Introduction to Yoga for New Moms
What Is Yoga?
The word "yoga" means "yoke" in Sanskrit--a joining, a oneness. When people think of yoga they usually think of the physical aspect, but yoga was first practiced as meditation, a striving of the individual to become one with the universe. Two texts in particular are important in yoga: the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata and the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. Both teach how to live a "yogic life": what to eat, how to practice yoga, how to control the mind and how to sustain one's yoga practice and reach for an ever-broader level of consciousness.
The main goal of yoga is to find the peace and joy of who we are. This place is known as the ananda maya kosha or bliss body (peaceful, calm, truth). One gets to this place through practicing asanas (postures), breathing, relaxation, and meditation.
Yoga is very important to me and is a big part of my life. Yes, I still get stressed from life--raising children, dealing with finances, keeping my home, work and life going. But my practice gives me a way to get grounded and remain in touch with the things in life I find very important: my growth and spirituality, my children, family and friends.
Yoga is constant development. You learn what your body can do as well as the body-mind connection. Through focused breathing and meditation, I have expanded my understanding of myself and my interaction with the world.
Yoga is an open-minded practice that says there is not one way to get to the truth. Yoga gives me a philosophy: some days I feel I understand many things, other times nothing. That's life; that's yoga. It's a philosophy that we work toward, learning at our own rate. The message that I take from this is to find the peace and joy of who I am and we are.
Why Baby Yoga?
Baby yoga is yoga practiced with your baby. It is doing yoga to help you stretch, relax and strengthen as you hold your baby, have your baby next to you or have your baby leaning against your thighs or atop your belly. Baby yoga is also special yoga positions that you guide your baby through to encourage natural flexibility and growth. Baby yoga takes advantage of babies' love of being touched. They are getting used to and exploring a new environment, and touch is both reassuring to them and a way to connect to the world. And, of course, moms love to touch their babies.
For you as the mom, practicing yoga with your baby offers very tangible physical results: it helps improve your posture, flexibility, strength and endurance. It contributes to your physical and mental well-being and can help to ward off potential postpartum blues.
A happier, calmer, stronger mom makes for a happier, calmer, stronger baby. The exercises will help your baby limber up, sleep easier and relax and will encourage his muscles to develop and grow. Many babies are also calmed or entertained by the chanting and children's songs that go along with some of the postures.
The "Eclectic Yoga" that I teach is meant for the beginner as well as someone who has been practicing for years. The movements I use respect the special demands put on the body of a new mother. Exercise builds strength and flexibility during the prenatal period. After the baby is born, a mother is addressing the demands of nursing, cradling and carrying a growing baby. Yoga helps build confidence and a strong and healthy body. Practicing yoga with your baby is a wonderful way to add joy to your first year together.
This Is Your Book
I have worked with hundreds of women and their babies in the classes that I teach. Many have asked for pointers and tips before and after class, and this book is an extension of those requests. The book is intended as a guide and companion, designed to help you practice whatever approach to yoga is comfortable for you. I have included "beginner" series that help any mother, regardless of fitness level or yoga experience, get the great benefits of the postures and movements. There are also more advanced positions and suggested sets to stimulate the most dedicated yogi. And there is everything in between, including a ten-minute routine that can help energize you in the morning or in the middle of the day and relaxation postures to be done before bed to help you get a good night's sleep.
"Buddha Baby" is my term for a healthy, content baby. I often feel as I hold newborns and babies and look into their eyes that this is about as close as one can get to the divine energy. As mothers, we are our child's "first guru." But our babies and children are also great teachers to us. Yoga done with your baby builds nonverbal lines of communication and enhances the special joy of sharing your baby's discovery of his new life.
It is wonderful to do yoga together as a family, and I have provided positions that a partner can do with you and your baby. Parenting is also about communication, and partners are encouraged to join in the breathing and relaxation exercises, which offer a nonverbal way to be together as a family.
A Time for Yoga
While it would be ideal to be able to set aside up to an hour or more during the day to practice yoga, I recognize that ten minutes in your busy day may be all that you can dedicate to yoga, and that's O.K. too. This book contains short practices in addition to longer series, and I encourage you to do your favorite stretch whenever you feel inclined. You may also want to get together with other new moms: form a yoga group, or if there is a class in the area, go once or twice a week. Many yoga studios are now offering "Mommy and Me" and sometimes "Daddy and Me" classes.
Covering the Basics
Practicing Yoga with Your Baby
Remember that "yoga" means "to join." It unites mind, body and breathing through asanas, or poses, to bring strength, flexibility and calm to the mind and body. It requires very little--not much space, very little "equipment" and just as much time as you can give it (though more is better)--and the returns are significant. You will feel calmer, stronger, more flexible and more in control of your life and body after practicing yoga for just a short period of time.
When your baby arrives, the asanas will help you get back in shape and maintain your body while allowing you to build a bond with your child. As your body changes, the positions change, from beginning asanas you can start right after delivery to more challenging positions as you grow stronger (you will need to keep up with the lifting, carrying and stroller-pushing of your growing baby!). The relaxation poses help you sleep at night and stay calm during the day.
The asanas are for your baby too as she develops from being able to roll over and hold up her head to crawling. Your baby is not only at your side as you do yoga but also rides on your belly and thighs, held to your chest and lifted up and down, getting kissed and doing her own mommy-assisted asanas. Movement for your baby becomes incorporated into your asana practice. Very quickly you will see your baby do her own beautiful cobras. In one of the classes I taught, a year-old toddler named India often fell asleep sucking her toe--talk about flexibility! Babies are natural yoginis.
