How To Get Quality Rest for a Dream Pregnancy

You spend about a third of your life sleeping. If you are fortunate enough to make it to the ripe old age of 90, that’s 30 years asleep! Unless you are a parent. Take off a couple years worth for each kid, and another few months if you were the one who carried and nursed the baby. Sleep, of course, is a hot topic among new parents- maybe the hottest. It starts in pregnancy due to a combination of hormones, stress, and a little one pressing on body parts you didn’t know you had. Here are some tips for getting better rest while you await the birth of your sleep destroyer...er, I mean bundle of joy.

Get comfortable. Many moms come to my class lamenting the need to let go of sleeping on their backs because “you’re not supposed to during pregnancy.” Most of the time, they have no idea why. The reason is compression of the inferior vena cava, responsible for blood return from the lower to upper half of the body. However, this doesn’t apply to every mom and certainly not in all stages of pregnancy. Most moms are fine on their backs in the first trimester, second trimester is a mixed bag, and by the third most (but not all) moms will need to find another way to rest. How do you know if this rule applies to you?  Fortunately, your body will tell you by making you short of breath, nauseous, dizzy, or light-headed. Yet another argument in favor of listening to your own body first and foremost. No need to wake up on your back freaking out that you did something wrong! If you are in the group that should not lay supine, an adjustment as subtle as putting a wedge under one side of your back to give you a bit of a sideways tilt may do the trick.

 Me demonstrating how a bolster can support your arm and leg for comfortable hips while you sleep

Me demonstrating how a bolster can support your arm and leg for comfortable hips while you sleep

What if back sleeping is not your issue? Perhaps you’ve always been a side sleeper and now it’s no longer comfortable. Pregnancy pillows are useful for many. Some come in special shapes to support legs, belly, and head with one pillow. If you have tried a pregnancy pillow and it just doesn’t work for you, something a little more dense like a yoga bolster may serve you better. Check around your house- perhaps you have a removable couch cushion that has that same level of firmness. I recommend extending the bottom leg, turning slightly towards the bed, and resting the top arm and leg on the cushion/ bolster. The top knee should be level with or slightly above the hip, and the lower leg and foot should be supported, too.  

If you are a tummy sleeper, there is good news for you, too! Try inflating two kiddie pool rings about halfway, stacking them, along with pillows in front and in back, then placing your belly inside the ring. Keeping the valves to the outside will allow you to let out a bit of air as necessary to find your desired firmness. You can also use a breastfeeding pillow, such as a “Boppy” and nestle your belly in the center.

Bottom line, trial and error- play with your pillows until you find the right “nest.” Sometimes a tweak as simple as sticking a rolled up blanket under the belly will do the trick.

Put down that phone! Screen time, particularly before bed, has shown to negatively impact the quality of sleep, interfering with the body’s circadian rhythms. Put your mobile devices aside and turn off the TV. Instead, spend the hour before bed winding down. Taking a warm bath, connecting with your partner, or reading (an “old-fashioned” paper book) are simple ways to transition healthfully to sleep.

Go outside first thing in the morning. One of the most effective tricks for me personally when I was pregnant with my son and suffering from middle of the night wakefulness was suggested to me by my chiropractor, Dr. Kate Fox. She suggested I step outside first thing in the morning, as soon as I woke up, for just a few minutes. In just two days, I noticed being more alert during the day and much more restful at night. This exposure to natural light supports the body’s circadian rhythms.

Increase movement. Human bodies were designed to move! In our sedentary culture, this point is often lost. If your job requires you to sit most of the day, your body may not be getting enough movement to tire your body out at the same rate of tiring your mind. Find ways to bring more movement into your day and make a walk an essential part of your lunch break. Walking has shown to provide stress relief, as well. Plus, spending more time outside in general may be good for sleep with the fresh air and natural light supporting those circadian rhythms. (See past blog post Get Moving! Even at Work for more ideas to beat sedentarism.)

Be consistent. Going to bed and getting up around the same time each day helps to set those bodily rhythms. Sleeping in on the weekends to try to catch up may actually hinder your rest in the long run. Pregnancy is a good time to establish routines- your baby will thrive on routine, as well. That doesn't mean canceling every single fun night out. Just keep in mind that it may affect your sleep and consider it when making plans.  Sometimes it's worth it, other times, better to say farewell and head home early. 

