Having a baby changes everything, from fluctuating hormones and a new sleep schedule to how you negotiate your new identity as a parent. And though your priorities may drastically shift, your yoga practice—with a few modifications—can still be a source of strength and direction to help you adjust to your new life.
Whether resuming a regular practice or starting yoga for the first time, new moms need to be mindful of their energy level and any physical changes experienced during pregnancy and delivery. Everyone’s situation is different, but doctors typically recommend waiting six to eight weeks postpartum before practicing asana. Longer, if you’ve had a caesarian or other surgery.
Experienced yoginis may be anxious to get back to the mat, but don’t underestimate the power of pranayama, mantra, mudra and meditation. You can start these practices anytime after giving birth. Nadi Sodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) is especially helpful before breastfeeding, or whenever you want to feel centered and calm. Two lovely mantras to welcome your baby (even before birth!) are the Gayatri Mantra and Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya, the latter of which has been translated as “Om and salutations to the indwelling one, substance of the divine.”
Though new moms are often concerned with weight loss and tummy-tightening, start with gentle stretches and simple movements before adding strength-building asanas. A well-rounded practice will offer rejuvenation over fatigue, and will positively support energetic and emotional changes you’ve experienced since childbirth.
According to yogic traditions, Shakti—the universal feminine and procreative energy—resides in the pelvic region. The Shakti Bandha series (or Pawanmuktasana III) helps to rebalance this area after giving birth. Some of these movements are gentle enough to begin as soon as you feel comfortable, and when combined with breath and focus, offer profound benefits. Rajju Karshanasana (Rope Pulling) for example, helps relieve shoulder tension, tones the muscles around the breasts and increases the ability to concentrate (dharana).
Several of the Shakti Bandha exercises and other recommended postnatal poses target the body’s midsection, so practice these with caution and self-awareness. If your abdominal wall muscles were strained during pregnancy or labor, keep the lower belly drawn in during poses that engage the core. And if you’ve experienced uterine prolapse, avoid Namaskarasana, Chakki Chalanasana, Malasana (Garland Pose) and other squatting movements.
Progress mindfully, practicing simple core-strengtheners like Balancing Table (Dandayamna Bharmanasana) or Tiger Pose (Vyaghrasana), starting with shorter holds and fewer repetitions. These poses and their variations also help build the arm and shoulder strength you’ll appreciate as your baby grows. Puppy Pose (a variation of Table Pose with forehead or chin to floor, arms stretching forward) is especially good for realigning the uterus and reversing prolapse. Try mula bandha during this mild inversion—gravity helps you learn to lift (rather than clench) pelvic floor muscles. Other good choices for postnatal practice include Marjariasana (Cat Stretch) and shoulder movements that help release tension.
To help combat fatigue, sprinkle your practice with restorative versions of familiar poses. For example, choose Legs-up-the-Wall instead of Shoulder Stand, and use bolsters or folded blankets to support gentle backbends like Supta Virasana (Supine Hero), Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle) and Upavistha Konasana (Seated Angle). Always follow asana with a period of Shavasana or relaxation.
Feel free to practice with your baby on a blanket or in a carrier nearby—or even with your baby on you! Try placing baby on your belly during Legs-up-the-Wall pose, or keep her cradled in your lap during Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle). Naturally, you’ll be interrupted, but going with the flow is one of the most practical lessons learned from yoga (and babies).
If you’re ready to get out of the house, check your local studio for postnatal classes where babies and toddlers can join in the class. One of the greatest benefits of a postnatal yoga classes is that they provide space for building communities and supportive friendships that can grow beyond the yoga studio.
It may be months before you feel ready to step into a “regular” yoga class again. If so, don’t sweat it: Your baby will help you remember that yoga isn’t just exercise, and the most flexible yogini is the one who practices listening, adjustment, dedication and compassion for self and others.
What sorts of yoga practices do you recommend to new moms?