The book is organized into twelve chapters. The first six chapters introduce the basics of baby yoga and breathing exercises, relaxation poses and warm-up postures you will use throughout the book. Chapter Seven gives future moms a head start with prenatal yoga. The next several chapters follow your baby's growth: Chapter Eight, the first six weeks; Chapter Nine, the next six weeks; and Chapter Ten, up to one year. Chapter Eleven offers special routines for focused yoga--waking up in the morning, a quick stretch, a targeted routine to help you relax and a ten-minute series for a fast but satisfying session. Chapter Twelve has postures your partner can do with you and your baby. The Afterword gives some ideas for continuing you and your baby's yoga practice as your baby moves into toddlerhood and beyond.
Each chapter describes asanas to help you stretch, strengthen and bring balance to your body and life. While some of the asanas focus on mom and some focus on baby, all are meant to be done with baby at mom's side (if not actually participating). This doesn't mean mothers shouldn't do yoga by themselves; maybe someone else is taking care of the baby, or maybe she is sleeping (finally!) and you're in the mood to do some yoga. But having your baby involved makes a very special addition and enhances your yoga practice--and, as you will see, babies love it!
Each chapter has, in addition to the asanas--which can be done separately for a quick stretch or together in a series--suggested routines. These series of asanas give you a total body workout. You can add your favorite asanas to the suggested routine or mix and match, depending on your body's needs and how much time you have. The chapters also include special postures moms can guide their babies through to encourage flexibility, good health and joy.
Noted within specific asanas in the book are any medical cautions, such as avoiding or modifying a pose if you have had a C-section or are experiencing specific physical problems. It is important, however, to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise, including yoga, both while you are pregnant and after you have delivered your child.
What You Will Need
Wear loose, comfortable clothing. It is better to not wear socks--there is less chance that your feet will slip--but wear them if your feet are cold. If you will be wearing them, try to find socks with non-skid bottoms. You will also need:
* A Blanket * A Pillow * A Yoga mat (same as "sticky" mat) * A Cushion from a couch or chair (optional) * A Bolster (optional) * An Eye Pillow (optional) * Music (optional)
Yoga mats, bolsters and eye pillows are available at many health clubs, sports stores and yoga studios.
What Your Baby Will Need
Dress your baby in comfortable clothes appropriate to the season and the temperature in the room.
Find a warm, comfortable, quiet room with enough space that you can lie down with your hands and feet fully extended. A rug can be useful, though you may still want to lay a towel or mat over it for added cushion. If you are on a bare floor, make sure to use a sticky mat. Make a comfortable spot next to yourself for your baby. She can be on a towel or on her own blanket or mat.
As you do your yoga, keep in mind the basics--proceed gently, never force a movement and remember to breathe! You'll be terrific.
Most of the time you don't think about your breathing, it just happens. An important aspect of yoga is watching your breath and feeling how you breathe, focusing on how the breath feels coming into your body and how your muscles work to bring breath in and let it out. "Yogic breathing" can bring with it a center of calm in the middle of chaos, a source of energy while also offering "mindfulness," a place you bring yourself to appreciate the moment. This can be especially important for you as a new mother; suddenly your life is filled with another being, and that can be totally overwhelming. While having a baby is unbelievably fulfilling, at times you can feel as though you have lost part of yourself. Mindfulness is a way to get back to who you are.
Yoga breathing also creates vitality, bringing more oxygen into your lungs and bloodstream to feed your cells and give you prana, or new energy. You will feel rejuvenated and healthful. It will help calm you during pregnancy and help you focus and relax your body during labor. And once you have delivered, it will allow you to breathe away stress and breathe in energy and serenity.
Yoga offers different methods of breathing for different needs and contexts. Some are wonderful for rejuvenation, others for calming; still others provide a deep serenity to accompany meditation. You will probably find that you favor some over others, and at different times some will be preferable to others. To decide which to do, just listen to how your body feels!
What Does it Mean to Listen to Your Body?
"Listening to your body" is being in tune with it and responding to what it is telling you. Body wisdom tells us when a position is uncomfortable, when a certain yoga posture or pranayana (breathing practice) shouldn't be done or even when a particular pose is just the thing to relieve tension. These are important messages anytime in our lives, but they are particularly important during the body changes associated with pregnancy and early motherhood.
A good way to listen to the body is by going to each part of the body and seeing or listening to what it is feeling. Once you feel a tightness or an ache or pain, you can do something about it. For instance, achy necks and shoulders can be common for new mothers. What can you do to ease these aches?
* Ask yourself: "How am I holding my baby?"
* Change your posture. When the neck and shoulders ache, do a pose to relieve these aches.
* When you are in a yoga position, how does it feel? Where are you feeling the stretch? If it feels too intense, ease up on the stretch.
* As you breathe, feel and watch your breath, concentrating on its coming into your lungs, feeling it in the belly and experiencing how your lungs feel as they expand and what it feels like to expand your chest even further to let in more breath.
* Bring awareness to different parts of your body: your toes, legs, pelvis, spine, arms, abdomen, shoulders, neck and head. Inside your body, become more aware of the muscles, organs and joints.
* Trust your intuition and your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, do not continue the position, or perhaps hold it for a shorter time than recommended.
* Your body knows what is best for you. During pregnancy, listen to aches and pains by responding with stretches and movement. During labor, use your breathing to help your body deliver your baby. And after delivery, when you are caring for your new baby, again pay attention to the needs of your body and incorporate breathing, stretches and exercise to answer those needs.
From the Trade Paperback edition.