Having little ones in your life makes you work certain muscles you never even knew you had! Holding a quickly growing baby in your arms or in a carrier, sleeping in all sorts of contorted positions (including sitting up in a chair), and simply spending more time bent over changing diapers or playing on the floor can make the muscles in your back, neck, and arms ache. Here are 7 yoga stretches that target the aches and pains that are common for new parents. For new moms, we recommend getting the "OK" from a trusted health professional before you begin these, especially if you had complications during birth and/or labor. These poses obviously still offer a huge benefit even when your tot isn't so little anymore. If you have older kids as well, invite them to do these poses with you!
1. Cat and Cow Stretch
This stretch is great any time of day, but especially in the morning when backs and limbs are tight. Get down on your hands and knees. Arch your back towards the ceiling (like a cat), pressing down into the palms of your hands and straightening your arms. After a few moments, relax and push your chest out and head slightly upward, reversing the arch. Moo-ing optional. In the photo above, Elijah is demonstrating cow, while I am demonstrating cat. Repeat a few times.
2. Downward Dog
Downward dog is a staple pose for stretching out your arms and legs and lengthening and strengthening your back. Start on your hands and knees. Press upwards through your feet and hands, straightening your arms and legs until they are straight and your body has formed a triangle. In little kid yoga class, I have also heard this dubbed “Mountain Pose” since it helps kids to visualize that they are making the shape of a little mountain with their body. If your neck is sensitive, you can simply let your head hang or you can look towards your calves. For a deeper stretch, continue pressing into the palms of your hands and pressing your chest gently in the direction of your legs. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute.
3. Standing Forward Bend
Another great pose for releasing back tension, standing forward bend feels great on the neck too. Stand up straight and tall. Tuck your neck towards your chest and roll down slowly down each vertebrae. Let your arms and shoulders hang. When you have gone as far down as you like, you can continue to let your arms and head hang. You can also grab the opposite elbow and hang or reach down and touch your toes. For very flexible parents, you can also reach around and grab the backs of your legs and pull your body gently towards your legs.
Cobra is wonderful for backs (again) as well as shoulders. Lay down on your stomach with your hands underneath your shoulders. Press down slowly and firmly, lifting your chest as you push up. Only push up as far as is comfortable. Once you have pushed up as far as you like, stretch your head and neck gently backwards. Instead of stretching backwards, you can also stretch your neck to one side and then the other. Hold for 30 seconds then release and lower your arms and chest.
5. Twisted Pretzel
There are several different variations for this tension-busting, back-massaging, twisting pose. To begin, sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee and cross it over the straight left leg. Twist your body to the right and place your left elbow (with the arm pointing upwards) on the outside of your right knee. Press gently into the knee with your elbow as you continue to stretch towards the right, placing your right hand behind you. For a more complicated twist, you can bend the left leg, bringing your left foot towards your right buttock. Hold for several breaths and then release. Repeat on the other side.
6. Happy Baby Pose
For new moms especially (but after making sure everything is well-healed down there!). The laboring and birthing process can leave you with soreness in your hip and groin area. This pose feels wonderful and reminds us of our playful little ones who naturally do this pose (and often add a foot-sucking element to it). Lay on your back. Bring your legs up and grab onto the soles of your feet, splaying your legs and bringing your bent knees towards the floor. If you have trouble reaching the soles of your feet, you can do a similar movement and grab your calves instead. If you like, you can rock gently from side to side, giving yourself a little back massage in the process.
7. Shivasana or “Corpse Pose”
Shivasana is often called the dessert of yoga because it feels soooo good to lay down and relax after all your yoga stretching and contorting. Since a lot of new parents walk around like zombies for the first few months, shivasana’s other name “corpse pose” is especially fitting. Lie down on your back. Make your neck long. Let your feet fall open and rest your arms by your sides with your hands facing towards the sky. Close your eyes and relax. Try to ignore the laundry, the dishes, etc. (but don’t ignore your baby if he or she starts to cry!). For a few minutes, try to let your mind rest. You will be amazed at how rejuvenating and centering this simple pose is!
Lead image via Shutterstock