Brantlee Underhill is co-owner of Chun Ji Martial Arts in West Chester. Chun Ji (“Heaven and Earth”) offers high quality teaching and training in Hapkido and Taekwondo. Students receive the personalized attention and instruction necessary to flourish and grow a diverse skill set through physical and mental practice. Located in downtown West Chester at 120 N. Church Street.
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“I just realized how different your technique is now. The last time I saw it, you were pregnant!”
That’s what one of my fellow instructors said to me recently, after I returned to my martial arts training after delivering my baby boy in January. I had been practicing martial arts and yoga throughout my pregnancy, and I immediately learned to accept modifications to my practice if I wanted to continue to be active throughout those months. My classmates got accustomed to seeing the pregnant woman moving around at her own pace, kicking lower, and definitely not having any physical contact with others in class.
When I became pregnant, I was advised by my doctor to limit my physical activity to walking only for the first 11 weeks of my pregnancy. I was warned about all the physical and mental limitations that come with pregnancy. Each week brought a new, eye opening experience. When I expected to feel the extreme fatigue that many women experience in their first trimester, I had abundant energy instead. I was anxious to return to some more exerting activities because fitness is one of the things that keeps my mind sane and capable of handling the quick pace of my day.
When I was finally permitted to return to my yoga and martial arts practice, I learned to widen my stances to accommodate my new center of balance, exploring my increased flexibility without sacrificing stability. I would opt for alternate poses or make modifications so that I could continue to practice in some capacity. I would perform some techniques in slow motion, analyzing my body alignment and trajectory paths to discover something that I had not previously explored in “normal practice.” I also would sit on the sidelines during some parts of class and watch others. There is incredible learning to be had not only in observing my new approach but also through observation of others.
My third trimester was a time of incredible gratitude, especially towards my body.I likened the third trimester to the speed or incline being increased on an elliptical machine or treadmill; that was the result of my increasing weight and pumping heart!, I noticed as I was getting bigger around my midsection, that other parts of my body maintained their definition. I smiled at the thought of gaining nearly 40 lbs, which created a new opportunity to learn balance by moving this additional weight and making me physically stronger! I might not have been able to do all the types of intensive activity I was used to, but I was committed to a very consistent practice and gained measurable internal and physical strength because of it, all of which prepared me for the delivery and health of my baby.
I realize that my practice is suited to me and may not be right for any newly pregnant woman. I had been physically fit from the start and also very aware of what my body is capable of. I knew when to come to the mat and when to take it easy. I am not sure if I ever would have unlocked this side of practice had I not been required to do it differently. I have trained alongside people who know nothing but to “go hard or go home,” or who beat themselves up because they had a physical ailment that prevented them from “normal practice.” When their bodies finally yelled at them to slow down or to stop over-training and take a break, and they didn’t listen, their bodies further broke down, resulting in longer term recoveries or permanent damage. Now there was no more “going hard” and instead, it was “staying home.” I didn’t want to be broken on a couch at home, and I didn’t want to be restricted to bed rest either, so “slow and steady wins the race” was my strategy for staying mentally and physically fit through this time of pregnancy. It’s a lesson in perseverance and practicing humility that I would offer to anyone who feels that they cannot bring their top game because of an injury, illness or other sidelining event. There are alternatives, there are options, and there are ways to ensure your health – and the health of those relying on you – when you learn to take a different approach.