As both a certified yoga teacher and mother, I’ve seen and felt the benefits of yoga for mothers. It is truly incredible how great a yoga practice can be—for everything from physical to mental to spiritual health. Mothers who have taken my postpartum yoga classes have shared with me firsthand how they feel both energized and relaxed after class. One mom shared how a class she took in the morning gave her a deep peace to draw strength from in the middle of the night when her baby was up for what seemed like the millionth time.
The Benefits of Postpartum Yoga
Childbirth is a transformative process that changes a mother’s body and affects her emotions. Once a medical professional clears you for exercise in the weeks following your baby’s delivery, postpartum yoga can be a great way to gently but powerfully regain your physical strength and improve your mood. Specifically, yoga helps strengthen and tone muscles, improve balance, and reduces anxiety while increasing the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins.
A Few Tips Before You Roll Out Your Mat
The postpartum period, or period of recovery that takes place after a mother gives birth, is an important time for mothers to take care of themselves. Typically, if you’re less than 6 weeks postpartum, you don’t want to put any pressure on your core muscles. Also, your body’s levels of relaxin, the hormone that loosens joints to prepare for childbirth, is elevated for 3-6 months after childbirth, and longer if you are breastfeeding. All this means is: take these postpartum yoga poses slowly and stretch yourself gently—no gymnastics here or pushing beyond what is comfortable.
Remember, every mama’s body is different, so listen to how you feel and seek advice from a medical professional if you have questions about how and when to begin your personal exercise plan. Note: Try to do the following yoga poses in the order they are listed.
7 Yoga Poses for Postpartum Strengthening
This is a gentle recovery pose and a nice one to start your yoga session off with. For new moms, once you sit on your shins and touch your feet together, I typically recommend that instead of pointing your knees outward to create a traditional V-shape, keep your knees touching or closer together. Your hips have just worked a lot to open and deliver your baby, so there’s no need to stretch them much right now.
Inhale and reach your arms skyward. Exhale, folding forward over your legs, gently resting your forehead on a block, pillow, or mat. Walk your fingertips away from your head towards the top of your mat until you feel a gentle pull in your shoulders and arm muscles. Then, press your palms into your mat. You will feel a stretch running down the length of your back, shoulders, and arms.
Take a few breathes here naturally. They may be small, short breaths, and that’s okay. If you can stay for eight breaths, you will likely notice that you are breathing more deeply at the end. This is a good place to set an intention for your practice today. An intention can be a mantra, a single word, or a concept you’d like to focus on while you do your yoga poses or a prayer. To get out of this pose, gently walk your hands back towards your shoulders and press yourself up to a seated position on your shins.
From your seated position, transition onto all fours. Check to see that your shoulders stack evenly over your wrists and your hips stack evenly over your knees. Take a breath here and draw your belly button in towards your spine. This gently activates your core muscles and brings attention to the center of the body, which will do most of the movement in this pose.
Next, draw a nice, slow inhale into your body while sticking your tailbone out and dropping your belly towards the mat. At the same time, look forward or upward. This is your “cow” pose.
Follow with an exhale as you naturally curve your whole body in the opposite direction, arching your back and pressing your spine up, while dropping the top of your head down towards the mat. This is the “cat” pose.
Do eight or more of these alternating motions. You can incorporate Kegel exercises into this pose: squeeze your kegel muscles (the same muscles you use to stop the flow of urine) tightly while you arch your back upwards for “cat” and release the squeeze when you move into “cow.”
Move from your hands and knees to a standing position. Stand with your feet hips-width distance apart (about 6-8 inches) and point your toes forward. Relax your hands by your sides. Draw your navel in, gently activating your core.
Relax your shoulders while drawing your head and neck up towards the sky. Stand as tall as you can, and shine your chest and palms of your hands forward (arms are still at your side). Feel a lifting of your heart and spirit, while remaining grounded through your feet. Take eight breaths here at your own pace. Use this pose to begin connecting with your personal power, slowly, gently and confidently.
Five-Pointed Star Pose
Begin to draw your arms upwards and bring your feet farther apart, and toes still pointed forward. Activate your core by tightening it and squeezing your pelvic muscles. You can add in a couple of Kegels here if you’d like.
Imagine your body is a star with five points: your hands reaching skyward, the top of your head reaching skyward, and your feet flat on the ground. This is another chance to practice a gentle strengthening of your core, leg, arm, and back muscles. Try wiggling your fingers as you reach them upward, and do eight breaths here.
Use this pose to think about your assets and reasons why “you are a star.” You are beautiful in your own unique way, and this is a moment to pause and meditate on the attributes that make you a wonderful person and mother.
Goddess pose is a natural next pose. Turn your toes outward, keeping your feet flat and grounded and squeezing your pelvic muscles. Inhale.
On your exhale, bring your arms that were reaching skyward down into two ninety-degree angles. Simply bend your elbows into what is also called “goal post arms.” See if you can bend your knees a bit lower while keeping your pelvic and core muscles active and squeezing.
If you feel up to it, begin to pulse gently here, bending and coming up a few inches, then bending your knees again. You will feel a gentle burn in your quads and glutes. Remember to keep your tailbone tucked under, and your navel pulled in towards your spine. This is important because it both strengthens the core gently, and takes the pressure off of your low back.
Knees to Heart Pose
Slowly step your feet together and release your arms by your sides. Shake your arms, hands, and feet out. Then, transition into a resting position on your back.
Stretch your arms overhead and your legs down your mat for a full-body stretch.
Inhale a nice, deep breath, and on your exhale, draw your knees to your chest for a big, welcoming hug. Wrapping your arms or hands around your knees and shins, slowly rock side to side, or make small circles on your low back. This should feel divine, like a massage for your hips and low back. Roll around here for at least eight breaths. If, for any reason, this doesn’t feel good, simply go back into a full-body stretch and take a few breaths there.
This is your final pose in this 7-part series of postpartum yoga poses. Gently make your way onto your back and let your legs lie flat. Place your hands by your sides, or one hand on your heart and one on your belly. If you’d like, place a pillow or towel under your head and neck. You can also place a pillow under your knees to take the pressure off of your low back. If you’d like to feel extra cozy, place a light blanket over your body.
Take a gentle breath and allow your eyes to close. Try to take eight breaths with awareness, noticing how your body, mind, and spirit feel right now. Then, allow yourself to drift and rest in this meditative position.
Regular yoga practice and meditation can not only aid strengthening your postpartum body, but also in getting better sleep, which every new mom needs! Namaste, mamas.