What is Postnatal Yoga?
Technically, it is yoga practiced after childbirth.
What does that actually entail? It entails a mom coming to her mat during one of the most delicate, sensitive, challenging times of her life.
Take It Easy
This is not a time to be practicing yoga ferociously or fast-paced. Much like prenatal yoga, it is a time to have a gentle, soft and forgiving practice.
Forgive the fact that everything feels different, forgive that your child will most likely interrupt your practice, and forgive that it might take weeks or even months to find the time and energy to make it happen.
Since practicing yoga after having a baby will be different than any other time in your life, there are some major things to take into consideration.
Notice How You Are Feeling Physically
Are you dealing with diastasis recti? If so, be sure to speak with your healthcare practitioner and know what exercises are right for you. Same goes for recovery from a cesarean birth. You’ll want to start slow and do the exercises that feel good and are appropriate for assisting in the recovery period.
Unsure where to start or feel like you need a little extra help in rebuilding your core? Have you forgotten what is feels like to engage your pelvic floor? Does your hip still feel off? Are you dealing with any incontinence?
A Physical Therapist Can Help
If so, seeing a physical therapist who specializes in Women’s Health is highly recommended. It’s better to treat these issues now before they potentially get worse or left behind. This is even more important if you are a runner or do any high impact activities.
I really like this video (aside from the title) for gentle exercises to safely rebuild the pelvic floor and low abdominals.
Notice How You Are Feeling Emotionally
This is a time where most women are tired (probably exhausted), overwhelmed and scared. The postpartum period can be very lonely and isolating, no matter how much support you have.
On the opposite spectrum comes a sense of happiness, pride, and an abundance of love like never before. Your baby can light you up and bring such joy into your life.
Sometimes a Trained Professional Is Needed
Just like we often need physical therapists to rebuild our physical health, sometimes we need to seek professional guidance for our emotional health. This article is a great resource for differentiating between the ‘baby blues’ and clinical postpartum depression.
It’s normal to have tough days, but if you aren’t experiencing joy and connection with your baby, then know nothing is wrong with you. Please reach out to a trained professional if you need help and know that you’re not alone.
The Benefits of Postnatal Yoga Practice
f ever you find graciousness for yourself and your yoga practice, may it be during this time.
Allow yourself to cry, allow yourself to enjoy how good the simplest of asanas (poses) can feel, allow time for picking up your baby or feeding while in savasana (the final resting pose in yoga).
1. Beat Depression
On the days when you’re feeling sad or depressed, luckily practicing yoga can help.
In the study “Efficacy of yoga for depressed postpartum women: A randomized controlled trial” by Melissa Butler of University of San Diego, 57 women experiencing depression after childbirth were examined using yoga as a complementary therapy.
Participants took 8 weeks of classes (16 classes total), and “78% of women in the yoga group experienced clinically significant change.”
That is good news! No matter the day, no matter the mood, your yoga practice is here for you.
2. Reduce Anxiety & Stress
Expecting to feel like you did in the poses before you were pregnant will create anxiety. Expecting to get a full, uninterrupted practice in will often lead to stress.
This is not a time for expectation. To feel calm and at ease, you must remember to be open. Practice flowing with whatever comes your way. When we let go of how things were or how we think things should be, we open ourselves to greater enjoyment and to being present.
3. Breathing Exercises
It’s important to remember the basics of any yoga class: breath. Awareness of our breathing can alter our mood and mentality almost instantly. This can be done anywhere, at any time.
To help calm anxiety and overwhelm, try some deep belly breathing. Simply place a hand on the stomach for 10 deep breaths into and out of the belly. Feel yourself relax.
This breath can help with better sleep and is great for any restorative poses you may want to try.
Victorious Breath (Ujjayi)
Another effective breath style to practice postpartum is Ujjayi (victorious breath). It’s a gentle constricting of the back of the throat that creates an internal heat, sort of like fogging up a mirror but with the mouth closed.
This simple breathing exercise can be done anywhere, anytime (while feeding baby, when feeling frustrated, or any time we want to clear our minds and bodies).
Ujjayi breath, according to the Chopra Center, “builds energy, relieves tension, and detoxifies body & mind.” This article gives an in depth explanation of the benefits and techniques.
4. Heal The Postpartum Body
It’s important to make the time to set intentions, remember how strong and valuable you are, and focus on your own health and happiness. A yoga practice can remind new moms what it feels like to be nurtured and supported.
Start Slow with Basic Poses
The postnatal body needs a lot of gentle movement. Cat/cow and child’s pose are a great place to start, eventually transitioning into planks and downward facing dog.
Chest and shoulder openings are also very welcome as a counterbalance to all the time feeding and holding baby.
Here is a wonderful sequence of 7 postures that can be done safely and at your own pace.
Build Up Strength
As mentioned, this isn’t the time to be aggressive with your asanas or try to jump right back into the poses that you were doing before you were pregnant. As with all things surrounding having a baby, it just takes time.
Luckily practicing postnatal yoga allows for gentle recovery and activity that can build the right kind of strength. Shiva Rea’s Postnatal Yoga DVD is a great example of this and is available for purchase on Amazon.
If you are feeling strong and prefer a YouTube video, try this one:
Meditate to Relax
A meditation practice can be a fabulous way to get many of the calming and grounding benefits of yoga without putting any physical stress on the body.
The below meditation is superb for the newly postpartum mother, and for all moms who want a chance to move into relaxation without any physical exertion. It can even be practiced while holding your baby!
Practice with Your Baby to Feel Connected
Choosing to practice alongside your baby provides a wonderful sense of connection and bonding. It’s also good for them to see you taking care of yourself.
If your baby gets upset while you’re practicing, take a moment to hold him or her at your heart. Let them know they’re safe and that you’re there for them. It’s much more relaxing to have a happy baby than it is to get one more pose in while baby is fussy and upset.
You may also choose to include your baby in your practice and do special, playful poses just for them. Your child will become more aware of his or her own body movements while you enjoy seeing them smile.
Here is a fun video to get you started.
Find a Class to Get Support
Meeting other moms in your community is a helpful way to feel supported, which can be very needed during the postpartum period.
If you go alone, remember that taking care of yourself means you’ll be able to take better care of your baby. If you go with your babe, enjoy the one on one time without the everyday distractions. It’s a good bonding opportunity.
Find out what types of classes are available. Even if it feels challenging to get up and go, it’s almost always rewarded with baby cuddles and mama left feeling better than when she started.
A postnatal yoga practice is about doing what you can, when you can. Something as simple as 5 minutes of legs up the wall can feel like a wonderful recharge.
Allow yoga poses and meditation to be a beautiful opportunity to let go of expectations of yourself and your baby. This will help you to feel more relaxed.
Start slowly and at any time during the postnatal period, remember to ask for help if you want and/or need it. Enjoy practicing alone, in a class, or with your baby to reconnect with your innermost self, your yoga practice, and the self you may have forgotten about.