness.
But first, here’s a quick pep talk on why it’s so essential to figure out a home exercise regimen that’s right for you, even at a time when gyms and many parks are closed and fitness as usual is on hold.
The Exercise-Immune System Connection
A healthy immune system is on everyone’s mind right now. And while there’s no shortage of information about the best herbs, teas and foods for immune health, what about the best types of exercise to bolster our bodies’ first line of defense against infection?
The research literature is clear when it comes to the benefits of exercise on the immune system. Regular, moderately intense endurance exercise improves immune responses. This includes things like brisk walking, slow jogging, climbing stairs and dancing. The speed at which you perform these exercises is different for everyone because we’re all at different fitness levels.
But the idea is moderate-intensity exercise means you’re moving in a way that burns off three to six times as much energy every minute compared to just sitting and watching Netflix, reading or watching your plants grow.
How do we know we’re in the moderate zone? Here are four easy options to determine when you’re there:
1. Use the Talk Test
You can talk, but not sing, when you’re hitting the moderate-intensity zone.
2. Use Simple Math to Estimate
Aim to hit a target heart rate between 64 and 76 percent of your maximum heart rate. To estimate your max heart rate and moderate intensity based on your age, use this easy formula:
220 – your age = your maximum heart rate (beats per minute)
For example, I’m 38, so my moderate-intensity range would be between about 116 and 138 beats per minute, determined by:
Max heart rate: 220 – 38 years = 182 beats per minute (bpm)
Low-end of moderate intensity target: 182 x 0.64 = 116
High-end of moderate intensity target: 182 x 0.76 = 138
Starting at 6 (the easiest) and going all the way up to 20 (sprinting all out like a tiger’s nipping on your new pair of Brooks), you’ll want to hit exertion cues (“fairly light” to “somewhat hard”) in the middle for moderate intensity endurance training.
So think more like booking it through the grocery store with your cart to avoid all of those people without masks to brisk-paced walking or slow jogging, but not something that puts you completely out of breath and unable to hold a conversation.
4. Use Technology
Some fitness devices are geared toward your intensity zones, so just make sure you calibrate your device correctly and you understand those zones to make sure you’re getting accurate readings.
Now, when it comes to exercise and immunity, less is known about intense exercise and strength training because this body of literature isn’t as established. After all, compared to other sciences, exercise science is relatively new and there’s a lot to learn.
But in general, there appears to be no harm in working out more intensely, in moderation, and tapping into the benefits of strength training when it comes to immune system health, explains Jeffrey A. Woods, PhD, professor of kinesiology and community health and associate dean for research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Most studies show either no effect or a slight improvement in immunity. So continue to exercise. Do not let this pandemic stop you from gaining the benefits of exercise.”
That said, there are some basic rules to live by when trying to figure out how to exercise during a pandemic.
10 Rules on How to Exercise During a Pandemic
1. Don’t Start an Intense Training Regimen if You’re Out of Shape – Build Up Slowly
Maybe you’re one of the millions laid off. Or working from home. Or waiting for your business to open back up. Whatever the case, you may find yourself with more free time at home.
Work out. But be moderate. I know, I know, selling the idea of moderation is hard. Americans love the idea of 15-day fixes and “instant results.” But one of the No. 1 mistakes in exercise is to go too hard too soon. Give your body time to adapt and lower your risk of burnout and injury by easing into it.
Remember, there are always peaks and valleys when it comes to motivation levels, so don’t try to sprint a marathon. Be in it for the long game. Shoot for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week, but start with less if you have to. The main idea is to get moving. We know exercise releases endorphins and helps reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Be inspired, start slowly and build up.
2. Save Group/Contact Sports for Another Time
News alert. Now isn’t the time for neighborhood pickup games or sneaking into your neighbor’s basement for close-contact, live training with your Brazilian jiu-jitsu buds. Understanding that even asymptomatic people can spread COVID-19, and it can strike people of all ages, including people who are otherwise in good health, makes this one a no-brainer.
“It would be beneficial during these times to avoid modes of exercise that puts you in close quarters with large groups of people. This would include all forms of close-quarter martial arts training, including boxing, wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” says National Academy of Sports Medicine spokesperson Prentiss Rhodes, CPT, CES, PES, CSCS. “There are plenty of solo drills that you can do to stay fit, such as shadow boxing, various rolls and ground mobility drills like shrimping and bridging.”
