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.

What is chanting and why do it?

Chanting has been around for millennia in some form in most cultures around the globe. Traditionally invocations or prayers in praise of the earth, the spirits or God(s), the words and melodies tend to be shorter and simpler than a song, repeated rather than developed.

I didn’t go looking for chanting. It was included in year-long voice training I did in 2000 and quickly became a steadfast companion that has supported me through the ups and downs of life for almost two decades. Chanting provides me with solace, healing, insight and enjoyment, and it is a real pleasure to share it with others.

Chanting has been around for millennia in some form in most cultures around the globe. Traditionally invocations or prayers in praise of the earth, the spirits or God(s), the words and melodies tend to be shorter and simpler than a song, repeated rather than developed. There are chants for waking and for the close of day, for blessing food, and for helping in times of difficulty.

In the yogic world, chants are called mantra. ‘Mantra’ is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as ‘words of power’ or ‘free the mind’. Their purpose is to shift our focus from our mind thoughts to our heart intelligence, and ultimately to experience union with the divine. They call on the goddesses and gods of the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist religions to bring blessings of good health and fortune or to help with specific burdens of human existence.

While traditionally part of devotional spiritual practice, the benefits of chanting on mind, body and spirit can be experienced in an everyday, secular context. The most obvious and practical reason for someone living in a bustling 21st century city would be to decrease stress and negativity and increase calm and wellbeing.

Health professionals tell us our nervous systems cannot sustain being constantly switched on, as so many of us are. When we need to relax, instead of further stimulating ourselves with the big or small screen or other popular recreational habits, chanting offers us a nourishing way to recharge.

Just as taking three deep breaths can completely change the way you feel, so too can chanting for a few minutes. As with yoga or any other health-enhancing habit, the more you practise, the broader and deeper the scope of its positive effect.

Kirtan has been gaining popularity here in the UK. It is a Bhakti yoga practice, the devotional branch of yoga that brings health and wholeness to the mind and spirit completing the triad of mind, body and spirit. I’ve heard it said that Kirtan was designed to help people who found sitting meditation too difficult.

Similar to the physical practice of yoga, chanting provides a powerful balancing force to the busyness and stress of modern life. You don’t even need to be a ‘good’ singer because when done in public, you can blend into the crowd or even sing it in your head, and when by yourself – well who cares?! People also chose to chant as a way to interact with others without having to engage directly, and as a form of meditation if silent practice has proved too challenging.  

What can you expect after a session of chanting? At first, you may find your thoughts roaming between your everyday, your worries and trying to get the words of the chant right. Then, as the chant continues, you will probably sink into its rhythm and be open to an entirely different experience. Some describe feeling calm or centred, a sense of tapping into ‘the real you’ or even bliss or euphoria. This can depend on the ‘character’ of the chant. Some people cry and experience a release of tension or pent-up emotion. Chanting seems to provide appropriate nourishment whatever you may be feeling. Like an adaptogen, which improves your body’s ability to cope with stress, studies on chanting describe the positive effects on the human brain, and respiratory, hormonal and endocrine systems.

The experience of chanting in a group can be reassuring and supportive. It can relieve the pressure of holding the tune or remembering the words.We become more than the sum of our individual parts. Sometimes feelings of isolation or separateness come to the fore, giving us the opportunity to put them aside for a little while and trust the intimacy chanting offers.

In addition to pushing ourselves into system overload, internal conflict and conflict in our relationships with others are a major stressors. Chanting is a beautiful and powerful way to shift, if just for a while, from difficult feelings to compassion, understanding and forgiveness. It is as if the chant offers a space to welcome all aspects of ourselves, warts and all.

We can be so hard on ourselves, the subtle or not so subtle critical voices that can create a continuous loop in our minds. By focusing on a chant such as Om Mani Padme Hum for example, one of the great Buddhist mantras, the restlessness can settle and transform into peace and trust. Whether or not you believe in the power said to be contained in the sounds of the ancient language of Sanskrit to shift the vibrational resonance of emotion, the simple fact of feeling better than when you started seems to be proof enough to me!  

My personal approach to chanting is creative and multifaceted. I love the Sanskrit mantras – I feel held by a sense of power and mystery, a confidence from tapping into a powerful ancient tradition used by millions. Singing mantras on my own provides me with inner strength and relief from worries. Singing with others is a precious opportunity to be with people in a way that is so different to everyday life, beautiful and profound.

I also enjoy singing chants from other traditions, and I love creating my own (I’m no purist!). These are like modern mantras: words of power specifically relevant to me, expressing who and how I would like to be. They help me direct my mind down productive paths, change my mood, and lift my spirits. Repeating simple positive phrases in our own language is very powerful, even just saying ‘I love you’ over and over again works wonders. I often share my Gratitude Song which is a beautiful way to count blessings and focus on what we have, rather than what we do not.

This is a general overview of chanting. In future blogs and articles, I will explore the different benefits of chanting in more detail and how I combine it with voice work.

Tatiana leads group events including monthly Songs of Spirit at Yoga Creation and Women’s Mantra and Voice Circles in private venues. She also offers 1:1 sessions in which you can use your voice to explore self-expression, healing and wellbeing and creativity.

Sitr-fried spicy Kale side dish

Sugar free, nut free, wheat free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan

You can use Cavolo Nero instead as well but I think curly kale tastes a bit sweeter and stir-fries better.

