Yoga is a discipline that uses movements, breath control, and basic meditation to enhance health. The practice of yoga has been around for some 2,000 years. Taken from the Sanskrit word yuj, “yoga” means to yoke or bind.
“Yoga means different things for different people,” says Jennica Arrklev, MPH, founder of Jennica Joyce Yoga in Joshua Tree, CA. “We use postures called asanas to bring awareness. It’s about being present. For me, I practice being present so I can take it off the mat… being mindful and being aware.”
Benefits of yoga
From building up strength and flexibility to calming the mind and spirit, yoga has many benefits for you and your new bundle of joy:
#1: Energizes the body
Yoga can help revitalize you if you are feeling fatigued. “Whether you’re feeling tired or not, you’ve still got to hang out with your baby,” says Jennica. “So you might as well do something to boost your energy.” Light yoga stretches can do a lot to help rejuvenate you…bringing back energy you thought you lost!
In the first few weeks after giving birth, try some yoga poses by yourself. An easy movement to begin with is the bridge pose. This gentle backbend helps open your front body including your chest and heart.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, hands at your sides.
- Activate your glutes [gluteus maximus, muscles in your rear-end] to raise your hips on your exhale.
- Keep the hips moving up and forward as you hold the pose.
- As you gain strength and baby gains head control, you can do this same pose with the baby sitting near your hip creases with your hands on baby.
#2 Reduces anxiety & blues
Research shows that yoga acts like a natural anti-depressent. Practicing yoga regularly can boost a brain chemical that has a calming effect. Yoga can also de-clutter your mind and help bring a positive outlook to cope better with demands of having a growing family and more.
A study compared the amino acid GABA level to those who do yoga often compared to those who walk regularly. GABA is vital for the functioning of the brain and central nervous system. It produces a calming effect. Scientists found a significant difference in those who did yoga, who have much higher levels of GABA.
And those who are feeling blue or stressed typically have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Yoga has the ability to help you let go of tension and lower your cortisol levels.
A great way to lift the GABA and cortisol is none other than the “happy baby” pose. This is a “feel-good” asana that helps realign the spine, open and stretch hips, and relieve stress.
Just imitate your baby! Most babies (by about 4 mos.) do this pose naturally:
- Lie on your back and bring your legs up part-way, like your baby does.
- Open your knees as wide as possible.
- Clasp the outer edges of your feet with your hands,
- And rock side to side.
“You want your baby to be happy… it’s what all of us want,” adds Jennica. “Yoga allows me to connect with my baby. I think you have to show [your yoga poses] to the baby. By doing yoga together. We connect. I can be happy as well.”
#3. Builds strength
Some moms need more time to heal. Give your body the time it needs to heal before you start any yoga or other regular movement – every mommy has a different timeframe. When you feel ready to build strength, start gently. Here’s a simple exercise:
Use your baby as motivation to strengthen your muscles.
- Start in a plank position on your knees.
- Hands planted firmly on each side of your baby’s hips directly under your shoulders.
- Engage abs and glutes. This will be extremely challenging in the beginning. Stick with it.
- Gaze into your baby’s eyes as you hold the pose.
Another strengthening asana includes holding your baby while leaning your back against the wall. Add another challenge and squat down so that your feet make a 90-degree angle. Any “play” with your baby is a great thing and those that combine physical activity, even better!
#4 Improves flexibility & balance
Yoga can help improve flexibility, balance and toning your body—all of which have been challenged during the time when you carried your little bundle in your belly for nine months!
Yet, your body has amazing rebuilding capacity. You have a lot of relaxin (a hormone) in your body after having the baby. This hormone actually helps you be more flexible. However, be cautious yet aware of that fact. Take advantage of it to maintain flexibility. The forward bend can also improve circulation and reduce anxiety.
- Stand with your feet parallel and hip-distance apart, with your toes pointing forward.
- Breathe in, and pull your arms up straight above your head with your palms facing inward. As you breathe out, push your hips slightly forward and bend downward.
- Bring your hands toward the floor. You can lightly touch the front of your legs and keep your chest as close as possible to the top of your thighs.
When to bring baby into your yoga routine?
In the first weeks, place your baby near you on a towel (that has your scent on it) nearby as you do your individual poses.
Be sure the baby is fed first and the milk is settled, then gently place him or her on a towel nearby your yoga mat.
As your newborn grows and is awake more (approx. 3 months), start including him or her in your practice. A good exercise to start with is lifting your baby up and down as you do your routine. It also helps builds strength and connection.
BABY – UP & DOWN
This is as simple as going up and down with sound.
- Connect with your baby while moving like through your sun salutation.
- When your body moves up happily voice to baby, “We go up.”
- When your body moves down just as happily voice, “We go down.”
- Repeat this as many times as the baby is happy.
Later, as the baby grows and gets used to practicing yoga with you, then halfway through your routine, hold him or her for a few standing poses.
“The ultimate benefit from doing yoga with your baby… is being able to do something together that you love that you can do every day,” says Jennica. “Even though you’re with your baby a lot… this allows you to connect and bond. For me, it’s one of the biggest benefits with my baby.”
Note: Check with your Doctor before starting postpartum exercise.