You’ve delivered your beautiful new baby and your doctor gave you the OK to start working out again. You want to get back to the mat, but might not be sure what type of yoga to practice. There are a few things to keep in mind before you dive in.
Your levels of relaxin, the hormone that made your joints looser to allow for the widening of your hips and birth canal, will still be elevated postpartum. They’ll stay elevated for an estimated three to six months, and longer with breast-feeding. This means all your joints are looser and less stable.
Take it slowly, and be sure you are keeping the mantra “strength and stability” in your head as you practice. You want to slowly increase your energy, strength, and endurance. This restorative, energizing routine will help you.
Note: If you’re less than six weeks postpartum (or longer, depending on how you delivered), you don’t want to put any pressure in your core. Be sure you don’t add core work into this routine until you’ve discussed it with your doctor.
Equipment needed: For all these poses, you will want a yoga mat.
This pose is great for gently stretching the hips, pelvis, thighs, and spine. You’ll want to begin with a few of these to warm up. It’s also a recovery pose. Keep in mind that gentle hip stretching is all you want at this stage, as you recently gave birth and you want to give that area time to heal.
Muscles worked: gluteus maximus, rotator muscles, hamstrings, spinal extensors
- Begin on all fours on the mat. Keep your knees directly under your hips with your big toes touching behind you.
- Inhale and feel your spine grow longer.
- As you exhale, move your butt back onto your heels, and then tuck your chin to your chest and rest your forehead to the floor.
- Rest here, keeping your forehead on the ground. Keep your arms outstretched in front of you or put them down by your sides, palms up, hands resting near your feet.
- Hold this for 5 deep, even breaths.
Rabbit lengthens the spine as well as increases mobility and elasticity of the back, neck, and arm muscles, and strengthens the abdomen, which is important to do gently postpartum. It also feeds fresh blood, and therefore oxygen, to the nervous and endocrine systems.
Muscles worked: scapula, abdominal muscles, diaphragm, and spinal extensors
- From Child’s Pose, press your torso up, so you are sitting on your heels. You can keep your feet flat (toes not tucked) or tuck your toes, whichever feels right, and you want to grab your heels so your thumbs are on top and your fingers pointing inside, toward each other. Take a deep inhale.
- As you exhale, engage your stomach muscles, drop your chin toward your chest, and round down, placing the crown of your head on the ground near your knees—your forehead will probably be touching your knees here.
- Breathing normally, raise your hips as high as possible, moving your thighs to a more vertical position, being careful not to overstretch. This means you will roll just a touch more onto your head and there will be pressure on your head and neck—however, that should only be as much pressure as you could put on it if you were sitting up and pressing on your own head with your hand.
- Stay in this pose for 3 to 5 normal breaths. Keep in mind that this pose can feel uncomfortable because it engages throat lock, and it is resetting your nervous and endocrine systems, so can cause a touch of nausea. These are common and normal reactions, so only stay for a breath or two until you become more comfortable in the pose.
- To release the pose, gently lower your buttocks back to your heels, release your grip on your heels, and rise on an inhalation.
Cobra pose strengthens your lower back and spine, firms your glutes, can soothe sciatica, and helps relieve stress and fatigue—which is probably a great benefit for most of us, but even better for postpartum mothers.
Muscles worked: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, deltoids, triceps, serratus anterior
- From sitting on your heels, simply walk your hands out and lengthen your body until you are facedown on the floor, resting your face to the side, on one cheek.
- Press your hands fully into the floor beneath your shoulders, or lower towards your ribs, and hug your elbows in, keeping them close to the sides of your body. Press the tops of your thighs, feet, and pelvis firmly into the floor.
- As you inhale, begin to straighten your arms by pressing your hands into the floor. Be sure you only go as far as you can with your pelvis and legs pressing into the floor.
