How to Lengthen the Spine and Gain Core Stability Postpartum
Many women postpartum seek core strength and relief from back pain. Let’s face it, motherhood is hard on the body! We hold the baby for hours each day, we tend to slump forward while nursing/bottle feeding, we carry a diaper bag, purse, and a car set with an infant inside as we move to and from the while running errands. Lack of sleep means our bodies do not get the rest they need to regenerate and repair. Ouch! No wonder we are sore.
The sequence below is aimed at lengthening the spine while slowly gaining core stability. Take your time to feel your breath so you work with awareness and kindness for yourself. You can do this pose daily as a gift for yourself to restore your body, mind, and spirit.
Start by lying on your back and feeling your breath move your body. Notice how the inhalation expands it and the exhalation contracts in towards your midline.
Begin lengthening the spine with Crescent Stretch:
1. Stand tall with your pelvis, ribs, and shoulders in good upright alignment. .
2. Inhale your arms overhead and bring your hands together.
3. Exhale, reaching your hands to the upper right. Ground through your left foot.
4. Breathe into your ribs for 5 to 10 breaths. Inhale, grounding into the mat and uncross the ankles (if crossed). Exhale, reach your hands to the upper left
5. Breathe into your ribs for 5 to 10 breaths. Inhale, grounding deeply. Exhale, come back to standing with upright alignment.
Explore Gate Pose to feel length in the sides of the body while stabilizing the opposite side of the spine:
1. Kneel with optimal ribs-to-pelvis alignment. If you feel pressure in your knees, kneel on a folded blanket.
2. Hold a yoga block in your right hand and extend your right leg out and the sole of your foot on the floor (toes pointing forward and outer arch of the foot parallel to the short side of your yoga mat). You can also extend the leg and point the toes up while balancing on the heel. Do whichever option feels more comfortable to you.
3. Feel length in both sides of your waist, then inhale.
4. Exhale, extend your right hand with the block down, feeling the right side of your waist contract to support the weight of the spine.
5. Reach the left hand up toward the ceiling. Let your chest stay open with your collarbones wide. If extending the left arm up is too difficult for balance, place your hand on the right hip. Breathe here for five breaths.
6. Inhale to return to kneeling and repeat for the other side with the left leg extended.
Return to kneeling and extend the hands forward for Extended Puppy Dog Pose, a precursor to Downward Facing Dog:
Extended Puppy Dog Pose
1. Start in Extended Child’s Pose with your hands grounded on the mat and sitting back on your heels. Feel the length of your spine.
2. Inhale into your back ribs.
3. Exhale and lift your hips with your tailbone pointing to the top of the wall behind you while keeping your knees bent at least 90 degrees.
4. Breathe here for 5 breaths.
This pose is about lengthening your spine, not stretching the backs of your legs, so keep your lower ribs engaged toward the spine and not flaring out. After regular practice, if you feel strong in the shoulders and back and do not have a flaring out of the ribs, explore straightening the legs into a fuller expression of Downward Facing Dog.
Come to standing.
1. Stand with your feet a couple of inches apart.
2. Slowly rock from heel to toe to feel the inner and outer arches of the feet.
3. Spread your toes to feel the arch beneath the ball of the foot. Find a comfortable balance between heel to toe and the toe spread.
4. Lift your spine by feeling a sense of floating through the crown of your head. Keep your ribs stacked above your pelvis. Feel length in both sides of your waist. Feel as if you have an “air pillow” behind your kneecaps to engage them up the front of your thigh while also keeping the backs of your knees soft.
5. Feel grounded and strong while breathing into your abdomen, sides, and back.
Flow in Half Sun Salutations to connect movement with your breath:
Half Sun Salutations
Keep these salutations gentle and only do them if you can raise your arms overhead without flaring out your lower ribs. Keep your knees bent for standing forward folds so you don’t strain your lower back.
1. Begin in Mountain Pose with two blocks in front of your feet.
2. Inhale your arms up by lifting them straight in front of you and up for Tall Mountain Pose. Resist flaring your ribs and sustain optimal rib-to-pelvis alignment.
3. Exhale, bending your knees a lot and fold at the hips—not at the waist—to bring your chest toward your thighs.
4. Place your hands on your yoga blocks. Inhale, pressing your hands into the blocks to extend the spine and bring the shoulder blades down the back. Come to a feeling of a flat back.
5. Exhale, bringing your chest and thighs toward each other again.
6. Inhale, grounding through the feet as you keep your knees soft and rise up to Tall Mountain Pose.
7. Exhale, moving your arms down to Mountain Pose.
8. Repeat two more times.
Note for C-section mothers: If you feel any pulling on or near your incision site, place your yoga blocks on the tall setting or use the seat or back of a chair to place your hands for standing forward fold and extended standing forward fold (“flat back”).
Come onto your back for Reclined Twist:
1. Lie on your back with knees bent and together and feet together. Have a blanket folded like a bolster next to your right buttock.
2. Bring your arms out like a T.
3. Inhale, lifting your shins so they are parallel to the ceiling.
4. Place a yoga block on the skinny setting between your knees or lower thigh. Exhale, feeling your core activate as you slowly move your knees to the right while slightly squeezing the block. Feel grounded through your hands and upper back. (It’s okay if the shoulder blade that’s opposite of your knees is off the mat. Don’t force it to stay on the mat.) Your thighs should be resting on the blanket-bolster to ease pressure in the pelvis.
5. Relax and breathe. Soften into the twist and hold.
6. After five to 10 breaths, inhale the shins back up.
7. Slide the bolster-blanket to the left buttock. Exhale, engaging the core, and bring the knees with the block to the left. Relax and breathe for five to 10 breaths.
8. Inhale shins back up one at a time and exhale the feet to the mat hip-distance apart.
9. Release the block.
Relax in Rest and Relaxation Pose for five to 10 minutes.
You can add this practice to other practices I have included in my blog to have a longer session on your yoga mat. Continue to work slowly postpartum. Your strength and stability will return with focused awareness and ease of breath. You can follow along this practice here on YouTube. Please share with anyone who you feel can benefit. Be well!