I searched in vain for articles that would help me build back up to my yoga practice after having a baby. I couldn't find anything that was helpful. It was either blogs from women that go right back to a vigorous Ashtanga practice, and the opposite end of the spectrum, where they waited for six months before even attempting to come back to their yoga practice. I'm a Vinyasa yoga instructor, and I was planning on coming back to teach my class after six weeks. So I decided to track how I made my way back to my yoga practice and back to teaching yoga after the birth of my fourth child.
First, I don't believe there are any quick fixes — no crash diets or hard-core workout plans — for the postpartum mother (especially the first couple of months). I like the old quote that says, “It took 9 months to put it on, it will take 9 months to take it off.”
With these eight tips, I hope to get you back on your mat by building your strength back where pregnancy has weakened the core, shoulders and back.
1. Wrap it up.
Right after your first post-partum shower, wrap up your belly with a corset or postnatal wrap. This helps the uterus continue to clamp down, it helps stabilize the internal organs, it supports the low back and it helps boost your confidence. Wear this as much as you can for as long as you can. I wore my belly wrap day and night for the first four or five weeks.
No, really. Rest. In the first few weeks, it's important to take time out to love and bond with your baby. Focus on taking care of yourself by eating healthfully, taking your vitamins and iron supplements, and drinking lots of water. Take time and visit with your guests. While your baby naps, you might be able take a nap as well.
3. Take a walk.
Maybe you feel like a walk in the first few days or a couple of weeks postpartum. Snuggling your baby next to you in a baby sling is a wonderful way to bond, and it also gets you some fresh air. Use the postnatal wrap to help support your low back and use your deep transverse abdominals to hold your core in tight to begin to retrain the stretched ligaments and muscles.
4. Get a leg up.
Lunges and squats are some of the best lower body exercises to do postpartum. These obviously strengthen the leg muscles but it also tightens up the lower abdominals as well as the pelvic floor. Engage the whole leg and make sure the knees don't collapse or roll inward.
5. Build up your arms.
Plank, forearm planks and modified pushups are great ways to build back your arm and shoulder strength. These also do double-duty to strengthen the core, low back and pelvic floor. One of the best ways to get in your pushups is to do them against the kitchen countertops; this really engages your arms and shoulders.
6. Get back to your mat.
Maybe after a few weeks of slowly building back your arm and leg strength, you're ready to get back to your yoga practice. Go slow. This is a totally different body that's coming back to the mat. Slow, simple Sun Salutations with modified Down Dogs (Puppy pose). Think more about getting stronger and not so much about the deep stretches.
7. Block it up.
Building back your inner thigh strength after delivery is really critical to both the lower back and the knees. Grab a yoga block and use it in any poses that you can squeeze your knees together to engage the inner thigh muscles and ligaments. Chair, Boat, Bridge, Forward Flow, Plow poses can also use the block and you can squeeze the block and hold or pulse. Again, incorporate abdominal contractions and lock down the pelvic floor.
8. Restore the core and pelvic floor.
One of the best core and pelvic floor workouts is to simply pull the pelvic floor together and lock it in place while you pull your naval toward the spine and hold it in for 30-60 seconds. You can practice this anywhere. Other great core restorers are: forearm plank, boat and low boat, bicycle or slow crunches — anything where you're holding and engaging those abdominal muscles. Especially in the first few months after delivery, take care to keep the pelvic floor contracted through poses like Downward Facing Dog, Three Legged Dog, Half Moon, Shoulder Stand, Plow and any inversions that are some of the main culprits of the horribly taking in air.
Whether you're working on getting back to your own home practice or you feel you are ready to venture out to your favorite yoga class, these eight tips can help build your strength back and provide a stable place from where you can build upon. Go slow, listen to your body, and above all else, be kind to yourself.