Dance Through Your Pregnancy

You know the old mindset: A woman tells a man she's pregnant, and even though she's barely showing and looks healthy as a horse, he responds, "Shouldn't you be sitting down?"

Today, people are too sophisticated to expect a woman to "lie in" for nine months but, unfortunately, it's still not an everyday occurrence to see a very pregnant woman weight-training in the gym, jogging through a park or taking a yoga class.

But you're going to change all that. After all, if you've been a steady exerciser -- taking aerobics classes, lifting weights or kickboxing -- until now, why does your pregnancy have to alter your routine?

The truth is, it does and it doesn't. Somewhere between lying in and running a marathon is a workout plan for the modern pregnancy.

Dancing Thru Pregnancy, an exercise program created by Ann Cowlin, answers this need. "Instead of modifying existing fitness activities, I created a specialized system to satisfy the [physical and spiritual] demands of pregnancy, birth and recovery," says Cowlin, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale University School of Nursing in New Haven, Conn., and author of the forthcoming book "Women's Health and Fitness Programming" (Human Kinetics, 2001). Cowlin uses the word "dancing" to describe the euphoria and freedom a woman can feel during her pregnancy.

Strength and Endurance

"Just like any other athlete preparing for an event, exercise [that you do] while pregnant should mimic the circumstances you'll eventually experience," says Cowlin. "Childbirth involves a long-distance, low- to moderate-intensity endurance marathon (labor); followed by a sprint (transition); and ending with a strength test (pushing)." Cowlin's program combines aerobic exercise, strength work and childbirth preparation.

While a traditional childbirth class may teach you relaxation exercises, Cowlin will have you practice those techniques while you're working out and your heart rate is up. "It's all well and good to relax in a dark room or while you're sitting down, but let's face it, during childbirth, most women are breathing heavily and working hard, so isn't it a good idea to combine the two?" she says.

Physical exercise is just one aspect of the Dancing Thru Pregnancy program. "Our first goal is to have the pregnant woman be able to center herself [physically and mentally]," she says. "Being centered requires the combination of physical balance, slow and deep breathing from the transverse abdominal muscle and a calm mental association with your body."

The exercises will help you open up areas that need to be relaxed during birth and strengthen areas that need to be strong. "Traditionally, exercise measures 'how far' and 'how much,'" says Cowlin. "Instead, when it comes to birth, ask yourself, 'how do I feel inside?'"

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