I still remember the first sun salutation after the birth of my daughter like it was yesterday. I had the biggest smile on my face and tears in my eyes, it felt that amazing. My body remembered everything and hooray, I was able to fold forward with my feet together after such long time.
I had been practicing the primary series throughout my pregnancy till the day of delivery. Even the day Ava was born, I was doing sun salutations, upavishta konasana and baddha konasana, breathing through the pain as the contractions grew stronger. And yes, giving birth was THE biggest yoga so far in my life, but I’ll tell you about it another time.
After giving birth my body looked the same, and I mean no joke, exactly the same as before pregnancy. I was so surprised to see my belly so flat again after it being stretched into such a balloon for good 37 weeks. I was only one kilo heavier than pre pregnancy. But even if I looked the same obviously everything inside was a lot different.
I knew I had to allow the body to heal internally before resuming to my practice. I wanted to respect the inner healing process and read a lot of interviews, books and articles about the postpartum recovery and yoga practice. I needed to wait until my stitches were healed, the bleeding (lochia) was over and the uterus had shrunk back into “normal”, to name a few.
There is this one book in particular which gave me a lot of guidance right after birth (and during pregnancy too) called Yoga Sadhana For Mothers.
Postpartum is usually marked as the six weeks immediately after giving birth – in tandem with the time it takes for the body parts to physically heal and for the reproductive organs to return back to their normal non-pregnant condition. The truth is that mothers actually take much longer to heal from birth and to reintegrate their whole being back into the rhythm of life around them.
Yoga Sadhana For Mothers, by Sharmila Desai & Anna Wise
I rolled out my mat three weeks after my daughter’s birth. Yes, I know it is not what the Jois family recommends, Saraswati even told me personally to wait minimum one and half months before resuming to practice. Starting yoga again this early was a personal choice and I do believe that as every pregnancy, birth and woman is different so is the practice for them too. For me it felt like my body was asking for movement that day, signalling me it was time to breathe and move again. So I trusted my intuition and began with gentle sun salutations and the final three for a few days. I felt good so I continued, slowly adding postures and in just 4 weeks I was already doing half primary.
Kurmasana about 8 weeks postpartum
Vivian helping me with drop backs, 10 weeks postpartum.
Beginning to build the practice again felt wonderful for me. Just getting on my mat no matter the time or the amount of practice I would get, it still gave me that one moment with myself, with my breath, connecting with that “home” within in the middle of daily life as a new mom.
The first few weeks were slow and gentle. I was not jumping through and the twists felt quite tough for awhile. The lift in utpluthih made me laugh since it seemed so impossible, my navasana was wobbly and the bandhas were almost non existent. I had maintained flexibility (pregnancy and breastfeeding tend to make you flexible) but lost stamina and strength in some areas.
The thing about practice through pregnancy is that the change is gradual. You begin to modify the asanas as your belly grows and body changes, there is time to adjust to new and the chance to get used to things with more time. But when you give birth, your body, mind and life together with your practice changes suddenly in one big boom.
So for me too the moment when Ava came out and I saw her, that crazy incredible moment, was an instant and dramatic change. It was much like the experience of yoga, very hard to describe with words. Suddenly my baby was out and I was no longer pregnant. I was in between shock and euphoria, we had this beautiful little Universe to cuddle and love; with many new magical and scary things waiting for us to experience.
Ava Aurelia 3 and half months old.
If giving birth is incredibly transformative, both spiritually and physically, then the postpartum life is even more radical. Looking back at the days when Ava was a newborn and when I had just become a mother, I think I began shedding one identity away, clearing out space for a new one. And because this happened with such a rush in the middle of sleepless nights and new things to learn as a fresh mom, the first few months were very challenging and confusing.
Celebrating Vivian’s first birthday as a dad.
Practice, no matter how long it is these days, gives me so much energy, not to mention the chance to reconnect with my self, to come back to that place of peace and silence. The daily asanas keep me strong and healthy for all the work at home and for lifting and carrying our little Ava around (well not so little any more, she is already good 7.3 kilos!).
“Once you do return to practicing, yoga has many benefits that can aid postpartum recovery and healing. For example, breathing with sound will provide good blood circulation and positively affect the whole nervous system, helping you recover your health. Breathing with sound also allows the diaphragm and lungs to expand, which increases your oxygen intake, giving better quality milk for breastfeeding.
Practicing asanas will strengthen the spine, tone the nervous system, and build up the muscles of the abdomen, waist and buttocks, all of which will have changed in order to accommodate the growing baby. A gradual return of the practice will build up the muscles around the organs, so that the organs regain their full health and function.”
Yoga Sadhana For Mothers by Sharmila Desai & Anna Wise
Now that Ava is 7 months I’m already back to my full primary series with glimpses of intermediate, right where I was before pregnancy. However, now there is a new kind of depth in my practice. I feel like my pregnancy ignited this subtle but powerful shift inside letting me to connect with this sacred space within, a space that holds my passion and intuition, my story and my connection with this amazing Universe. I feel like there is a beautiful journey that has begun and I’m really letting myself enjoy every step, one breath at a time.
Learning a new natural balance within my body and in this new chapter of life has transformed the way I look at my practice compared to the asana hunting (yes, I used to be very goal oriented and wanted all of them at once) I used to do. Now I practice to feel energised, to calm the storms, to reconnect with myself, to allow my self to grow as a person and as a mother so I can give more for my family.
Playing around with sirsasana, 5 months postpartum.
Of course there has been and will be times and days with clumsy and tough practice, it’s a given. I have been breastfeeding and still continue to do so exclusively and during the first months I often had a bad hunching position while holding Ava with both arms on my lap and on top of that tilting my head while looking at her eat. This resulted in sore wrists so that chaturanga, arm balances and jump backs were painful for a while. Keeping the practice going and learning new positions to feed Ava eventually worked for this. I also added some shoulder opening asanas and stretches alongside my regular practice to help with the occasional strain in my shoulders. Pampering the body with a hot bath, warm castor oil massage and an afternoon nap have been working wonders too!
I’m a very lucky ashtangi mama since my husband has enough time at home and he makes it possible for me to have time for my practice if I cannot do it while Ava is sleeping. Now that she is around 7 months old she is practicing her crawling and climbing skills and I just love having her there with me on the mat while she is observing and giggling, doing her thing while I’m doing mine. And she is just the cutest drishti ever 😉
Bakasana with Ava, 5 months postpartum.
Ava’s birth, practicing ashtanga throughout my pregnancy and now through my postpartum journey have taught me so much about the nature of my own body and how practice can nurture it rather than work against it. Every day I feel like there is so much more to discover, so much more I can give.
Every day I roll out my mat, enjoying the journey of being a woman and of being a mother.