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.

Feeling Stressed and Anxious? Then read on . . .

Simple Yoga Tips & Breathing Techniques for Reducing Stress and Anxiety

If you missed my workshop on Yoga for Stress, Fatigue and Burnout last month, then here are a few simple yoga techniques that you can practice at home to help reduce stress and anxiety. These practices are also very beneficial for lowering high blood pressure.

When we are experiencing high levels of stress or are in a state of continuous stress we often find ourselves disconnected from our body and living in our head; ‘tired, but wired’ and dominated by anxiety and even fear. Our immediate response to stress can often be to keep going, to push harder, to become even busier. In fact what we really need is to give ourselves time to slow down and space to simply “be”. 

In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Most of us need to be given permission to switch from the doing to the being mode, mostly because we have been conditioned since we were little to value doing over being.” 

We need yoga practices that can help us to come back to our body, to feel more centred and grounded and to soothe our nervous system. Practices that allow us to come back from the busyness and racing thoughts of our mind and to feel the ground beneath us in a very real way.

We want to shift the overall focus to being, not doing and to deep relaxation – it is only when the body is in a relaxed, resting state that it can recalibrate and healing can occur.

In addition, when practising yoga techniques for stress and anxiety we always want to encourage an attitude of ahimsakindness, compassion, self-acceptance and non-judgement. And, most importantly, we want to stay attuned to our body and if something feels too much, then let it go for now and come back to the practice another time.

Yoga practices that are extremely helpful in reducing the effects of stress and anxiety on our mind, body and nervous system, and which help to bring us back to a more harmonious state, include slow, mindful and somatic movement; longer held restorative poses to allow the mind and body to release deeply held tensions; and yoga nidra, the practice of deep “yoga sleep”. And in addition to these practices, one of the most powerful yoga tools for reducing and managing stress and anxiety is the breath.

People experiencing stress and anxiety often have entrenched breathing patterns which exacerbate their experience and keep them locked into a stress response. Shallow, fast, upper chest breathing is very common, as is mouth breathing, a focus on the inhalation and over breathing or hyper-ventilation. With stress the diaphragm can get very tight and stuck, and often we are only using 10-15% of our diaphragm’s capacity to breathe.  We need to learn to slowly and gently begin to change these patterns by bringing awareness to our breath, but never forcing it, and to begin to find a smooth, even, easeful breath. Below I explore a number of different breathing practices that help us to really connect to our breath and to gently elongate the exhalations, and explore the benefits of each of these practices.

Setting up for safe and comfortable yoga breath work

When working with our breath, you want it to feel smooth, easeful, steady and well-paced. As you experiment with yoga breathing, stop and rest if it feels strained or uncomfortable. You can reset your breathing rhythm if you restart slowly and take your time as you work your way up toward being more consistent or having longer practices.

Being comfortable and at ease is essential to developing a good, sustainable breathing practice. You can choose a seated position on a meditation cushion or a chair, or a restorative posture where you are supported by a bolster and folded blankets.

You can even do it lying down in Savasana or Corpse Pose if that feels right to you.

Make sure that you feel stable, supported and comfortable above all. Lying down often allows us to relax more fully than when we are sitting so you might want to choose a supine position at least to begin with for these practices.

As you settle into your chosen position, take a little time to arrive fully in your body, feeling the support of the ground beneath you and allowing the face, the jaw, the whole body to relax and release any tension or holding.

Once you are comfortable begin to simply notice and feel your breath moving in and out of the body. If you haven’t really done this before, it can seem strange at first. Begin to purposefully pay attention to your breath, without trying to change it. Take note of how it feels as the air travels in and out of your lungs over the course of several inhales and exhales.

The simple act of noticing your breath brings you out of your head and your emotional experience and into your body at this moment. The act of breathing is the most basic evidence that life moves through you. As soon as you bring awareness to your breath, a shift occurs. If you notice it is short, shallow or choppy, you have the ability to slow, lengthen and calm it.

Whenever you practice any of the following step-by-step techniques, always begin by noticing your breath and how you feel.

  1. Centering Breath

How to do it
1. Become aware of your breath. Take a few normal rounds of breath in and out through your nose.

2. Inhale — take a long, deep and steady breath in through your nose. Allow the belly, rib cage and heart to open and expand with this inhalation, as though you are filling your whole torso with breath.

3. Exhale — gently press the air out of your body with a steady, slow and deep rhythm. Your heart, ribcage and belly will soften and gently contract inwards. 

4. Now take a few regular breath cycles — just your normal breathing.

5. Repeat this back and forth process about 5-10 times: regular breath, long breath cycle, regular breath.

Remember: never strain or force the breath. Go slowly and gently and be present with the process.

6. Before moving on from your practice, give yourself time to normalise your breathing, notice how you feel, and acknowledge the centering effects of this practice.

The benefits: this breathing technique draws you back to your centre. It draws more oxygen into your lungs, invites calm in the body and mind and also lowers blood pressure.

2. Lengthened Exhalation

How to do it
1. Again, begin with noticing your breath as it is in this moment. Take a few rounds of gentle and regular breath to start.

2. Inhale — fill your belly, lungs and heart, noticing how many counts it takes to fully, and comfortably inhale. Is it 3? 4? 5?

3. Exhale — allow your heart, lungs and belly to soften. Make your exhale the same length as your inhale — Inhale to a count of 3 (or 4 or 5 — whatever your comfortable count is) , exhale to the same count of 3, 4 or 5, etc. Practice this level, even breathing for a few rounds.

4. Now begin to lengthen your exhales by two extra counts. So, if your inhalations were 3 counts, your exhales will now be 5 counts, or 4:6… and so on.

5. If you need to you can always take a few regular breaths between these longer exhales without counting or lengthening. Keep it simple and easeful. Remember, never strain.

6. After 10 or so rounds, let go of the longer breaths and come back to a natural breath pattern.

7. When complete, don’t jump up and rush off. Acknowledge your efforts, notice the effects of the practice on your body, mind and mood and then move slowly, taking the calmness you just cultivated with you as you move away from your practice.

The benefits: lengthening the exhalation activates the calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress, anxiety and lowering blood pressure, and bringing the body and mind into a state of peace.

3. Bhramari Breath (Bee Breath)

You may want to try this one is a comfortable and upright seated position rather than lying down.

How to do it
1. Breathe in and out at your regular pace, paying attention to your current state of mind, body and breath.

2. Close your eyes. Cover your ears with your hands to block outside sounds. Or gently place your index fingers or thumbs on the cartilage of the inner ear (see images above.) But please don’t stick your fingers inside your ears!

3. Breathe in slowly and deeply.

4. As you breathe out, make a humming sound that should last the entire length of the exhalation. It will sound like a honey bee vibrating inside your body. Experiment with the pitch of your “hum”— high, medium, low. See what works best for you.

5. Practice about 6 to 8 rounds of breath this way. Then release your hands and sit as the resonance of the sound and vibration within your body disperses.

