The South Indian ‘Fit’ Pregnancy & Staying Active

Moms, before you became pregnant and gave birth did you have any idea how strong you are?

Culturally, there’s a misconception about how Indian women should take care of themselves while pregnant. We blame it on our cultural diet, genetics, and advice amplified by older generations. I experienced this during my own pregnancy and made it my journey to push for change – in how we talk about pregnancy and how we treat our bodies.

During my childhood, it was my parents who taught me the values and importance of strength, consistency and discipline. I witnessed strength from my mom’s career as a working nurse with two jobs and unconditional love for her family. I learned consistency and discipline from my father, who taught us by example how to work hard at something until achieving greatness. To have that mindset and make zero excuses about how to get it done, no matter what. I carried those values throughout my childhood career as a soccer player, into my time as a collegiate soccer athlete and now as a personal trainer and fitness instructor.

When I found out I was pregnant, the first thing I heard from family and friends was:

“Take it easy… don’t lift anything more than 5 lbs… and, you should stop running.”

Why are we programmed to “take it slow” and when the female body is a superpower of its own? We are genetically composed to be superwomen. Why can’t we train our minds and bodies to continue to be strong while experiencing the miracle of having a baby? The outdated advice in our South Indian culture is to get as much rest as possible during your pregnancy and “eat for two.” Treating pregnancy as being some type of confinement doesn’t prepare us well for pregnancy and the journey beyond.

As a fitness enthusiast, I took on this challenge to complete my prenatal/postpartum personal training certificate, recording my journey through Instagram to give advice and motivation to other women, and show why we need to be strong not just for us, but for our families.

Evidence has shown that exercise during pregnancy is beneficial for fetal health and well-being, extending into childhood and later adulthood. Exercise (light, moderate, heavy) has an impact on reducing both anxiety and stress in the mother. Mental and physical health are dependent on one another. As a person who struggled with weight and self-confidence, I know how hard this can be for others who are not in love with fitness. It’s not a one-size-fits-all mentality but calls for understanding the benefits of exercise to help you to be a stronger person, to mentally clear the fog and focus on the present.

I teach my clients, and especially moms, that it doesn’t take hours at the gym or on the Peloton. You decide how many days you can commit to stay active. Just 15, 30 minutes, 3x per week. As long as you are consistent and make no excuses, you can get it done.

Within the Indian culture, there are misconceptions across the board surrounding fitness or lack thereof:

Cost

We often think the only way to lose weight is by signing up at the nicest gym or paying $34 for a SoulCycle class. It doesn’t have to cost anything – there are so many free or inexpensive resources available online to get started and stay committed. That’s the key – STAY COMMITTED.

Patience

Trust the process. This is often used in the fitness world because it’s TRUE. Results really don’t happen overnight. You have to stay consistent with your workouts (again, it doesn’t matter how long – just keep at it) and the discipline to not make excuses for why the workout didn’t happen.

Diet

No, you don’t have to cut out carbs or follow fad diets to see results. Moderation and balance. You’ve heard it all before but are you really listening? I LOVE my mom’s dosas but enjoy them in moderation! Indian food should not be eliminated – it’s who we are (and it’s delish) but can you eat the dosa in the morning followed by a workout and/or active day with the kids, and end the night with a plate of chicken curry and a side of green veggies?

I work with my clients on the importance of strength training and how it relates to real mom actions. Let’s take a squat for example. Prenatal wise, we are focusing in on the pelvic floor, holding the “squeeze” similar to a kegel. I’ve worked with a handful of women who had pelvic floor issues – it is a real thing. Jumping, laughing, sneezing… You think you cannot control it, but there is much you can do.

How does this transfer over to motherhood? Imagine holding your little person while bending over to pick up the laundry on the floor and reach for something. Did you hunch over, rounding your back, and whip your neck as you were standing up? OR did you keep your core engaged, squat down (feet shoulder width apart, shoulders back), and stand back up pressing your weight in your heels?

I’ve seen in myself and other postpartum clients that staying active helps during your pregnancy and the recovery process.

Here are a few of my favorite prenatal/postpartum exercises!

pregnancy

Squats

Stand with feet shoulder width apart, shoulders rolled back, keeping your posture poise and core tight. Lead with your glutes like you’re going to sit on a chair behind you and pause at the bottom when your thighs are parallel to the ground. Stand up through the heels and engage your glutes at the top!

* Make sure your knees don’t cave in and if you want to take this up a notch, add a mini band above your knees for a little challenge.

pregnancy

Deadlifts

Stand with feet shoulder width apart, slight bend in your knees, and shoulders rolled back. With two dumbbells in hand and palms facing towards you, slowly lower the weights keeping them close to your body, while sticking your butt back. Neck should be neutral (look down at your toes and keep them there!) Come all the way down past your knees until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. Once you feel it, pause for a second, come on up slowly and squeeze your glutes.

Glute Bridges / Single Leg

Lie down with your legs bend and hands along your sides. Lift your glutes up, hips towards the ceiling while squeezing your glutes at the top. Hold that squeeze and slowly lower everything down.

* You can use a mini band above your knees to add resistance (your inner thighs will thank me!) and then at the top of your glute bridge, hold it up while pushing out and then in with your knees (keep those glutes up & your outer thighs will thank me!)

(all images courtesy of Meryl-Lyn Joshy)

References

The Influence of Prenatal Exercise on Offspring Health: A Review
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5075987/

Physical Activity and Depressive Disorders in Pregnant Women – a Systematic Review
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6572339/

For more stories of mothers doing amazing things on SEEMA, check out Toughing It Out: Being a Mother in a Pandemic