How can we nurture new mothers and support their recovery from pregnancy and birth through yoga? Senior Bliss Baby Yoga facilitator Mari Notaras shares why she’s an advocate for ‘Mummy-Only’ Postnatal Restorative Yoga classes.
Many prenatal yoga teachers run ‘Mums n Bubs’ yoga classes, which serve as a natural progression for those who wish to resume yoga soon after birth. Mums n Bubs yoga offers the unique opportunity to connect with other women and parents, observe those with older (and younger) babies, and generally learn from one another in a supportive environment. It’s also a topic we cover in our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training.
As a yoga teacher, however, one of the most enjoyable and rewarding classes I’ve taught is ‘Mummy Only Yoga’. This is where we hold space for our new mothers to melt into the nourishing and nurturing world of Restorative Yoga.
Many of those who attend Mummy Only classes are immediately postnatal. These women are often feeling elated, vulnerable, anxious and/or sleep deprived. Some may not have been away from their babies for any period of time before, so it’s important to keep classes to a maximum of one hour and commit to finishing on time. This reduces the angst that can arise at the end of a late class, and also respects feeding schedules and other commitments.
“Motherhood is heart-exploding, blissful hysteria.” —Olivia Wilde
Why Restorative Yoga?
New mothers’ brains are adapting rapidly to the changes around them. Research indicates that the hormonal fluctuations that occur during birth and postpartum literally remodel the female brain, often increasing the size of neurons and producing structural changes. 
Added to this are the high post-birth levels of stress hormone cortisol, that are experienced when our baby cries. These serve to boost our attention, vigilance and sensitivity, all of which strengthening the parent-infant bond. Of course this is a biological necessity, but it doesn’t permit the mother to easily relax if it’s happening in the middle of a yoga class!
Restorative yoga allows the body to rest at a deep level, supported by props so there is no movement, absolutely no effort and most importantly the mind is quietened. Each restorative posture functions to move the spine gently in different directions. Some asana may be back bends or chest openers, whilst others may be supported forward bends or gentle twists. This style of yoga is very safe and appropriate for new mothers, and helps the woman feel held and nurtured. In this way the postures give back to the woman in the way she gives to her new baby and family.
Which Restorative Postures should we focus on for New Mums?
Motherhood teaches us the art of surrender, or the idea of Ishvara Pranidhana. One of the many translations of this term is to ‘surrender to the universal flow or to the divine’. Restorative yoga can help people feel more accepting of the many changes present in life, and also acknowledge the many emotions that come with it’s cycles.
Parenting can create stress and guilt as we strive for perfection – which really does not exist! Through the surrender, restorative yoga teaches us to accept the imperfections, stay real to ourselves, and most importantly, trust our own instincts and intuitions.
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” – Jill Churchill
Postures such as Supported Child’s Pose (pictured below, right) encourage us to surrender to the moment. It allows the lower back to gently release, unwinds any shoulder tension and soothes the mind.
Adding extra folded blankets on top of the bolster to bring more height, and/or folding up a blanket under the buttocks and heels may add extra comfort. Note: Some women find this is uncomfortable across the breasts, and may even find it stimulates or releases milk (particularly in the early days). Moving the breasts away from the bolster so just the head, neck and upper chest are supported will eliminate this.
New motherhood can involve endless hours of feeding, changing nappies, and engaging with your bub – chatting, smiling and staring into their eyes. Many of the movements around caring for your baby can contribute towards a rounding and weakening of the upper back (kyphosis inducing). For this reason postures like the Supported Bridge Pose (pictured below, left) that encourage the opening of the chest and upper back are very well received.
This posture is not only suitable for countering the many hours of breastfeeding, but has the added benefit of cooling and slowing the mind and encouraging introspection.
If two bolsters are available they can be placed end to end to support the full length of the mother’s body. If only one bolster is available then bend the knees with the feet on the floor, or place a block underneath the heels to support the legs. Some women may find a bolster under the back of the rib cage uncomfortable, as it may exacerbate an already tender lower back. If this is the case, use a single folded blanket instead of the bolster (for reduced height) and then build up with extra blankets.
Being a mother myself, I remember the early days of bringing my daughter home and longing for the moments of being able to ‘put my feet up’. The many hours spent sitting and standing affects the blood, lymph and general circulation in the lower half of the body.
Postures that elevate the legs such as Viparita Karani (pictured above, centre) have the added benefit of working with gravity to ensure fluids are circulated. Research has found that brain activity, blood pressure and fluid retention are dramatically improved in this asana, as is an overall enhancement of heart function.
Variations include placing one folded blanket under the hips if Lochia (bleeding after birth) is still present. If you choose to rest in this pose for a little longer then use a strap to place above the knees for extra delicious support. Blankets draped over the feet can help the new mum to feel grounded and, most importantly, warm. Elevating the hips will also have the added benefit of opening the chest, creating a gentle backbend which refreshes the heart and lungs.
It is extremely important to ensure that the back is supported in this pose. Women may not find it comfortable due to the incorrect placement of the bolster, so experiment with moving the bolster further towards the waist or use a folded blanket as another option.
“I will let my body flow like water over the gentle cushions” – Sappho
Teaching Restorative Yoga
There is an art to helping students find the most comfortable restorative position. As a general rule, if any area of the body is uncomfortable at the start, it will only intensify the longer the posture is held. It’s a good idea to allow the student a minimum of 15 minutes in each pose, to truly experience the essence of what restorative yoga has to offer.
Check the room temperature to make sure your students are warm, and if possible, that lighting is reduced/dimmed and there’s stillness in the space. These three things – warmth, darkness and quietness – will ensure they are able to drop into the state of being not quite awake nor asleep.
Simply present, peaceful and restoring.
 Kinsley C.H, & Lambert K.L. ‘The Maternal Brain”: Scientific American, January 2006. P.72 -79
 Lasater, J.H. (2011) “Relax and Renew”, Rodmell Press. P.7
Mari Notaras is a Senior Bliss Baby Yoga Facilitator for our Prenatal, Postnatal and Restorative Yoga Teacher Training Courses. She is a mother of 2 and an experienced yoga teacher, who is passionate about nurturing women through their pregnancy and into motherhood.
If you are passionate about offering nurturing, holistic yoga classes with safe, appropriate and nourishing practices designed specifically for pregnancy and postpartum recovery, you may be interested in our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training course. We also offer Online Extension Modules to enhance and further your learning in this area, covering topics including Prenatal & Postnatal Anatomy and Physiology and Pelvic Floor Anatomy and Physiology for Women’s Health.
As a complement to our Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training, our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Level 1 + Level 2 Restorative Yoga Teacher Training Courses will give you all the tools, knowledge and skills you need to launch you with confidence as a Restorative Yoga teacher. Whether you would like to incorporate Restorative practices into your general yoga classes, prenatal / postnatal classes, or teach specialised Restorative Yoga classes. You will enrich your own personal practice, while adding nourishing postures to your yoga teaching repertoire.
Illustrations by Sophie Duncan www.deerdaisy.com
Further Reading related to this topic:
- All Paths Lead to Restorative Yoga (Confessions of a Yoga Mama) by Nadine O’Mara
- Feel-good Mama: Restorative Yoga for Mums-to-Be by Ana Davis
- Motherhood is MY Practice: Honoring Me by Kelley Palmer
- Minimal Props with Maximum (Restorative) Benefit by Robyn Bell
- The Sādhanā of Motherhood: tips for integrating yoga into daily life by Nadine O’Mara
- Yoga for Exhaustion by Ana Davis
- How Yoga Can Support Postnatal Mental Health (Including Three Simple Practices) by Maria Kirsten