By Dana Meltzer Zepeda
Ever wonder how stars like Drew Barrymore and Jessica Alba bounce back so quickly after giving birth? Yes, they have access to private chefs, round-the-clock nannies, and personal trainers. But the real secret to their success might just be available to anyone with a yoga mat and a little motivation: a regular prenatal yoga practice. "After we give birth, the body undergoes a process called involution in which the uterus contracts to its original size," says Desiree Bartlett, a prenatal yoga teacher at Exhale Sacred Movement in Venice, California, who has trained several celebrity moms. "Once the uterus has returned to its pre-pregnancy size, the core muscles are often left overstretched. If we can keep those muscles active during pregnancy, we regain the strength and tone in the muscles faster."
Of course, strengthening your belly with a baby on board is no easy feat. But, with the proper precautions, it is in fact possible to keep your core toned during all nine months. "Experienced yoga instructors understand the relationship between the pelvic floor muscles and the transversus abdominis," says Bartlett. "These muscles are connected and, if the hammock-like muscles that support the weight of the uterus during pregnancy work together with the core muscles, the sequence provided here will allow you to work these muscles safely and effectively."
Incorporate these poses into your regular practice at least 3 to 5 times a week to strengthen your belly throughout your pregnancy. "This sequence will help to strengthen both layers of musculature and allow your body to recover quicker," says Bartlett. But, as always, consult your doctor first before adding anything new to your regular yoga practice. And, more importantly, remember to rest whenever necessary. "We do not practice crunches nor do we actively to try to cultivate fire," warns Bartlett. "This sequence allows all of the core muscles to work in a way that will increase strength while keeping your beautiful baby safe in his or her home."
Cat-Cow: Begin on all fours in Table Top position. Make sure that your hands are shoulder distance apart, and your knees are hips-width apart. Inhale and look up as you arch your spine. Exhale and round your spine, creating space between the shoulder blades as you do so. Normally in Cat-Cow we squeeze the belly in a little at the end of the exhale. During pregnancy, take care not to draw the belly up and in. Allow the undulating motion warm up the muscles of the core, without creating compression in the belly.
Opposite Arm and Leg Extension: From Table Top, extend your right arm forward with your thumb pointed to the sky, then extend your left leg behind you with slight internal rotation (make sure the hip and toes are pointed down). Enjoy 3 deep breaths in this position and then change sides. Imagine your baby's back to your belly, his or her head pointed down towards your pelvis. Feel the muscles of the core holding the baby like a supportive cradle. There is strength but no compression. The strength is cultivated through stabilization.
Side Plank, modified: From Table Top, bring your right hand and knee to the center line of your yoga mat. Now turn to the left and straighten your right leg, resting on the outer arch of the right foot with part of the sole of the foot coming down onto the yoga mat. The top left leg will be bent with the foot on the floor in front of you like a kickstand. Lastly, lift the left arm up to the sky. Feel the strength of the obliques creating strength in the side of your body. Enjoy 3 to 5 deep breaths on each side.
Full or Modified Plank: In the first and second trimester, you can opt for full Plank if that feels good to you. Make sure your hands shoulder-width apart and keep a slight bend in the elbows. Feel the strength in your hands pushing down into the floor. This action of pushing the hands down will help to fire up your upper arm strength. Your core muscles will support the entire shape. Sustain the position for 3 to 5 slow, deep Ujjayi breaths. In the third trimester, drop your knees to the floor and practice from there.