Yoga is about more than just ‘stretching’ especially when it comes to prenatal + postnatal movement. The biggest misconception during pregnancy is that we need flexibility to labour and birth with more ease and this really couldn’t be further from the truth.
Stretching the physical body is just one aspect needed to birth more consciously and eventually to heal from birth with more kindness and patience but there are other facets and layers to healing after pregnancy and birth.
Preparing for labour and birth is more about cultivating a deeper connection with a mother’s body, her movements and trusting her innate wisdom and guidance. We can use the practice of yoga in terms of the breath to help facilitate mindfulness and awareness to move through contractions and release into ones’ fears and we can use the gentle movements in yoga to help become more aware of what a mother’s body is truly capable of during this transformational stage.
Postpartum yoga and recovery should be taken very seriously. Labour and birth is a huge physical shift and so the body needs time to navigate and accept the new changes in a mother’s body. After birth, mothers are recovering from abdominal separation called ‘diastasis recti’, hyper-mobility in their ligaments and tissues, incontinence, lack of range in their shoulders and thoracic and an inability to engage their deeper core muscles.
The intention in postpartum recovery after pregnancy and birth should always be about finding balance; in this case it’s the balance between flexibility and stability. When mothers just enrol in a strength class 6 weeks after birth, they are at a higher risk of injury and this not only prolongs their recovery, but it can also cause more issues as they age. Why? Because they haven’t given sufficient time to heal and forced their body into high impact movements without stabilizing muscles first.
Postnatal yoga encourages mothers to cultivate a more mindful practice using their breath and building strength and stamina with more focused awareness while in postures and specific movement. The entire postpartum practice of yoga is about integrating strength from within to help combat postpartum depression and social anxieties that afflict new mothers.
So, the practice of yoga for mothers becomes more about listening to the needs of their body while focusing on movements and postures that will help strengthen areas of weakness and offer a safer range of motion to heal from the inside – out.
Pose #1 – Naraviralasana (Sphinx Pose) with Prone Leg Lifts
This pose is wonderful to help with slight contraction and compression on the uterus, it’s also a lovely gentle stretch for the lower back and can be practiced 6 weeks into postpartum recovery. The intention is to keep the lower belly supported on the mat, inhaling to lift the shoulders away from the ears while pressing into the mat with the forearms, and exhale allowing the lower back to soften towards the pubic bone.
Adding the prone left lifts is a great way to create balance in the hip joints. Placing the forehead on the stacked forearms, lift one leg off the mat at a time and hold ensuring both hip pointers stay pressing down and into the mat.
Pose #2 – Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
One of the many benefits of adding standing poses to a postpartum practice is to help strengthen the muscles of the legs. Strong gluteals for example help to create more stability and strength in the pelvic floor muscles.
While practicing this posture, place a block between the thighs to help engage and strengthen the adductors (inner thigh) muscles. Draw the sides of the pelvis to the midline of the body to ensure the transverse abdominals are engaged and keep the knees slightly back so you can see the toes in the pose with weight centred through the tripod stance of the feet (big toe, little toe mound and centre of the heel).
Pose #3 – Gomukhasana (Cow Facing Pose)
ALL mothers have tightness in their shoulders and pectorals not to mention limited range of motion from feeding babies! This shoulder opening posture is a favourite for new mothers but you’ll need the use of a strap to safely practice this pose.
Once you’re holding onto the strap, draw the sides of the pelvis to the midline of the body to ensure the core is engaged, move the front ribs down to connect to the hip pointers and take a slight bend into the knees to avoid an anterior pelvic tilt. The most challenging aspect of this pose is keeping the chin parallel and relaxing the shoulders!
Pose #4 – Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revloving Head to Knee Pose)
This postures is wonderful to stretch the QL (quadratus lomborum) muscles that become quite tight during pregnancy. It’s the most amazing prenatal + postnatal stretch for lower back tightness. The QL muscles are actually abdominal muscles that connect to the lumbar spine and help to stabilize the trunk during pregnancy.
If you press the sit bone into the mat and reach the fingertips beyond the crown of the head without lifting the shoulders towards the ears, you’ll create traction in the lateral side of the ribs!
Pose #5 – Anatasana (Vishnu’s Couch Pose)
This is a postpartum variation of a yoga pose to help increase range and mobility in the rib cage for new moms. Pregnancy can wreak havoc on the thoracic so this pose helps to mobilize and create more range and reduce the risk of lower back injuries and ailments.
Placing the block under the ribs with the knees stacked on top of one another and the elbow underneath the shoulder. Exhale to draw the shoulder back to open the chest within your range and inhale to slide the elbow to touch the opposite, repeat this a few times getting more range with each and every movement.
By Clare Newman