I like to say “I’ve done yoga on and off for 5 years.” This is sort of true, though it’s more like 4.5 years and mostly off instead of on. I spent the past 2 years despising yoga for personal reasons. I had always intended to do prenatal yoga, but I didn’t have a regular practice before I got pregnant + first trimester was really rough = by the time I felt good in my pregnancy, I had zero motivation to do any kind of yoga (or exercise in general).
The first few weeks postpartum were very difficult and I was sure breastfeeding was going to be the end of me. I felt surprisingly good physically for someone who had a 2nd degree episiotomy and so was bustling about at home from 24 hours after giving birth. In my first week home I climbed in and out of the backseat of my husband’s 2 door car to sit with the baby on our way to 3 pediatric and 1 midwifery appointment. I squatted, vacuumed with a Shop Vac, and climbed stairs. Battling breastfeeding issues, jaundice, incontinence, major body swelling, sleep deprivation and just total exhaustion from my 2 day induction was so stressful that I felt I had to do ANYTHING to feel normal again… and so I acted normally, without resting or recovering like my body needed.
So now, fast forward to a couple of months postpartum. Jaundice is a thing of the past, and breastfeeding is easy and natural, even though the right breast is still a tricky one sometimes. Due to my overdoing it, my perineum took forever to heal, requiring silver nitrate to speed the healing process. I also got an awesome infection at around 3 weeks which required antibiotics which worried me to no end because I was afraid of getting thrush and adding yet another breastfeeding challenge to the mix. Then, the granulation tissue that just would not (and still won’t) go away.
At around 7ish weeks I began to feel physically normal again. My scar tissue was getting softer every day, my days of dull pain in my perineum that spread out to my thighs came around less and less. My spotting was lessening every few days. Breastfeeding was one of my favorite daily activities. Baby was growing big and strong and I didn’t have the worries about her growth and development that I had in the early days. I was healed downstairs and was cleared for exercise. Emotionally, though, I began to feel a bit off kilter. For the first time in over a year I was getting moody and very cranky. My poor husband received the brunt of “my moods” and I only wanted to be with the baby night and day. I was a little bit depressed about the lack of support I had in my life in different areas, a usual bout of sadness that has come around every few months since I was a girl. (I spoke to my midwife about it right after it started and also my general practitioner- I was taking NO chances with postpartum depression! PPD can begin at any time during the postpartum period, and right out of the blue- learn more here and please speak to your doctor/midwife/partner/ANYONE should you begin to feel “off” after the birth of your baby). I was also struggling with my postpartum body- I gained 46 lbs in pregnancy and had lost 24 within 3 weeks, and then actually started gaining again.
Being winter, daily walks outside with the baby weren’t happening. I could go once my husband gets home from work, but walking in total darkness in my weird town with the threat of icy patches most days isn’t my idea of a good time. I tried using the XBox kinect, figuring I could work out while playing games but, oh right! I have a newborn! And she doesn’t really like to nap most days. It was clear I was going to have to find something out of the house.
This is when I started looking into yoga again. I wanted something low-impact but effective, and something to help with my mental/emotional state as well as physically. I wanted something that would get me out of my head for a while and that could be done in about an hour. I don’t run, martial arts was appealing but not meditative enough. There’s no tai chi around here. Gyms bore me. So yoga it was. I luckily found a studio pretty local to me that offers night classes AND had a Groupon for super inexpensive unlimited classes for a month. I’ve been going regularly when Steve’s schedule allows, and on days when I don’t go to the studio I –try to- practice at home when the baby actually naps.
Here are some observations from yoga in the postpartum:
- You can go at your own pace
There’s a range of modifications for every pose, so your practice can grow with you. Also, if you ever get tired during class, you’re free to take child’s pose for however long you want to regroup and rest.
- More flexibility from pregnancy hormones doesn’t mean you should push your limits
The relaxin hormone (the one that spreads your hips and makes your feet “grow” in pregnancy) can affect the body for five months after birth, meaning I’m slightly more flexible now than I was before I got pregnant. It’s very tempting for me to test my limits but…
- The first 3 months postpartum should be considered to be The Fourth Trimester
Now is not the time to be pushing myself. As in pregnancy, this is an opportunity to, as my instructor said in class last night, “let go and let be.” Instead of pushing my physical limits, I’m actually enjoying trying new modifications and just ‘being in my body.’ I’m enjoying yoga in a different way now than back in the day simply because I’ve taken off of myself the pressure to perform and am starting to
- Take the ego out of yoga
I look forward to classes and cherish the hour and a half that I’m out of the house without a tiny furnace clinging to me. I MISS THAT BABY SO MUCH during class, but getting an hour or two to myself a few times a week has been, dare I say, magical. I cherish my limited spare time now instead of wasting it, and so now there’s no time for ego in yoga. I no longer care about what the person in front of me is doing, or worry about how I look to other people. I don’t have time or energy to care about these things anymore, and that has really been a blessing because I feel free to be.
