While you may know how important yoga is during pregnancy, did you realize it’s equally valuable during the first weeks and months after you give birth? Not only is it a tremendous help in recovery, but because new moms tend to be physically exhausted, emotionally stressed, and generally overwhelmed, connecting with their bodies is extraordinarily restorative.
It’s important during these hectic weeks to take a little time for yourself by being present in your body and connecting with your breath. The soul craves these simple acts of “being” and when you commit to a little yoga several times a week, you soon will feel balanced and ready to tackle the challenges at hand.
The following poses are gentle. Most women can handle the first group as soon as they feel up to it after giving birth. The second group is recommended for a little later. All will help you adjust to the physical and mental changes of being a new mom.
Many familiar yoga poses are not recommended during this time of healing and regrouping. If you have had a vaginal birth, rest for six weeks before doing any more than the poses suggested here. If you had a c-section, give yourself eight to 12 weeks. Always check with your doctor before engaging in any physical activity during this time.
The First Six to Eight Weeks after Giving Birth
Apanasana (supine knees to chest)—Lie on your back with your knees to your chest and gently rock from side to side while allowing your breath to even out. This is a great way to release your back and start to get in touch with your postnatal body.
Pelvic floor “kegels” exercise— These can be started soon after birth. You can increase their length as you heal and regain your strength. While lying down, sitting or standing, engage the muscles in your pelvic floor that stop the flow of urine: squeeze for five, hold for five, and release for five. Repeat 10 times. You can do this anytime, and when lying down it’s an especially good mini rest.
Supta Badakonasana (reclined supported bound angle pose)—This is a wonderfully restorative pose as well as a way to gently open the hips and heart. Lie on your back with the bottom of your feet pressed together and your knees open to the side. Use blankets or pillows under your knees for support and to reduce any strain you may feel on the hips. Hold for five to 10 minutes to rest and, most importantly, relax! While doing this, think about lengthening your breath so that your exhale is longer than your inhale. This calms and restores the body.
Six to 12 Weeks after Giving Birth
Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2)—This is a strengthening and heat building pose that will fire up your core! Stand sideways on the yoga mat with your feet as wide as possible without losing balance. Point one foot forward towards the front of the yoga mat. Bend your front knee over the front ankle. Reach your arms to the sides in line with your shoulders, keeping your torso facing forward and aligned over your hips. Your gazeshould be facing forward. Hold the pose for 10 breaths. Switch sides so that the other foot it facing forward with the knee bent, and the back leg is straight. Hold for 10 breaths.
Garudasana (Eagle)—This balancing pose works to strengthen your core while opening your hips and shoulders. Stand with your feet parallel, about hip distance apart, and bend your knees. Lift your right leg and wrap it around your left leg, either by hooking your toes behind your left calf or placing them on the outside of your left ankle. Simultaneously reach your arms out to the side and then wrap your right arm under your left so that your hands touch. Hold the pose for 10 breaths and then repeat on other side.
Navasana (Boat)—This pose is helpful for combating the relentless forward bending and back strain caused by lifting and carrying your baby; it also strengthens your core. Sit with your knees bent into your chest and slowly find your balance on your seat as you lift your legs into the air. Build up to straightening your legs without rounding the lower back. Hold for five to10 breaths and repeat three to five times.
Viloma Breathing—It is remarkably energizing to focus on your inhalations. It counteracts the lethargy and negativity that often accompanies common sleep deprivation. Lie down on the mat and relax as much as you can. Emphasize lengthening and deepening your breaths with inhalation. Divide the inhalations into three parts, with a short breath retention between two longer ones. Inhale the first third of the breath from the pubic bone to the navel. Pause. Next inhale another third from the naval to the chest. Pause. Finally, fill your lungs all the way to your collar bone. Pause. Exhale slowly and deeply. As time goes on,shift your focus to longer exhalations, which encourages relaxation and helps let go of mental and physical tension.
Gina Norman is co-owner of the Kaia Yoga Complete Wellness Centers in Westport and Greenwich, Connecticut (www.Kaiayoga.com) Gina has studied Thai massage in Thailand, Vipassana meditation in India, Buddhist studies in the Shambhala tradition, and Cranial Sacral Therapy through the Upledger Institute. Gina loves to introduce the benefits of yoga to prenatal and postnatal students and her centers work to create a place of health and healing for the whole family. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, with her husband Stan and daughter, Kaia.