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Herbal support. Herblore makes a number of tinctures to support healthy sleep in varying strengths that are all safe for pregnancy and postpartum.* Owner and herbalist, Pam Caldwell, is available by phone or email for those who have questions about what may be the best fit for their situation. If you are local, we carry Herblore products at Blossom*Be sure to consult with your doctor or midwife as well, to be sure that you do not have a medical issue that would make any herbal remedies contraindicated. (A gentle reminder that herbal and or over-the-counter products should not be assumed safe in pregnancy or postpartum.)

Mindfulness meditation. If a racing mind is the thing keeping you from drifting off, a meditation practice may help. As you lay in bed, bring your focus to the breath. Every time your mind wanders, return your attention to the breath. You may try the body scan, as described by Jon Kabat Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living: Imagine breathing in and out of your toes a few times, then move to your ankles, then up your legs, and so on up through the entire body. If your mind wanders, guide it back to breath and continue. Chances are you will be asleep before you finish. Mindfulness meditation during your day, even just a couple of minutes, will make it easier and more effective at night, and will bring stress relief. And lowering stress, of course, benefits your sleep.

Write it down. Another idea to help combat racing thoughts in the middle of the night is to bring a notebook to bed. When those thoughts keep you up, without turning on the light or sitting up, write those thoughts down.  It doesn’t need to be legible- the act of writing it is a way of getting the thoughts to leave your body.

Practice yoga regularly. There have been numerous studies done showing that yoga and mindfulness meditation have a positive impact on sleep. A small, pilot study researching the effects of yoga on sleep during pregnancy showed that there were improved outcomes for women who started the practice in the second trimester and concluded that it was worth researching further.

Studies aside, many of my students have reported sleeping better on the nights after they have been to class. Years ago, I taught a childbirth prep series in which I presented a short yoga practice on the evening we discussed nutrition and exercise.  One of the dads, having never practiced yoga before, joked about it during the movements. The next day I received an apology from him in my inbox, noting it was the best night of sleep he had had in months!

Just a few minutes of practice before bed may help a mom feel more settled and ready for sleep, particularly if there are tight, achy body parts that keep her awake at night. Night leg cramps are a common sleep disrupter- most of my students suffering from leg cramps have reported the cramps are absent on the nights they do our calf stretch before climbing into bed. I recommend a short practice including cat/ cow (pelvic rocking on hands and knees), adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), balasana (child’s pose), and any other pose that feels good in the moment. Poses should be practiced in a slow, gentle manner. (Save the vigorous vinyasa flow for the morning.)

Quality sleep is critical during pregnancy for the health and well-being of both mom and baby. If it is proving to be challenging for you, these tips should bring you closer to good nights of rest. For some, it takes practicing a number of them together to do the trick. Keep at it- it’s worth every effort to get the restful night you and your baby deserve!

What worked for you in pregnancy to get a better night’s rest?  Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.

Space: The Final Frontier

 Photo by  Jesse Sewell  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jesse Sewell on Unsplash

Being a mom comes with many challenges, of course, and many are difficult to understand until you actually find yourself in that situation: the toll a chronic lack of sleep takes on your body, how hard breastfeeding can be, how invested you could possibly become in another person’s well being, choosing where to live based on schools...The list goes on. One thing that is topping my own list lately (okay, for the last 17 years, really) is space! When I hear “Space: the Final Frontier,” I think of empty-nesting, not Star Trek!

It starts in pregnancy feeling so physically squished. In the last trimester, so many moms wonder each day how they could possibly get any bigger- and then they do! Many literally have no space to breath efficiently. Moms await labor to get their bodies back, only to realize afterwards that the baby is still nearly as attached as actually being on the inside.  

Then there’s the space in the home. I remember trading our king for the queen in my mother-in-law’s spare bedroom so we had enough room to attach a co-sleeper. It wasn’t long before the baby insisted she sleep in our bed and we traded back. It doesn’t matter how big of a bed- a tiny baby will manage to take up more space than two parents put together. I remember looking forward to the time each child would get old enough to move out of our room so we could have our space back. My room does feel a little more like my own compared to when they were babies, but nothing like before I had kids! The youngest still uses our bathroom at night because she claims it’s closer despite passing the other bathroom on her way. <insert eye roll> No matter how hard I try to keep things minimalist, the kids’ stuff takes up more and more of our home, and of course, they have no qualms about leaving a trail of junk wherever they go.

