By Ann Pizer
If you are a breastfeeding mother, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you where your body feels it the most: your neck, shoulders, and back. There are many wonderful things about nursing your baby, but an achy back is not one of them. These yoga poses will counteract that hunched over feeling by emphasizing moving your shoulders down and back and reopening your chest. If you have only recently given birth, take it easy and stop if anything causes pain.
1. Cat-Cow Stretch (Chakravakasana)
When you’re nursing a lot, it can feel like you’re stuck in that hunched over position even when you’re not feeding the baby. Doing a few cat-cow stretches helps bring mobility back into your spine, effectively unsticking it. Try exaggerating the rounded position (cat) by doming your back up high. This will make the arched position (cow) feel even better.
2. Sphinx Pose
Sphinx pose offers a nice, gentle way to introduce a little heart opening. You can even do this pose lying on your bed if you don’t have time to get out a mat. Or take the opportunity to show your baby what tummy time is all about. Just make sure to keep your shoulders down away from your ears. Pressing firmly into your palms and forearms is a good way to do this.
3. Heart Opening With a Bolster or Block
If you only have a few minutes, make this your go-to stretch. You are going to needa block (preferably one with the corners rounded off) or a bolster under your shoulder blades to get the full effect, however. It doesn’t really matter what you do with your legs here since we’re focusing on the upper body. You can keep them flat on the floor, open the knees to goddess position, or just bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor.
4. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
For bridge pose lift your hips, interlace your hands under your body, and roll your shoulders under one at a time. Feel your shoulder blades securely on your back. Don’t worry about how high you lift your hips. If you have your block handy, you can try a supported bridge. The block goes under your sacrum.
5. Half Boat Pose (Parsva Navasana)
Half boat offers the chance to work on your heart opening and your abs at the same time. The thing to remember here is that it doesn’t matter how high you can bring your torso. It’s more important to keep your spine long and straight. Plug your shoulders into the sockets, draw your shoulder blades together and allow those actions to expand your chest. If you have a diastasis recti, talk to your doctor before resuming abdominal exercises.
6. Forward Bend With Interlaced Fingers
The forward bend is actually optional here. The main event is to stand up tall, roll your shoulders back, interlace your fingers behind your back, draw your hands toward the floor and puff up your chest. For an extra flourish, forward bend over your legs. Bend your knees if that’s a more comfortable variation.
7. Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
To get the best chest stretch out of triangle pose, focus on stacking your top shoulder directly over the bottom shoulder. Straighten your top arm and bring it parallel to the floor. Plug your shoulder into the socket before lifting your arm all the way up. You can also keep your hand on your hip if that feels better. Triangle is a great stretch for your hamstrings too.
8. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward facing dog feels good just about any time. Since we’ve been emphasizing heart-opening, you may feel like you want to push your chest through and let your spine hammock. Resist this temptation, aiming instead for a straight back and broad shoulder blades by rolling your upper arms outwards. Our goal is to bring the body into balance, not knock it out of whack in the opposite direction.