The idea is to minimize physical contact with others right now to help prevent overwhelming the healthcare system. Many people are doing this, and where they are, it’s working. It’s also important not to rush back into close-contact exercise with others outside of your household, especially given the history of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which was much deadlier in its second wave.
3. Avoid “Slipstreams” When It Comes to Exercising Outside
While getting outside to exercise can certainly be beneficial, experts say it’s best to stick to solo runs and rides … or stick to exercising in a pack of people from your own household for now — and away from high foot-traffic areas to reduce exposure.
If you’re wondering about getting together with Friends for group runs … well, this isn’t the time for that. While the patchwork of stay-at-home restrictions across different states may seem confusing, and most do allow for outdoor exercise, fitness experts say it is best overall to avoid getting together in groups with people from different households to workout together.
Recent preliminary research looking at “slipstreams,” the spray of fluid in the region behind a moving person, actually went viral. Using computer simulation, Belgian researchers’ early findings suggest that the often recommended six-foot physical distancing rule may not be enough to prevent virus spread from one person to another during outdoor exercise.
To be clear, the researchers released the “white paper” findings early before peer review and has faced some criticism for that. But it is an interesting point to consider. When we are running and cycling, do we leave a path of potential transmission behind and around us?
Here’s what Woods, also a spokesperson for the American Collage of Sports Medicine, says:
There is very little research on this to make firm conclusions at the moment, but the physics makes sense, so I would recommend staying out of slipstreams of people while exercising especially until we know more and the pandemic eases. If you are moving at higher speeds, the aerosolized viral particles spread in the air farther before dropping to the ground. If you are behind someone moving fast — running, cycling — or there is high winds, there is increased risk and distances between people should be increased.
This isn’t to incite fear, but the science is interesting and something to consider. The truth is, we just don’t know fully how this virus behaves yet. So I like the way Bicycling’s Selene Yeager put it:
In the end, the advice still stands: Stay home as much as you can. Wash your hands often. Ride and run solo, striving for as much physical distance as you can from others — but definitely at least six feet. Wear a [mask] if you’re going to be in highly trafficked areas. If you feel at all sick stay home.
While getting together with folks outside of your household may be safe if social distancing is maintained, the optics of it aren’t good right now. “I would not encourage this, as it is a slippery slope to break the rules,” Woods says, noting one exercise mistake he’s seeing is people coming into close contact with people outside of their own households.
5. Resist the Urge to Overtrain
“For people who exercise regularly, continue to do so, taking precautions,” Woods says. “If this changes your routine, make a new one. You may find it energizes your workouts, finding more creative ways to resistance train, using body weight with objects in the home.”
For people who may be immune compromised due to type 2 diabetes, living with cancer, high blood pressure and so on, Woods recommends starting out with light to moderate endurance activities like walking and light stretching and lifting, noting it is best to check in with a healthcare provider by phone. “But it is very important for high COVID-19 risk groups like this to practice good public health hygiene and social distancing and making sure they don’t overdo it.”
More intense, prolonged exercise is likely low-risk for people accustomed to it, but there is some evidence to suggest that highly intense or prolonged exercise can reduce immune function, especially if performed by someone not accustomed to it.
Woods says signs you’re doing too much, too soon and in overtraining mode include:
Fatigue in response to normally easy exercise
Failure to recover from mild exercise
Change in heart rate, including low heart rate
Lack of refreshing sleep
Other indicators include increased soreness and joint pain, chronic fatigue or exhaustion, feeling more thirsty than usual, changes to your menstrual cycle and digestive issues.
6. Get the Kids Onboard
For moms like Ali Lockey, exercise has always been a bonding experience for her and 20-month-old daughter Brynnley. Ali remained active throughout pregnancy, and when she started training again after giving birth, Brynnley tagged along to her training sessions at the gym, where she quickly became known as her mom’s “personal trainer.”
With trips to the training studio on hold, Ali and Brynnley are staying fit with at-home workouts, tuning in remotely with their real trainer.
The key to staying consistent with at-home workouts with little ones around, Ali says, is keeping things light and fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And definitely use your child, when it’s safe, if you need a little added resistance!
If possible to do safely with restrictions in place, Rhodes stresses getting outside and exercising in open air. “The importance of this can’t be underestimated. Adding sun and fresh air to your workouts can have a positive effect on your mood.”
Another tip? “Think about unstructured play as a form of exercise,” he adds. “Playing games like freeze tag or an active game of animal charades with kids or keep-away with pets is a great way to sneak some cardio in while also bonding.”