6. Take a few moments of gentle respiration before moving on from your practice.

The benefits: Bee breath drowns out the noise of both external and internal distractions — distractions that can fan the fires of stress and anxiety. When these distractions are quelled, even for a few moments, we can feel clear and calm. It can also have a positive effect on our mood.

4. Lengthening the exhalation with sound

How to do it
1. Move into a comfortable Constructive Resting Pose

2. Placing your hands on the belly, take 3 rounds of breath whilst making an Aaaah sound on the exhale. Rest for a few breaths, noticing any sensations and the silence after the sound.

3. Move your hands to your chest, feeling the breath moving in this area. Then take 3 rounds of breath whilst making an Ooooh sound on the exhale. Again, rest for a few breaths, noticing any sensations and the silence after the sound.

4. Move your hands to the face, take 3 rounds of breath whilst making an Mmmmm sound on the exhale. Again, rest for a few breaths, noticing any sensations and the silence after the sound.

5. Finally bring the hands back to the belly, and combining the sounds, take 3 rounds of breath whilst sounding Aum (Ommm) on the exhale.

6. Rest in silence for a minute or more, feeling the effects of this practice, and the breath gently moving in the body.

The benefits:  using sound in this way helps to focus on and gently lengthen the exhale. Sound can also be very soothing for the nervous system. The practice of placing the hands on the body also has a calming and reassuring affect on our body and nervous system.

You might like to choose one of the above and practice it every day for a week so you can really feel the effects of it. And then perhaps move on to another one for a week. Once you have found what works best for you then aim to practice it regularly.

And remember, you can take your breath work practice anywhere. You don’t have to be in a yoga studio to embrace these beneficial practices. In those moments throughout the day when you feel stressed, heated, anxious or rushed, simply pause and breath consciously for a minute or more, perhaps placing both hands on your belly as you do.

With your breath, you have the power to centre yourself anywhere — at work, waiting in line, at a red light, before a difficult conversation, as you prepare for bed. The more you are able to incorporate these practices into your daily life, the more you will feel the beneficial effects.

In the words of T.K.V. Desikchar: 
“Think of the breath as your friend”. 
It is always there for us, even in the most difficult of times.

Sarah has been teaching yoga for over 12 years, and is registered as a Senior Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance. In more recent years she has become more interested in the therapeutic benefits of yoga and has undertaken a number of specialist trainings in this area.

She will be teaching another workshop on yoga for stress, fatigue and burnout later in the year. She is also available to teach anyone struggling with these issues on a 1-2-1 basis.

© Sarah Burgess 2019

The Benefits of Post-Natal Yoga for both Mums & Babies

Giving birth transforms women’s lives in profound and often unexpected ways. Each experience is different but all births call for a new integration of physical and emotional well-being. The steady flow of breath in yoga helps to open a steady calm path in the midst of all the changes and emotions that come with being a new mother.

Practising post-natal yoga has many benefits for new mums and also for their babies. In this article we explore in more detail exactly what those benefits are.

Giving birth transforms women’s lives in profound and often unexpected ways. Each experience is different but all births call for a new integration of physical and emotional well-being. The steady flow of breath in yoga helps to open a steady calm path in the midst of all the changes and emotions that come with being a new mother.

Post-natal yoga can help significantly in women’s recovery from childbirth, on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. It can also be extremely helpful in the first weeks and months of parenting, helping to relieve some of the physical aches and pains that come from caring for a baby, as well as helping women with all of the emotional and psychological challenges that she can face during this period. 

Doing yoga with their babies can also really help with bonding between new mums and their little ones, helping babies to feel more secure and loved. 

As  her  baby grows, a regular yoga practice will help to keep a woman strong, grounded and emotionally and mentally stable and balanced, helping her to be a better parent to her child. Yoga at this time will also help a woman with the neck, shoulder, back and postural problems that can often result from repeatedly lifting and carrying a toddler and a heavy buggy. And even if a woman only comes back to yoga many years after the birth of her child, yoga can be an extremely useful tool at this point in helping women to re-establish their own identities after years of focussing on their children, and can give them some much needed space to begin nurturing themselves again. 

I have seen this first hand with a friend of mine who is only now finding the time to return to her yoga practice when her children are 4 ½ and 7 years old. She is finding her daily 30 minute practice of mainly restorative yoga incredibly helpful and valuable on many levels, including re-finding a sense of self, helping to calm and restore herself at the end of a busy day of being a mother and finding joy in a practice that was an important part of her life before her children were born.

Returning to a post-natal yoga class in the early months of motherhood can provide a great sense of support and community for new mums, a time to share and also time to focus on their own bodies which can get a bit neglected when there is so much focus and attention placed on babies on a day to day basis.

Yoga gives women permission to rest and reconnect with themselves, their emotions, their bodies, and their breath; it helps build strength and stamina; and it helps women to deeply relax and let go of anxieties, worries, stress and daily concerns. As such it is an extremely beneficial practice for all women post-natally.

Post-natal yoga can really help to bring the focus back to the woman and can help her to feel nurtured and cared for. Post-natal yoga classes can be a space for women to share their stories and experiences of birth in a safe environment, and to bond with other women. This is extremely important as post-natal depression often arises because women feel isolated, alone and unable to find the support they need at this time. Coming to class can help them to feel cared for, listened to and supported. All of this will mean that women in turn can better care not just for themselves but also for their babies.

Research (¹) sadly shows that one in three women report their births as being traumatic and many more are disappointed by the birth or view it negatively. Post-natal yoga can help women to come to terms with what happened during the birth and to begin a healing process be it days, weeks, months or even years after the birth. The Birthlight approach to post-natal recovery (in which I trained) is that “it is never too late, there is always a way and it can always be repaired”, be that on a physical, emotional or psychological level.

Even after the most wonderful, active, natural birth a woman’s body will need to heal from the pregnancy and birth and she will still be faced with all of the challenges of caring for a new born baby, so yoga is just as important after the birth as before. The immediate post-natal period can be a time of great joy and elation, but can also be one of vulnerability, exhaustion and depression. Yoga can help women to navigate all of these deep and wide-ranging feelings and emotions, whilst also enabling a woman to cope with the dramatic changes in her life and to build a strong foundation to her relationship with her new baby.

