Safe Return to Yoga Postpartum
Many women think about modifying their yoga practice during pregnancy but it is not typically as much of a consideration postpartum. Yoga seems like a gentle return back to movement and exercise after having a baby and it definitely can be but there are many factors to consider in order to reduce the stress on core and pelvic floor while improving function.
There is still quite a bit of laxity in the ligaments in the first few months postpartum and while you are breastfeeding, so looking for a practice with a focus on creating stability, strength and listening to your body is so important!
Sara Villamil is a mama of two boys and is an amazing Pre/Postnatal Yoga Instructor and teacher trainer here in Calgary. She is passionate about helping women feel powerful and strong during pregnancy and into motherhood. Sara’s practice really focuses on creating stability, strength and restoring core function safely, so she’s going to talk about what to look for and what to consider for your yoga practice as a new mama!
Sara, what would you say the main consideration is as women start to practice yoga after a having a baby?
It is really important for a new mom to consider how she is feeling physically and emotionally and their purpose when entering/re-entering into their yoga practice. Perhaps it is to decompress, reconnect to their mind & body, stretch, strengthen, breathe, a combination of any of these or for other reasons all together.
Prior to starting one’s practice I would recommend speaking to a health provider to be cleared for exercise and, if possible, check in with a Postnatal Chiropractor and a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. The information these practitioners can provide a postpartum mom are useful tools in guiding a yoga practice in a safe, healing and effective way. Once armed with this information, I’d recommend next finding and talking to a yoga instructor who is confident/comfortable in modifying for issues relating to postpartum. These include, but are not limited to, Pelvic Organ Prolapse, Diastasis Recti, Pelvic Girdle Pain, SI Joint Pain, Pelvic Floor Pressure and General Back & Hip Pain. It is also important to consider what type of birthing delivery they experienced. Certain modifications and considerations may come into play if they had an instrument assisted birth, Caesarean birth or experienced any tearing. All in all it’s important to find a team of practitioners to help guide tailored, healing movement and exercise, for both mind and body. If access, time and affordability is an issue, contact one or two practitioners you trust to guide you in the right direction online. There is a growing number of amazing resources for postpartum at your fingertips!
Are there specific modifications for those with Diastasis Recti or Pelvic Floor dysfunction?
Yes, absolutely. When dealing with these issues, alignment (generally speaking ribs over hips) and breath (that coordinates movement of the diaphragm & pelvic floor) is paramount. Once alignment and breath are established we can start to add yoga postures that allow the integrity of core function to remain. In other words, postures that allow for a ribs over hips alignment, limit front rib flaring and tailbone tucking, expansion of the side ribs on the inhale, a letting go of tension in the abdomen and possibly sensation of movement in the pelvic floor. I don’t usually like to paint with a broad brush, but with the core dysfunction listed above, I would omit postures such as; Boat Pose, Plank, Chaturanga Dandasana, Deep Back Bends (that overstretch the front belly) and most Inversions. I think it’s important to note that a woman with Diastasis Recti & Pelvic Floor Dysfunction can still enjoy a graceful, strong, healing and enjoyable yoga practice - I did! With a little retraining and a little letting go of my old yogi self, I embraced a safe and ever changing yoga practice.
Many yoga practices have some form flow that involves a series of downward dog - to plank - to upward facing dog motions, what (if any)modifications do you recommend starting with whether you are a new mama or someone who experiencing any pelvic floor dysfunction?
This vinyasa sequence could create a lot of pelvic floor/core pressure. I have women move in a way that supports their perinatal stage and considers any core issues they are dealing with. Vinyasa means to link movement in a certain/special way to the rhythm of the breath. Therefore, any movement that is mindfully linked to the inhale and exhale is considered vinyasa. I teach postpartum Mamas very similarly to how I teach pregnant Mamas. I also teach any student with pelvic floor dysfunction with the same considerations. In pregnancy, postpartum and in working with PFD, I omit Plank, Chaturanga Dandasana (tricep push-up) and Upward Facing Dog because of the intra-abdominal pressure these postures can create. So, for students returning to a flow style, vinyasa class, I may encourage movement like cat/cow, hip circles on all fours, lying on the belly for prone backbends like Little Cobra and child’s pose. I have them move with awareness and coordination of the breath & movement, which gives that same relaxation/meditative response.
What do recommend in regards to breathing safely and restoring pelvic floor function?
In healing from my own postpartum issues, I quickly learned my breathing pattern was completely dysfunctional. I was breathing into my chest and drawing both my pelvic floor and belly in and up on the inhale. On the exhale, I was bearing down, but still trying to hold in my belly! I am not exactly sure how, when or where I started doing this and realize it likely developed over my lifetime so far. Regardless, I knew I had some work to do! After about six months of consciously reversing these habits I can happily say it is hard for me to revert back to my old ways.
So, why is my personal story relevant here? The reason is, these breath patterns are so common! It would appear that in order to heal and restore pelvic floor function, the rhythm of the breath, and the movement coordination of the pelvic floor and thoracic diaphragm are of upmost importance. In a ribs stacked over hips position, I teach a three dimensional expansion of the rib cage on the inhale. On this inhale, I ask if there is a sensation of the pelvic floor moving down/expanding. On the exhale, I draw awareness to the pelvic floor moving up. This is just an observation of movement in the pelvic floor, not an actual lifting or kegal action. Breathing this way can then be used as a benchmark in the physical practice. Can you breathe into the back ribs in Downward Dog? Can you feel movement in your pelvic floor in Chair Pose? By checking in, we can feel secure and assume that our practice is supporting the restoration of the Pelvic Floor and over all core function.
Thank you so much Sara for this essential information for mamas! I love the take home message of ensuring both alignment (ribs over hips) and side rib breathing through each pose in order to know if each posture is right for your body at that time! So good! If you would like to work with Sara you can find her at : http://www.yogawithsara.ca/