7. Get Creative
Instead of dropping much-needed cash on new workout gear that could be backordered for weeks, use what you’ve got. You likely already know about using soup cans as weights, but here are some ways to improvise with things likely in and around the house … and don’t worry, I’ll show you how to use them in a workout below.
Bags of dry pet food
Jugs of milk/detergent/bulk cleaner
Your kid or other humans living in your home
You! You didn’t think you’d get away without doing bodyweight exercises, did you?
8. Don’t Forget Other Wellness Necessities
While learning how to exercise during a pandemic is important, your recovery is just as important, says Rhodes. He recommends:
Sleeping at least eight hours
Eating a diet balanced for your specific needs, including plenty of fruits and vegetables because they provide many co-factors necessary to drive the chemical reactions in the body
Drink plenty of fluids
Practice mindfulness activities to reduce additional life stress
9. Use the ‘FITTE’ Approach
While there is no one, “best” exercise plan, you should put a little planning into it for long-term success. Rhodes says a good approach would be to follow the FITTE principle which stands for: Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type and Enjoyment.
For example, you could use the principle in the following way. (And seriously, put this down on paper, and then schedule it into your calendar for a much higher shot at success.)
Frequency: I will train two to three days per week.
Intensity: I will train at a moderate exertion level or at 70 to 80 percent of my 1 RM (repetition max)
Time: 60 minutes
Type: Barbells, bodyweight exercise, various cardio exercises
Enjoyment: Circuit training, interval training, etc.
“Do not overlook the enjoyment part of the principle, as it will keep you motivated and on track with your routine,” Rhodes warns. “In short, if you don’t like running for cardio, don’t run. You’ll dislike it and eventually quit your program.”
When etching out your plan, however, opt for some strength training two to three days per week and cardio training three to five days per week.
10. Consider Teaming Up with a Local Exercise Expert
Lastly, if you are looking for motivation and an expert to help you on your journey and have the means to do it, know that many certified personal trainers are taking their expertise online using Facetime, Zoom and other one-on-one digital connect points to help you hit your goals.
Look for trainers certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, American Collage of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Association. An advanced degree in exercise science, kinesiology or a related field is a major plus.
If funds are tight, consider teaming up with someone in a different household and splitting the training session while meeting during the same time slot virtually, if your trainer’s up for it.
In-Home Pandemic Workout Ideas
Ready to get to work? OK. Head over to that pile of laundry on your dining room table, dig out your favorite workout pants and hey, don’t worry if they’re covered in cat hair. Mine are, too. Let’s go!
Corrective/Mobility Work Ideas
1. Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) Using a Rolling Pin
With many folks more sedentary than ever, it’s important to work some self-myofascial release into your fitness game plan to help work out muscle imbalances commonly seen in people sitting a lot or spending a lot of time behind a screen.
Foam roller exercises are great for this, but if you don’t have a roller handy, there are ways to improvise. If you have a rolling pin handy, it can be great tool to work through the calves, an area that tends to get tight on most folks and can impact your squat form and low back health.
Sitting on the floor, place one calf over the rolling pin. If you need extra weight, cross your other leg over the leg you’re rolling.
More around until you find a tender spot and stay there for 30 seconds. Avoid rolling quickly back and forth and instead keep pressure on the spot for at least 30 seconds. If you feel intense pain, pins and needles or burning, stop immediately.
SMR may not be appropriate if you’ve got uncontrolled high blood pressure, are pregnant, dealing with a new injury, osteoporosis or skin infection or cancer, so always check with your go-to healthcare expert if you’re dealing with any specific health issues.
2. SMR Using Tennis Balls
For those trigger point “knots” — those nooks and crannies in the upper back, pecs and TFL muscles, I use Recovery Rounds by Rad Roller created by Yoga Medicine’s Tiffany Cruikshank. The same principle of applying pressure to the tender spot for 30 seconds to a minute before releasing works with with this ball-type recovery tool, too.
But even a tennis ball can get the job done and can bring great relief to the upper traps, which tend to get super tight due to irregular (and common) shallow chest breathing patterns and spending too much time slouched in front of a screen.
After you use SMR on a particular area, be sure to stretch it out with 30-second static stretch holds, too, before starting your workout.
3. Supported Fish Pose with Rolled Up Blanket
This is great restorative yoga pose for the end of a workout, especially one involving lots of push-ups. But it’s also nice to start out in supported fish for a few minutes to open up the typically tight chest muscles, including the pecs and intercostal rib muscles, and working through the thoracic spine area.
