The Best Postpartum Yoga Routine
The Benefits of Postpartum Yoga
Thinking of trying postpartum yoga after normal delivery or Cesarean delivery? Here are four benefits.
Body knowledge: Yoga is a wonderful tool for becoming better acquainted with your body, says Jyothi Larson, author of Yoga Mom, Buddha Baby (Bantam).
Mood moderation: Yoga's emphasis on breathing and moving simultaneously helps you breathe more deeply, says Larson. For some women, it triggers feelings of deep relaxation and well-being. Some new moms also swear by yoga for postpartum depression.
Posture perfection: Pregnancy can cause even the straightest arrow to slouch. Then you start nursing, pushing a stroller, and lifting a baby and your posture may really suffer, says Larson. Some of the best yoga benefits are increased back and shoulder strength, which improves posture. Yoga also opens up your chest, making it easier to stand up tall.
Moral support: Joining other women in a postpartum yoga class is a great way to make new friends, all of whom are facing the same challenges you are. Even if you prefer to practice at home, an occasional class at a studio lets you tap into this network.
Postpartum Yoga Essentials
Pick up these items before starting your postpartum yoga exercises (or ensure that your yoga studio provides them):
A sticky mat: Mats provide a barrier between you and the floor and prevent your hands and feet from slipping.
A blanket: Blankets are used as padding to make certain poses more comfortable. Choose one that's made of nubby material and folds easily; wool and Mexican-style blankets usually work best.
Blocks: Blocks can help novices experience poses they may not have the flexibility to achieve. If you can't touch your toes, for example, you can use a block to bridge the distance between your hands and your feet.
A strap: Straps can help deepen a stretch or bridge a gap, similar to the way blocks do. If you can't keep your feet together in a pose, for example, wrapping a strap around them can bring them together.
Comfortable clothes: It's important to wear clothes that move with you so you don't have to constantly readjust them. Cotton and Lycra tops, as well as postpartum yoga pants, are clingy yet comfy.
Important Breathing Tips
The most important element in postpartum yoga is your breathing. Something that separates yoga from other kinds of exercise is the fact that each posture is linked to inhale and exhale. Why so much heavy breathing? Breathing and moving together sets the pace of your practice. It also helps you move more deeply into postures, says Larson. Deep breathing—long, full inhales and exhales—also brings oxygen to the entire body, which energizes your system. Here are the basics of yoga breathing:
Inhale through your nose; fill your belly, ribs, and upper chest with air so that they puff out in front of you.
Exhale through your nose and tuck in your belly button as the air is being released.
The Best Postpartum Yoga Workout
"This program is based on an approach to yoga that I call 'prana flow,'" says Shiva Rea, M.A., creator of prenatal and postpartum yoga DVDs. In addition to helping you relieve stress by focusing on your breath, this workout targets your entire core (your deep abdominals, including your pelvic floor as well as your back, hips and buttocks), tightening your abs, strengthening your lower back, and improving your stamina and strength. Perform as one workout, or complete various moves throughout the day.
Get down on all fours with your wrists under your shoulders. Place a folded blanket under your wrists if you need support, or lower onto your forearms. To get into Plank position, straighten one leg at a time behind you, balancing on the balls of your feet, abs pulled up and in, and head in line with your spine (i.e., neither straining up nor hanging down).
Elongate your spine and press into the balls of your feet. Inhale, then exhale as you draw your right knee in toward your chest, contracting the muscles in your lower belly (shown). Return to Plank position, then switch legs. Alternate knee tucks for 8 to 20 reps.
Benefits: Increases stamina and strength, especially in your deep abdominal and back muscles.
Lie flat on your belly with your legs hipwidth apart on the floor. Rest your head on your hands (A). Clasp your hands behind your lower back to open through your chest and shoulders. Keep your spine long and squeeze your buttocks, pressing your hips into the floor as you lift your head, shoulders and legs off the mat, keeping your neck in line with your spine. As you lift your legs up and out, tuck your tailbone under and keep your belly contracted and pulled away from the floor (B). Hold for 3 to 5 breaths, then lower to starting position. Repeat for 2 to 3 reps.
Benefits: Strengthens the deep back muscles of the core and opens your chest and shoulders, improving posture and relieving lower-back and upper-body strain.
For this gentle postpartum yoga position, lie on your back with feet hip-width apart, your arms straight at your sides and palms down. Curl your tailbone under slightly, feeling your spine settle into the floor, which relieves pressure in the low back. Inhale, then exhale as you lift your hips up slowly, tilting your pelvis as you tuck your tailbone under and scoop your lower belly in (shown). Hold for 1 to 2 breaths, then lower to starting position. Repeat for 5 to 10 reps.
Benefits: Strengthens the upper and lower back, hips and legs. Brings awareness and strength to the pelvic floor and lower belly.
Legs Wide Pose
Lie on your back and lift your legs so your body forms a letter "L." Lace your hands behind your head as you squeeze your ab muscles. Exhale as you lift your shoulders off the floor. Separate your legs a few inches, reaching one arm forward and between your legs. Contract your lower belly as you reach (shown). Keep your upper body lifted as you bring your legs together and place your hands back behind your head. Switch sides and repeat for 8 to 10 reps.
Benefits: Strengthens the deep abdominal muscles and stretches the hamstrings.
Lie on your back with your legs and arms straight up above you and reaching to the ceiling. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor, keeping your neck and head relaxed. Move your right arm and leg down at the same time you lift your left arm and leg up, making a scissors motion with both arms and legs. Breathe deeply as you scissor. To modify, place your hands behind your head for neck support, and bend your knees slightly. Repeat for 16 to 20 reps.
Benefits: Strengthens the deep abdominals of the core and improves hip and spine flexibility.