Post-natal yoga can also help:

  • To heal a woman’s body after pregnancy and birth, especially her abdominal muscles and pelvic floor
  • To stabilise and realign the pelvis after pregnancy
  • To stay calm and focussed in the midst of all of the new challenges of caring for her baby
  • To bond with her baby, and her partner in their new family unit
  • To heal emotionally and psychologically after a traumatic birth or one that has not gone how the woman had wished/planned for
  • To relieve other common postnatal problems including loose, aching joints, swollen ankles and lower back pain
  • To relieve the physical side effects of caring for a baby including stiff necks, shoulder issues and lower back pain from carrying and feeding a baby
  • To cope more skilfully with tiredness, sleep deprivation and emotional instability
  • As an on-going tool throughout her life with her children, yoga can help a woman to feel more centred and grounded, stronger both physically and emotionally, healthier and better equipped to capably and skilfully deal with all of life’s challenges as a mother and a woman

Many of the breathing techniques learned during pregnancy yoga will now help new mothers to find a sense of inner space and calm and to steady the mind, and will also be calming for the baby, who will recognise his/her mother’s breath and respond positively to it. Full yogic breathing is one of the most effective ways for new mothers to restore balance in their nervous systems after the shock that childbirth (even the shortest, easiest, most natural and active births) will cause to a woman’s body and mind. If the birth was particularly traumatic then there will be an even stronger need for women to begin healing through the use of pranayama and other yoga relaxation and gentle asana practices. Golden thread breath can be helpful as a pain-reliever if there are post-birth pains or nipple pain from breast-feeding. And the practice of post-natal breathing is essential in helping both the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles to heal. 

All deep breathing will help to promote and aid deeper relaxation, better sleep and will lead to a greater release of oxytocin, helping with both breastfeeding and bonding between mother and baby. Immediately after a hospital birth, full, deep yogic breath can be very beneficial in helping a woman to fall into a much-needed deep sleep amidst all of the noise and disturbance of the hospital environment. (Full yogic breath encourages women to breath in from their abdomen, up into their rib cage and chest and then to down through their body on the exhale, feeling the abdomen, rib cage and chest fully expanding with breath on the inhalation and contracting on the exhale, with the navel and lower abdomen gently moving towards the back body at the end of the exhalation. The breath is experienced like a wave moving up the body on the inhalation and down through the body on the exhalation.)

In terms of physical healing, the most common physical difficulties after pregnancy and childbirth will include lower back pain, weak abdominal muscles, weak pelvic floor muscles and potential injuries to the perineum, all of which can make finding a comfortable sitting position quite challenging. If there was a Caesarean birth then the weakness in the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles caused by the pregnancy will be exacerbated by the tenderness of the wound. Yoga can help with all of these difficulties. Gentle post-natal exercises focussing on the breath and on releasing through the pelvis can be done hours after the birth, and yoga exercises and post-natal breathing to strengthen and re-knit the pelvic floor can be done from one+ week after the birth, once the bruising has healed. Post-natal yoga exercises can also help women to relearn to walk and stretch safely, and recreate or create for the first time their core strength or hara. 

Post-natal breathing is an essential tool for women to learn and practice as part of their physical healing and can save them from years of discomfort caused by overstretched perineal muscles, preventing stress incontinence and womb prolapse. With post-natal breathing we are helping women to close the space  between their abdomen and spine, and to connect to, engage and strengthen their pelvic floor muscles. Post-natal breathing also soothes the adrenal glands around the kidneys which is very beneficial as kidney energy gets much depleted during childbirth.

Post-natal yoga should always be simple so that women can easily incorporate it into their busy daily lives, rather than just coming to class once a week or every couple of weeks, and then not feeling able to find the time to do anything at home. Post-natal yoga with babies can be a great bonding experience between the mother and baby and in class we teach women lots of ways in which they can incorporate their babies into their postural, pranayama and relaxation practices.  

In addition to yoga poses and breathing exercises, relaxation is also extremely important for new mothers. Relaxation techniques learned during pregnancy yoga can be of great benefit to women post-natally as they will enable them to access a deep state of relaxation in a short space of time, so that they can rest deeply when their babies are asleep, and can also use their own sense of calm and relaxed state to help calm and relax their babies too. 

In the post-natal period, womens’ bodies will recover better from slow, small movements and stretches and deep breath work rather than strong, challenging postures. In Birthlight post-natal yoga we teach women a series of slow, subtle but nevertheless very powerful exercises that will be extremely beneficial if practiced regularly and attentively, and will help them to find ‘zero balance’ in their pelvic alignment, to close the abdomen and to re-align their spine. And we also want to help women to better cope with all of the expectations that they face not only as new mums but also as women, with society’s expectations and pressure that they will ‘snap’ straight back into shape, become a super mum and will be wearing their skinny jeans again within a week! The use of positive affirmations, meditation and sharing in a class group environment can all be very helpful with this.

So whilst it’s clear what the benefits of attending post-natal yoga classes are for new mums, what about babies?

For babies the benefits of attending Post-Natal Mum & Baby yoga classes are also numerous and include:

  • The classes are an opportunity for them to begin socialising with other babies
  • It allows them to bond more deeply with their mothers during the poses that involve both mums and babies

  • The simple baby yoga that we do in each class has a calming effect on babies and can help them to sleep more easily
  • Mothers can learn movements and relaxed holds that can help babies with their digestion and also colic. Touch and gentle movement really help to regulate a baby’s digestive system. And whilst there is no ready treatment for colic, relaxed holds and rhythmic walks can also help mums to calm their distressed babies (and also themselves) effectively.
  • Babies get to participate in a joyful and uplifting practice and also to share baby yoga songs with their new little friends
  • They become more confident and more at ease in the world around them

  • They also begin to learn that it’s ok to be relaxed and content on their own whilst mummy spends some time focussing on her yoga practice
  • The gentle stretches of the baby yoga help to open up babies’ joints, and mothers can discover how babies’ bodies move and begin to feel more confident in handling their babies

So to conclude, attending post-natal yoga classes can help women to recover from the emotional, physical and mental shock and potential trauma of birth, to feel supported and nurtured after the birth, to connect with other mothers and to share anxieties, advice and experiences,  and to bond more intimately and deeply with their babies and partners. 

Ultimately, the most important benefit for both mums and babies in attending yoga classes together is the sense of joy that both can share in these practices and which they can carry with them into their daily life.

Sarah teaches a weekly post-natal class for mums and babies every Friday morning at 11h30 at Yoga Creation:

www.yogacreation.co.uk/pre-postnatal.php

She is also available to teach 1-2-1 sessions for women wishing to focus on particular areas of post-natal recovery, or who are looking to transition back to regular yoga classes after their pregnancies.

 

(1) Gamble, Jenny and Creedy, Debra and Moyle, Wendy and Webster, Joan and McAllister, Margaret and Dickson, Paul

(2005) Effectiveness of a counselling intervention following a traumatic childbirth: A randomized controlled trial. Birth 32(1):pp. 11-19. Copyright 2005 Blackwell Publishing

© Sarah Burgess 2018

10 simple ways to create more peace, space and contentment in your daily life

As we enter this new year of fresh possibilities sometimes our expectations of ourselves and what we want to achieve or change can be too high or too demanding, and often lead to a sense of failure when we don’t manage to do those things. Rather than setting the bar so high, instead try being kinder to yourself and just make some simple changes that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine and will have a very positive impact on how you feel.

