Tai Chi and Chi Kung in Pregnancy
I am often asked what exercises are safe to do in pregnancy? My advice is always first and foremost to listen to your body and only do what is comfortable for you.
If you have been following a healthy exercise programme before you became pregnant then it is usually safe to continue with it throughout your pregnancy. Your midwife, at booking, will discuss lifestyle and exercise with you. However, if you have been attending a gym or classes then you should let your instructor know that you are pregnant now so that modifications can be made.
One exercise you can safely take up is Tai Chi (gentle moving meditation) and its’s sister Chi Kung (Chinese yoga or the art of energy cultivation). Both of these ancient Chinese practices promote deep relaxation and improved mental focus. The movements are adaptable and can be practised while walking, standing or sitting. Tai Chi is a martial art and a form of Kung Fu but do not let this put you off.
What is it?
The type of Tai Chi I learned focused on energy management and improving health and wellbeing. It used repeated flowing circular movements and visualisations to harmonise body and mind. The emphasis was on balance and using the breath to create a sense of calm within. As a student my Chinese Teacher used to say that in learning the form (i.e., the series of steps and sequence of hand and foot co-ordinations, that the hardest part was learning the transitions, when one flow of movement changes to another flow or form. I believe it is the same with the birth process. Very often, it is just before the birth that mother’s to be want to stop and give up. The sensations within the body can become intense and we become aware of a change being imminent. Tai Chi helps us recognise that even when there is intensity there is also calm and flow.
Why do it?
Exercise does not have to be intensive to be beneficial, it can be something gentle that you do for you and your baby for twenty minutes each day. As you nourish and take care of your body, you are doing the same for your baby. The gentle swaying motions of Tai Chi and circular movements, encourage good posture and deep connection to your body’s energy system or chi. Tai Chi makes you aware of your surroundings but it also encourages you to dive deeply within and connect with your body and its’ own healing mechanisms.
In pregnancy, your centre of gravity changes and both Tai Chi and Chi Kung can help build core strength and balance. Care is taken to warm up all parts of the body in turn, so that optimum circulation is achieved. This can help improve swelling and lymph drainage. The gentle circular pelvic rotations promote mobility, thus helping prevent backache and teaching you to tune into your body for labour. Breathing in a slow gentle rhythm in time to a series of gentle repeated movements stills the mind. There is evidence to suggest that Tai Chi and Yoga combined can help prevent depression in the antenatal period.
Birth is a time when we need our strength and to be able to draw on our inner mental focus and intuition. The guided relaxations and moving mediations within Tai Chi encourage a calm gentle contemplation and teach a sensitivity as to when to move and when to rest. I was not pregnant when I first discovered Tai Chi and Chi Kung but both these practices helped me through an extremely stressful time in my life.
They became a way for me to access inner resources and balance.
What will I learn?
In Tai Chi and Chi Kung, we learn to focus on an area called the “dantian”, which is approximately three finger widths below the belly button. Known as the “golden stove” in ancient Taoist texts, the dantian in Chinese medicine is regarded as being the foundation of balance, breathing and full body awareness.
I like the fact that in focusing on this area, you are also focusing on where your baby is. It can be a lovely way to connect with him or her, if you imagine them inside floating in their own ocean of stillness, as you move about your busy day. One simple visualisation is to picture them safe and warm and relaxed, smile at them and see them smiling back at you. Don’t worry about how it is done. Just know that it is done. You may even feel a nudge or a kick in response from your baby. Exercises like Tai Chi and Chi Kung promote the production of endorphins and endorphins provide us with a sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Where can I practice?
Tai Chi and Chi Kung can be practised anywhere. You can practice it at home with your shoes on. However, my favourite thing to do is to find a quiet place outside. Perhaps in your garden, at the beach or in a park.
Kick-off your shoes and sink your bare feet into the ground. Allow your knees to soften and relax, imagine a ball of sunlight under each armpit and that you are sitting on a large golden sun. (Something like your birthing/labour ball if you have sat on this and bounced about.). If you are tired, you can use the ball to sit on or a chair.
Just make sure that you are comfortable, have a snack to hand and stay well hydrated.
Then without rushing and in your own time, imagine you can breathe in the gentle sunlight all around.
Imagine that the sunlight flows all the way from the top of your head, right down through your body and out the soles of your feet. Spend as long as you wish doing this and towards the end, connect with your baby again and picture them breathing in and out this gentle light in harmony with you.
Don’t forget that smile.