Get your body back and bond with your baby at the same time.
I think of it as coming out of the cave, that period after being ensconced with your newborn. You’re healing and bonding with your baby, you’re hormonally high and feeling like you’re in an episode of The Twilight Zone in which fluid is leaking from every orifice of your body. You wonder who that woman is staring back at you in the bathroom mirror.
A month after my son was born, I remember putting on lipstick and my husband’s low-slung corduroys, leaving the house with my son in the baby carrier and going to a local record store. At a listening station, idiotically grinning at no one in particular, petting my son’s furry head as he slept snuggled against my chest, headphones piping in my own private concert, three things happened in quick succession. First, I squelched the urge to sob violently out of the psychotic love I was feeling for my son, then I forgot what city I was in, then I closed my eyes and nearly pitched forward in a sudden narcoleptic response to my new life.
My next few outings were simple strolls around the neighborhood to remind my body of life before being a carrier vessel. I wanted to regain my body, rebuild my strength and slow my racing, busy mind. For all this, I’m happy to report to anyone wanting the same, there is yoga.
“[There’s a] symmetry in yoga that brings balance back to your body,” renowned yoga instructor Gurmukh Gaur Khalsa says with a soft, soothing lilt. I’m here in Gurmukh’s postnatal mommy-and-me yoga class at Golden Bridge, her busy, airy yoga studio in Los Angeles. A yoga teacher for 30 years, Gurmukh instructs the class on correct postures. Women in all sizes and outfits perform yoga stances as their toddlers and babies (some as young as 6 weeks) sleep, crawl and nurse on and around them. Before I know it, the class has actually finished a respectable 45 minutes of yoga (I sure can feel it), followed by a joyous group rendition of nursery rhymes and songs accompanied by gentle mommy-and-me dancing.
Afterward, I ask Gurmukh why yoga is so effective for new moms. “Yoga is a science,” she says. “You get better so much faster than in random exercise.” A woman needs to get back her strength and rejuvenate her body after giving birth, in a class or even at home. If she doesn’t, the imbalance and fatigue can last a lifetime. I’m convinced.
Yoga Mama The following yoga routine was designed to improve endurance in your legs, back and abs—muscles you’ll need to perform the everyday tasks of motherhood (bending, stooping, carrying, lifting). You can do the moves with your baby nearby or actually on you. The sequence was created by certified yoga instructor Colette Crawford, R.N., of Seattle. Check with your doctor before beginning these exercises; once you have the go-ahead, start them at 4–6 weeks postpartum.
1. AB CURL Lie on your back with knees bent and feet resting on a chair seat. Place your baby tummy down on your abdomen, as shown, or sit him on your belly, propped against your thighs; hold him firmly with your hands around his torso. Inhale, then exhale, bringing your navel in toward your spine as you lift your head, neck and shoulder blades up off the floor. Pause, then slowly lower your head, neck and shoulders back down to the floor. Repeat 10–15 times. Strengthens abdominals.
2. BRIDGE Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart on the floor. Place your baby faceup on your pelvis. Inhale, keeping your buttocks tightened and feet pressed down on the mat. Exhale, lifting your hips to form a straight line. Keep your neck relaxed and hold this position for 3–4 breaths. To release, uncurl your spine to the floor, keeping your buttocks firm. Repeat 3–4 times. Strengthens back, buttocks and pelvic muscles.
3. CAT POSE/DOWNWARD-FACING DOG From the Bridge pose, place your baby faceup on the floor beside you and come onto your hands and knees above him. Pull your navel in toward your spine so your back is parallel to the floor; keep your neck elongated. Inhale, dropping your shoulders away from your ears; look up as your tailbone lifts for Cat Pose (A). Exhale, bring the soles of your feet to the floor and lift your hips in the air, legs straight, to form an inverted “V.” Press your heels toward the floor as you tighten the front of your thighs. Use your palms to press away from the floor, moving your face toward your baby for Downward-Facing Dog (B). Inhale, drop onto your knees to Cat Pose, then exhale, lifting your hips back up into Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat 4–6 times. Strengthens abs and back, and stretches hamstrings and calf muscles.
4. HIGH LUNGE From Downward-Facing Dog, inhale as you lift your head up and look forward; exhale and take a large step forward through your hands with your right foot, placing it to the right of your baby. Inhale and lift your arms up in the air, forearms shoulder-width apart and palms facing in. Pull your abdomen in; keep your heel lifted and front knee bent and in line with your ankle. Stay in this position for 3–4 breaths, then move on to Moving Low Lunge. Strengthens leg muscles, back and abdominals.
5. MOVING LOW LUNGE From High Lunge, exhale and bring your hands down to the floor near your front foot and bend your back knee to the floor. Inhale, lift your torso up and extend your arms overhead (A). Exhale and lower your hands down to your baby as you bend forward (B). Repeat 4–6 times, then place your hands on either side of your baby and press back to Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat both High Lunge and Moving Low Lunge, stepping forward with your left leg. Strengthens legs, abs, shoulders and back.
6. HIP OPENER From Moving Low Lunge, switch legs so your right foot is forward, knee in line with the right ankle, and place your hands and forearms on the floor on either side of your baby. Keeping your left knee on the floor, press your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your groin and in the front of your left thigh. Hold for 3–5 breaths. Switch legs and repeat, placing left foot next to your baby. Stretches front thighs, inner thighs and hip flexors.
7. WIDE-LEG FORWARD BEND/CHILD’S POSE From Hip Opener, place your hands on the floor on either side of your baby. Inhale and bring your back foot forward so both feet are slightly behind and on either side of your hands. Straighten and stretch your legs, using your abs to keep your torso lifted (A). Hold for 3–4 breaths. From here, place your knees on either side of your baby, extend forearms around him and sit back onto your heels to rest (B). Stretches hamstrings and inner thighs, and strengthens abs.