As we enter this new year of fresh possibilities sometimes our expectations of ourselves and what we want to achieve or change can be too high or too demanding, and often lead to a sense of failure when we don’t manage to do those things. Rather than setting the bar so high, instead try being kinder to yourself and just make some simple changes that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine and will have a very positive impact on how you feel.

  1. Each morning on waking take five long, deep, calming breaths and bring your attention to your body. Take a few minutes to move your attention through each part of your body, thanking each part. Be grateful for this body and your health.
  1. Take a moment to be thankful for another day. Remember each new day really is a gift, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
  1. As you shower or get dressed think of a positive mantra or affirmation for your day. And then keep this with you as you go about your day.  A few examples of positive affirmations are:
  • I know that there is a deep peace within me and I can connect to it at any time.
  • I notice the beauty in all things.
  • I am free of worry and am at peace with who I am. 
  • I appreciate the power of stillness.
  • I am grateful for all that I have.
  1. Rather than rushing your breakfast whilst checking your emails, instead really focus on what you are eating and drinking, the taste and smells of your food, and appreciate this moment to nourish your body and to pause before your day gets going.

  1. Try to change your route to work whenever possible, at least the part that you do on foot. Even walking on the opposite side of the street allows us to see the world around us with fresh eyes and a new appreciation. Look up rather down, be aware of the vastness of the sky above you. Walk mindfully, really feeling the connection of your feet to the ground, and be aware of the world around you rather than just being caught up in your thoughts.

  1. Punctuate your day with a few deep calming breaths and take a moment to refocus your awareness in your body, noticing what sensations and emotions you are feeling right now. You can do this anywhere, at your desk, on the tube, walking outside. Soften the tension in your face and jaw and stay present with the rhythm of the breath for a few moments.
  1. Be kind to yourself and to others. Smile as you go about your day. Notice how this makes you feel, and how small acts of kindness make others respond more positively.
  1. Nourish yourself in some small way each day: a quiet walk in nature, a walk in the park or by the river, a meal eaten slowly and mindfully, buy yourself some flowers, take a long, relaxing bath. Notice how it feels to take care of and nurture yourself.
  1. Take time to relax when you arrive home – just 10 minutes, lying on a bolster, or with the legs up the wall or simply flat on the floor, using an eye pillow to relax the eyes. Practice calming breathing in this pose. Allow yourself 10 minutes just ‘to be’. And notice how refreshed you feel afterwards.

  1. Keep a small journal by your bed. At the end of each day before going to sleep, write down 2 or 3 things that you are grateful for today. It can be anything: a delicious meal you ate, a beautiful sunset you saw, a good book you read, a kind gesture that someone made, your health, the comfortable bed you are in, your friends, your partner. A regular appreciation of the things that went well in our day can really start to bring about a shift in how we see and feel about our life.

Just give these simple things a try and notice the different they will make to your quality of life.

Sarah teaches regular Sunday afternoon workshops focusing on slowing down and finding more inner space and tranquility through the practice of restorative yoga, yin yoga, pranayama, yoga nidra and meditation.

The next one is on Sunday 11th March.

To find out more and to book a place: www.yogacreation.co.uk/workshops.php

She is also available to teach 1-2-1 restorative sessions.

The Benefits and Purpose of Restorative Yoga

Learning to Slow Down, Soften, Release and Restore

When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world. Your innermost sense of self, of who you are, is inseparable from stillness.” – Eckhart Tolle

As our lives become ever busier, more hectic and stressful, there is a greater need than ever for us to take regular time to stop, slow down, release and restore. Modern day life has us running around firing on all cylinders and in “fight or flight” mode (activated by the body’s sympathetic nervous system) most of the time.  The effect of this increases our blood pressure, speeds up our heart, raises blood sugar levels, elevates levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, causes problems with our digestion, redirect blood away from our internal organs (making them function    less effectively) and makes our breathing faster and shallower. Doesn’t sound so great does it?

It’s not a problem if the sympathetic nervous system is activated for short periods of time, which evolution designed it to do back when we were fleeing tigers in the jungle. The problem is that the stress and relentless pace of modern life leads to people being in this state most of the time and that’s when the problems with our body and mind start to happen.

Restorative yoga can combat the effects of all of this running around at high speed by kick-starting our “rest and digest” or para-sympathetic nervous system and bringing our whole system back into more harmony. This enables our body to rest, recover, and regenerate itself. Activation of the “rest and digest” or relaxation response helps to lower blood pressure, slow our heart rate, boost immune function, restore good digestion, reduce our anxiety and stress levels and improves our sleep.

Restorative yoga is by nature a receptive practice rather than an active practice, and in that receptivity you can guide yourself towards a more healthy and balanced state of being. It is a practice of consciously turning inwards, of quietening the body and mind, and kindly nurturing ourselves. Restorative yoga is much more like meditation, relaxation or yoga nidra than like other more dynamic forms of yoga. Restorative poses are be held for anything between 5 and 20 minutes and you are always supported and held in these shapes with the aid of blocks, bolsters and blankets. When you are in these passive postures supported by props, and thereby using no muscular effort, the focus can really be on releasing the grip of deep muscular and inner tension, and you can begin to feel more spacious and receptive.

The beauty of restorative yoga is that there are no goals of stretching,  strengthening or “getting somewhere” in the pose. All you need to do is set up the pose and then simply be there, tuning into your body, your breath and exploring what happens when you slowly release your habitual ways of holding. Since restorative poses are held longer than more active yoga poses, they have time to really penetrate our bodies’ systems, including our mind and emotions, and thus creating significant shifts in both physical and mental health.

Restorative yoga is an incredible way of helping to heal the whole body and mind. In activating the para-sympathetic or relaxation response it helps to balance the whole nervous system and sets up the whole body for deep healing, growth and repair. Specific sequences of restorative poses can be used to help with numerous issues, including relieving back pain, menstrual and menopausal symptoms, stress, anxiety and depression, digestive disorders, insomnia, exhaustion, headaches and asthma.

As we settle into and stay in these longer held poses we slowly begin to create more space in those places that are holding tension, settling our awareness on them so they begin to change or loosen in ways they maybe haven’t for months or years. As we are so accustomed these days to holding ourselves together at all cost, it can sometimes be a little unnerving to begin to let go and surrender that rigidity, and for some people it can be very challenging to just “be”. But as we continue to stay and soften we can begin to find more ease in both our bodies and minds, and shift into a different way of being, both during our practice and in our daily life.

Restorative yoga can be seen as a special treat, and time to really slow down and let go, a little like having a massage. As with all practices though, the more often we do these slower and longer held poses, the more we can reap the benefits. It’s also worth remembering that in order for us to be able to really surrender and release deeply held tensions it’s important to take time and care when setting up our props for these poses, so that we can feel completely at ease and almost cocooned in each pose.

