Watch your back
Back pain expert Steve Timm has devised a series of gentle exercises especially for pregnant women. He tells ARLENE HARRIS why it's imperative to take care of your spine during pregnancy, and suggests some simple exercises that you can try at home
The stereotypical image of pregnancy is one of a lady with a heavily swollen stomach, clutching her lower back as she gingerly makes her way about. Anyone who has been pregnant will relate to this as, particularly in the latter stages of gestation, carrying around the heavy load can begin to take its toll.
Mercifully, pregnancy back aches can be managed with the right self-care programme. Steve Timm, author of the Mind Your Own Back series, has just added a new section to his exercise plan, and it's especially designed to help would-be mothers look after their back, spine and general health before, during and after childbirth.
A retired IBM engineer, Timm (76) was born in Chile but is an Australian native. After suffering a car accident, he devised a series of gentle yogic exercises using a combination of research, engineering know-how and ancient Vedic sciences in a bid to cure his own back pain.
Not only did he succeed in this quest, but over the past few decades, he has helped countless people to alleviate pain with his simple exercise programme and, in the latest edition of his book Mind Your Own Back, he offers advice to pregnant women.
"There are a number of steps which every mother should consider when planning pregnancy," he says. "The first is to keep a healthy body by eating good-quality organic food and also doing regular exercise.
"Every mother wants a healthy baby and it begins with both parents having a healthy body and mind. A well-planned pregnancy and properly educated steps will insure a fit and healthy body for a happy and blissful pregnancy and birth, so proper nutrition and keeping fit is the most vital first step."
The back guru says gentle yoga is essential for would-be mothers and his programme can be used both during and after pregnancy.
"Back problems should ideally be resolved before a baby is born, so if a mother has issues with her back, she should sort it out at the beginning of the pregnancy because she will need to be prepared for the extra demands the developing baby will put on her body and spine," he explains.
"Gentle yoga like Mind Your Own Back (MYOBack), is ideal and even better if it is started right from the beginning, then carried on during pregnancy and after giving birth to assist the body in its recovery process," he adds.
"This gentle yoga therapy will help correct most back issues while developing strong stomach muscles to hold the baby in late pregnancy and also continuing good fitness during and after birth."
Timm believes that, aside from eating well and exercising, there are a number of other ways in which women can prepare for the birth of their babies - and he has some advice for fathers too.
"Yogic breathing has proven to be very helpful throughout pregnancy and labour," he says. "There is a section in MYOBack dedicated to this type of breathing as it is conducive to a calm and relaxed state which prepares people for the experience of inner peace and calm - I would also recommend meditation.
"And I believe that being well informed is essential. Just like ignorance is no excuse in legal matters, mothers and fathers need to be well informed about their physical body and how to stay strong and healthy.
"On that note, it's not just mothers who need to be healthy, fathers do too - and not just when their child is born, but also before they are conceived. Australian researchers have linked obesity in fathers to future generations, and have shown that obese fathers can pass on poor metabolic health to future generations before they are even born."
The softly-spoken yogi adds that everyone should look after their spine throughout their lives.
"It is very important for people to understand the human spine and its needs," he says. "Whether pregnant or not, we all need to learn how to use our body and spine, how to lift things properly and the limitations of what we can lift, as ignoring this can cause many injuries.
"Sitting down for long periods is not good for anyone, so I would encourage both pregnant women and their partners to get out into the fresh air, get moving, do regular stretches and try to encourage good posture without forcing it - your spine is doing a very important job and needs to be looked after."
Timm offers a few simple exercises to pregnant women to help them to strengthen their backs and spines, which will in turn give them the extra power needed to see them through pregnancy and labour.
1 Learn yogic breathing. In other words, relearn to breathe the natural way as you did when you were born. That is 'diaphragmatic' breathing.
2 Warm up for five minutes by marching on the spot and lifting up the knees on every step.
3 Do a set of 'tabletop' exercises (get down on all-fours). Lift back one leg at a time, breathing in with yogic breathing as you slowly lift back and breathe out as you return.
4 When in tabletop position, slowly lift (bend) one knee out sideways as far as comfortable while breathing yogically, and slowly bring it back as you breathe out. Repeat with the other leg.
5 When in tabletop position, stretch one leg back with toes pointing out and slowly draw 10 circles clockwise, then draw 10 circles anticlockwise while you keep yogic breathing. Repeat with the other leg.
6 Laying on your back with knees up, hold a pillow between your knees and slowly come up (as in the 'bridge' position). Breathe in yogically as you come up, and breathe out as you come down. Repeat 10 times.
7 While lying on your back with knees up, keep on holding a pillow between your knees and slowly turn your knees to the left as far as it is comfortable, then slowly turn your knees to the right as far as it is comfortable. Repeat five times.
8 Then you can lay on your back with stretched legs slightly apart and arms slightly outstretched from the body with palms facing upwards. Close your eyes and relax using gentle yogic breathing while just observing without involvement, not trying to change anything. Continue yogic breathing. Let yourself go for five minutes.
9 Resuming MYO Back yoga after birth will assist the body in its recovery process and help restore the (SI) sacroiliac joint back to its original position.
10 At the same time, the action of breastfeeding will send contractions to the area for the purpose of normalisation of the pelvis and uterus. The recommended minimum breastfeeding duration is six months, and ideally one year.
11 Continuing the yoga programme after birth is vital to restore good posture and shape, as well as keeping a strong back during the early years of carrying and nursing the child.
12 Birth by caesarean section should be avoided as much as possible as it is not good to go against Mother Nature - but if for some reason there is no alternative, doing the MYOBack program as soon as you have recovered from surgery is ideal as this would help the sacroiliac joint to be restored properly.
For more information, or to request a tailor-made programme, visit www.mindyourownback.com