Nothing feels like “mine” anymore. The teenager is getting better about it, thankfully, but still occasionally “asks” to borrow something from my closet after she’s already walked away with it, assuming I’d say yes. (Bright side is I don’t feel quite so bad borrowing something from her closet! Lol!) The littlest one thinks everything in my office is fair game and I find all sorts of craft remains cluttering my desk, despite repeatedly reminding her my desk is off limits. And where the heck are my scissors!?

 Often the only way I can get work done is Arya in my "trunk."

Often the only way I can get work done is Arya in my "trunk."

The worst for me is my own bodily space. I get so tired of being touched. Yet there is something sweet about a little person always wanting to hold your hand, hug you, be held. I try to focus on her sweet intentions and remind myself there will be a day when she is not here to love on me.  In the meantime, though, it is pretty challenging to try to simply walk down the street with 60 lbs of another person pressed up against me. Getting some stuff done at my desk often means a certain someone is hanging out in “my trunk”- squeezing in between me and the back of my chair. Sometimes I can’t help but exclaim, “Can you. Just. Stop. Touching me for one minute!?”

All of this put together leads to a lack of mental/ emotional space. It’s always been a challenge for me to quiet the mind- my biggest focus in my personal yoga practice- and now there is just so much stuff to consider with raising a family. From the day to day stuff, like who needs to be where at what time (too many days lately with Maceo’s baseball game and Arya’s ballet class at the same time) to the heavy things like are we doing the right thing by encouraging Jeannessa to start her higher education at community college? My mind really needs a day off...

It’s no wonder that I have been focusing on spaciousness lately in my practice.  In all of my classes, not just prenatal, we start with the physical body, noticing the places that feel crowded, and imagine breathing space into those areas. The body begins to soften. The deeper focus on breath surpasses the physical body to find space between thoughts. Finding this space between thoughts brings deeper meditation, deeper awareness. And when I find that, the crap all over my house suddenly seems to take up a lot less space.

Recently in class, I asked a full-term mom,  “What one thing do you want to get done before the baby comes?” She expressed knowing how important space was to her and that she just wanted to find some time to herself, knowing it could be a long time before she finds her own space again. Then she added something along the lines of, “Maybe that sounds kind of mean.” On the contrary, Mama!  Space comes in many different forms and it’s important to find the kind you need. It’s not always easy to find when you are a parent, but worth every effort.

Yoga Practice: A Prudent Investment of Time

 Photo by  Harry Sandhu &nbsp;on  Unsplash

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

I often feel like I’m living in a time warp.  It seems like just yesterday I was awaiting the birth of my first child and all of the sudden she is driving herself to school. In the blink of an eye, I started teaching yoga, had two more children, and here I am with over a decade of experience as Blossom Program Manager under my belt. Committing eight months to the Dharma Path Advanced Studies (DPAS) program seemed like taking a huge chunk of time out of my life and now just a few weeks away from our closing circle, it seems like it wasn’t that much time at all. I feel like I wake up every morning and all of the sudden I’m back in bed again. And yet, I do remember those never ending days of childhood. I’m reminded of them every time one of my kiddos complains of boredom. My mom once said that time just seems to go faster the older you get. So far I have to strongly agree, which scares me a bit- I’m not sure I can handle things going any faster!

I can fully understand how challenging it can be, particularly in the busyness of Silicon Valley, to race the clock in a valiant attempt to accomplish all of the things we are “supposed to” do. But what do we gain from all of this rushing?  Are we able to be fully present in the moment? Does it bring joy?

At this stage in my life, I have a huge load of responsibilities. Nevertheless, I’ve learned to be okay with not getting Everything done. Every tomorrow provides another chance.  And sometimes those tomorrows spread out into weeks, months….and so here I am, finally getting back to blogging after two plus months since my last post. In that time, I completed my DPAS Practicum project, spent much needed time with my kids over their spring break, and started preparing for our next Lotus Blossom Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, the 100-hour mentorship program I offer with my colleague Hillary, which starts June 1. I accomplished ENOUGH. Too much, maybe. I practice mindfulness every. single. day. I reflect on what is truly important to me and use that to prioritize. Still, I rush around a little more than what is comfortable. (Life is a work in progress, isn’t it?)

