Susanne Haegele and Sarah Burgess both trained with Birthlight and now both teach pre- and post-natal yoga classes at Yoga Creation. Here they share some of their experiences of teaching postnatal yoga for mums and babies, and explain what new mums can expect from these classes.
We had both enjoyed teaching prenatal yoga for some time before we decided we wanted to be able to follow-up with the new mums “on the other side” of the birth experience and welcome them back to class, with their babies, in order to give them some yogic tools to heal their bodies and cope with the challenges of being a new mother. So we returned to Birthlight, whose approach we had already appreciated in our prenatal yoga training, to learn more about teaching postnatal yoga.
As Sarah explains: “Whilst we did have some new mums and babies present during the training, nothing quite prepared me for the first real class with a roomful of babies and new mums to look after! Luckily they were all women who I knew from my prenatal classes, so that made it somewhat easier, but it was still quite a shock nonetheless! Whilst my prenatal yoga classes are an oasis of calm, the postnatal classes can sometimes be anything but as you are looking after both the mums and the babies. And the babies may only be small, even tiny in some cases, but they all have their own distinct personalities, needs, agendas and requirements, and these need to be taken into consideration along with the mothers’ needs. Our aim is therefore to try and keep mums focused and engaged in the class whilst never forgetting the babies.”
“Yes, teaching postnatal yoga can initially be quite a humbling experience, even for a seasoned teacher”, as Susanne confirms: “I admit that I found it quite daunting when I first started teaching these classes. Now I look forward to them, as each is a little adventure, and I laugh it off when a class ends up being particularly “messy” – and I won’t even mention the cute little girl I was once carrying around, who ended up pooing on my yoga pants. I found it hilarious, but got some weird looks when I shared the story with other teachers.”
As teachers, we come to each class with our “toolbox” of exercises and practices, and we improvise. The yogic concept of detachment is essential here: the teacher must detach from her class plan and her ideas of a perfect sequence and be able to quickly adapt to whatever is happening at that moment.
A postnatal class with babies is a real juggling act of building in as much asana, breathing and relaxation as possible for the mums, whilst also never forgetting the babies, keeping them happy and trying to involve them in the class wherever appropriate. Sometimes one poor baby just can’t settle and may be crying, and so we aim to reassure the mother that it’s all ok and help her find ways to soothe her baby.
So what can new mums expect to gain from these classes?
They will help new mothers to regain strength in their body, to open and release areas of tightness and tension in the back, neck and shoulders, and to find space for relaxation.
We aim to gently tone the abdominal muscles from deep within, allowing them to knit back together, and look to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles in conjunction with the breath: a ‘closing of the body’ after pregnancy and labour. The classes also focus on the re-alignment of the spine and pelvis, and encourage an awareness of posture in all movements, including the care and handling of baby.
An emphasis on the breath throughout the class helps to develop a sense of wellbeing, and we build in time for relaxation so both mothers and babies feel nurtured. We explore postures and practices mums can do with and without their babies so they can easily continue their yoga at home.
As teachers, we both find these classes very rewarding to teach. It is truly wonderful to meet the babies ‘on the outside’ after often having them in class for six months during their mothers’ pregnancies. And one of the real joys is when a baby immediately feels at home at the studio and appears to recognise your voice. Whilst these classes can sometimes be a little more chaotic than your usual yoga class, most mums seem to get a lot out of them and many have told us that the weekly class has been a real sanctuary for them during the early months of motherhood. What a wonderful thing for us to hear as teachers!
It is very gratifying to be able to help and support new mums in these early months, when they can often be exhausted, overwhelmed and nervous or confused by the overload of parenting advice being given to them, and to offer them some time and space to reconnect with themselves and their bodies. “When we show mothers how to interact playfully with their little ones, and how to nurture themselves (to “mother the mother”, in Birthlight terms), we are actually promoting core yogic values such as respect of self and others, compassion, contentment, and using breath and asana to calm the mind”, comments Susanne.
One of the other joys of teaching these classes is having the chance to connect with the babies themselves, and to observe them as they grow and develop. “In every class I offer to help out with whichever baby is most in need”, says Sarah, “to give the mother some space to relax or to join in the class more fully. And generally the babies react very positively to this – they love being held and walked around the studio and having a new vantage point of being able to see what everyone else is doing. Helping to calm a crying baby is very satisfying and a little cuddle is always a joy too.”
Susanne and Sarah both teach pre-and post-natal yoga based on the Birthlight approach, and as well as their weekly studio classes they are available to teach 1-2-1 sessions or small group classes in your home or at Yoga Creation.