Getting back on my mat postpartum wasn’t something I put much thought into before I decided it was time and just went for it. I expected, as I went to grab my mat, it would be slightly different as I had undergone a life changing event that impacted me both mentally and physically and although I was excited to get back into it, I was also nervous.
As I progressed through my pregnancy, I was fortunate to maintain a practice through the 8th month, albeit as time went on, in addition to eliminating deep twists and anything where I had to lay on my abdominals, I was cutting out more and more challenging poses each day and quite frankly I was too uncomfortable to do them (a good resource on poses to avoid when you are pregnant can be found here at Power Yoga).
Postpartum I was only focused on taking care of more immediate needs such as recovery and bonding with my child. After the 6 week mark and clearance from my healthcare professional I was ready to ease back into my practice. Knowing when you are physically ready is incredibly important, you should always get clearance from your healthcare professional before working out postpartum, regardless of how easy or difficult your pregnancy or delivery was there are serious conditions to consider such as diastases, pelvic floor weakness or pelvic organ prolapse which could become worse if you push yourself before you are ready. Your ability to be ready will also very depending on it you had a vaginal delivery or a C-section. If you are unsure and want an opinion beyond your immediate healthcare provider you can also seek a pelvic floor physical therapist. This is a very niche specialty and many insurance plans are beginning to cover this type of care. A general overview of pelvic floor physical therapy can be found here and one woman’s story about her experience I found insightful can be found here. Additionally, starting slow and setting yourself up for success is key, here is a video I found interesting as I starting moving again to make sure I was gently preparing my body to work out again.
I knew I needed to see where I had landed after so much change over the last 46+ weeks. knew I would need to start slow and listening to my body was key regardless of how badly I wanted to be able to do all of things I was able to before. I rolled out my mat and set my little babe in a seat right in front of me. I closed my eye grabbed ahold of his legs and began to focus and pay attention to my breath. That alone felt so amazing, why had I waited 6 weeks for this. As I opened my eyes I saw a happy little babe sitting in front of me, he was enjoying it as well.
The areas that were calling out to me for movement were my shoulders (from breastfeeding and in hindsight get a good chair to do this in from day one!), hips (from the process of carrying and delivering a baby) and lower back (also from the process of process of carrying and delivering a baby). Both my shoulders and hips had truly been through the ringer over the last several weeks and without a strong practice through the end of pregnancy my strength and flexibility had started to fade which did not help. That meant not only did I need these moves to release the tightness and assist in my own personal recovery but also to start to rebuild the strength and flexibility I once had. Here are the moves that felt amazing on my NEW body. The best part, many of these poses the baby can either be engaged by touching in the process or you can hold them or lay them directly on you.
- Shoulder rolls – either in a comfortable seated or standing position draw your shoulders up to your ears and gently rotate them back in a circular motion down and then forward and back up until they meet the ears again in a clock-wise motion. Repeat 5-10 times. Change direction and repeat 5-10 times in a counter clock-wise motion.
- Standing cactus arms with breath – from a standing position inhale and sweep your arms up, keep arms shoulder width distance and the palms facing inward. On the exhale bend at the elbows drawing them down to shoulder height, allow the palms to face forward and align with the elbows creating an L shape or 90 degree angle with the arms. As you draw the elbows down if the neck and back will allow take a slight bend allowing the chest and hear to pull forward until you reach the bottom of the exhale. Repeat 3 times.
- Lay down twist – Lay down on your abdomen with legs long. Allow the left check to rest on the mat so that your face is looking to the right side of the body and extend the left arm long and out from the body so that it is perpendicular to the body. Place the palm of the right hand under the right shoulder and pressing firmly into the mat allow the right side of the body including the shoulder, torso, hip and leg to lift up and work towards stacking onto the left side of the body. Listen to your body here and do not push the twist too far, focus on the stretch and opening of left shoulder. If the body does allow a deeper twist the right leg can find its way to the mat on the outside of the left side of the body. Repeat on opposite side.
- Thread the needle (Parsva Balasana) – Come to all fours with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your knees, firmly pressing the tops of your feet into the mat for stability. On an inhale sweep your right arm out and away from your body and up overhead, allow the head and gaze to follow being mindful of the twist on the neck. On the exhale, sweep the left arm back down and scoop the hand past the mid-line and through the right arm and leg allowing the right arm to rest out long on the mat and the right shoulder and right cheek to rest on the mat.
- Baby cobra (Ardha Bhujangasana) – Lay down on your abdomen with legs long. Allow the forehead to connect with the mat or the chin taking the gaze forward. Place your hands under your shoulders and draw the elbows back not allowing them to flail out to the sides. On an inhale use the strength of the back to peel the chest up now taking the gaze straight ahead, there should be a slight arch in the back. As you draw the chest up keep the elbows drawn back and do not rely on the hands on the mat for the support the hands should feel light and the fingers can even leave the mat if your able to hold on your own without the support of the hands.
