Postnatal yoga – some tips and guidelines for coming back to class

The post-natal mum & baby class will be taking a break from July. So instead, why not give yourself some much-needed ‘me time’ and come to a class on your own. You know you deserve it! A chance to breathe, turn your awareness inwards and focus on yourself for an hour can be such a gift as a new mum.

Having a baby changes everything, from fluctuating hormones and a new sleep schedule to how you negotiate your new identity as a parent. And though your priorities may drastically shift, a regular yoga practice—with a few modifications—can be a source of strength and direction to help you adjust to your new life. It can help improve posture, release tension from the shoulders and upper back, increase energy levels, and reduce symptoms of postpartum depression.

So read on for ten dos and don’ts when coming back to a regular yoga class.

1) Always wait at least 6 weeks before coming back to class, 8 weeks if you’ve had a Caesarean birth, so that you can give everything time to settle and heal. This is the absolute minimum time, and you may well feel that you need to wait longer than this. The first months after giving birth are a time to for you to recuperate from giving birth and adjust to your new life.

And remember that it took 9 months to grow your baby, so it will take at least 9 months for your body to go back to ‘normal’. Being pregnant and giving birth do take their toll on your body. So be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much too soon. Your body is really still “post-natal” for up to two years after giving birth. So things will feel different. Take time to re-familiarise yourself with your body.

2) When returning to a regular yoga class postnatally it can be very helpful and beneficial to start with beginners’ classes (even if you are not a beginner) or gentle hatha yoga classes rather than going straight back to more dynamic ashtanga or vinyasa classes, which can be much too strong for the post-natal body. 

It’s best to start slowly and gently, not rush or push yourself too much.

A restorative class is also a great treat when you are a tired and sleep-deprived new mum, and can allow you to deeply rest, unwind and rejuvenate.

Classes that I would recommend at Yoga Creation are:

  • Monday evenings, Flow & Restore at 6pm
  • Wednesday evenings, Beginners’ class at 8pm
  • Friday evenings, Restorative yoga at 7.30pm
  • Saturday mornings, Beginners’ class at 10am

3) When returning to a regular yoga class be sure to always let your teacher know that you had a baby recently so that they can help you to adjust and modify poses when necessary. And if anything feels too much then respect your body and intuition and either rest or don’t do a pose if it feels too much.

4) In all standing poses, especially warriors and lunges, keep a shorter stance than you would have done prior to pregnancy, at least for the first 6 months postpartum. This will help to keep more stability in your pelvis and avoid the risk of over-stretching the ligaments in this area. And always feel free to keep your knees a little bent in poses such as triangle pose to avoid over-stretching the hamstrings.

5) Avoid full deep back bends for at least for the first 6 months, so no Urdhva Danurasana (full wheel pose) as this places too much strain on the abdominal muscles which will still be knitting back together. 

More gentle backbends like cobra and locust poses are ok, as long as they feel comfortable in your body, and these poses can be helpful in regaining strength in the back and abdominals.

And a low bridge pose is fine too, and in fact can be a very beneficial pose postnatally if done with an awareness of activating the inner thigh muscles when lifting. You may want to take a yoga block between the inner thighs and really squeeze the block as you lift up into this pose. 

6) If you are doing sun salutations, keep them simple and slow, stepping back and forwards, no jumping, and only come up to a low cobra rather than full upward facing dog.  If you are still breast-feeding then you may not feel comfortable lowering all of the way down from plank pose to the floor in preparation for cobra pose. In which case you can just lower the knees to the floor from plank and come into a little backbend (like cow pose) from there.

7) Try to avoid lots of deep hip opening poses like badha konasana, squats and upavista konasana as they are doing the opposite of what you want your body to do right now, which is to close rather than open. If you are in a class that is focussing on lots of hip opening, try not to go to your fullest expression of a pose, and always feel free not to to do everything. Resting in child’s pose is always an option!

8) Keep an awareness and gentle engagement of your pelvic floor muscles and abdominal muscles as you practice. This will help you find more stability and ease in poses and will protect your lower back. You want to draw pelvic floor muscles in and up and your lower abdominal muscles back towards your spine.

And whilst regaining abdominal strength is important, take it slowly and avoid sit-ups, crunches or anything else that pushes your abdomen out as you do it. 

9) Poses that are most helpful to a new mum are gentle twists to help close the body and reknit oblique abdominals, and also poses for opening and releasing tension from the shoulders and upper back, an area which is often sore and tight from carrying and feeding baby.

Eagle pose (Garudasana) whether done sitting or standing, is a great pose to practice postnatally. It helps to ‘close’ the lower body whilst also providing a deep stretch to release tension and tightness from the shoulders and upper back.

10) Remember that postnatally, especially whilst you are still breast-feeding (and even for many months after you stop) your ligaments are still vulnerable to over-stretching and destabilisation due to the presence of the relaxin hormone in the body, so please do take it slowly and carefully. Your body will thank you for it in the long run, and in any future pregnancies. Remember, you have many months and years ahead of you to get back into your yoga practice, so be gentle and kind with yourself, and don’t push yourself.

I hope these guidelines will be of help. And again, if in doubt, please do speak to your teacher before class for more advice.

If you don’t have time to come to class, then try to practice Legs-up-the-wall pose at home, for at least 10 minutes a day. This is such a restful and rejuvenating pose and will really help you re-energise after a bad night’s sleep. You can do it with or without support under the pelvis, as feels most comfortable. You might want to place your hands on your abdomen as you tune into your breath, feeling a gentle rising of the abdomen with each inhale and a gentle dropping back of the abdomen towards the spine as you exhale. Allow your mind to quieten as you feel your body settle and your breath finds a smooth, steady rhythm. An eye pillow will make the whole experience even more enjoyable and beneficial, and allow you to really switch off.

Happy practising! And enjoy the quiet time that a yoga practice will give you, and the precious opportunity to focus solely on your own body and breath. Not only will you reap the benefits but so will your baby as you will feel refreshed and ready to parent again after class.

Sarah is a Level 2 Pre- and Post-Natal yoga teacher, qualified with Birthlight. She is available to teach one-to-one sessions for anyone look for more specific yoga practices tailored to post-natal recovery.

In addition, she will be teaching a Gentle Post-natal Core Workshop with a particular focus on the repair and prevention of Diastasis Recti on Saturday 26th October at Yoga Creation.

And a workshop to Deeply Release Stress, Tightness and Tension from the Neck, Shoulders and Upper Back on Saturday 9th November, which will be particularly beneficial for women with babies and toddlers.

And if you are missing the weekly post-natal classes at Yoga Creation look out for some pop-up classes for mums & babies over the summer with Susanne – more details to follow soon.

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