To set up, roll a blanket the long way and place your buttocks on the floor at the end of the cylinder-shaped, rolled-up blanket. Then, simply lie down, aligning your spine on the blanket, making sure your head is also supported and not hanging off the other end. Take the arms out to the side, resting on the floor with the palms up.
Or, another option here is to take the arms into a cactus or goal post position, with the back of the hands resting on the floor or a yoga block or pillow for support.
Equipment-Free Exercise Ideas
Get started by activating typically underactive muscles like the glutes and core. Start slowly and work up to get your muscles moving and heart rate elevated.
This all depends on your current fitness and mobility levels, so go at your own pace and listen to your body. Skip what doesn’t feel supportive in your body and work up to more reps and sets and duration as your fitness increases. Some in-home ideas include:
Marching/running in place
Jumping jacks and other burst training at home exercises
Plank exercise variations
V-ups and other ab workout options
Butt workout exercises like sumo squats, donkey kicks, hip raises and jump squats
Chair exercises for seniors
Dot drill: Place a few pieces of tape on your floor and hop or step to the different spots. Be sure it isn’t super strong tape, and don’t let it on for long, or it could strip the finish off of your flooring.
At-Home Strength Training Ideas
1. Using Frisbees/Paper Plates as Exercise Sliders
To work the hamstrings, you can place frisbees on paper plats under your heels, and keeping the core engaged and strong, bridge up, slide heels away from you and then pull them back in toward your butt.
In a new way to work the core, you can use your frisbees and/or paper plates starting in table top position (on hangs and knees with wrists stacked under shoulders and knees stacked under hips), and then slowly sliding forward, being sure not to overextend your lower back before returning to tabletop position.
For an adductor workout, try this slider exercise:
Start with one foot on a paper plate or frisbee.
Keeping the core strong and making sure knees aren’t caving over toes, slide the plate out to the side, press down and pull back to center.
2. Hamstring Curl with a Box
This 2-pound box of dehydrated shiitake mushrooms was the perfect light weight for this at-home hamstring curl.
Got an office chair on wheels? Another way to work the hamstring is simply sitting in your chair on an uncarpeted surfaced and using just your legs to pull yourself forward.
3. Dust Off Your Luggage
You may not be going on vacation anytime soon, but you can certainly use suitcases in your at-home workout routine. One easy way is to incorporate it into an upright row, as you see below:
Adding Extra Weight
If you exercise at home with a toddler, you know, if done safely, they can make a great way to add resistance to an exercise. My husband, Greg (also a trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist through NSCA), and I only have three cats, so we rely on larger bags of dry cat food instead!
Try using these if you need a little added weight for things like planks and bridges. Just be prepared for your pets to swarm you, thinking it’s dinner time.
Cool Down/Breath Work
Finally, finish off your at-home workout with the following in order to flush lactic acid out of your muscles and settle back into your day with a tired but inspired body and mind!
Repeat Supported Fish with a Blanket
Stretch calves, TFL and pecs (hold each for 30 seconds)
Gentle yoga for lymph flow to improve your immunity
Crocodile for diaphragmatic breathing training and stress relief
When looking for ways to manage scoliosis, many people turn to physical activity. One form of movement that’s gained a lot of followers in the scoliosis community is yoga.
Scoliosis, which causes a sideways curve of the spine, is often associated with children and adolescents, but people of all ages have this disorder. And the spine, like the rest of our bodies, can change over time.
Physical activity, such as a regular yoga practice, is one form of treatment your doctor may recommend to help you deal with the challenges and pain that accompany scoliosis.
That said, there are some things to consider before you flow into a yoga sequence. Here are some tips and moves to get you started.
Why Yoga is Beneficial for Scoliosis
Yoga can be very helpful for those with scoliosis, particularly given the combination of flexibility and core stabilization needed to perform yoga poses properly, according to Sami Ahmed, DPT, a physical therapist at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics.
Stretch and Strengthen the Sides of the Body
When practicing yoga, Ahmed says parts of the body are stretched, and others are forced to contract by performing various movement patterns that require a sustained hold of a certain position. This often results in increased mobility of the thoracic spine.
Decrease Pain and Stiffness
“When looking at the spine, especially for those with scoliosis, we think about two concepts regarding its stability: form and force closure,” says Ahmed.
By strengthening the force closure, which is made up of muscles and connective tissue that keep the spine in proper alignment, Ahmed says you can often see a decrease in pain and improvement in overall function.