Another great benefit of restorative yoga is that is that it can be a great segue between more active yoga practices and meditation. As the body begins to really settle in these poses, so the breath can slow down and the mind can also begin to find more stillness and spaciousness. So it makes it a perfect preparation for meditation practice. And indeed we can bring many of the main tenets of mindfulness meditation into our restorative practice, as we aim to stay aware of our bodies, the sensations that arise as we remain in the poses and the feelings and emotions that may come up, observing all of these without judgement. Both practices have the same qualities of acceptance, allowing, surrendering to the present moment and stillness.

The American philosopher Ken Wilber writes beautifully about the need for balance in all aspects of our being, and these slower practices of restorative yoga can help us to find that inner harmony in our minds, bodies and lives:

In addition to learning how to take control and assume responsibility, a person also needs to learn when and how to let go, to surrender, to go with the flow and not resist or fight it. Letting go versus taking control — this is, of course, just another version of being versus doing, that primordial polarity of yin and yang that assumes a thousand different forms and is never exhausted. It’s not yin or yang [that] is right, that being is better than doing — it’s a question of finding the right balance, the natural harmony between yin and yang that the ancient Chinese called the Tao — between doing and being, controlling and allowing, resisting and opening, fighting and surrendering, willing and accepting.” 

So why not take some time out to let go, slow down and just see what happens? You may soon find yourself wanting to carve out time to do this every day!

Sarah teaches regular Sunday afternoon workshops focusing on slowing down and finding more inner space and tranquility through the practice of restorative yoga, yin yoga, pranayama, yoga nidra and meditation.

The next one is on Sunday 19th November. To find out more and to book a place: www.yogacreation.co.uk/workshops.php

She is also available to teach 1-2-1 restorative sessions.

Pose of the Month: Headstand (Sirsasana)

Going upside down and seeing the world from a different perspective can be both exhilarating and terrifying too. Generally in our yoga practice we begin our journey into inversions with Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana) and once we feel at ease in this pose we move on to Headstand.

Headstand (Sirsasana) is often referred to as the King of Yoga Poses, and it is one that many people are drawn to, but which many of us also find challenging. It can bring up understandable fear, and facing and overcoming this fear is part of the headstand journey.

Standing on your head in proper alignment strengthens the whole body, calms the brain and has many other benefits as a pose, including:

  • Relieving stress and mild depression
  • Stimulating the pituitary and pineal glands
  • Strengthening the arms, legs, and spine
  • Toning the abdominal organs
  • Improving digestion
  • Helping to relieve the symptoms of menopause
  • Also therapeutic for asthma, infertility, insomnia, and sinusitis
  • As with all inversions, it reverses the blood flow and improves circulation

Whilst it can calm the mind once we are comfortable in it, Headstand is also a pose where our ego and “drive” can often take over and we become determined to hurtle ourselves into the pose doing whatever it takes to get lift off, before falling just as quickly back out of it.

It goes without saying that this is not the approach we want to take for a strong, balanced, sustained and injury-free headstand. A quiet mind, focus and patience are all very important when coming into this pose.

For a few people headstand will come easily, but for most of us it takes practice, patience and perseverance, during which time we can build up the necessary strength to be able to enter and hold the pose safely and with ease. It should be remembered that traditionally Sirsasana has been considered to be an intermediate to advanced pose, and not one that is suitable for most beginners.

For the pose to be comfortable and stable, we really need a certain amount of strength in our upper back, shoulder girdle, core and leg muscles, and also an ability to connect to and engage Mula and Uddiyana bandha, which are essential for entering headstand safely and with ease, and for finding stability once in the pose.

Once we have the strength and focus to safely come into headstand, we need to ensure that the pose is aligned so we can comfortably stay in it without struggle. We are looking to align the outer ankle bone, the centre of the hip, the centre of the shoulder, and the ear hole. When this alignment is found, the energy flows freely and physical effort in the pose is minimised.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up and entering the pose safely and with control, which will mean that once you’re up you’ll be able to stay there with ease.

1. To prepare for headstand, a useful pose to take first is Dolphin Pose, as this builds strength in the core, the arms and the legs, whilst also nicely opening the shoulders in preparation for Headstand. If you are new to Headstand, try to do a couple of rounds of Dolphin, holding for 5-10 breaths each time, before moving on to Headstand.

Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Set your knees directly below your hips and your forearms on the floor with your shoulders directly above your wrists. Firmly press your palms together and your forearms into the floor. Curl your toes under, then exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling and continue to press the forearms actively into the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them away from the spine and draw them away from your ears toward the tailbone. Hold your head between the upper arms; don’t let it hang or press heavily against the floor.You can straighten your knees if you like, but if your upper back rounds it’s best to keep them bent.

2. Once you feel comfortable in Dolphin and have built up some stamina in the pose, then you are ready to move on to Headstand. Use a folded blanket or yoga mat to pad your head and forearms. Kneel on the floor with your toes tucked under. Measure the distance between your elbows by lining them up with your shoulders.

3. Interlace the fingers together and set the forearms on the floor, keeping the elbows shoulder-width apart.

4. Roll the upper arms slightly outward, but press the inner wrists firmly into the floor. Set the crown of your head on the floor.

5. If you are just beginning to practice this pose, press the bases of your palms together and snuggle the back of your head against the clasped hands (Position  One).  More experienced students can open their hands and place the back of the head into the open palms (Position Two). Or for some, a half-way point between these two positions is most comfortable and stable (Position Three). Either way, always ensure that the natural curvature of the spine is maintained.

  

6. You may also need to experiment with exactly which part of your head you place in contact with the mat. For most people it’s best to place the centre of the crown on the ground, for others it’s more comfortable to be a little further forward of this point. Experiment carefully and see which feels right for you and most comfortable for your neck.

7. Inhale and lift your knees off the floor, straightening the legs as much as you can. With the heels off the floor, slowly walk your feet in towards your head until the hips are directly above the shoulders.

8. Take one heel up towards the sit bones, and then press down firmly through the wrists and forearms, lengthen the spine, engage your core and strongly draw up through mula bandha so that the other foot almost floats off the floor and draw it into the bottom, pulling the knees into the chest. Resist the temptation to jump the feet up to this stage!

  

 

9. Once you can get to this point, try to balance for at least 5 breaths before moving on. Remember that the majority of the weight should be on the elbows, forearms and wrists rather than on the head itself. When you are comfortable you can begin to straighten the legs. You have a choice as to how you do this – you can either begin to press the heels up towards the sky, being sure to keep the feet and legs together as you do this, and slowly begin to straighten the legs, or you can begin to lift the knees towards the sky and then uncurl the lower legs from there.

 

  

Either way, move slowly and with control, and continue to press firmly into the wrists and elbows, lifting the shoulders away from the ears and not allowing the elbows to “run away” from each other.

10. Once you have straightened the legs, pause, breathe and don’t panic!! Roll the inner thighs in slightly and squeeze the legs together, press up through the balls of the big toes and fan out the toes. In order for the pose to be comfortable, we want the centre of the arches to align over the centre of the pelvis, which in turn should align over the crown of the head. A teacher or friend can check this for you.