- Take what you need and throw away the rest
One of the reasons I stayed away from yoga for so long was because, to be honest, I know a few phony yogis. The overuse of flowery language and phrasings that make no sense (how am I supposed to be breathe into my big toe? I can be aware of my big toe, I can focus on my big toe, but I cannot breathe into it) really irked me. The “always zen” persona also got to me, and because of these things I deemed all of yoga to be a disingenuous waste of time. This was a huge mistake- now when I go to class I still sometimes can’t connect to everything or everyone and hear phrases that I can’t get into, but having a baby forces me to choose my battles wisely now. I take what I need from class and throw away the rest. Practicing yoga regularly also severely chills me out and makes me less anxious and therefore less prone to quick judgement and uptightness. After class I am ZONKED (in a good way) and have nothing but love left in me.
- You don’t need a lot of time to practice something yoga-ish every day
I’m not attending class tonight and I don’t know if I’ll have time for a full home yoga session, so I’ve been incorporating yoga throughout my morning. While I was waiting for my Keurig to make coffee, I did 2 quick sets of sun salutations in the kitchen. It woke me up and warmed me up so much I had to take off my fuzzy bathrobe. Later on today if I get in some downward dogs or a forward fold or two, I’ll consider today’s yoga-ing a great success.
- Just as in pregnancy, now is the time to listen to your body and meet its needs as best you can
As a new mom, what do you need? I need sleep, food, and hydration. Twists feel really good to me lately, and my lower back needs gentle massage. I don’t always get sleep (and even when I do, I’m always playing catch up so it’s never truly enough), so I focus on the things I can give myself. Eating, especially eating well, is a major challenge nowadays, so I do the best I can. My breastmilk supply drops immediately when I don’t get enough to eat, so I eat well when I can, and just try and eat something every few hours. Sometimes that means cereal or a granola bar, or leftover chili for breakfast, but whatever. Drinking water is a must, and I’ve started the annoying habit of leaving glasses of water all over the house- one in the kitchen, one next to the bed, one next to the couch, to ensure there’s water wherever I might be and wherever I may find myself breastfeeding. I found through yoga that my lower back is screwed up and very tender, so at least once every day I take (sometimes just a literal minute) time to massage it/release it through seated twists or gently rolling my lower back while lying on the floor. Going to yoga gives me a full HOUR of checking in with my body and finding areas that need extra attention, which is wonderful.
Before I become pregnant again- a time MANY YEARS INTO THE FUTURE- I want to become as healthy as possible. I need to stay energized and healthy for my daughter, and want to do whatever I can to try and avoid being high-risk next time around (though, as we know, there are no guarantees when it comes to pregnancy). I’ve already seen a MARKED improvement with my blood pressure since starting up yoga again, and have begun to lose some of the pregnancy weight. I feel stronger and calmer, and going to class gives Steve some one-on-one time with the baby. I really look forward to practicing every day in some way, and next pregnancy I am DEFINITELY practicing prenatal yoga. I have struggled seriously with incontinence and pelvic floor pain these past couple of months and know that prenatal yoga would have strengthened those muscles I worked the most when carrying and pushing out the little one.
So yeah, I’ve boarded the yoga bus. Namaste, ya’ll!
If you and your care provider feel that yoga is a healthy addition to your pregnancy or postpartum, you may want to check out these online classes/resources:
Do Yoga With Me : FREE streaming online, full-length classes. I love this site!
My Yoga Online : You can pay monthly for online classes, or just use their free resources, like detailed videos and descriptions of most asanas. This is especially useful if you want to learn about poses for specific ailments or issues like lower back pain, sciatica, hip opening, etc.
Article: Yoga for Moms-to-Be by YogaJournal : Learn more about yoga poses for each trimester.
The Yoga Studio in Rancocas Woods : If you’re in the Burlington County, NJ area, you’re going to want to practice yoga with Majah. She’s the real deal, and one of the most compassionate, kind, authentic people I’ve ever met.