Physical activity, such as yoga, can help foster the maintenance of a neutral spine or improve the overall alignment.
Maintain or Improve Spinal Position
In fact, one study of 25 patients with scoliosis found that those who performed the Side Plank pose saw improvement in the primary scoliotic curve of the spine (measured as the Cobb angle).
To show improvement, participants practiced the yoga pose for 90 seconds, on an average of 6 days per week, for a little over 6 months.
Potential Benefits of Yoga for Scoliosis
stretch areas tightened by spinal curvature
strengthen weakened areas affected by the spine’s position
strengthen the core overall
improve mobility and flexibility
maintain or improve spinal position
Know Your Scoliosis Type
If you’re interested in trying yoga to reduce pain and correct your curve, Elise Browning Miller, a senior certified Iyengar yoga teacher (CIYT) with an MA in therapeutic recreation, says you first need to understand what your pattern of scoliosis is.
“In other words, they need to picture which way their curve goes from behind and understand the rotation as well because if they don’t know their curve, they won’t understand how to do the poses to correct the curve,” she says.
Begin with Conscious Breathing
When Miller works with students who have scoliosis, she first focuses on yoga breathing with simple poses to bring the breath into the compressed areas, where breathing is compromised.
“If there is the gnawing tightness on the side or sides of the back where the scoliosis laterally and rotationally goes, then stretching that area can relieve the discomfort,” she adds.
“The approach should both involve reducing pain as well as correcting the scoliosis,” says Miller. That said, she does point out that the most important thing is to reduce the pain or discomfort and to keep the curve from getting worse, which can be done with the right approach to yoga.
Accept That Moves Can Be Different for Right and Left Sides
Jenni Tarma, a Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist, says that when using yoga to help manage scoliosis, you should remember that the distribution of tension in the surrounding tissues has become uneven due to the curvature of the spine.
“More specifically, the tissues on the concave side of the curve are shorter and tighter, whereas those on the convex side are in a continually lengthened position, and most likely weaker,” she says.
Stretch or Strengthen Where It’s Needed
Ideally, Tarma says the goal is to reestablish some balance and try to get things more symmetrical with:
targeted stretching on the concave or shortened side
strengthening on the convex or lengthened side
Skip the Pose, Any Pose
She also reminds students that since there might be significant limitations with range of motion, you should feel comfortable and empowered to skip poses that aren’t feasible or productive. It’s always important to work within your own capacity.
Give the Instructor a Heads-Up
It’s common for instructors to move around during a yoga class and make adjustments to a person’s pose.
“Hands-on adjustments in classes aren’t necessarily off the table,” says Tarma, “but I would definitely recommend making the instructor aware of the specifics before class and absolutely letting them know if you’d prefer not to be adjusted for any reason.”
Practicing Yoga with Scoliosis
As to the method of yoga, Miller prefers Iyengar because it focuses on alignment and postural awareness strengthening, as well as flexibility.
“It is a therapeutic approach, and also, mind-consciousness is key to this system (meditation in action) where you stay in the pose long enough to adjust for your scoliosis,” she adds.
Yoga Poses for Scoliosis
Yoga poses that Miller recommends for scoliosis include:
Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana)
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasna) with a belt around a door for traction to lengthen the spine
Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha)
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Side-Reclining Leg Lift (Anantasana)
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Other Stretching Exercises for Scoliosis
Use Bolsters, Rollers, or Other Accessories to Stretch
Miller adds that supported back opening, such as lying over a bolster, and corrective breathing, such as lying on your side where the apex of the scoliosis curve is, can be beneficial. It opens up the breathing and corrects the curve.
Practice Your Posture
Postural awareness is also key, and Miller says she teaches it between the standing poses, such as in Mountain pose.
Try Gentle Spinal Twists and Side Bends
Simple movements like spinal rotation and side bends can also be very helpful in addressing the imbalance. However, Tarma says that due to the asymmetry, these movements will be noticeably more challenging on one side than the other.
“The goal is to train a better range of motion and function on the weaker side. For example, if twisting to the right is more challenging, that’s the side we would focus on,” she says. You can do twists and side bends in a simple seated posture, either on the floor or in a chair.
Strengthen Your Core
That said, Tarma does point out that at least some of the work should be active, meaning you’re using the core and back muscles to execute the movement, as opposed to using your hands or arms to leverage yourself into the position. “Long-term results require more active strengthening to shift the spine into a more neutral position,” she adds.
