Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Fitness in pregnancy - Part II (+ 4 exercises)

A few more things I want to say about fitness in pregnancy, before I am through with this very unique period in every woman's life (for the time being, anyway!).

Fit, lean and healthy
First of all, it pays immensely to enter pregnancy as fit as possible. I don't care if you don't run 10Ks in your second trimester, but you'd better be as strong, lean and healthy as possible when you are starting out. The female body goes through so many changes over these nine months and a good level of fitness makes everything so much easier. You will be able to carry the load much better, maintain your posture, keep your muscle tone, and not succumb to gravity without a fight. As for the health benefits: from keeping blood pressure at low levels, to even having to cut through less layers of fat during a c-section (gross!), there is a lot to be said about being in the right form prior to deciding to have a baby.

Nagging sport injuries
It was interesting to see some of my old sport injuries flaring up and resurfacing during the nine month wait. 'What' s with this old pains', I was thinking a lot of the time, 'I mean it's not as if I've been exercising myself to death here!' Plantar fasciitis, a bit of knee pain, arch pain, and, worse of all, my sciatica pain going all the way down the right leg, have all made their appearance with a vengeance. Some of these pains have come and gone, but the sciatica has been steadily getting worse over the past few weeks, to the extent that really it is an effort now to even take Lisa (our dog) for long walks any more. I do hope that recovery is fast and smooth on many levels, beginning next week. In fact, I consider myself injured at the moment!

Pregnancy exercises post-partum
The pocket-sized book "Your Pregnancy Day-By-Day" by Professor Stuart Campbell, and Alison Mackonochie (Carroll & Brown Publishers Ltd, 2005) is full of pregnancy information for the ignoramus like me (for example, according to the book, a full-term pregnancy is 294 days exactly, who would have thought!).
It also offers a few fitness exercises (mostly in preparation for labour) that I have found could be of use later as well. I am going to be practicing them post-op, as soon as I can.
Here they are.

Tailor sitting
This exercise releases tension in lower back (so, a blessing for me really!) and improves pelvic flexibility. After placing pillows under thighs and sitting with back straight and the soles of feet together, you draw your heels towards you, using the arms to push down on your thighs. Relaxing your shoulders and the back of your neck (yes! I need that so much!), you breathe deeply and hold the stretch for a count of 12. Repeat every day. As one becomes more flexible, one can remove the pillows and push knees closer to the floor.

Pelvic rocks
This is a good way to relieve backache in late pregnancy and during labour (and after, might I add!). You aren't meant to let your lower back sag while doing this exercise. Get down on your hands and knees, with knees about hip-width apart. Keep neck in line with spine and the back flat. Then tighten abdomen and buttocks and slowly round shoulders and back and let your head drop down. Hold briefly before returning to the start position. Repeat 10 times a day or whenever one feels tension (which for me is indeed very often during the day, also what a great exercise after a tough running session!).

Modified squats
This exercise strengthens the thigh muscles and is a mild form of the squat, perfect for c-section recovery as well as for anyone just starting out on the whole squat exercise set. Standing with feet hip-width apart about 2 feet from a wall, back and arms flat against the wall, you slowly lower yourself down until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Make sure your knees don't go beyond your toes. Hold briefly, then slowly stand up. Repeat 12 times, twice a day.

And one strictly for the girls: 
Power kegels
These pelvic floor exercises are good for every female runner wanting to regain full bladder control post-preganncy (not always as straightforward as one might think). You can perform them sitting, lying or standing (but not while you're urinating, as this may cause an infection). Draw up and lighten the muscles around the anal sphincter; then hold. Slowly tighten the muscles around the urinary sphincter as well and lift up through the vagina (as though you were ascending in a lift). Hold for a count of 6, release with control, then repeat - beginning with 4 sets of 4 reps and working up to 4 sets of 6 reps.

Fitness in pregnancy - Part 1

I have been thinking quite a lot about the past few months and how fast really they have whisked by. It is something that surprises me. I would say that I had higher expectations from myself during all this time, especially in terms of keeping fit and active and in shape. I don't want to beat up myself here at all, but somehow the whole experience ended up being a bit different than I expected.
I had my running pregnancy books picked out, ready and waiting for me, namely Runner's World Guide to Running and Pregnancy, and Exercising through your pregnancy (a much-welcome gift from fellow sports activist and partner-in-crime Christina, currently at the beginning of this wonderful journey into pregnancy herself).
And I did keep running at the beginning of it all, even if it meant doing the Oxford Town & Gown 10K on Sunday 15th May (a week after that Stratford marathon that was never meant to be) in about 55min (and that included speeding up in the end, simply because I could not take the cautious running any more).

That was early on in the pregnancy.
But after that I never appeared to any of the Motavation race series around Oxfordshire that I had signed up for. I did keep up running, mostly half hour runs around Oxford University Parks, and I did do some of the easier HRR Thursday club runs.
But I was not enjoying it much. I was constantly aware of my body temperature changing, the niggles and pains around my growing bump, and worried about how the fetus was taking the bumping around.
Maybe I worried too much. Perhaps I did. But when it is the first time you are experiencing a pregnancy, you are perhaps a bit more cautious than the next time (s) round? I am not sure.

