ALEXANDER PROCEDURES FOR PREGNANCY AND LABOUR: SQUATTING
The benefits of having an active labour are now increasingly being recognized, and squatting is one of the activities most often recommended. In some cultures, people squat for many activities, especially sitting, and consequently can do so comfortably, maintaining the position for long stretches of time. In Western societies, probably because of the furniture used, people do not tend to squat as part of their everyday life. Because of this, the majority cannot squat correctly, even for a short period. It is therefore an unrealistic and unfair expectation that women should be able to squat to give birth, without prior preparation.
As toddlers we can squat easily, but we tend to lose this ability through lack of practice as we get older. To be able to squat, the hip, knee and ankle joints have to be very flexible. Regaining this flexibility involves releasing muscles and tendons that have been habitually over-contracted, probably since we were children. This is possible but it does take a lot of practice, which is one reason why Alexander lessons should be started as early as possible in pregnancy - if possible before. You should practise squatting a lot during pregnancy - on you own or with support.
In Alexander lessons, we start by teaching the student the monkey or semi-squat, and then gradually encourage them to deepen this until they are able to adopt a full squatting position while maintaining all their directions.
Follow the instructions for monkey but with the feet wider apart. Inhibit - the very thought of bending to lower yourself is a strong stimulus to 'end-gain'. Give yourself time to stop and reconsider the means whereby you will get there.
While making sure that you keep your heels on the floor, that your back is lengthening and widening, and that your knees are going away from each other, bend at the hips, knees and ankles to allow yourself to lower into a deeper squat.
It is important that you only go into as deep a squat as you can manage while maintaining all these conditions. When you have gone as far as you can, do not give up your upward direction and slump into the squat, as that would make it difficult to come up again.
To get up from the squat, allow the head to release a little further forward while at the same time letting your back come back over the heels. This will create the necessary antagonistic stretch in the muscles to allow you to rise again without having to push with your legs. You will simply 'fall upwards'.
Sitting on a low stool or books
This is effectively a squat and encourages the release and stretch of your inner thighs and pelvic floor. In pregnancy it is a comfortable way to sit as the baby gets bigger, and a good resting position for labour. (A pile of telephone books gives a good broad base, the height of which is easily adjustable.)
The safest way to practise squatting and help increase flexibility and suppleness in the joints of the legs is by using the handles of a half-open door (or a secure rail) for support. Do check that the door handles are well secured before you start. We call it the 'hanging squat'.
Stand, feet apart, a little less than arm's length away from the edge of the door (or rail), and take hold of the handles. Give your directions and release your weight backwards to let the arms come to a full stretch, but without rounding your shoulders. Release your knees forward as you lower your bottom towards the heels. You will now be, as it were, hanging from your arms, with more of your weight back over your heels than you would be able to do in an unsupported squat.
To return to the upright position, release a little further into the hanging squat and give your directions to lengthen and widen. Do not pull with your arms. Keeping these directions going, together with the intention to stand up again, should be all that is required.
Hanging squat holding on to door handles, bar or rail
In this squat much of the body weight is supported by your hands, making it easier to release tension in the legs. This is an excellent way of learning to squat.
Follow the 'hanging squat' instructions for this, but instead of holding on to door handles you will be holding on to your partner.
You can either both go into full squat or your partner can use a shallow monkey or lunge position. Maintaining eye contact and smiling will help you to stay alert and keep your breathing full and unrestricted. It is important here that you can trust your partner to take your weight as you lean away from each other. Building up this trust is useful practice for your partner's role during labour.
Counterbalanced squatting This 'hanging squat' (above) is useful for learning to trust each other, as the weight of one person counterbalances the other. It is not particularly helpful for the actual labour.
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