If you’ve read about any part of my postpartum recovery, you know that I wasn’t super smart about it at first. I pushed a little too hard, too fast in hopes of getting my body back.
Then, I read an article called “Hold Your Baby” which not only made me think about how I was spending my time but also how I was approaching my postpartum recovery. The article talked about taking it easy and allowing yourself the space, and grace to just be a mom.
I realized a couple months in that I was going about it all wrong- at least for my body at that time. I was tired and achy and the high intensity exercise and running I was used to, was not working for me… or with me. In fact, it was working against me and it was killing my mindset and joy as a new mom.
So, I started studying. And, I kept studying until I felt comfortable with how I was tackling my recovery. I slowed down and I started focusing on how I was feeling during and after exercise and I started honoring how I was feeling before I started- each and every movement session.
I noticed that when I became more intentional about my movement that I also stopped giving any shits about what I looked like- I wanted to recovery properly. It didn’t matter how long it took.
I felt released from the confines of “getting my pre-baby body back”… I was FREE.
Leaking (urine), aches, pains, “not feeling right” are all symptoms that indeed, something is NOT right. These are the body’s way of screaming “STOP”.
In addition to encouraging a visit to a women's health physical therapist, when I talk to new moms about the focus of their postpartum recovery, I stress the importance of not only listening to the body, but actually reacting in a way that honors what the body is saying.
And, the best way I know how to teach that listening: through yoga. Yes, yoga is a great form of movement- it can be tweaked to give you a multitude of different types of “workouts” but, more importantly- it’s a practice in mindfulness. Yoga really gives you the space, if you let it, to dig a bit deeper and flip the perspective on your thoughts.
So while yoga was already a huge part of my life, after having E, has become an even bigger saving grace in times of stress and overwhelm. It works me physically while also allowing the mental clarity to list to my body. In the days and weeks following birth, I wish I would have been more intentional about my practice- it could have saved me from injury and mental distress.
I'll hope you'll consider yoga as part of your postpartum recovery and really pay attention to what your body is asking of you.
The exercises presented below should be completed in a layered approach. Starting with the first exercise Day 1 postpartum and then adding on exercises 2 and 3 over the following weeks. Remember, there is no rush; there is no race to get back into a certain pant size or a certain number on the scale.
Let the focus of your recover be on function rather than aesthetics.
NOTE: if you are recovering from a c-section, the recovery and addition of these exercises should be discussed with your physical therapist and/or physician.
The first exercise doesn’t actually involve much movement. It’s just breath work. I use the word ‘just’ lightly. While learning how to breathe properly is important for all people, during pregnancy, most women’s breathing patterns become disrupted, shortened and centered in the chest. The expansion of the belly can make it hard to fully utilize the diaphragm and we tend to use the muscles of the shoulders, neck, and chest more than we should.
1) Connection Breath:
Step 1: Lie or sit comfortably. If seated, stack the ribs over the hips. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. On the inhale notice which part of the body seems to rise first and expand greater; on the exhale, relax. Repeat for 4-5 rounds of breath.
Step 2: With the next inhale, see if you can get the belly to rise first, relaxing again on the exhale; repeat for another few rounds.
Sit in a neutral position with the ribs stacked over the hips, feeling pressure on the sits bones and perineum. The bum should be untucked (not sitting on the tail bone) and the low back arch should be natural (not sitting on pubic bone).Place one hand on the low belly and the other hand on the ribcage. On an inhale, feel the breath fill the belly, the fingers slide away from each other as the ribs open to the sides. On an exhale, the fingers fall back together and ribs return to start. Repeat for three rounds of breath.
On the next inhale feel the area between the tail bone and pubic bone soften- these are the pelvic floor muscles. Notice the sensations of the perineum with each breath- there should be a sense of fullness and sensation against the surface of your seat. Take 3-4 breaths here.
With the next breath, notice what happens to the pelvic floor on the exhale, the sense of fullness and sense of the surface should dissipate. Take 3-4 rounds of breath here.
On the next breath, animate the pelvic floor by slightly contracting- 30% of our maximum contraction. You can imagine that you are picking up blueberries with your vagina and anus (a cue I learned from Jessie Mundell). As you inhale place the blueberries back down. You should be able to complete these dynamic core breaths with each of the following moves.
Start with 1 round of 10 breaths during the first week postpartum. Increase to two rounds of 10 breaths in week 2. Continue with the breathing prior to performing any additional exercises.
The following audio is a guided version of the breathing exercise.
Following two weeks of recovery, you can add the following two exercises.
2) Bridge Pose
Lie on your back- knees bent, feet flat with the heels under the knees. On an exhale, place pressure through the feet, engage the glutes (squeeze the bum) and inner thighs (adductors) and without pressing into the low back (think of pressing your ribs toward the top of your hips), lift the pelvis. Maintain pressure in the outer edge of the heels and middle of the arches. As you lift pay attention to the breath and the low back. Notice the sensations through the legs and chest. Only rise as far as it is comfortable. Complete 1-2 sets of 10 reps for 3-4 weeks.
If you've EVER taken a class from me- video or live you know I love me some cat/cow. There is something about this pose that brings a level of awareness to the body. But, when using it postpartum I like to take extra special precaution. You can add cat/cow in between weeks 2 and 3 postpartum. If you're recovering from a c-section be mindful of the scar and the rounding of the spine and contracting of the abdominals.
Step 1: Stack the knees under the hips, hip width apart and the wrists under the shoulders, shoulder width apart. Spread the fingers and place the top of the feet on the mat if you can do so without getting foot cramps.
Step 2: Inhale filling the belling. Exhale, round through the spine, drop the crown of the head and drop the tailbone. Normally in this pose we would work on engaging through the abdominals- but postpartum, we will want to avoid a strong contraction- we'll focus on the movement coming from the spine, shoulders, and hips.
Step 3: On the next inhale, without forcing the belly, let it fall allowing space to be created between the shoulders and through the ribs. Feel light in the arms and the back of the neck while you lift your head and tailbone.
Continue to alternate between the two positions for 10 complete rounds of breath.
While this is just a sampling of the yoga poses that are appropriate postpartum, you can find more yoga practices which are, for the most part, prenatal and postpartum safe on my YouTube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/c/LaurenAndersonFitness.
As always, I'm here for your support and encouragement. Reach out, I'd love to hear from you!