yoga for the postpartum body
I love yoga for a million and one reasons. Between the physical asanas (poses), meditation and mental clarity, breath work and emotional support, it’s always so satisfying when I step onto my yoga mat to practice. Yoga is great for expectant mothers as they try to get used to the new aches and strains that come with carrying a child, but it is also good for a range of other people too, for example those who spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or driving. Click here for some examples, such as how yoga could be the latest trend for truckers.
For awhile, even as yoga teacher myself, I struggled with making time to do what I love. As a working mom, things can get crazy and finding that balance to balance can get tricky. I had my own yoga practice, but it made such a difference going to a class and getting instruction.
From breastfeeding, diaper changes, cooking, working and the many other things we seem to manage as moms, it was the getting to the class part that was tough for me.
It’s why I really love YogaDoctors.TV. My friend Somer Nicole created it, whom I’ve personally known for years, and when she asked us to share it with other mommas, it was totally in line with what we love offering our moms here…who are just as busy yet health-oriented as we are. The thing about Somer that I love is that she embodies what she teaches. When I met her for lunch the other day, she was on a cleanse, allowing her body to reset from toxins. I find it’s important to know your teacher is practicing what they preach plus having the training behind their instruction. Somer is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, teaches alignment-based Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Meditation and has been teaching Yoga since 2002. She has studied many forms of Yoga, including Iyengar, Anusara, Ashtanga and Kundalini, and teaches workshops and retreats internationally. She also has her Masters in Occupational Therapy, is Manual Therapy Certified and has integrated Yoga into her Physical Therapy practice since 2006. (I know, super impressive)
YogaDoctors.TV is an easy to use, online video platform whose mission is to help people cultivate a sustainable home practice, which teaches them the tools to calm their mind, clear their energy and strengthen their being on all levels. Their passion is helping people decrease their overall stress and discomfort, so they can live more present, fulfilling and intentional lives.
While Somer and I chatted over lunch, I was telling her how one of the biggest struggles for us moms is our postpartum changing body. I interviewed her on some topics many of you have asked us through the years, and she gave some amazing advice in her article below.
Check it out:
With your expertise in physical therapy, what is the chief concern postpartum moms have with their changing body?
Mostly women will feel weak where their muscles were overstretched during pregnancy and labor. This includes the abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor muscles. The stretch weakness is when there are not enough muscle fibers overlapping to contract optimally. This stretch weakness of the abdominals affects stability of the lower body and can present as hip, pelvis and/or lower back. The stretch weakness of the pelvic floor muscles can present as prolapse and/or incontinence. Additionally, the relaxin hormone is released during pregnancy, continues until several months after you finish breastfeeding and affects every joint in the body. Relaxin causes ligamentous laxity, which is also known as looseness of the ligaments. Ligaments hold bone to bone together and are very important for static stability, meaning holding joints together at rest.
So add in the postural demands of nursing, holding and caring for an infant, the above factors play a major role in allowing the mom to feel physically supported and strong in her own body.
What are your top 2 yoga poses moms can incorporate into their busy life with baby for lower back pain?
This is a tough question to answer as lower back pain can stem from different things for different people. I would recommend watching this video to assess if your pelvis is in proper alignment. As long as you are all good there, I would recommend the following for moms with lower back pain. Never push past any sharp pain and always listen to your body!
In general, a main complaint of busy moms is that they are always hunched over and bending forward, which repetitively stresses the back body, hence why a lot of mums I know are using transdermal thc for pain relief. Here are two poses to reverse the effects of sitting and bending forward. These are also both do-able while on the floor with your child.
- Sphinx pose variation
- First relax your back and butt muscles for 1 minute on your belly.
- Prop yourself onto your elbows and completely relax your back and butt muscles (different than how sphinx is traditionally taught).
- Keep your head up and breathe deeply for 3 minutes as you keep releasing tension in the back and butt muscles.
- Then relax on your belly another minute.
Benefits: This Physical Therapy based version of a passive sphinx pose helps restore the natural lumbar curve, which is lost with so much bending forward and sitting. It is particularly good if you’re experiencing any referred pain into your butt or legs (as long as the sensation gets closer to the lumbar spine vs. the feet). It will relax the muscles and tension of your back body, as well as stretch out the hip flexors and front body.
Side note for moms with lower back pain:
Always support your physical body with good posture, exercise and good lumbar support when sitting anywhere at home, in the car, typing and when breastfeeding. Since it’s so common in moms, I wanted to mention that the emotional component for lower back pain is feeling a lack of emotional and/or financial support. So I encourage moms to ask for support from friends and family more than ever!
