Yoga during pregnancy and after birth can tone so much more than the pelvic floor…
As a yoga teacher and mum of four, I would say that there are few more profound times to engage with yoga than during pregnancy or as a new mum. It’s a time in life where your understanding of change takes on new dimensions; there aren’t many more transformative points in your life, physically or emotionally. Not only is your own body on a continual path of change, but your identity shifts radically; your relationships with friends, partner, family evolve; and then there’s this life growing inside then outside of you.
Even if you’ve never, or rarely, practiced yoga before – perhaps the whole concept makes you think of eighteen-year-old pretzels in sponsored leggings on Instagram, or mystical types in floaty outfits on two-week retreats into the soul, none of whom are having to cope with a growing bump or a new baby on their path to enlightenment, don’t worry. The word ‘yoga’ is rooted in Sanskrit and means ‘to merge’, ‘to unite’, ‘to join’, and definitely not ‘to bend’, ‘to compete’ or ‘to make shapes’. World-renowned yoga teacher Geeta Iyengar describes yoga as giving ‘serenity and composure, an inward unity amidst the diverse struggles of life’ – now doesn’t that sound like something we all need?
Yoga encourages you to investigate the nature of being, and regular practice helps you to become less swayed by the fluctuations of your physical state or your emotions. Working with the body and breath in yoga, you recognize that all are in a constant state of flux: physical sensations you feel at the beginning of a class may have shifted by the end, tension and tightness are just transitory. In the same way, emotions change too: whether you’re feeling euphoric and energized or tearful and vulnerable (maybe your pregnancy hormones are raging or your newborn baby is doing very good Damien impressions at night), these feelings are temporary.
Both pregnancy and parenting demand that we respond to ever-shifting variables. There is no absolute or definitive way to do it all right. There is no such thing as the perfect pose, perfect body, perfect pregnancy or birth, perfect parent, perfect baby… so if you can start to accept where you are, as you are, without grasping for what’s next, without judging what’s past, where someone else or their baby is but you and your baby are perhaps not, you feel a sense of growing peace and natural flow. And the more you are easy with this flow, accepting what is at any given moment, with any given breath, the more peaceful you and your baby will feel.
Being you, being the parent you are and practicing yoga as your body and breath allow, starting to trust your own intuition, becomes an act of generosity and self-care that not only transforms you but can also have profound effects on how you relate to the world and your baby. The benefits of having even just the one hour a week in class to focus on yourself while your baby is nearby, perfectly happy, can give you both invaluable space to breathe. As one of my new mums said recently: ‘I’d arrive at yoga feeling vulnerable and slightly out of control and leave feeling balanced and much happier in myself – my baby definitely picked up on and responded to this.’
The physical by-products of all this positive emotional centering are great too: during pregnancy you can increase your strength and stamina, relieve common side effects such as backache, heartburn or swollen ankles. You can also learn simple physical and emotional techniques that are invaluable during labour: I can personally testify from all three of my pregnancies and births that both actual and philosophical flexibility, as well as a positive attitude to life’s natural flow, made for amazing (despite being not necessarily smooth) experiences. Post-natally, too, you might just tone those uncooperative abdominal muscles and reconnect at some point with a pelvic floor that’s might be hazardously unreliable around a good joke or a sudden sneeze.
Personally, I wish that pregnancy and mother and baby yoga were available to all on the NHS. Sadly it’s not, but it really is worth going to class where you might discover something so much more profound and therapeutic than physical flexibility. Why yoga is so good for pregnancy, birth and beyond.