Given that an elevated body temperature (102.5 F or 39.2 C or higher) can damage the fetus and increase the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine, I was always conscious and sceptical. And then, the anemia kicked in and I saw my hemoglobin levels so low for the first time ever (9 gm/dl!!) that I was actually scared.
Just a few days before our wedding, in early July, I ran for the last time, 30 min on grass around the cricket fields near our house. I remember it as if it was yesterday.
On top of everything else, the side stiches were so intense and uncomfortable that I had to stop and walk a few times.
It was the last straw, more or less. I was five months pregnant and I had had enough.

Walking, swimming and cycling have been my staple fitness diet since then. I am so envious when I see other runners, being able to gliss through the streets of Oxford, some more gracefully than others.
I already know that my post-pregnancy present to myself is going to a brand new pair of running shoes - and I can't wait!
It will be interesting to see how I recover from the C-section (with baby being breech, at the moment this is the way to go) and see how I feel when I start running again. The when, I am keeping pretty much open as well. We will see how things go.

First things first. Boy must arrive, healthy and happy. Then everything else will follow. Including the running, that has set my mind free for so many years and hopefully will continue to do so for many more years to come!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The circle of life

Yesterday morning my mother called me from Athens with the news that her father had passed away peacefully in his sleep during the night. He was a dog's hair away from living to 100, well taken care of and had a full life, spanning two wars, a civil conflict in Greece, exile - and even lived to see three great great grand children.

For the family, this has been a testing time, what with my beloved (and way younger) aunt also passing away just a few days after my wedding. This hurts so much that I can't really write about it still. It was a wake up call in the middle of bliss for me (being on our honeymoon when I heard the news).
Bad news that were even harder to digest when the person in question is a strong, sturdy, active woman, full of energy and determination. With everything happening so suddenly, there was no time to say goodbye.
The essence is that death, a vital component in the circle of life, has banged hard and loud on our family's door twice over the past few months. Which makes me think even harder about the power of giving life that will soon manifest itself in front of that same door.
As my mother said yesterday, "Others come and others go".
A reality harsh, unstoppable and unrelenting. With the baby on the way offering perhaps only some comfort after saying final goodbyes to beloved relatives who have been stable rocks of your life since its very beginnings.

My grandfather, as well as my paternal grandmother, who also lived to nearly a full century, were strong-willed people with a clear determination to live. They were always, even in their old age, interested in the lives of others. They wanted to know about you and what you were up to, and what the neighbour was up to as well. This genuine interest was what kept them going, as well as the constant recounting of memories of the past. Stories of war, of growing up amid wealth or poverty, of old family scandals and wasted fortunes, of political coups that shook Greece - they were all bound to come up in conversation, provided you had the patience and time to listen.
Sometimes I wish I had more time and patience to listen, and maybe even perhaps a tape recorder on me. You seldom realize at the time that when they go, they take with them all memories of past times and a sense of continuity that has influenced who you are as well.
They did have a strong sense of self, both my almost centuagenarian ancestors. Perhaps this is what lay behind their own commitment to daily routines and things they liked to do, no matter how frail or vulnerable they were getting to be. My grandfather insisted on shaving even when he was falling asleep in front of the mirror (and dropping his razor on him, at his danger), while one of my fondest memories of my paternal grandmother is eating her mid-day salty snack (olives, feta cheese, tomato) or fruit, in her own individual style (leaving out the hard bits that she couldn't digest).
My grandfather had his fair share of ouzo every day, and there was no way you could talk him out of it. It was his way of celebrating life, I guess.
They were tough cookies, not always easy to be around for others, but they were both innately experts at fending off for themselves in the face of time and adversity. How many of us will be able to claim the same? Only time will tell.

For my mother, these have been a challenging few months. Going from a wedding to a funeral and from another funeral to the birth of her first grandchild has a sense of inevitability ingrained in it that I can only begin to grasp.
Yet, there will be reasons to rejoice in this family soon, while also remembering those who will not be here with us to rejoice. The circle of life triumphant once more.
In a way, there is much consolation in the creation of life, I am thinking as I feel the baby's movements inside of me, as I sense his eagerness to get out in the world. At least enough to keep you going.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

Photo project I

My photography has been a bit rusty lately, a bit out of focus, I would say. No specific reason why, except that I have had so many things on my mind (not only pregnancy-, but also photography-related, including buying a new camera, which is probably a bit too late now for a pre-baby purchase).
But my beloved photography class has already had three meetings this season, we now have an ongoing project well ...going (which means I'd better start carrying my good camera with me again to places!), and I have just completed the first assignment after a long long time!
The theme was along the lines of a 'Costa coffee mug shot', trying to recreate the soft blurring and differential focusing of a Costa coffee (or Waitrose) food photo shoot.
I just love homework that you get to relish aftewards, that Christmas orange tart was sooooo delicious (πάστα φλώρα, for my Greek friends!) - definitely an added incentive to getting the job done!
I used my relatively new macro lens for these few shots, I love that close-up effect, though I still haven't gotten the hang of it and am finding it really tricky to focus sometimes (very stubborn lens that one is!).
But when it works, like in that fourth photo of the tart close-up details, I just love it!
So here are just a few samples from that sunny morning out at the Cowley Road Costa Coffee shop. Hope you like them!

This one and the next as an example of differential focusing, #1 on the mug, #2 clearly on the Xmas treat!

This is what a macro lens can do for you, i.e. make you wanna take a dive into Xmas heaven!