The days and weeks following childbirth can be difficult for new moms. You may be recovering from a C-section or an episiotomy in addition to the inherent physical exhaustion of labor, your abdominal muscles have stretched to inches within their limits and now need to regain their strength and pre-pregnancy shape, your back and hips may feel tight and inflexible, and you probably feel psychologically detached from your body—a stranger to the new you.
Yoga may be the last thing on your mind, but just a couple minutes of practice each day can speed your recovery, reconnect your mind and body, and even battle postpartum depression.
“Yoga is a wonderful way to get back in shape,” Says Sarah Perron, co-author and co-founder of Baby Om. “It works the whole body and it is very adaptable. You don’t have to have done any yoga before and there is plenty for you to do to build strength and flexibility.”
Although there are many yoga postures that you can practice within the first six weeks of delivery, you’ll need to first meet with your physician. “All women should get the go-ahead from the MD or midwife before going back to yoga and exercising,” says Betsy Kase, owner and director of Yoga Haven in Tuckahoe, New York. “It is usually recommended that a woman wait until she stops bleeding.”
Laura Staton, co-author and co-founder of Baby Om, suggests five yoga postures during postpartum recovery. She points out, “The following poses can be done by all women at any stage,” including those who’ve had Cesarean sections.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana): Stand with your feet about five feet apart and turn your right foot so that it is perpendicular to your left (the front heel should align with the back foot). Reach both arms out at shoulder height to your sides and extend your torso sideways over your right leg while keeping your hips facing forward. Place your right hand just above your ankle and extend your left hand straight up to the ceiling (look up toward your left hand). Repeat on the other side. This side bend pose helps reestablish the pelvic floor and regain leg strength.
The Son of Brahma Pose (Marichyasana I): Sit with your legs extended on the floor in front of you. Draw one leg back toward your pelvis and plant your foot on the floor. Reach your arm around your torso, around your vertical shin, and latch onto the fingers or wrist of your other hand. Draw in a breath and with the exhalation, lean forward over your extended leg. The Son of Brahma Pose stimulates the abdominal organs and relieves mild back and hip pain.
Cobra (Bhujangasana): Lie with your stomach to the floor, your toes extended, and your palms flat and planted at shoulder width. Press your thighs and pelvis into the floor and inhale, pressing your palms into the floor and extending your arms. Extend and distribute the bend evenly throughout your back. Cobra opens the upper back and chest, and strengthens the lower back, inner thighs, and pelvic floor; it also helps relieve stress and fatigue. (Practice this pose with caution in the last months of pregnancy.)
Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Vipariti Karini): Place a pillow or folded blanket approximately five inches from the wall (experiment to find the best placement for your comfort). Sit sideways on the end of the support with your side against the wall. Exhale and slowly swing your legs up the wall and your shoulders and head down onto the floor (this may take some practice). This restorative posture is good for circulation and the repositioning of the uterus; it also can relieve leg cramps and mild backache.
Focus on the Abdominals
Many new mothers complain about that post-baby belly. Unfortunately, abdominal muscles often don’t just snap back into shape, and most of the time, it takes more than a little coaxing before you can slip comfortably back into those pre-baby jeans. You’ll need to retrain these muscles and work on knitting them back together, as well as strengthen your lower back and pelvic floor.
Perron suggests the following three postures, safe even for mothers recovering from C-sections, to rebuild core strength and work on strengthening soft abdominal muscles.
Modified Boat Pose (Navasana): Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Grasp your outer thighs (right hand to right thigh, left hand to left thigh) and lift your chest. Keeping your abdominal muscles active, raise your feet just off the floor while keeping your back straight. Tilt back slightly. If you feel strong and are looking for a more challenging posture, try lifting your shins until they are parallel to the floor and reach your hands out straight towards your feet. Boat Pose helps in digestion, strengthens the abdominal muscles, and reduces stress.
Locust Pose (Salambasana): Lie down on your belly with your hands palm up at your sides and your toes pointed. Exhale and lift your head, arms, and legs off the floor (so that you balance on your belly). Locust Pose improves posture and strengthens the back, belly, and shoulders. It also stimulates the abdominal organs.
Plank Pose: Lie stomach-down on the floor with your hands just below your shoulders, your elbows bent, and your fingers spread and pointing forwards. Lift your body up off the ground (much like you would when beginning push-ups). Keep your spine straight (from the tip of your head to the balls of your feet), and hold as long as you can. (To modify this pose, prop yourself up on your elbows rather than your hands and leave your knees and shins on the floor.) This position will tone your abdominals while also strengthening your arms and back.
And don’t forget about Kegels—contracting and relaxing the muscles of the pelvic floor (to locate these muscles, try stopping the flow of urine; then mimic this practice in your exercises). It’s not yoga, but Kegel exercises are a pregnant woman’s best friend and a new mother’s closest companion. Don’t stop practicing them after birth, as they are safe to perform even during your recovery period. And the wonderful thing about them is you can practice anywhere and at any time—while you are in traffic, at work meetings, or when washing dishes.