Pain or tiredness in the lower back, shoulders or the back of the neck. These are common complaints of parents who are busy with work, and caring for their little ones. All too often they are associated with bad habits, stress, slouching over smartphones or spending long hours hunched over the steering wheel in bad traffic. A massage or spa treatment, and ultimately rest are some of the approaches to manage these aches, but we’re encouraging you to try a few different yoga poses as options. Typically, yoga poses dealing with aches call for lying down in a supine position, but we have compiled a few alternatives you can try at home or in between meetings in the office.
If you’re a regular yoga practitioner, you’ll hear this pose often. Known also as trikonasana, it is one that benefits your lower back, spine and helps your posture as you train yourself to stand in correct alignment. The lower back tends to bear much pressure when you slouch, be it in the driver’s seat or at your work desk. Trikonasana tackles this complaint differently by teaching the body to open up, allowing for space and easing of tension.
How do you do that? As Joanna demonstrates, she stands with her feet more than one foot or two feet apart. Starting with her left leg, she points her left toes to the left, and right facing the camera. She will extend both arms and do a side stretch so her left hand reaches a comfortable position on her left leg or ankle. Keeping both knees straight, she extends her opposite hand towards the ceiling and that lengthens the stretch, opening up the side of the body and ribcage. Take deep breaths here. If you find yourself losing balance, gaze forward instead of at the ceiling. Or do this pose in front of a wall. Repeat on the other side, after holding the pose for five breaths.
Here our instructor Joanna is performing the downward dog or what is known as adho mukha svanasana in Sanskrit. As you can see you can do this on the beach, so long as you can stand comfortably on the sand, or any surface that will ensure your wrists and legs have the support. Firstly, come into a cat position or table top, with palms and knees (under the hips) on the floor. Take a deep breath and lift the knees while you push the hips upward and to the back, away from your palms. Push your heels towards the floor or the yoga mat, while you keep pushing those hips to the back. Doing so helps you extend the stretch on your back muscles and lengthens the spine, which can get congested over time due to stress or poor seating habits. The other benefit from keeping your hips pushed back is to take the pressure off the wrists, so if you’re doing this for the first time, keep that in mind. Take five breaths and rest in a child’s pose or seated position. I like to keep my neck relaxed here by turning the head side to side, so you relax the neck muscle and joints, a result of staring at a screen or working over the kitchen table or work bench. It’s a great pose to rejuvenate the facial muscles and shoulders, as the mild inversion sends oxygenated blood to those regions.
A classic pose that many practitioners may be familiar with, it’s known in Sanskrit as vrksasana. With any balancing pose, you’re free to use a suitable support, either a chair or wall. Standing tall with feet hip width apart, you lift the right leg and bend the knee, place the foot either inside of the left thigh as Joanna has demonstrated here, or under the knee. Avoid placing the foot against the knee to prevent putting too much pressure on that complex joint. Raise your hands like Joanna and gaze forward or keep your hands to the side or on the chosen support. Benefits gained from the tree pose are a strengthening of the core muscles and an improvement in our concentration as it trains us to stay still and breathe while we balance on one leg. As the bent knee is aligned to the hip, it gives you a good stretch to relieve tension in your hip flexors.
Core exercises can be challenging but this tree pose is little easier, as the body engages the abdominal and back muscles to stand tall. When your core muscles are strong, they have the strength to hold up your skeletal structure, and more importantly your spine, to prevent injury or dependence on joint strength when sitting, bending or moving about.
Not a typical pose which you think would help with the ailments we’ve been discussing, but doing a full squat or malasana is beneficial to the lower back, glutes and importantly your digestive system as it helps relieve constipation. What many are unaware is that squats like these will aid in strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, which are vital for post-delivery, but also for men and other women. It’s a set of muscles like a sling under you, holding your organs in. A weak pelvic floor doesn’t only mean possible incontinence, but lower back or hip pain. Squats train your glutes to move in the right direction and helps improve the strength of your pelvic floor muscles by lengthening them. Place a blanket under your heels if you find difficulty in squatting or another rolled up mat for extra support. Keep the back straight and always take deep breaths, holding for anything between five to 30 seconds.
Text by Susan Tam
Photos by Joanna Audrey
Susan Tam is a certified yoga instructor with over a decade of yoga experience, certified under the 450 training hours programme organised by the Malaysian Association of Yoga Instructors (MAYI). Her prenatal yoga instructor certification is qualified by Surya Yoga’s 20-hour intensive training programme. She and partner Joanna Audrey offer prenatal yoga classes at Fitology Bangsar, every Saturday at 2.30pm. Find their practice here.
For other yoga-related articles, you can also read Stretch, Open, Breathe: 5 Yoga Moves to Alleviate Pregnancy Back Pain and Prenatal Yoga Myths, Debunked.