Sugar free, nut free, wheat free, dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Serves 1-2

Ingredients:

150 g of curly kale
1-2 TBSP of Rice Bran Oil
a few pinches of granulated garlic OR 1 medium crushed clove of fresh garlic
a pinch or two of dried chilli flakes
a pinch of Himalayan pink salt
Japanese Tamari Soya Sauce to taste, 1 tsp or more (Clearspring Organic Japanese Soya sauce)

Warm the oil with some garlic, chilli flakes and salt for a minute or two on medium heat. Add curly kale and stir -fry for 5-7 minutes on medium to low heat whilst adding soya sauce to taste. Serve at once as a little spicy snack with some rice crackers or as a side dish to any main meal.

Enjoy:-)

The “mysterious” pelvic floor

Many yoga teachers mention the pelvic floor in their classes, mostly in connection with the practice of moola bandha (“engage your pelvic floor in this pose”). Yet for numerous people this area of our body is a bit of a mystery. Let’s make sure we are all on the same page!

Many yoga teachers mention the pelvic floor in their classes, mostly in connection with the practice of moola bandha (“engage your pelvic floor in this pose”). Yet for numerous people, unless they had a closer look because they or their partner have been pregnant, suffer from incontinence or practice certain tantric techniques, this area of our body is a bit of a mystery. Let’s make sure we are all on the same page!

What is the pelvic floor and why is it important?

What we call the pelvic floor is, essentially, a set of crossed muscles creating a “hammock” at the bottom of our pelvic bowl, between our legs.

The deepest layer is the pelvic diaphragm, forming a cupola shape. The next layer is the deep transverse perineal muscle, stretching across the pelvic outlet from side to side. The superficial layer surrounds the openings in the pelvic floor in the shape of a figure of eight, connecting the front and the back. In practice, the terms “pelvic floor”, “perineum” and “pelvic diaphragm” are often used interchangeably or mixed up. A minority of yoga teachers take issue with the term “pelvic floor”, arguing it is not really the “floor” of the body, they prefer the term “pelvic muscles”.

Male pelvic floor :

 

©A.v.Lysebeth, “Tantra”)

Female pelvic floor:

 

(© Wikipedia)

The muscles of the male pelvic floor are stronger at the front to support erection, whilst in the female the muscles are stronger at the back. The urogenital hiatus allows the urogenital “apparatus” to pass through the pelvic floor into the perineum below. In males, this is the passage of the urethra. In females, it is the passage of the urethra and the vagina. As you can see in the female drawing, there is a connection with the gluteus maximus, the “buttocks”.
Which means two things: 1) sometimes when we think we are working on the pelvic floor, we are actually just squeezing the buttocks – so learn to differentiate, use a mirror if need be. And 2) strong legs and glutes do support a strong pelvic floor – to the point that female dancers, horse riders etc. sometimes have a pelvic floor that is excessively toned and cannot relax… as they discover in childbirth.

What does the pelvic floor do?

It is involved in three very basic functions of the human body: urination, defecation, and sex / reproduction. The first two explain why keeping the pelvic floor elastic is so important to prevent or heal incontinence (which manifests as leakage when sneezing, laughing, or running, for example). The sexual function explains why practitioners of certain tantric techniques (used to reach higher states of consciousness through specific sexual practices) and modern sex therapists insist on training it (improving vaginal muscle tone has been scientifically proven to cure many cases of “frigidity” in women whose muscles in that area were less reactive).

It also supports our inner organs against the downward pull of gravity – hence its importance in the context of internal organ prolapse.

At the energetic level, moola bandha, the root lock, keeps the energy inside, directing it upwards, (also important for yoga: protecting the lower back, together with uddiyana bandha) Last but not least, the root chakra, “mooladhara chakra”, which is associated with our most basic human needs (shelter, food) is situated there.

What can affect the pelvic floor?

Pregnancy and childbirth, frequent and strong coughing (in case of a chronical lung condition for example), slouching on chairs/ sofas (which pushes the internal organs down), repeated incorrect lifting of heavy loads, chronic constipation (leading to forceful pushing, aggravated by modern toilets, on which we sit as on a chair, instead of squatting as nature intended), and incorrect “hyperpressive” abdominal exercises are all stressors to the pelvic floor muscles. Also, a symptom of menopause is that tissues tend to lose some of their elasticity through hormonal changes.

How to keep it healthy?

Basically, as with any muscles, you can’t just focus on toning, you must also relax. Some people need more relaxation, others more toning, so it’s not “one solution for all”. But the rule of thumb is still “use it or lose it”.

In the case of pregnancy and childbirth, practicing specific pelvic floor exercises which focus on elasticity of these muscles such as taught in the pre- and postnatal classes, and perineal massage in the last weeks before giving birth, are proven to be helpful.

If you suffer from stress incontinence, it can be beneficial to “squeeze” your pelvic floor pre-emptively when you feel a cough, a sneeze or a good belly-laugh coming.
Also, both men and women who are interested in maintaining a healthy sex life for many more years will benefit from basic tantric practices to keep their pelvic floor active.

And this goes for everybody: when practicing any physical exercise or lifting heavy loads, remember to engage the pelvic floor muscles, draw the abdominal wall up and back towards the spine, and lift the diaphragm (you may see your belly bulging if you’re not doing it correctly and pushing your internal organs down). This is one reason why we mention moola bandha and uddiyana bandha in yoga classes.

To learn more about this issue, we encourage you to join us for the “Pelvic floor Magic” workshop with Susanne at Yoga Creation.