- Stay here, for 3 to five 5 breaths as you engage your glutes and keep your shoulder blades down on your back (this may involve a small shoulder roll to move them down your back). Bring your awareness to your head and neck and be sure your gaze is forward or slightly up without jutting your chin out. Your spine should be in a continuous curve all the way through your cervical spine.
- On an exhale, gently release your belly, then ribs, then head back to the ground. Rest your face on the opposite cheek as earlier. Take a few deep breaths here, before repeating the pose for another three to five breaths.
- After your second round of Cobra, press into your hands and press your buttocks back to your heels, to rest again briefly in Child’s pose.
This pose strengthens your lower back, arms, and legs, increases spine mobility, and energizes the body. It also can help relieve stress and mild depression.
Muscles worked: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, deltoids, triceps, quadriceps
- From Child’s Pose, press up onto on all fours. Keep your feet flat (toes not tucked), shoulders directly over your wrists, and hips directly over your knees.
- Walk your hands out a few inches in front of your shoulders and curl your toes under.
- As you inhale, press into your hands and straighten your legs.
- Broaden your upper back, keeping your arms straight and in their sockets.
- Pull the front of your rib cage in towards your thigh as you press down into all 10 fingers and extend your heels toward the floor. Pedal your feet out if your legs feel tight.
- Take 5 deep and even breaths.
Standing forward fold/bend is often thought of as a standing pose. And it is. But it’s also an inversion. Anything where your heart is above your head is an inversion, which means it has all the benefits of an inversion, which include:
- improving circulation
- decreases mood swings
- helps you sleep better
- eases stress
Muscles worked: piriformis, hamstrings, spinal muscles
- From Downward-Facing Dog, inhale, gently bend your knees, and step your feet forward to your hands.
- Essentially, you are in the pose now, but it will help with alignment if you inhale and raise your torso from your hip joints, lifting your arms out to the side in a reverse swan dive.
- After your hands meet above your head as you stand up straight, release your inhale and your hands down to your sides.
- As you inhale, lift your arms up and out again, meeting above your head; then exhale and release your arms out to your side in a regular swan dive as you bend at your hip joints. Keep the front or your torso lengthening as you fold forward. You don’t want to jut your chest out, but you don’t want to round forward, like we do in Rabbit pose.
- If possible, bring your fingertips to the floor near your feet or even bring your palms to the backs of your calves. If you have tight hamstrings, keep a bend in your knees, as slight or as deep as you need to makes this feel good and not painful. Also, if your hands don’t touch the ground, you can use yoga blocks to rest them on, or you can rest them on your shins.
- As you inhale, straighten and lengthen your spine. As you exhale, release a bit more into the bend. Do this for 3 to 5 breaths. When you are done with this pose, place your hands on the ground near your feet, and step back into Downward-Facing Dog again.
This is considered a “power pose,” meaning it can actually change your hormones, resulting in higher confidence levels. It also increases endurance, which can be wonderful when your body is recovering from giving birth. Plus, most women just feel good in this pose.
Muscles worked: gluteus medius, quadriceps, ligaments of your hip joints, pecs
- From Downward-Facing Dog, inhale and lift your right leg in the air. As you exhale, bend your right knee as you pull it toward your chest. Place your right foot between your hands. For a little extra support, you can grab your foot/ankle with your right hand and help move it forward a bit more.
- Before you stand, adjust your left foot so your foundation will be strong. You want your left foot to be parallel to the back edge of your mat and your right foot to be perpendicular to the front edge.
- Moving while you inhale, cartwheel your arms around as you stand. Your arms will be in a “T.” Your shoulders and hips will be facing the side of your mat, your back leg straight, and your right knee at a 90-degree angle.
- As you exhale, settle into the pose and turn your head so you can gaze out over your right hand.
- Hold this for at least 5 breaths. When you’re ready, cartwheel your hands down as you exhale and step your foot back to Downward-Facing Dog.
- Repeat on the other side.