Work Towards a Balance, Not Symmetry
And while perfect symmetry may not be attainable or even necessary, Tarma says that working toward it can help mitigate discomfort and improve overall function.
So much to do, so little time. If you are like most people, your list of things to do is endless. Just as you cross something off, giving you a minor sense of accomplishment, another task gets added to the list. And it certainly seems like Restorative Yoga has no place on this endless list.
But while this may seem like a never-ending saga, the truth of the matter is that many of us thrive on checking off the boxes on our to-do lists, giving us a sense of accomplishment. In today’s society, many of us feed off of the “glorification of busy.”
With unbelievable emphasis placed on how many boxes we have checked off our list, we lose sight of the benefit of finding stillness.
The Glorification of Busy and How Restorative Yoga Fits In
When we think of moving our bodies to stay healthy, we often gauge the value of the workout by calories burned or how much we sweat.
Time is a precious commodity as it is a resource that we cannot recoup once spent, so we want the most bang for our buck.
Many people who have not experienced Restorative Yoga have the impression that it is the “relax and take a nap class” where we lay on the floor, supported by props and just chill out . . . not burning many calories, not sweating, not being productive.
So why would anyone want to do that?! Click here to read the full article originally published on YogiApproved.com because the list of reasons to practice Restorative Yoga is compelling!
Suffering from aches and pain, rising stress and a lack of sleep? These powerful prenatal yoga practices might be just the thing.
Pregnancy stretches us to our limits, prompting an assortment of aches and pains—from round ligament pain to back pain, gas pain and more, most moms-to-be become intimately familiar with some discomfort along their pregnancy journey. The good news? There’s something to be done about it! Certain yoga poses can not only help ease common pregnancy symptoms, but they can also help you recenter and release your mounting stress.
“The poses can be anatomically great and help our bodies, but yoga also teaches us how to be present and in the moment—which can be difficult during pregnancy when there’s so much focus on future and what happens next,” says Jennifer More, E-RYT 500, RPYT, a prenatal yoga teacher, doula, and hypnotherapist based in Santa Rosa, California.
Curious to learn which yoga moves can help alleviate which pregnancy pains and problems? Read on.
Tips for Staying Safe
The overarching end-goal of these poses is to help ease any discomfort you’re currently experiencing—so it would be pretty counterproductive to suffer an injury. Listen to your body and be careful not to overstretch, which pregnant women are more susceptible to doing thanks to the added weight of your belly and the pregnancy hormones that are lubricating your connective tissue and joints. The hormone relaxin, which helps support early pregnancy and ramps up in the third trimester to prepare you for labor, can also make you more prone to hypermobility or overstretching, so it’s important that you don’t push yourself to your max.
“If you’re in a Wide-Legged Forward Fold during pregnancy and your hands can suddenly touch the ground, it doesn’t mean that they should,” says Allie Geer, E-RYT 500, RPYT, a registered yoga medicine therapeutic specialist and prenatal yoga teacher based in Boulder, Colorado. “Don’t go to the depths of your flexibility or hang out in your end range of motion. Come out of it a little bit and use props to support you.” If anything is painful or doesn’t feel good, stop immediately.
For Getting Centered: Calming Breath Practice
More recommends starting a prenatal practice in a seated position, such as Sukhasana (Easy Pose), and simply focusing on your breath for a few minutes. “There can be so much anxiety with all the tests you’re getting and all the newness and the huge transformational time this is, so breathing is one of the simplest and most important things you can do to start to find balance,” More says.
Tune into your breath and simply observe each inhale and exhale. Notice any rising and falling of your belly. After a few minutes, you can start moving in a gentle rocking motion along with your breath, which should help deepen it and give you a focus to help quiet the mind chatter and activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system to give you a sense of calm. (This same rocking with your breath can also be helpful in labor.) You can also start moving your head and shoulders, doing some gentle side bends and moving your hands behind you for a gentle backbend.
For General Discomfort: Belly Breathing
Belly breathing can help minimize your discomfort during daily movements, such as getting out of bed or in and out of the car. “Belly breathing helps you connect to the layers of your core and draw your abdominals in gently to feel more support,” Geer says.