- Reverse parayer childs pose (Reverse Anjali Mudra in Balasana) – From a seated position bring the big toes together with the tops of the feet and shins connected to the mat. Allow the hips fall back towards the feet and even let the hips rest on the heels if you are able to. Extend the torso forward nice and long along with the arms. Allow the palms to touch then bend at the elbows and let the hands rise up and then over the head. Keeping the prayer position allow the fingers to point to the back of the room and the base of your hands connect with the base of the neck. This is a great shoulder opener and can be a good resting pose.
Hip and Lower Back
- Knees fall together – Laying down on your back bend your knees and place the souls of the feet on the mat nice and wide along the long edges of the mat and allow the knees to fall inward and connect with one another. Relax the lower back and let it gravitate towards the mat to feel the release on the lower back. This pose is nice to do at the end of a practice or after poses that involve twisting and arching.
- Windshield wipers – Laying down on your back bend your knees and place the souls of the feet on the mat along the long edges of the mat about 6-12 inches from your fingertips if your arms are along your sides. Inhale and allow the spine to connect with the mat and on the exhale allow the knees to fall to one side. On the inhale draw the knees back up to center, reconnect the spine and allow the knees to fall to the opposite side. Take your time alternating each side with a new breath of hold on one side for 5 breaths.
- Root block (Mula bandha) – Find yourself in a comfortable seated cross-legged position. Allow the sits bones (under your butt cheeks) to soften into the mat and open or relax (you can gently pull the flesh backwards from your bottom and scoot a bit to allow the bones to connect closer to the mat). Now you will engage the muscles of the pelvic region by lifting them. In order to do this act as if you are holding your urine in. First notice the muscles needed to do this and see if you can pull them up further and engage everything around them that supports them (this is also known as a Kegel). These muscles are responsible for holding in the pelvic organs, doing this exercise will significantly strengthen these muscles if they are weak. As mentioned above these can be evaluated to determine if you have weakness issues and if other exercises or physical therapy can also help build strength or assist in if damaged. Even if these muscles are not damaged these are great exercises to do while pregnant, after pregnancy and as you age.
- Pigeon prep or one-legged pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) – Sitting down extend your left leg behind you and draw your right knee behind your right wrist (this can also be achieved from Downward Facing Dog). Allow the right ankle to sweep over behind the left wrist meaning the right shin is parallel to the front of the mat (it will not be perfectly parallel, this is something to work toward over time and the more parallel it is the greater the stretch) being mindful of the point where it is no longer comfortable and backing out slightly from there. Place the hands in front of you on the mat and keep the torso lifted up. If you are able to you can gently start to let the torso float down to the mat in front of you and extend the arms forward.
- Fire Log (Agnistambhasana) – Facing the top of your mat from a seated position bend your right knee and allow that shin to run parallel to the front of the mat. Take the leg and bend the knee, then place the left ship on top of the right as if you were stacking fire logs or the wood beams of a cabin. The shins may not lay on top of one another perfectly there may be a significant gap where the top knee does not rest on the ankle below. You can use a pillow or blanket to support yourself by placing it in the gap. After inhaling and sitting up tall exhale and start to fold forward until you reach the desired stretch which should feel something like an intense but comfortable stretch. Make sure you can smile or relax the face here, if you cannot you have pushed yourself too far. This is an intense hip opener and also gets deep into the perineum.
- Seated cradle pose (Hindolasana) – Find yourself in a comfortable seated cross-legged position and draw your right knee up to find the crease in your right elbow. Let the right foot find the crease in the left elbow. The hands can either grasp the forearms or the hands can bind on the outside of the right leg allowing you to cradle the right shin in front of you. Gently rock the leg around in the hip socket to loosen the joint. You can further massage the hip by releasing the right hand and placing it on the mat and rolling over the hip. Do this for a few breaths and feel free to concentrate and spend more time in one position if it feels good. When finished do the same on the other side.
- Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) – Lying on your back allow the torso to be perpendicular to the wall and sweep the legs upright up the wall so that your feet are pointed towards the ceiling. Your arms can either be in a cactus position (elbows bent at a 90 degree angle) or out long. This promotes blood circulation in the legs, hips and abdomen.
I invite you to try these poses and get moving with your little babe right there with you if possible. Not only are these shoulder and hip moves great for new moms but they are also great for people who sit at a computer all day as many of the chronic movement or lack thereof is the same. If you do not practice often and you sit at a desk all day these would be great moves to get you started.