The concept of “stealing time” is something we have discussed at length in DPAS, specifically in regards to starting and ending classes on time. When classes run significantly over the time students expect it to end, teachers are stealing their students’ time. I have to admit, this is something I am working on. My classes are one of my highest priorities, and it’s a rare occasion that I am not at the studio at least 15 minutes before my classes start. However, it’s not a rare occasion to have many students trickling in the first 20 minutes, or even later!  That makes it quite the challenge to start on time (and then end on time)! I honor the unpredictability of life, the challenge to “get everything done,” and of course, all of the changes that pregnancy brings- it can take time to adjust to the slowing down of the pregnant body, especially when everything else in the world is moving so quickly. Still, I find it ironic that moms are rushing to make it to class, squeezing in a practice that at its heart is about building moment to moment awareness to “move into stillness” in the words of Yoga Master, Erich Schiffmann.

I worry that some of my students may be missing the point and therefore the benefits of yoga. I wonder what I can do to support all of my students to not just prioritize their practice, but really prioritize themselves by committing to their practice! The check-in is not an optional time- it’s the opportunity to build community and for me to understand what my students’ needs are and tailor the practice accordingly. If I understand what my students are feeling each class, I can serve them better. Sivasana, our restorative pose at the end of the practice, is not optional either. In any yoga practice, it’s considered the most important pose. The physical postures are about creating an awareness of breath and body in order to move into the final resting meditation. And what pregnant mom doesn’t need rest!?

In a world that is moving so quickly, it’s more important than ever to savor each and every moment. If you are struggling with time management- to get to class or in any other area of your life- I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on what is important to you and set boundaries around your needs. Moms deserve to get the most out of their practice- the people who depend on them (especially baby!) benefit, too. The quality of life improves immensely when we are able to take a deep breath, think critically about what matters most, and prioritize those things. There are even studies that prove meditation creates more efficiency at work. Taking the time for yoga practice is a great return investment of time!

Get moving! Even at work!

I’m working on my practicum paper (“Yoga for Working Moms”) for my teacher training at Samyama. But I’m not sitting still! Laptop is on the counter and the new JT album is cranked, so I just can’t keep still! Which is great because guess what my paper keeps coming back to? If you attend my classes, you won’t be surprised: all the research points to movement (and proper alignment) as a solution for many “mom problems,” like diastasis recti, sore back and shoulders, and pelvic floor problems.   So maybe you can’t crank the tunes in your office or maybe you’d feel self-conscious to put in some headphones and groove silently in front of your office mates. (Although it may feel liberating to face that fear!) In any case, there are TONS of things you can do to mix it up and minimize the sedentarism from your desk job. Here are just a few ideas:

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  1. Sit on a ball instead of a chair.  Get a standing desk. Sit at the edge of your office chair (on your ischial tuberosities). Or better yet, do all three, changing every hour or so.

  2. Season your day with simple office stretches:

    • Stand up and reach your arms up into Urdhva Hastasana. Stretch to one side then the other. I just did it.  It felt great!

    • Cross one ankle over the opposite knee and lengthen your spine forward.  Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch to the other side. You can do this without even taking your eyes off your computer screen (although they need a break too!)

    • So then give your eyes a rest, or rather a rest from the computer, while strengthening them.  Get up from your desk, walk over to the window (movement!) and focus your eyes on something far away. Can you see a bird landing on a tree or telephone pole? Take this exercise to the next level and walk outside to do it.

    • Okay, back at your desk: keep your pelvis neutral, let your rib cage drop to be in line with your pelvis, then twist your torso to your comfortable edge- maybe to the side, or perhaps to look behind you. Make sure your shoulders stay level and stacked over the pelvis as the rotate.

    • Try a few neck rolls. Sync them with your breath and let it be meditative.

    • Stand up at your desk and take a simple forward fold to stretch the hamstrings (better to keep your knees straight and lengthen the spine, even if your bend at the hips less than 90 degrees). You can put your hands on your desk for stability.

