Most yoga teachers have at least a basic understanding of how to accommodate a prenatal student in their classes, but do you know what to do when you have a postpartum yoga student walk in your door?
You probably know that you should avoid twists, intensive inversions, and caution pregnant students about overstretching and moving past their pre-pregnancy range of motion to keep tendons and ligaments safe. But postpartum yoga students need something else and the majority of yoga teachers don’t know how to safely accommodate their students that have recently given birth.
From easing back into a practice, giving the pelvic floor love, and encouraging mom to embrace the changes she is experiencing in her body, there are several changes and suggestions you can make to help keep mom and her postpartum yoga practice a safe and uplifting experience, all while helping her rebuild her strength and practice self-care.
Pregnancy is a long road, and your student’s body has completely transformed and completed the miracle of birth, but with that will come many changes in her physical body and it is essential that you remind your student to listen to her body.
Each day may be a new day, and there will be poses that feel different than before or even during her pregnancy, and that there should never be any pain, pushing, or forcing into poses. The idea that women should be able to bounce back right away from pregnancy and “get their bodies back” can be a very damaging and stress provoking idea. She may be feeling the pressure to quickly return to her pre-pregnancy practice, but doing so could cause lasting damage in her body like tendon and ligament stretches, tears, strained muscles, and inflammation.
Use supportive and inclusive cues that remind your postpartum yoga students that each day we come to the mat without expectations. Move in a way that is nourishing and supportive of our bodies and that there is no competition between other students or within themselves.
The first few months of a baby’s life are incredibly taxing and are about survival. Chances are your postpartum student has probably been neglecting herself and her needs for months to focus on the health and development of baby. Many postpartum women describe this time as being complete survival mode, where all they do or think about is their baby, and put themselves last.
It is possible that during the yoga practice they are returning to is the first form of self-care that they have experienced in months. Take this time to celebrate mom, and let her know that she is doing great, and she is welcome to practice with you. Maybe even introduce her to another postpartum yoga student that is a new mother, and make a point to ask her how she is doing, and not just about her baby.
Being a new mother can be an isolating and exhausting experience, and you may be a crucial part of her support system and self-care. Make sure to remind your postpartum student that this is time for her, and she gets to do whatever feels good to her body and her soul without judgement.
Although many know that birth can wreak havoc on the pelvis and core of the body, many do not realize what kinds of poses should be avoided during a postpartum yoga practice. There are several general rules of thumb as to what poses should be shared and avoided during a postpartum yoga practice.
Even though there is a large range of mobility and strength in each body, generally when you are working with a postpartum student make sure to avoid deep twists (revolved triangle). Also avoid exercises that put large amounts of pressure or stretching on the abdominals (plank, boat, and wheel), intense backbends (bow, and upward-facing dog) and deep hip openers (splits and frog.)
Instead incorporate poses that build general strength and stability in the core like bridge poses and pelvis tilts, while also encouraging your students to begin to hold their core in strong in each pose to build overall strength and stability, and regain control of that region. Make sure to keep gentle inversions like legs up the wall, rag doll, and downward-facing dog in your practice and add focus to gentle hip openers like cow face, or supine pigeon and don’t forget about the shoulders and chest.
Many women report having spent most of their time hunched over caring for, and holding baby so taking time to open these tight areas to bring a lot of relief to postpartum yoga students.
Here’s the deal, giving birth is no joke. And recovering from birth? That is a long and hard road, and it is possible that the one thing your student really needs is rest. Studies show us that it is during rest and relaxation that the body repairs tissues and heals, and it is very possible that although your postpartum yoga student has been cleared for exercise from their physicians that they are still healing, and are probably running on empty at times.
In fact, what your student may find most beneficial above all is rest. Encouraging your student to take breaks when they need, linger in savasana, or even try a new class like yoga nidra or restorative yoga that is designed to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and cultivate deep rest and healing in the body.
Often, new moms know that they are rest deprived, but they still feel like they need permission from their teachers to be able to take the rest that they need, and deviate from the rest of the class when their bodies are asking for it.
I recently went to a yoga studio that brought BYOB to a new level, bring your own baby! This inclusive and postpartum yoga positive studio recognizes that often the reason women struggle to take care of themselves and have a challenging time transitioning into their postpartum lives is because of isolation, and lack of childcare options.
Consider allowing your students to bring their babies either in a wearable pack, or to lay on their backs or practice tummy time on their mom’s mats while they practice. Of course you’ll need to use your best judgement on this one, but making your class mommy friendly may make a world of difference, and open your class up to a few kinds of student.
Something else to consider - making a special weekly class that is exclusively for caregivers and their infants where you can practice, meet other caregivers, and also focus on those areas that need extra attention at this time like the core, pelvic floor, and tight chest and shoulders while weaving in uplifting and beneficial yoga philosophy that may help them during this transitional time in their lives.
Although each woman will experience a different pregnancy and a different postpartum practice, remember that teaching your student how to celebrate and honor their body may be one of the most useful tools that you give her. Allowing your student the space to rest, and explore her practice while incorporating safe and strength building postures may be just the balance she needs as she transitions into her life as a mom, and heals her body after birth. Tap into the nurturing and community aspect of yoga as she moves through this time, and when in doubt always have your postpartum yoga students follow the instruction of their physicians or midwives to ensure a safe recovery.