We are delighted to publish this article on postpartum yoga by Anja Brierley Lange. She is a yoga teacher and yoga teacher-trainer, Aromatherapist, Ayurvedic Practitioner, and Self Care Alchemist.
About the author
Anja is the founder of Yoga Embodied and Soma Aroma. Here she shares her passion for holistic health and wellbeing. Her approach is elective having qualifications and experience in Ayurvedic medicine (BSc, PGDip), yoga, clinical aromatherapy, flower essences amongst others.
Her specialty is in working with women to facilitate space to create healing, and empower women to feel confident and balanced with their menstrual cycle, feminine health, pelvic awareness as well as during pregnancy and postpartum.
She created the online prenatal yoga course to support women with accessible and short yoga sessions designed to be added together for longer sessions when time allows.
As one of the pillars of health in Ayurveda is our digestion and mental/emotional health Anja has a strong passion for both.
It is all about balance: Aside from her continuous study and research Anja loves reading, writing and has a love for sweet and beautiful cakes.
Postpartum recovery with yoga
In the previous blog post, we discussed how yoga can support physically, emotionally, mentally and maybe even energetically or spiritually during your journey towards motherhood. We discussed how a yoga practice can prepare a woman’s body for pregnancy and how, during pregnancy, yoga can strengthen and support the mind and body as well as prepare for labour and birth.
If a woman has practiced yoga before or during her pregnancy she can use many of the techniques and tools during birth and her postpartum period. The sense of listening to her own body and inner wisdom is so important now. Although her physical asana, or yoga pose, practice will change dramatically. According to Cheryl MacDonald in The Practising Midwife “postnatal yoga can offer calm and a sense of wellbeing, helping mothers to improve and stabilise their emotional health and to bond”.
Changing the yoga practice after the birth
In many cultures the first 40 days after birth is a time for a woman to rest and recover. It’s a time to simply be with her baby or babies. In some traditions, other family members will cook for her and feed her nourishing meals. When it comes to her yoga practice she will do very little.
In the West, a woman will usually have a 6 week check up corresponding the to 40 days of rest. For most public postnatal yoga classes it’s after this appointment women are welcomed back to her yoga practice for specific postnatal yoga.
But what can she do prior to that?
Because a postpartum woman is recovering from pregnancy and birth (vaginally or cesarian section) it is a time to be very gentle. Relaxin levels are still high and she still has a tendency to hyperextend her ligaments. We tend to think of pelvic instability but ligaments throughout her body are affected. This includes the abdomen too. This is not the time for sit-ups as they can create internal pressure on the abdominal wall and the linea alba, the midline of the “six-pack”. This can attribute to diastasis recti, or abdominal separation, which might already be present from a woman’s pregnancy.
Instead, a woman can start with the awareness of her breath: Taking deep complete inhales and long extended exhales. Breathing not only helps the exchange of oxygen (giving some much-needed energy) and carbon-dioxide. It also supports her posture, her digestion, and pelvic floor. Although we don’t advocate exercising bruised muscles gentle awareness and pulsations of the pelvic floor including her vaginal muscles is important as soon as possible. After a while, she can include the awareness of the abdominals during her breathing practice.
Energetically we also associate the pelvic floor and the cervix with the root centre (or Muladhara chakra) in yoga. This place is about being grounded, rooted, feeling supported and having stamina and strength. All qualities we are in need of after birth.
Aside from pelvic floor awareness a postpartum woman might benefit from gentle stretching or circling and flexing ankles and wrists. Getting fresh air and sunshine is also important for her physical and mental wellbeing. Going for a walk outside whatever the weather will be a good way to get active again.
Yoga in daily life
It’s important to remember that the yoga practices are not only relevant to her yoga sessions. They are techniques a woman can use anytime. Practicing pelvic floor exercises whilst breastfeeding or watching television. Using the safe and supportive transitions coming out of bed and going to bed. Getting off the chair or picking up her baby or babies. These are techniques used in our yoga practice can be translated into daily life.
The six week check up
Most women will get a six week check up after birthing her baby or babies. If she had a cesarian section it is usually at eight weeks. Depending on her consultant this might simply be a quick check to see if baby, or babies, are well. If she is feeding ok, any stitches are healing and her general wellbeing. For some women, it feels very quick and a list of simply ticking boxes. But it’s an important time to bring up issues around her emotional and mental health and any issues around her pelvic floor health.
If all is well a woman can start postnatal yoga classes. As she is still healing she has different needs than going to a regular class. Her potential for hyperextending her joints, due to relaxin, needs to be kept in check by a qualified yoga instructor. If she had a cesarian birth she is recovering from abdominal surgery which takes longer to heal. She may have or develop recti diastasis.
Her pelvic floor and deep core will be her focus in her yoga practice. Additionally, we will strengthen the back muscles, buttocks, and thighs. All helping her on her road to recovery.
Life after birth
As soon as baby or babies are born life has changed. A woman is suddenly at home on maternity leave and her social life has been completely transformed. Going to groups with other mothers, including postnatal or mum & baby yoga, can be a wonderful way to get out. To take time out to do something for the mother as a woman – not just as a mum. She will meet other women in a similar situation as herself. Many of the women coming to my postnatal classes came to just get out. To meet other women, make friendships and to talk. They came to yoga with their babies and then went out for coffee afterward.
The yoga practice helps new mothers to get back into her changing body. It supports their physical recovery including pelvic floor health. We know physical activities also have an effect on our emotional and mental health. As yoga embraces both the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being it is perfect as a postpartum practice.