Allow the mind to quieten, the breath to be slow and steady and find a point on which to focus your gaze (either the tip of your nose or a point on the horizon).

11. When you can comfortably get to this stage, firm the outer arms inward, and soften the fingers. Continue to press the shoulder blades against the back, widen them, and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the weight evenly balanced on the two forearms. It’s also essential that your tailbone continues to lift upward toward the heels, and that you think about drawing your lower front ribs and front hip bones towards each other to avoid ‘banana-ing” in the pose.
Breathe and feel your connection to the earth and allow the body to grow upwards from there.

12. As you are first learning headstand aim to stay for 10 seconds. Gradually add 5 to 10 seconds onto your stay every day until you can comfortably hold the pose for 3 minutes. Then continue for 3 minutes each day for a week or two, until you feel relatively comfortable in the pose. Then gradually add 5 to 10 seconds onto your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 5 minutes.

13. To come down from the pose, engage your core and your bandhas, exhale and begin to lower the legs (straight or bent) without losing the lift of the shoulder blades, and aim to bring both feet lightly down to the the floor at the same time. Rest in Child’s Pose (Balasana) for at least 10 long breaths, breathing deeply into the back as you inhale and allowing the body to release and soften with each exhale.

14. Balance in this pose can be difficult to begin with so you can use a wall, especially if you are practising at home. However, if you do use a wall be sure to still move into the pose with the same awareness and control that you would when practising in the middle of the room, and avoid just jumping or kicking up into the pose. The wall should just be there to help with your confidence whilst you become accustomed to being upside down. If you kick up into the pose you will never learn to do it freestanding without the wall.

15. As you become more confident and comfortable in your headstand, you may be able to enter and exit with straight rather than bent legs (strongly engaging mula bandha)

  

From there you may be able to hover the legs parallel to the floor for 5 or 10 breaths,

and eventually you may even be able to lower the feet to the floor and then raise the legs back up to vertical 5 or 10 times (this requires practice and strong bandha control!!) From there the variations are numerous – twists, headstand with lotus, legs wide apart, different arm positions, one leg up, one leg down . . .

Lastly, so as always to be safe in your practice, please note the following contraindications to practising headstand: back injury; retina problems; headaches and migraines; heart conditions; high blood pressure; menstruation; neck injury and pregnancy (unless you have had a very consistent and strong headstand practice before becoming pregnant).

Overcoming our fear of going upside down in headstand can be very liberating and can also lead to increased self-confidence which can filter from our yoga practice into our daily lives.

Happy practising and remember to resist the urge to ‘conquer’ headstand and instead try to approach the pose with a quiet mind, patience and focus, and soon the fruits of this King of Poses will be yours.

To find out more about the magic of headstand, and to understand which poses can help build the strength and flexibility required to enter this pose with ease, join Sarah in her ‘Working up to Headstand’ workshop on Saturday 30th September at Yoga Creation.

The Power of Mudras during Pregnancy Yoga

What is a mudra and how can they be helpful during pregnancy yoga?

Mudra means “seal,” “gesture,” or “mark.” Yoga mudras are symbolic gestures mostly practiced with the hands and fingers. They facilitate the flow of energy in the subtle body and enhance one’s journey within. These gestures help to focus the mind and also connect to particular energy channels in the body to produce a specific effect on the nervous system, the energetic body and the mind.

Each area of the hand has a reflex reaction in a specific part of the brain. A mudra therefore locks and guides energy flow and reflexes to the brain.

Mudras can be very beneficial in helping pregnant women to become calm, centred and more focussed and will often be used in conjunction with a specific focus on the breath. Many mudras help to foster inner strength and confidence.

They can help pregnant women to focus on a specific intent, including opening the heart centre; giving and receiving; removing obstacles; developing a feeling of unconditional love; and cultivating and connecting to sense of deep inner calm.

Once a woman is familiar with a mudra she can practice it anywhere and anytime to bring about a particular energetic effect.

Some examples of mudras that are very useful to practise during pregnancy are:

  1. Ganesha Mudra – the remover of obstacles
    Ganesha Mudra is named after the Hindu deity who removes obstacles. It can be used to relieve stress and tension and lift your spirits.

*  Interlock the fingers of both hands in front of the chest, elbows in line with the hands, shoulders relaxed.

*  As you exhale gently pull the elbows out towards the side, as though you want to pull the hands apart.

*  As you inhale, soften and release the pull.

ganesha-mudra

*  You can repeat this five times, working with the breath, and then swap the interlock of the hands and repeat a further five times.

*  Afterwards release the hands on to the thighs and sit quietly for a few minutes, breathing well, and noticing the effects on this mudra on your mind and emotions.

*  The benefit on this mudra is that it helps pregnant women to focus on the concept of removing obstacles – be they mental or physical.

*  A regular practice of this mudra can help women to feel confident and trusting in their ability to give birth and can help remove anxieties or worries.

2) Lotus Wish Mudra
*  Begin by placing the hands in prayer position in front of the heart.

*  Then join the wrists, inner edges of the palms and little fingers together and the inner edges of the thumbs to form a little lotus bud shape, and lightly touch the tips of the fingers together. Take a moment here to connect to your breath and to your body, and then think of a heartfelt wish for yourself and your baby.

lotus-wish-mudra

*  Slowly open the finger tips slightly apart and as you do so gently blow the wish into the lotus bud. Then seal it there by bringing the finger tips back together, and hold it close to your heart centre for a few more breaths.

*  On an inhalation take the arms up, still with the hands forming the lotus bud, and then on an exhalation open the lotus bud into a flower releasing the wish to the universe, allow the hands to part and then bring the arms down by your sides in a wide circle.

lotus-wish-mudra

Finish by bringing the palms of both hands to rest on the heart centre, in a calm and grateful acceptance of whatever may come.

lotus-wish-mudra

*  This mudra is very helpful in connecting the mother with her baby in a positive way. It is reinforcing optimistic thoughts about the future relationship between the mother and baby, helping with the bonding between them. The final part of bringing the hands to rest on the heart in an acceptance of whatever may come can be useful in preparing a pregnant woman to be accepting of both the joys and possible challenges ahead, both during and after birth.

3)   Opening to a feeling of never-ending and unconditional love mudra
*  Begin with the hands in prayer position in front of the heart centre (Anjali Mudra).

*  Relaxing the shoulders and the jaw, draw the awareness inwards and connect to the breath. As you inhale gently press the palms of the hands together and as you exhale open the arms wide, palms facing upwards and really allow the heart centre to open.

love-mudra

love-mudra

*  Repeat five times moving slowly with the breath, and then rest the hands back on the thighs, with the palms of the hands turned upwards.

love-mudra

*  Allow a feeling of a deep sense of unconditional love to spread from your heart centre through the whole of your body and mind – that deep love between yourself and your baby.

*  This mudra is very helpful in cultivating a deep bond between a mother and her baby in the womb.