I am a big believer that physical pain is a result of unconscious repressed emotions. Dr. John Sarno has written extensively about this theory in his books, including Healing Back Pain and the Divided Mind. If you do have any kind of back or physical pain, especially if the pain jumps around, instead of going on a downward spiral of negative thoughts that something is seriously wrong, I would encourage you to do the following. When you do have physical pain, say to yourself and BELIEVE, “There is nothing structurally wrong with me or my spine.” I can’t stress enough how much of a mental game it is to heal physical pain!
- Bent leg down dog
- Lift heels, bend your knees and take your upper thighs back and wide, so you can feel it supporting the natural lumbar (low back) curve.
- As the upper thighs move back, move the upper arm bones forward (avoid collapsing armpits) to stretch the side body.
- Keep weight to the back of the head, so you feel it strengthening the cervical (neck) curve.
- Keep the shoulder rolling out (external rotation) and the collarbones wide.
- Hold 30-60 seconds, practice 2-3x with long deep breathing.
Benefits: Great for strengthening the lumbar and cervical arches, which is essential for healthy posture. Strengthens arms and legs, as well as decompresses the spine. It also calms the mind, balances the nervous system, brings new blood flow to the brain and energizes the body.
What can moms do about core weakness after birthing?
Your core stabilizing muscles include your transversus abdominis, multifidus, your respiratory diaphragm and your pelvic floor diaphragm. As we inhale, both the diaphragms descend and as we exhale, both the respiratory diaphragm, the pelvic floor and transversus abdominis lift up.
Deep breathing can do wonders for your natural core stability, which you can easily incorporate into walking with your child. Be sure to make your exhale complete, so you can feel the natural movement of the belly go back toward the spine and the pelvic floor lift. As you inhale, be sure to always feel the belly inflate first vs. the chest, as this will ensure you’re using your respiratory diaphragm first vs. your chest and neck muscles. This will ensure you are stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode) vs. your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode).
- Goddess Squats with deep breaths
- Turn feet 45 degrees or so out, making sure when you squat your knees align with your 2nd toes.
- Stick your butt back when you squat, so your knees do not go over your ankles
- Place arms in a cactus position by pulling the shoulder-blades back and down (the opposite position your arms are in breastfeeding or carrying your baby), keep some weight to the back of your head and lengthen through your crown.
- Time your breaths with the movements, finishing out your inhales and exhales.
- Alternate between holding some days 30-60 seconds, 2-3x. Other days you can do repetitions 10-20 reps, 2-3 sets.
Benefits: Functionally strengthens your legs, glutes, back, core and overall postural strength. It stretches inner thigh muscles, supports natural curve of lower back and enhances a feeling of groundedness and inner strength.
- Plank to Side Plank
- In plank, draw your limbs toward one another, lift heart forward and keep weight to the back of your head.
- In side plank, keep weight-bearing shoulder-blade back and down and head in line with spine.
- Choose from levels 1-3 and alternate days where you hold each 30-60 seconds, 2-3x – breathe long and deep! Other days you can do repetitions from plank (exhale) to side plank (inhale) 5-10 reps, 2-3x.
Benefits: Strengthens your core, glutes, back, shoulders and also improves balance and posture. Planks also boost your mood by stimulating the navel center, which lowers stress, anxiety and enhances feelings of being centered and grounded.
What pose is great for mommy’s arched shoulders from breastfeeding?
A great restorative pose is Reclined supported backbend:
- Place a bolster, a firm pillow or a thick blanket vertically along the spine from the lower back to the head.
- Arms fall into cactus arms with bent elbows to stretch.
- If head falls back too much, can support with another pillow, block or rolled towel.
- Can place eye pillow or tower over the eyes.
- Take long and deep diaphragm breaths.
- Stay 10-20 minutes.
Benefits: Opens the chest, mid back, upper back, heart and throat. Broadens and lifts the rib cage. Supports the lumbar and cervical curves. Improves posture, breathing and relaxes the mind and body. Restores energy, alleviates anxiety, reduces stress hormones and boosts immune system
Is there anything else you personally recommend for postpartum mommies?
- For emotional balance:
- drink plenty of water
- be mindful of deep breaths throughout your day
- For sanity and mental clarity, practice Yoga and meditation.….even if it’s only 5 min/day
- To reduce your stress and to keep your stamina up, be active whenever you can….even if it’s only a 5-10 minute walk some days. You can always use walking as a meditation.
- Eat mostly plant-based whole foods to improve gut health, immunity and energy. Avoid processed foods full of sugar that will throw your system off. Trying a supplement like vital reds may help with your digestive issues if you feel it has become a real problem for you.
- Sleep when the baby sleeps and rest whenever you can.
- Be kind to yourself. Remember you are doing the best you can.
- Do your best to keep your self-talk positive and full of gratitude.