If stay-at-home orders in your state have kept you home and indoors more than usual and you're pregnant, you might feel the effects of less movement even more than someone who is not pregnant. A sedentary pregnant body gets uncomfortable a lot faster than a sedentary non-pregnant body.
Maybe you're wondering if you even need more movement?
I remember some days during pregnancy, especially with my second baby, when my body seemed to grow a lot faster, that the LAST thing I wanted to do was move more. Everything ached and I often thought that more rest would help me through.
However, I tried both -- resting more some weeks vs. incrementally increasing my movement other weeks.
And guess what? When I moved my body even a little more each day, the gains compounded gradually over time. So by the end of just ONE WEEK of moving 30 to 45 minutes a day, I felt noticeably different. Right now, with everyone at home (and working from home), we are all sitting. All. the. Time.
What are some clues you are sitting too much for your body? Now, everybody is different, so first start paying attention to your body and listen for what it might be telling you.
Are you feeling any of these?
~ brain fog
~ joint pain
~ poor sleep
~ changes in appetite
~ back pain
~ hip pain.
If you answered yes to any of these, you might be sitting too much!
A 6-step practice to counteract sitting
Take the guess-work out of what to do to directly counteract the effects of prolonged sitting with a 6-step sequence made up of 4 poses, plus a warm-up and cool-down.
You can do this daily if you find yourself sitting for long periods of time. Give this a go for 5-days and I guarantee you will start to notice changes from the inside out.
Step 1: Warm-up Walk (5 to 30 minutes)
When you are sitting a lot, the very first and most important thing to do is take a walk--outside if you can!
Walking engages the whole mind and body, especially waking up the muscles of the core, pelvis and legs, and even the muscles of the back, neck and shoulders (and arms, depending on how you are walking).
American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that all pregnant people walk for up to 30 minutes, five days a week. Start with 5 minutes a day if you haven’t done a lot of walking lately and work up to 30 minutes a day, over time. (Pro Tip: Wear athletic shoes with support, not flip flops!)
Walking also activates your core and pelvic floor muscles, which coordinate together to keep you feeling stable and strong. You may notice that when you build up your endurance up to daily 30-minute walks that you can handle sitting for longer stretches without pain. This is always the case for me, so I know that when I start to feel achy, the first thing I look at is how much walking am I doing each day in addition to yoga practice or other exercises.
One side benefit of walking outdoors, if you can, is that it connects you to mother nature, which has been shown to have positive effects on mental outlook and our feeling of connectedness to the greater universe.
But even if you don’t know the science to back up getting outside, chances are you’ve experienced how great you feel afterward. And you know me, I’m all about listening to your body and the wisdom you’ve gained over time through your lived experience.
Especially now during pregnancy, your body is particularly receptive to nature’s healing vibes. If you’re not someone who typically enjoys outdoor walks, I encourage you to try it for a week and see how you feel intuitively.
Personally, I love walking for the feelings of freedom and movement it creates in my hips, legs and feet. Especially if I walk to some music with a good beat, I can feel my body waking up and the energy flowing down my back, through and around my hips and down to my legs and the earth. Try it. When you start your walk, imagine that your breath is pulling in fresh oxygen from the great outdoors and infusing your cells, your muscles and even your baby with life-giving oxygen to rejuvenate and restore.
Don't worry about how many steps you're taking. Right now, more steps are better than none. First and foremost, walking is the best antidote during pregnancy to too much sitting.
Step 2: Connect Breath & Body. (1 minute)
When you’re done walking, come indoors and either stand in front of a kitchen counter or come to all-fours on the floor.
Cat/Cow Stretch: In an all-fours or standing position, allow your breath to slow down and deepen. Then, begin to move with the alternating cat/cow motion.
Inhale, look up, broaden the chest, tip the pelvis forward to expand the front body.
Exhale, look down, push the palms into the floor, lift and round the spine, tuck the tailbone and exhale completely.
The main point here is to first connect the movement of the breath with the movement of the body. If you only move your body without deepening the breath, this cat/cow motion will feel more shallow and less effective. Move the body to match the breath, and you’ll notice a gradual deepening of both as you continue to alternate inhaling and exhaling.
If you can do this for about 10 slow rhythmic breaths, your nervous system will benefit from the calming, repetitive breath, and you’ll work out any kinks you may have gotten from sitting or your fast walk.
Step 3: Open Your Chest. (1 minute)
Now you’re ready to actively stretch. With your body warm, and your breath-body connection you’re sure to get the most out of a few key stretches to counteract all that sitting.
This one feels soooo good, and once you try it, I think you’ll wonder how you managed to do all of those workouts, walks and runs without this one.
But you may be asking, “Why in the heck are we opening the chest after sitting? Doesn’t sitting mostly involve the hips and legs?”
Usually when we are sitting, we are also slouching. I know, I know. No need to feel bad here. It’s just what happens. While there are ways you can fix your slouching while sitting, we won’t talk about that here. Let’s just talk about how to counteract that. Slouching usually means our shoulders are rounded, our breathing is more shallow, and our core is disengaged.
This one move will help you undo all of that!
Chest Opener Stretch: Stand facing a corner with your arms like goal posts (elbows bent, palms facing away from your head, elbows at shoulder height)
Approach the corner until your forearms make contact with the wall.
Exhale and engage your transverse abdominals, the corset muscles that are your deepest core muscles. Practice breathing deeply and slowly without letting your lower ribs flare toward the corner.