Plank Pose is one of the best exercises for firing on your abs. Unlike crunches, it doesn’t put direct pressure on your belly, but it still works on strengthening abdominals, back muscles, and arms. This pose also burns calories.
Muscles worked: erector spinae, rectus abdominus, traverse abdominus, rhomboids, trapezius, pectorals
- From Downward-Facing Dog, exhale and shift your weight forward a bit more into your arms. Bring your hips down so your body is straight — in other words, don’t drop your hips or have your booty sticking up in the air.
- Press all 10 fingers into the ground as you slowly inhale and exhale here.
- If you need a little support, drop your knees, as though you were at the top of a modified pushup.
- Hold this for 30 seconds and then press back into Downward-Facing Dog to rest.
- When ready, move back into Plank and hold for another 30 seconds. If you’re feeling a little weak, try four 15-second holds. If you’re feeling strong, try a one minute-long hold.
Legs up the wall is a great ending pose for a yoga sequence. It’s restorative and a wonderful, passive inversion. Even passive inversions build core strength, energize you, improve balance, and give your heart a break.
Muscles worked: This restorative pose gently stretches the back of your legs (hamstrings) and neck, as well as the front of the torso.
- Move your mat to an area with open wall space and sit parallel to the wall.
- Lie back with your feet on the ground, knees bent.
- Using your lower back/upper tailbone as the fulcrum point, gently swing your torso so it’s perpendicular to the wall, and extend your legs up it. You can place a cushion or folded blanket under your lower back if it feels better here.
- Rest your arms next to you, palms up.
Yoga is known to have a number of benefits, whether you’re postpartum or not, such as boosting your immune system and improving your posture and your balance. But there are specific benefits that can improve common postpartum issues. For instance, sleep deprivation is a common issue for postpartum moms. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression, adversely affect the quality of your breast milk, and, of course, decrease your memory and ability to focus. Studies indicate that a regular yoga practice can improve sleep—but beyond that, it increases serotonin, decreasing your chances of suffering from postpartum depression, and improves memory and focus. Child’s pose and Legs Up the Wall are both great for sleep issues.
Balancing hormone levels
Postpartum is also a time when your hormones fluctuate. For example, there are high levels of your progesterone in your body during pregnancy, to help prevent lactation. As soon as you give birth, there is a sudden drop in progesterone levels, so you can start to breast feed your baby. This happens for varying reasons with a number of hormones that are either high during pregnancy and suddenly low postpartum or vice versa.
Certain yoga poses and yogic breathing exercises improve your brain and hypothalamus function, as well as pituitary and pineal gland function, all of which regulate hormones—not to mention certain poses can boost your libido as well, which is another common complaint of postpartum moms. Cobra, Rabbit, and Standing Forward Bend are great for balancing hormones.
Stress is something we all experience these days. In fact, an NPR poll found that half of all adults say they’ve experienced a major stressful event in the past year. Giving birth and caring for a new baby definitely counts, and postpartum moms are dealing with some new stress. Luckily, yoga is widely accepted to help reduce stress levels—it is also known to lower your blood pressure.
Giving birth is a life-changing and profound experience. It’s also a body changing experience, so it’s important to be gentle and patient with yourself as you build up stamina and strength. You can cultivate more energy and endurance by mixing some restorative poses with some gentle and indirect core strengthening and stamina building movements.
Check with your doctor about when you can safely start a routine like the one above postpartum. Start out slowly, so you don’t overstretch due to the relaxin still in your body, or simply overtax your body.
You asked, we answered
- Should you practice the same yoga routine during pregnancy and postpartum?
Keep in mind that your postpartum routine is in many ways the exact opposite of what your prenatal routine was. Prenatal yoga is all about opening up the hips and pelvis, in preparation for giving birth. After giving birth, you want to keep those things pulled in, so they can repair and strengthen. It’s important to change your yoga routine to keep all that in mind if you had a prenatal practice.- Gretchen Stelter