Post Pregnancy Yoga

Magazines portray these female celebrities looking stunningly toned and elegantly slender, and they’ve just given birth. What’s the secret? How do they do it? By Charlotte Dodson

As a mother, you are nearly overwhelmed by feelings of unconditional love and pure joy as you've just experienced a miracle: your new-born has now entered this world. Your morning sickness, achy lower back, and general fatigue related to pregnancy's (literal and metaphorical) weight have passed. However, some have other conditions that need a little help - an entirely different set of physical conditions that often accompany the bliss of loving your little creation. Luckily, a few simple yoga poses address the most common concerns and will get you back into shape.

Yoga can help create more energy in your body, and enable you to gain a strong foundation of fitness after childbirth. Always be present, and embrace your body shape and feelings the way they are right now - it's easy to keep comparing your shape to the one you possessed before your pregnancy began, but it is very counterproductive. Don’t worry - with a program of simple yoga moves, practiced on a regular basis, you can give yourself the gift of a toned, slender 'yoga bod'.

Please remember that your shape is always changing, and that we're all perfect the way we are at any given moment. And know that you can build strength and release any aches and pains - nothing is permanent, including discomfort. These next sequences outlined below are ways to help with any conditions you may have; incorporating them into your practice allows you to cherish every moment with your new born.

Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. It may have been a long labour experience, and any amount of prolonged pushing can understandably compromise your pelvic floor. A serious weakness could result in an organ prolapse (that being, an organ that shifts outside of its normal anatomical position). These contractions correct incontinence and strengthen the pelvic floor.

Strengthen your pelvis muscles

Come into 'child pose', an innocent and passive posture. From kneeling, sit back heavily onto your heels, and lengthen your spine forward, by reaching your arms out in front of you, elbows slightly bent to remain soft. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and neck long as you rest your forehead to the floor, or alternatively, onto a cushion.

Mindfully, squeeze the muscles that stop the flow of your urine. In doing this, you'll feel your pubic bone draw down and your tailbone tuck under - the meeting of the two - draw up, and that's the same muscle you want to feel lift up. It may be a quick squeeze or, if you can, make the contractions progressively longer: squeeze for five, hold for five, and release for five. Repeat 10 times.

Just have the intention that this is happening, and in time if you find this challenging, the muscles will start to activate and they'll strengthen. The key is to practice this regularly.

From this you can move to the next step - the pelvic rock. Along with growing and birthing a baby comes weakened and stretched abdomen muscles.

Make sure to ask your doctor before starting any stomach work: the standard recommendation is to wait four to six weeks after a vaginal birth, and eight weeks after a cesarean birth. It's important to strengthen your pelvic floor before starting abdominal work; otherwise you could create too much pressure in the pelvic floor, which could lead to pain and complications. Starting gently and moving slowly, lay on your back, tucking your belly button in towards your spine; exhale and tilt your pelvis up, inhale and tilt your pelvis back. Continue to rock your pelvis back and forth for gentle strengthening of the abdomen. Repeat 20 times.

Release aching neck and shoulders. Whether you are feeding or carrying, a lot of time can be spent bending down and forward with your child in your arms, putting pressure on your neck and shoulders.

This could cause lower back pain and headaches as a result of constant pressure. A great way to release and stretch-out built-up tension is to perform 'gomukhasana' arms.
Mindfully roll your shoulders away from your ears, and lift your chest forward (to counter balance any hunching). Bring your right arm overhead and turn the palm inward. Bring your left arm out to the side and parallel to the floor and turn the palm outward.

Bring palms together behind the back, using a strap if they don't touch. Breathe deeply into any tension areas, hold for 5-10 breaths, exhale to release, and repeat to the other side.

Release your lower back pain. This is a common area of concern, whether or not you've given birth. However, the lifting, bending forward, and lack of core strength can put more pressure on your lower back. Along with building your pelvic floor muscles, here are other ways to help you relieve your lower spine. Try and keep your knees bent, especially when you're lifting or moving from sitting to standing position. Most of us know this common rule, but don't always apply it! Lift from the pivot of your hips using your pelvic floor muscles, rather than bowing forward and lifting from your lower back. Use the power of your INHALE to carry you upwards.

To relieve pressure in your lower back, can normally result from a hunched upper back, and tight hamstrings. By bending your knees can take the pressure off your hamstrings, and by laying over a bolster or spagetti roller (swimming float) placed along your bra area can help open up a tight upper body. Start by coming onto your sit bones, place your feet into the floor hip distant apart. Place the bolster or better, a roller (long ways) where your bra area is and slowly lay over it.

This acts like a wedge to open up your upper chest. You can place a cushion under your head to take pressure away from your neck. Bring your arms out to the side, above the roller, and keep your shoulders relaxed and chin tucked into your throat. Take long deep breaths up into your upper body. This will open you up, and as energy flows freely, it should take pressure out of your lower back. As your breath can now freely and fully flow up and down the whole length of your spine, you should become pain free. Our breath has the power to open, heal and release any body tension, as long as you direct the breath to the particular area, rather than avoiding it.

Lay over the bolster for 1-10 minutes. Build this up kindly and slowly, remembering 'less is more'.

Build stamina and endurance - warrior II

After nine months of nurturing yourself - and changing your routine - during pregnancy, you'll find your stamina maybe not be as sharp as it once was. Your endurance levels may differ, so it's time to build up and make carrying and lifting your baby easy to do. A wonderful posture for patience and inner strength (and one most of us can perform) is the warrior II. Start with your legs four feet apart, turn the right foot in and the left foot out 90 degrees. Bring your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor, as you bend the left knee over the left ankle.

Reach out with your arms and hold for five breaths. Repeat on the other side. Keep your belly active, spine long and your chin tucked into your throat as you take your gaze to your front middle finger. Keep all your muscles enthusiastic and alive, and you'll soon see the benefits of this challenging pose.

Ways to rejuvenate - legs-up-the-wall. Waking up every few hours to tend to the little one doesn't exactly make for a well-rested person. Although you'll still experience sleepless nights, this pose is great for helping you deal with fatigue, enabling you to make your waking hours more focused and manageable. It'll put you into a kind space of calmness, taking any frustration out of an exhausted mindset. You may still feel tired, but life won't feel so challenging. When you feel exhausted, your breath can become a little shallow.

This is a restorative pose that helps open the chest; calms your nervous system down; encourages you to take deeper breaths, and aids relaxation and rejuvenation. Lay with your right hip against the wall and a pillow under both hips. Then slowly swing your legs up onto the wall, bring your arms out to the sides, and breathe deeply.

Allow your legs to roll out naturally up the wall. Keep your chin gently tucked into your throat and breathe deeply for 2-10 minutes. The longer you hold the pose, the more you'll reap its relaxing benefits.

Relax - Savasana

From legs-up-the-wall, slowly shuffle yourself back to lay flat (place a cushion under your knees if lower back tender). Completely relax into the earth, with a blanket covering you to stay warm and an eye pillow to remain inward. Let your breath be long, deep and let your whole being surrender into the floor. Relax completely for 5-10 minutes before rolling out to the right side. Come to a cross legged sit for a positive intention, or dedication of love to someone. You can now cherish your day with a calm and tension-free being, and in time gain the benefits of having a ‘star-yoga bod’!

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