After taking some grounding breaths in Sukhasana (sitting cross-legged), place your hands out toward the sides of your belly. On an inhalation, feel your belly swell into your hands. On the exhalation, draw your fingers in toward your navel and sense that you’re hugging in around your belly, like you’re giving baby an internal hug, Geer says. You can also try making a “shhh” or “haa” sound on the exhale to feel how your abdominals have to draw in slightly to make this sound—that’s the gentle engagement you’re going for. As you hug in, you’re engaging your transverse abdominis, the deep abdominal muscles that wrap around your torso like a corset. On each exhale you’re gently fastening the corset for support, Geer says, which can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing back pain or round ligament pain. Continue this breathing pattern for three to five minutes; use it throughout your yoga practice and your day.
For Back Pain: Cat-Cow
“If I had to pick only one yoga position to tell pregnant women to do daily, it would be Cat-Cow,” More says. “It helps take pressure off the lower back and can gently stretch and support the ligaments that connect the uterus to the pelvis.” If you’ve been sitting a lot, the contractile tissue of the round ligaments may pull your uterus into a position that leads to discomfort and back pain, she says. Cat-Cow can serve as a reset.
Come onto your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Bring your index finger forward, which will spin your hands out a couple inches to externally rotate your arms, which allows more space between your shoulders. (If you have any discomfort in your wrists, put blocks under your palms.) On an exhalation, move into Cat Pose by gently rounding your back, releasing your head and relaxing your neck. Imagine that you’re gently bringing baby in toward your body with a hug that goes all the way to your lower back. This is a gentle hugging —you don’t want to be too aggressive. It’s just to allow a slight muscular engagement so your lower back is supported. On your inhalation, lift your head up and allow a very slight sway in your back for Cow Pose. Repeat three or four cycles of Cat-Cow.
For Round Ligament Pain: Leg Extensions
During pregnancy, your uterus expands from roughly the size of an apple to the size of a watermelon. That’s a lot of stretching! No wonder it can hurt a bit—officially known as round ligament pain. One of the best things to ease that pain is to use the belly breath to hug in on an exhale to offer support while you transition between poses or get up from lying or sitting down, Geer says.
To warm up your round ligaments for more movements, do some alternate leg extensions after Cat-Cow, More says. This may help settle your ligaments and gently stretch the contractile tissue to prepare for bigger stretches, such as lunges.
From all fours, extend your left leg back, curl your toes under and press your heel back. Stay here, or lift your leg up gently. Hold for three breaths, then switch sides.
For Lowering Stress: Modified Sun Salutations
A yoga practice as a whole can help reduce stress—and let’s face it, expectant moms have a lot on their minds these days. “Taking time for yourself is so key,” Geer says. “It’s important to make yourself a priority and your practice a priority.” More suggests doing about 15 minutes of yoga a day, including a gentle form of Sun Salutations, to reduce stress and bring major areas of the pelvis into balance.
After warming up with Cat-Cows and Leg Extensions, stand with your feet hip-distance apart and a block between your feet. Inhale as you reach arms overhead. Exhale as you bend your knees and bring your arms out to your sides, resting your hands on your thighs or bringing your hands to a block (at any height) slightly forward of your feet. Inhale, then lengthen your spine to flat back.
Bring your right foot next to the block, then exhale as you step your left foot back into a lounge and place your knee down onto the ground. Your left knee should be in line with your left hand and your right hand should be in line with your right foot.
Once in the lunge, inhale, reach your arms up and bring your hips back so your hips are directly over your left knee. Exhale, gently hug baby in, and then lunge forward, making sure your knee doesn’t go past your ankle (to avoid overstretching). On an inhale, lengthen your spine and lift back up so your hips are once again over your back knee. Exhale, gently hug baby in, and then bring your hands back down to the ground. Bring both knees back into a wide-knee Child’s Pose. Inhale, then move to all fours. Exhale, then press up into Downward-Facing Dog. Inhale here. Exhale, place your knees back down and repeat the lunge sequence on the other side.
For Relieving the Weight of Your Belly: Downward-Facing Dog Pose
Carrying your growing baby around all day can be tiring work. Downward-Facing Dog takes weight off the pelvis and decreases that constant downward pressure you feel during pregnancy, says Geer.
Start on your hands and knees with your arms slightly forward, then lift your sit bones toward the sky and ground down through your hands. Keep your knees forward and gently press your heels down. Hold for at least three breaths.
As a modification, you can try an L-Shaped Pose. Stand facing a wall and bring your hands to the wall at shoulder height. Slowly walk your feet back so your arms and legs form an L shape. Press your hands into the wall and lengthen through the sides of your waist, reaching your sit bones toward the center of the room. Try not to collapse in your lower back or rib cage—instead, imagine a straight line from the crown of your head to your tailbone.
