As a yoga teacher and mum I am fully aware of that urge to return to a ‘normal’ yoga class or ‘strong’ practice after having a baby. I don’t think I was quite aware of how big a break I would need for my body to recover but it has been essential that I waited before starting any strong yoga classes myself.
I personally made the decision to return to Hatha Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga at seven months post-partum but have been doing postnatal yoga with my baby since six weeks after having my little one.
But is this right for you?
Are you ready to return to yoga now or do you need more time?
Let me discuss some of the signs to look out for that will indicate whether you are ready to return to a ‘normal’ yoga class?
What is ‘normal’ yoga?
By ‘normal’ yoga I am referring to Hatha Yoga, Vinyassa Flow, Ashtanga, Hot Yoga or a Mixed Ability yoga class where you don’t bring your baby along. “Whaaaatttt - getting out of the house without baby?” I hear you say? Yes I say!
Whether you attended yoga classes before having baby or have only done postnatal, pregnancy or baby yoga, you may now have that urge to step it up into a normal yoga class. These classes are usually 60-90 minutes long and typically include a mixture of pranayama (breathing exercises), asana (postures) and meditation or guided relaxation (yoga nidra / savasana). These classes are stronger than a postnatal or pregnancy class as they do not have the specific focus of preparing the body for birth or repairing it afterwards.
Start with postnatal yoga classes
Let me state here that postnatal yoga would be my first recommendation for when you have just had a baby. Postnatal yoga is especially tailored for any woman over six weeks postpartum that has had the all-clear from their GP at the 6/8 week check. These classes usually allow you to bring baby as well (mine certainly do) which is handy when there are no babysitters in sight.
Classes include general stretches, breathwork and movements to help the body heal and recover. They help the body to rebuild strength in the pelvic floor, allow any problem with diastasis recti (separation of the muscles in the stomach) to recover. They also help ease any general aches and pains that happen after giving birth and/or associated with feeding and carrying a new baby. Very often songs and baby yoga movements are included too.
Are you physically ready?
I’ve been doing gentle pregnancy yoga and postnatal yoga for over a year now and reached the point where chasing my little one around the room when I try to practice yoga is became a little distracting for both me and other mums in the class (and I’m the teacher!) Plus I am physically ready for more! So what do I mean physically ready?
It means that I have given my pelvic floor time to recover and strengthen (no leaks!) and it is now much more strong and secure. It means I have a lot more strength in arm and leg muscles and my ability to hold poses for longer is greatly increased. I have better cardiovascular capability as the body closes down and lungs function more like before pregnancy - certainly helped by the amount of walking I do!
However, very importantly I have no problems with diastasic recti - my 2cm gap between the central tummy muscles has closed and I can use my stomach muscles for carrying out various postures without strain or risk of damage. For example I can sit up from lying with no trouble and hold a plank for a number of seconds. (NOTE: Please DO NOT use this as a way to test your core strength if you are not sure - please go along to a postnatal yoga class, your GP or physiotherapist).
All in all, I now find the physical elements of postnatal yoga a little too gentle - I want more! Now seven months might be the right time for me but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Please please please listen to your own body as to whether you feel ready to step up a level - or speak to your postnatal yoga teacher or regular yoga teacher for advice.
Are you emotionally ready?
This is a big one. Are you really prepared and ready to leave your little one behind to attend a yoga class just for you? For some mums, they can’t wait to get an hour back to themselves to recharge the batteries but for others it takes a while to feel comfortable leaving baby for an hour or more to spend time on their yoga practice. It is perfectly normal to simply not want to be away from them for that long - that attachment between mum and baby is so strong that for every mummy there will be a period of time where they just can’t be away from baby. This hugely varies from mum to mum and could be weeks or months, so please don’t judge yourself on how and when you are emotionally ready for a small amount of separation.
This also extends to whether you feel comfortable putting on a pair of leggings yet! Or being in a room with other people doing yoga… These are all things that are common for new mums to worry about, so take your time and don’t pressure yourself to joining a class if you are not ready (lycra is always optional by the way - baggy clothes are fine if you feel happy in them!)
Will baby let you out of the house?
When baby is a tiny newborn, when you are exclusively breastfeeding every hour or so or when you as mummy are still the only one that can settle baby to sleep, it is almost impossible to spend an hour away from your baby. Put simply - they still need you to look after them and the time isn’t yet right for you to leave for a yoga class on your own. Again, no panic, baby is only little once and at some point they will be happily left with daddy, another family member or friend (and have a super-duper-fun time!) so that you can have a little well earned me-time.
Poses to avoid?
Now even if you do come along to a regular yoga class, please bear in mind that there may still be some poses to avoid when you first start back. These include anything that puts too much direct strain on the core muscles: poses like plank, boat pose, chataranga, headstand and anything that you jump in and out of that uses your core strength in a big burst. I would also avoid holding a pose to failure or stretching to your full capacity as you may still have the hormone relaxin in your body and so you could put too much strain on your ligaments and joints. Also be wary of any pregnancy / postnatal aches and pains that may have crept in. For example, I developed sciatica during pregnancy and so need to bear that in mind when returning to strong asanas that deep twists and full forward folds may not be right for me for a while.
Remember, your body is a little weaker and less stable than before baby (and has been for at least a year) so you need time to adjust the body to stronger poses and stretches. Speak to your yoga teacher prior to starting a class so that they are aware and can offer you some alternatives to poses where necessary.
My big tip is to really listen to your body and try every pose in the class gently at first (i.e. a shorter stance or for a slightly shorter hold) to allow the body to adjust back into it. There is really no rush to achieve a pose that you could do before. You are exploring a body that has changed and gone through an amazing process - explore what it can do and treat it with love, not judgement.
What to do before you are ready….
If after reading this article the thought of attending a normal yoga class fills you with dread or you really don’t feel ready physically or emotionally, don’t worry, the time is not quite right for you yet. Continue with your postnatal yoga, bring baby along with you and only when you feel ready make the decision to attend a regular yoga class.
What will happen if you attend a class too early is that instead of enjoying your class, you will spend the session thinking about your baby, worrying about your body, maybe even hurting yourself or even checking your phone to see whether everything is ok. You will completely miss the point of the class in having some time for yourself - you may instead take backwards steps physically and emotionally. In my experience of teaching postnatal first time mummies, it usually takes at least six months before mums can consider coming along to a normal class. Second time mums usually make it back a little quicker as they have been there before. But this are GENERAL guidelines and certainly not the standard.
Only come along to a normal yoga class when you are ready and in the meantime please enjoy your baby yoga, postnatal yoga and just spending time with the new little boss of your life!
Need More Information?
If you are local to me in Woking and would like to discuss anything contained in this article or explore whether you are ready to join a Hatha Yoga class please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.