4) Giving and Receiving Mudra
*  This mudra has both a physical and emotional/energetic benefit.

On a physical basis it can be very helpful in relieving and preventing discomfort and pain in the wrists which can be quite common during pregnancy.

On an emotional level it helps women to deepen their bond with their baby as they think about all they will be giving to their new baby in terms of care and love, and all that they will receive back in terms of love and joy.

*  Begin with the hands in front of the heart centre with the outer edges of the wrists and the little fingers touching.

*  Inhale and as you exhale rotate through the wrists so that the inner edges of the wrists and the thumbs come together and the hands move away from you. Repeat 5 times and then change the direction of the movement.

5) Adhi Mudra
“I am always calm in the centre of my being.”

*  Sit comfortably and place your thumbs inside your palms and gently make loose fists around thumbs.

adhi-mudra

adhi-mudra

*  Turn the hands downward on your lap.

adhi-mudra

*  Begin to notice your breath, sensing its natural rhythm through your body, and allow yourself to connect to the inner stillness that is always present deep within you.  Repeat for 10 breaths, or longer if required.

adhi-mudra

*  This mudra helps us to feel secure and grounded and also helps to reduce stress and anxiety. It can be a helpful one to do before bedtime if disturbed sleep is an issue, or in the middle of the night if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep.

*  It is also good for lowering blood pressure (N.B. if you have low blood pressure do make sure this mudra feels good in your body, otherwise move on to one of the other mudras.)

These are just some of the mudras that can be helpful during pregnancy. Sarah teaches these and other mudras during her weekly pregnancy yoga classes at Yoga Creation.

© Sarah Burgess 2017

Adapting classical yoga asanas for Pre-Natal Yoga

Many of the poses and movements in pregnancy yoga are inspired by classical yoga but are adapted to make them safe and comfortable for all pregnant women, even those with little or no experience of yoga.

Many of the poses and movements in pregnancy yoga are inspired by classical yoga but are adapted to make them safe and comfortable for all pregnant women, even those with little or no experience of yoga.

Here we look at two classical poses and give instructions on how they can be adapted for a safe pre-natal practice.

Triangle Pose/Trikonasana
    • Begin by stepping feet a comfortable distance apart – but not too wide. Your stance will be narrower than for ‘traditional’ Trikonasana. In all pregnancy yoga postures we want to be careful not to overstretch the muscles and joints (particularly those of the pelvis) which are generally more pliant during pregnancy. The feet should be less than one of your leg’s lengths apart. A good guideline is to have the feet just wider than the width of your mat.
    • See if you can align the heel of your front foot with the inner arch of your back foot. Turn your right foot out and the back foot in slightly.
    • Inhale and raise the arms and extend them either side at shoulder height, relaxing the shoulders as you do so.

Trikonasana

    • As you exhale extend over to the right, folding at the hip, and bending your right leg as you take the back of your right hand to rest on your inner right leg, wherever feels comfortable and at the same time take your left arm into the air.

    • Inhale here and if it feels ok then you can straighten the right leg as you rotate the abdomen and chest towards the sky and carefully turn your head to look towards your left hand. If there is any dizziness or discomfort in the neck then keep the gaze on the right foot instead.

  • Stay for a couple of breaths – as long as feels comfortable, and then on an inhale come back up. Then turn the feet in the opposite direction, exhale over to the left side, and repeat as above to the left.
  • You can also then flow back and forth between each side, moving on the breath, and really allowing the pose to feel as fluid as possible. Inhale in the centre, exhale as you stretch over to the right, inhale back to centre and exhale to the left, in a continuous flow of breath and movement.
Warrior 1 /Virabhadrasana 1 using the wall and twisting variation

*  The variations of these postures are best practised against the wall during pregnancy, especially during the later stages of pregnancy.

*  Moving to a wall, stand facing the wall with the right foot about a foot and half away from the wall and the left foot a comfortable distance behind.

*  Be aware that the distance between the front and back foot should not be too long, and definitely shorter than for the classic variation of Warrior 1.

*  Take both hands to the wall, shoulder width apart and shoulder height. The arms should be straight and hands firming pressing into the wall.

*  Look down and ensure that the feet are lined up as if along either side of a tram line in terms of the width between them and have both feet facing the wall. This helps to create more space for the baby and also really makes the posture more stable. It also facilitates bringing both hips to squarely face the wall.

*  Exhale and bend the right leg. You might need to reposition your feet a little here to ensure that both arms are straight and the palms flat against the wall.

*  On an exhalation press the hands into the wall as if you want to push the wall away from you and on an inhalation soften and release the pressure. As you exhale and push the wall away you may feel the muscles of the lower abdomen engaging. Don’t worry if you can’t feel this at first as it is quite subtle.

*  If you don’t feel anything, you can try moving the hands a little further down the wall, and/or turning the hands so the fingers point to the sides. You can also try with the forearms on the wall instead of the hands and notice which muscles engage, or move the hands a little higher or lower up the wall to see what effect that has.

*  Repeat 5 times. Even if you can’t feel the lower abdominal muscles engaging, the most important thing is to connect to the breath, and the sense of pressing firmly on the exhale and releasing and letting go on the inhale.

*  To move to the next stage, which takes the upper body into a safe and open  twist, then inhale and open the left arm out to the side and back, opening through the chest and left shoulder, and looking towards your fingers, and then exhale and bring the left hand back to the wall. Repeat several times flowing on the breath.

*  Then swap sides and repeat all of the above on the other side, with the left leg in front, and then opening the right arm to the side and back when coming into the twist.
Flowing though the postures on the breath rather than holding them is very beneficial in pregnancy yoga as it really helps women to embody the breath/body connection, which is so useful in labour, and it also encourages more relaxed stretching and elongating rather than rigidly holding in a posture.

It is very important that the stances in all standing postures for pregnancy yoga are kept shorter to prevent overextending in the muscles, ligaments and joints, especially those in the inner groins, hips and pelvis. The pregnancy hormones of elastin and relaxin can mean that the joints and ligaments become looser and more elastic and pliable during pregnancy so it is important to make women aware of this and to encourage them to work safely and conservatively and not to over-stretch in any posture. If muscles and ligaments are over-stretched during pregnancy it will take much longer for everything to knit back into place post-natally, and can also have a destabilising effect on the pelvis during pregnancy.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Warrior II as a freestanding posture in the middle of the room is best avoided in general for pregnancy yoga as it can provoke and aggravate Pelvic Girdle Pain (which is quite common during pregnancy) as it is an asymmetrical posture that can destabilise the SI Joints.

Within specific pregnancy yoga classes, we modify many classical yoga poses, and also compliment these with many movements, poses and exercises that are specifically designed for women during pregnancy, with a focus on keeping women ailment free during their pregnancy and to help with common conditions.

For those women who have had a regular and consistent yoga practice prior to becoming pregnant, it is also possible to continue with your practice and to attend non-pregnancy yoga classes, especially during the second trimester when you have more energy, but there are some guidelines that you should be aware of, and things that you should specifically avoid doing, and I will talk more about these in a future article.