For Swelling: Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose
Your belly isn’t the only thing to get big during pregnancy— swelling in your legs and feet is super-common among moms-to-be, thanks to all that extra blood and fluid your body is generating. Good news: This yoga pose can take pressure off your feet and legs to potentially give you some relief, Geer says.
Position a bolster near a wall at a 45-degree angle with one edge on the ground and the other resting on two blocks, one at medium height and the other at a low height; you can also prop up a couple pillows. Leave enough space between the bolster and the wall for you to sit. Bring your left hip right up next to the bolster and lower down from your side, mindfully rolling onto your back so it’s resting on the bolster. Take your legs up the wall. (You can also put your feet up against a chair or even your couch.) Stay for about five minutes, focusing on your breath, and imagine the swelling reducing and fluid draining out of your legs. If at any time you feel dizzy or nauseous, rock over to your side.
For Gas or Constipation: Open Twist in Sukhasana
Pregnancy can bring out some seriously impressive burps. (Chalk it up to those hormones!) And when things aren’t bubbling up, you might be feeling stopped up. Any movement in a yoga practice can help get things moving, but open twists can be particularly effective, Geer says. It’s important to always twist away from your body instead of toward your body in order to avoid compressing your belly.
Sit in a cross-legged position and gently move to the right, bringing your right hand slightly behind your waist. Return to center and twist to the left, bringing your left hand slightly behind you.
For Opening the Pelvis: Squats, Side Lunges and Bound Angle Pose
As baby grows, all that pressure can lead to pelvic pain. Not only can opening your pelvis help relieve the discomfort, but later in pregnancy it can also encourage baby to drop down and help prep your body for childbirth. More recommends a series of three poses to target the entire pelvis: Squats to open up the bottom of the pelvis, Side Lunge to open the middle of the pelvis and Baddha Konasana to open up the top of the pelvis.
Begin with a squat. Stand over a bolster with your feet parallel. Inhale and reach your arms up. Exhale, bend your knees and bring your arms out to the sides to move into a forward fold with your hands on the bolster. Slightly turn your feet out, bend your knees, and move into a squat. Bring your palms together in front of your chest and gently rest your elbows on the inside of your thighs. (If this arm placement isn’t comfortable, you can place a block on top of the bolster and rest your hands on it, or you can lean your back against a wall.) Hold for up to two minutes. Return to standing and do some hip circles as if you were using a hula hoop.
To practice Side Lunges, move onto all fours and bring your right leg out to the side so that your right heel is in line with your left knee and your right toes are pointing out toward the right. Walk your hands forward and a little bit wide. Lunge to the side slightly to see if this is comfortable. Everyone’s hips are shaped differently, so you may need to move your foot a little forward or angle it more. (You can also do a Side Lunge from kneeling with your torso upright or from standing by bringing your right foot onto a chair.) Stay for up to one minute or lunge back and forth.
Bound Angle Pose
For Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana), move into an upright seated position and bring the soles of your feet together. Let your knees drop onto pillows, rolled blankets or blocks. Bring your hands behind you to lengthen your spine and stay here or move forward with a flat back. Stay for up to a minute.
For Promoting Sleep: Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Growing a baby is tiring work—and yet getting a night of sound sleep gets harder and harder as pregnancy progresses, thanks to your aches and pains and racing thoughts. In the early evening, help yourself wind down by taking five minutes for a restorative pose, Geer says.
For Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana), position a bolster at a 45-degree angle with one edge on the ground and the other resting on two blocks. Put one block at medium height and the other at a low height. Bring your left hip right up next to the bolster and lower down from your side, mindfully rolling onto your back. Bring the soles of your feet together and bring your thighs to rest on pillows or rolled up blankets.
If you’re already in bed and having trouble sleeping, try following your breath and focusing on the exhales to help you enter a calmer state. Focusing on your breath can help you move from the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), making it easier to drift off.
Whether you experience depression to a point where you need medical intervention or it’s something you find you can personally manage in your life, yoga for depression can be a supportive practice and can help alleviate some of the associated negative patterns that come up. Depression can present itself in many forms, particularly patterns that are considered low energy with symptoms like fatigue, exhaustion and inability to engage with life – or high energy, presenting with symptoms like anxiety, anger, muscular tension and irritation.
Follow along and learn about the array of symptoms associated with depression and why it’s important to understand the diversity of ways depression can show up so that we can support our students coping with these challenges. This is a short yoga practice for depression that can be used on yourself or with your students.
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