The first six weeks or so after childbirth is often dubbed the ‘Fourth Trimester’. Most people have heard about the importance of yoga during pregnancy, but there’s less awareness about how yoga can continue to enhance physical and mental wellbeing once the baby is born.
In so many ways this intense time in which mother and babe are adapting to their new, out-of-utero life, is an extension of the pregnancy.
The mother or postpartum person is rocked by a hormonal roller-coaster, elated one moment, tearful the next – including the all-important breast-feeding hormones. Their body is still recovering from the effects of pregnancy and birth, and largely under-slept because of the demands of feeding and caring for the baby.
It’s therefore a time to be extremely gentle and sensitive to their needs, both physically and emotionally. This way she can best support herself and her baby during this delicate ‘trimester’.
There is no need for the mother to rush onto the gym treadmill or back to her favourite Ashtanga class in an attempt to lose the baby-weight. In fact, strong exercise, if performed too early or rigorously can be counter-productive and can contribute towards injury and even burn-out.
We generally recommend in our Online Bliss Baby Yoga Teacher Training courses that a new mother wait until at least 6-weeks postpartum before she commences yoga classes. However, there are some gentle supportive yoga practices that she can safely practice at home in the meantime, as long as she has some previous experience of yoga and no major, post-birth complications.
To nurture her physical, emotional and ‘pranic’ energy during the Fourth Trimester, the mother can try some simple pranayama, relaxation practices, and supported restorative postures. And the beauty is, she can slip these into those short breaks while baby sleeps, or is happy on his /her bunny-rug.
Tried and Tested Postures
Perth based yoga teacher and mum, Kiah Hamersley, found she experienced many benefits from the pose, Supta Baddakonsana, over a bolster, for its gentle back-bending and shoulder opening effects: “I loved it for the calm measured breathing it seemed to induce and the opportunity it gave me to put the eye bag on and rest,” says Kiah. “I think I even went to sleep in the pose (legs supported on pillows) in bed! Which may sound bizarre but it really helped me get into a deep sleep quickly.”
One of my own favourites, after the birth of my son, Marley, was Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose). I practices this supported on a bolster, as a way of passively stretching my quads and psoas. As is common, these had become tight from the lower back being moved into exaggerated lumbar lordosis (sway-lower-back) in the latter months of pregnancy. I also found this pose beneficial for its gentle stretching and opening of the abdominal area which had all been so cramped from sharing the space with the baby-in-utero.
After post partum bleeding (‘lochia’) stops, the restorative pose, Viparita Korani ( ‘Legs up the Wall’, either with bottom supported on a folded blanket or bolster) is a wonderful pose that can be practiced on its own at any time. It gives the benefits of an inversion whilst facilitating deep breathing, and is extremely rejuvenating and therapeutic for the lower back.
While in a supported pose or sitting or lying in relaxation, the emphasis is on lengthening and deepening the inhalation during the early postnatal weeks. I found the Viloma Pranayama, with emphasis on the 3-part inhalation especially helpful.
Focusing on the inhalations can help energise and build optimism which can be beneficial for counteracting the lethargy and negativity that can accompany sleep-deprivation. As time goes on, you can shift your focus to longer exhalations which engender relaxation and the letting go of mental and physical tension.
Learn more about the benefits and applications of Postnatal Yoga in our Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training, or alternatively cover both Prenatal and Postnatal in our Complete (Prenatal and Postnatal) Yoga Teacher Training Course online.
Ana Davis, Founder and Director of Bliss Baby Yoga, has a passion for a feminine approach to yoga and supporting women with yoga through all ages and stages of their life. Ana is the author of the popular book, “Moving with the Moon – Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of Your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond”. Ana has collaborated with Bliss Baby Yoga fertility specialist yoga teacher Rosie Matheson to create our Online Level 1 Yoga for Fertility Teacher Training. She is also the lead trainer on our popular Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training Course and Online L1 & L2 Restorative Yoga Teacher Training courses, and offers private mentoring and yoga sessions online, and online yoga classes.
Further Reading related to this topic:
- Self Care for All Phases of your Menstrual Cycle by Ana Davis
- Top Tips for a More Easeful and Enjoyable Period by Ana Davis
- The Benefits of Yoga Nidra for Pregnancy and Early Motherhood by Anna Watts
- Cultivating a Healthy Body Image Postpartum by Tammy Shemesh
- Motherhood is MY Practice – Honouring Me by Kelley Palmer