In the meantime, if you are pregnant and attending a non-pregnancy yoga class you should always tell the teacher before class, so that he/she can advise you on which poses to avoid or modify.

If you are newly pregnant and would like more advise on how to continue with and adapt your existing yoga practice, then I am always available for 1-2-1 sessions to help with this.

 

 

© Sarah Burgess 2017

Posture of the month: CROW POSE (BAKASANA)

Bakasana is often the first arm balance that people learn. It’s a great feeling once we get lift off in this pose, but it can take a leap of faith the first time, a willingness to trust ourselves and overcome our fear of falling.

Bakasana is often the first arm balance that people learn. It’s a great feeling once we get lift off in this pose, but it can take a leap of faith the first time, a willingness to trust ourselves and overcome our fear of falling.

Preparatory poses

Plank pose and Vasisthasana are useful for building some upper body strength.

Cat Pose, Child’s Pose and Garland Pose (Malasana), are useful for allowing the spine to gently round

Baddha Konasana and Malasana are also useful for opening the inner groins and hips prior to performing Bakasana.

How to Perform
  • From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), inhale and raise the arms up and exhale and fold forward, bending the knees as much as you need to, placing the hands flat on the floor shoulder width apart, and about 10 inches (25 centimetres) in front of the feet, with the middle finger pointing forward and the other fingers spreading out from there.
  • With the feet close together, come on to tip toes, begin to bend the legs, widening the knees whilst keeping the bottom lifting high.
  • Begin to bend the elbows a little, lift the heels higher off the floor, and shift your weight forward into the hands to bring the knees on the upper arms as close to the arm pits as possible.
  • Strongly press the knees in against the upper arms, engage through your abdominal muscles, and trust in the support of your arms. Once the weight is in the hands, lift the feet fully off the floor, and straighten the arms as much as possible, pushing the floor away.
  • Keep the feet together and active, pressing through the ball joints of the big toes, and draw them into towards your buttocks. Keep the bottom high and allow the spine to round upwards.
  • Stay for 5 to 10 breaths, engaging mula bandha and keeping the head up and the gaze on the tip of the nose to help with your balance.
  • To exit the pose, either carefully lower the feet back to the floor and inhale to come back to standing, or lightly step or jump back to Chaturanga Dandasana and continue via your Vinyasa flow into your next pose.
  • In the second series ashtanga sequence, Bakasana may also be jumped into directly from Downward Facing Dog, although this take a great amount of control and lift through the bandhas, and therefore many years of practice for most people.
  • Bakasana can also be entered from Three Point Headstand, but that’s a story for another day . . .

Benefits
  • Strengthens the wrists, arms, shoulders and abdominal muscles
  • Quietens and focuses the mind
  • Helps to face and conquer the fear of falling forward, which can help build confidence and courage in other areas of our lives
  • Helps to build the strength and focus required for more challenging arm balancing poses
Modifications
  • To begin with, do not try to straighten the arms but keep the elbows bent as you learn to balance.
  • Practice transferring the weight back and forth from toes to hands, without actually taking the feet off the floor.
  • If you are worried about falling, place a large cushion in front of your hands to relieve the fear.
  • If it’s difficult to get lift off, try taking a block under the feet to give yourself a little extra help
Contraindications
  • Not suitable for those with current wrist injuries
  • Those with a current shoulder injury shoulder injury should also proceed with caution
  • Not suitable during pregnancy

Pregnancy Yoga

Our pregnancy yoga teacher Sarah Burgess explains what pregnant women can expect to gain from yoga in each of the three trimesters of pregnancy.

In the First Trimester *, yoga can help women in the following ways:

  • To rest, relax and slow down
  • Specific postures can help the foetus to implant
  • Using positive mantras can help relieve anxiety regarding possible miscarriage
  • Deep relaxation and pranayama can be very beneficial in helping women to relax their bodies and minds, and in stabilising hormonal fluctuations and mood swings
  • It can provide physical and emotional support in adapting to all of the changes occurring in their bodies and in their lives
  • It can help women to self-nurture during this very important early stage of pregnancy when they will often feel exhausted and also possibly very nauseous
  • It can help women to create both physical and mental space for baby

In the Second Trimester, yoga can help women in the following ways:

  • To build strength and flexibility in their bodies
  • To both tone and develop elasticity in their pelvic floor
  • To become more in touch with their bodies and to make friends with their pelvis
  • Pranayama exercises help women to begin connecting with and working with their breath and to expand their breathing capacity. This is beneficial for both the mother and baby, and also is very calming for the mind and the body
  • To relieve a number of common ailments associated with pregnancy such a Pelvic Girdle Pain, SI Joint Pain, swollen ankles, sore wrists and insomnia
  • Regularly attending a pre-natal yoga class can help women to form new friendships and find a support group with other expectant mothers
  • Yoga helps women to begin connecting with their babies through the breath, sound, touch, thought and intention and it also gives them some valuable down-time to do this
  • It can help women to feel nurtured and can engender more self-nurture
  • It can help women to positively and effectively respond to postural changes as the increased size of their babies increases the curve of their lumbar spine
  • Yoga at this stage continues to help women to better cope with any anxieties they are experiencing about their pregnancy, the birth and all of the changes that lie ahead.

In the Third Trimester, yoga can help women in the following ways:

  • It continues to help alleviate common ailments which may well have become more pronounced as the pregnancy progresses, particularly lower back ache, PGP, indigestion and heartburn and difficulty sleeping
  • To learn breathing and sound techniques which can be very valuable during labour and birth, and which during pregnancy help women to connect with and bond with their babies
  • To learn deep relaxation techniques which can also be very useful during labour and birth, and can particularly help women prepare for the potential challenges involved in a hospital birth (e.g. lots of people, noise, bright lights, stressed midwives)
  • Learning labour circuits and birthing postures can be very useful for the birth
  • The use of positive mantras can help to reduce women’s anxieties around the birth
  • To make more physical space for the growing baby and to create more space for the woman to breath, with a particular focus on breathing into the back body, side ribs and chest
  • Breathing and posture work can encourage letting go and releasing, which is very important in preparation for labour
  • Yoga can help to encourage optimal foetal positioning (so that the baby is positioned in the best possible place in the pelvis when a woman goes into labour)
  • Yoga can give women some much needed time for themselves as the practical preparations for the arrival of baby increase, as perhaps do the last minute demands of the workplace before women go on maternity leave

* N.B. It is worth noting that whilst women are generally advised to rest and not attend yoga classes during their first trimester there are a number of gentle practices and relaxation exercises that are safe and beneficial to do at home during this time.

Sarah will cover these in a future article. She is also available for 1-2-1 sessions either at the studio or at your home if you would like advise or guidance on simple, safe yoga practices for the first trimester.

 

 

 

© Sarah Burgess 2017