Next, keep your chin level and start reaching your breastbone toward the corner as you breathe. Breathe deeply in this front-of-the chest opener for 5-10 breaths.
If you notice your ribs flaring forward or your tailbone reaching back, come away from the wall and reset.
One side benefit of doing this stretch daily is that you may notice less slouching naturally! How’s that for fixing a bad habit by trying less? :)
(If you need more ideas to keep you from slouching during the day, check out Kendra's video on how to make a posture corrector at home.)
Step 4: Open your Hip Flexor/Psoas Muscles. (1 minute)
Sitting can make your hips feel like a square block, and the deep crease in your hips can strain the hip flexor muscles, which attach to the low back. So if you have back pain from sitting, your hip flexor could be the culprit! Time to move it the other direction.
Don’t skip Step 1 - the walking portion of this program - but if you are short on time, this single move is a direct counter-stretch for sitting.
Hip Flexor Reclined Stretch: Grab a block or rolled-up blanket. Lay on your back (remember to roll from your side onto your back instead of jack-knifing into lying flat).
Bend your knees and place the feet flat on the floor. Lift the hips up off the ground so you can glide your block or rolled-up blanket underneath your pelvis. You want to feel like your sacrum, the triangular, somewhat flat part of your backside pelvis, is supported on the block.
Bring your right knee toward your right shoulder. Extend your left leg along the floor until you feel a stretch in your hip flexor area, which is roughly just above where your hip creases. You may also feel a little stretch in your low back. Breathe for 5-10 breaths. Switch to the other side.
Remember to come out of the posture the way you came in, by first removing the block or blanket, then rolling to the side to come up.
Step 5: Passively Extend Your Neck (1 minute)
We often forget about taking care of our head and neck when we think about sitting.
But prolonged sitting can cause strain in the upper body as well. Especially if your sitting involves looking down at a table or other small children, you will want to give yourself some extra time with this one.
This is a “passive” stretch in that you will assume the position and practice relaxing vs. reaching for a stretch.
When I first started practicing yoga almost 20 years ago, these passive stretches were the hardest ones for me. It seemed to take my body forever to be willing to let go and be okay with not “feeling” anything when I was releasing. If this happens to you, and you feel like you should be doing more, trust that that means you’re doing it right. Be patient and breathe.
Passive Neck Extension: Lie on your bed or a long bolster with your head hanging slightly off the edge. Keep your arms by your side, palms down. You can even add a heavy blanket or pillow over your hips to further ground you. Close your eyes and allow your breathing to remain deep and even for 10-15 breaths.
If your mind is too busy and you’re having a hard time staying relaxed and focused for this one, I like to add a mantra to the breath.
My favorite mantra during pregnancy was always “Let Go” - you imagine the word “let” on the inhale, and “go” on the exhale.
Step 6: Dry Brush Closing.
To really seal in the benefits of your daily movement ritual to counteract sitting, I’m closing with this ultra-nourishing practice called Dry Brushing. You don’t need to do this one every day. About one or two times per week is enough.
You can read this article on the benefits of dry brushing and even watch a video I did on how to do it. But for the purpose of balancing out the effects of sitting and an overall less active lifestyle right now, this last step is designed to address the all-important movement of lymph.
Lymph moves through the body when you move or massage your muscles. Moving lymph increases your body’s immunity and germ-fighting abilities.
Dry brushing aids not only in moving lymph, but also increases circulation gently and stimulates the skin, your largest organ and natural detoxifier. All you need is a dry brush like this.
Dry Brushing Technique: Stroke your skin in short, brisk movements in an upward direction and toward the lymph nodes located in the neck, armpits, and groin.
To wrap up, sitting for too long, or living a more sedentary life in pregnancy can lead to many complications and discomforts.
But by giving yourself 30-45 minutes each day to move and open up your body -- specifically counteracting the effects of sitting, you can be well on your way to feeling great on a daily basis.
We challenge you to give this routine a try for 5 days and share in the comments how it went for you!
We’d love to hear about your experience, answer any questions you have, and encourage you on your journey through pregnancy and beyond.
Resources & Links
Looking for support to stay active during your pregnancy or start your postpartum recovery? Here are some options to get you started on a great path forward:
1) Take the Pelvic Floor & Core Strength Quiz. After taking the quiz, you'll get a score and based on your results, guidance on what steps to take to move you forward in your recovery.
3) If you're pregnant, want to be way more active than you have been, AND want connection with other mothers, but don't know where to start…join the Expecting to Flourish™ Membership - a mom-driven and expert-guided virtual space empowering moms with a new approach to prenatal fitness and birth prep that actually prepares you for the physical and emotional hurdles of motherhood.
If you’re postpartum and ready to get moving, need to heal your body but you don’t know where to start…join us for Postpartum Repair & Restore LIVE, a science-backed and fun-stacked, Diastasis and Pelvic Floor Strength program. Start healing your diastasis and eliminating leaking in 8 weeks or less with our guidance.
4) Do you prefer working one-on-one, or have a high risk pregnancy, a severe diastasis or leaking that won’t quit? You might be a candidate to work with us privately. To find out, take this quick self assessment! If you qualify, you'll be invited to schedule a complementary Postpartum Strategy Session with us where we'll take a good look at what's not working in your repair process, and come up with a great plan just for you.