  3. Take every meeting you can on a walk.  It may feel like a strange request at first, but you may inspire your co-workers.  Or maybe they were secretly wanting to move, too.

  4. Pack your lunch and eat it outside, then spend the extra time walking. You will eat healthier food and save a ton of money. (Then you can retire early and move all day long!)

  5. Stay hydrated! And then use the bathroom furthest from your desk.

  6. Take every opportunity when you are not at work to move.  Dance while you are making dinner. Take walks with your family. Stretch on the floor while watching TV. Every time you sit on the floor instead of modern furniture, you are moving more just to get up and down, not to mention the movement that naturally happens on the floor. Walk everywhere you can.

These are just a few ideas.  Get creative!  Your body will thank you! And now back to writing that paper...

What have you done to bring more movement into your workday?  Share in the comments below!

An 80-year old Man Has Improved My Prenatal Yoga Classes

 Ben assists me in practicing chair-supported headstand.&nbsp;

Ben assists me in practicing chair-supported headstand. 

Given Yoga’s 5,000 year history, Prenatal Yoga is a fairly new practice (only about 50 years old). Nevertheless, I am committed to preserving the basics of a classical yoga practice, and subtly weave these concepts into my classes. One of yoga’s traditions is passing knowledge down through a lineage of teachers. The last two weekends (and a few evenings in between), as part of the Dharma Path Advanced Studies (DPAS), I got the honor of practicing with one of my most influential and deeply admired teachers, Mr. Ben Thomas.

In the early 2000’s, in search of my first comprehensive teacher training, my friend and teacher Julianne Rice suggested I check out Ben’s class to see if the teacher training he was a part of would be a good fit.  It only took one class- I was hooked!  I spent that summer participating in his weekly classes and enrolled in the teacher training. Shortly thereafter, Ben left the area, and since then I have tried to take his workshops whenever he visits. His contribution to DPAS is one of the main reasons I made the huge commitment to this next level of study.  

Ben is a true master! He stumbled into the practice of yoga in his late thirties, supporting his wife who came to yoga for extreme health reasons, and within just a few years was practicing under the guidance of Mr. BKS Iyengar himself. Over the years, they made eleven trips to India to study with “Guruji” who encouraged them to pass on the teachings. Now, at nearly 80 years old, Ben can perform poses that I may not accomplish in this lifetime, not to mention his amazing ability to quiet his mind while doing them or in long seated meditation. But what is even more impressive and meaningful to me is that he built his yoga practice while raising six children and supporting them through a successful career in the tech industry. Ben found creative ways to bring yoga into his workday and practiced often with his children. As a working mother of three, I appreciate how difficult it is to make time to practice. And I frequently meet mothers who would like to practice, but just can’t seem to make it work with their huge commitments to work and family.  Ben is living proof that not only can a yoga practice happen in spite of modern “adulting,” it brings peace and connection to the entire experience. This is the inspiration for my DPAS practicum: creating a practice specifically for postpartum working moms that is not only beneficial and healing, but totally manageable in their chaotic lives.

In the last week, of course Ben helped us to break down a variety of poses, understand his 30-minute opening routine of chanting, pranayama, and meditation, and go over the Sutras of Patanjali- all things that improve my skills as a teacher. However, what impacted me even more was getting to know him on a personal level- the violent racism he overcame growing up in Alabama, the challenges of helping his parents run their little grocery stores once they moved to the Watts neighborhood of LA, the struggles he had in higher education and his early tech career due to the color of his skin. He tells amazing stories- some absolutely heart wrenching- and then lets out a warm little chuckle. I told Ben his life would make an Oscar-worthy film. He just humbly smiled. His teachings are so digestible because he acts like he’s just a regular guy- no ego, very calm, warm, and approachable. This is a man who is completely at peace with and appreciative of his life. Perhaps overcoming so much adversity helps a person to count their blessings.  Perhaps it’s the yoga practice. Likely, these two are intimately intertwined. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to study with this man who is not just a Yoga Master, but a Life Master. Looking forward to Ben’s return later this year and hope some of my students will join me in one of his valuable workshops!

Do you have a teacher who made a huge impact in your life (yoga or otherwise)? Please share in the comments below!