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Tools for Teaching Postnatal Yoga

Now that her baby is here, a new mother faces a host of physical and emotional challenges. Help her use yoga to pace herself in healing and finding rejuvenation.

By Brenda K. Plakans

Easing Back into Practice

Doctors and midwives recommend that a new mom wait for at least six weeks (eight weeks, if she's had a C-section) before hitting the yoga mat. Establish just how long it's been since she gave birth. She may have practiced regularly during pregnancy, but she doesn't have the same body she had then—or ever before. (Even if this pregnancy wasn't her first, her body and recovery needs won't necessarily be the same after each birth.)

The abdominals are the muscles most affected by pregnancy, and so they're an obvious set to focus on. Jane Austin, a prenatal yoga teacher for the Yoga Tree Studio in San Francisco, encourages students to reacquaint themselves with this area. "I cue engaging abdominal muscles a lot, because women just don't have the connection to their abs muscles, for good reason," Austin explains. "This will create stability so their backs are supported as they move through the postures. The lower back is really going to be the flag if they're working the abs the right way. If it hurts, they've gone past their capacity."

Austin recommends "belly backbends," such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) and Salambhasana (Locust Pose), to regain strength in the back and abdominals. Other poses that help bring awareness to the torso and engage the muscles include a variety of seated twists, such as Marichyasana I (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I), a twisting variation of Sukhasana (Easy Pose), Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Forward Bend), and standing poses such as Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) and Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose). Once a student feels comfortable with basic abdominal work, she can practice more intense poses, such as Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat Pose) or Plank Pose.

The shoulders and neck are another area that can be very sore in the postpartum period. Austin says, "If she's having any complications around feeding, she's going to find that every feed is a very stressful situation. When a woman is stressed, she tends to pull her shoulders up by her ears, and this creates a lot of pain in the neck and shoulders." Simply carrying a newborn around will strain the upper back, because the tendency is to hunch over the baby instead of standing up straight. Shoulder openers such as Viparita Namaskar (Reverse Prayer Pose), Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), and Garudasana (Eagle Pose) will help loosen the muscles in this area.

By the end of the first eight weeks of motherhood, the postpartum student should be ready to resume her regular practice, but remind her to listen to what her body is ready to do. Jumping, dropping back into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose), and intense vinyasa are still a bit ambitious until her abdominals are completely restored.

The Importance of Rest

This time is exciting, exhausting, thrilling, and scary. A new mother will be flooded with conflicting emotions while simultaneously trying to manage all the physical demands of parenthood. Taking time for complete relaxation at the end of class is a good way for her to recuperate and calm her mind. It may be the only time in the day she gets to focus on her own needs. Guided meditation, pPranayama, and supported poses such as Savasana (Corpse Pose), Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose), and Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) will all help her give her body and mind a rest.

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Reader Comments

Morgan Gregory

As for the above blog for postnatal, I too use sphinz instead of cobra in my teaching. The use of an epidural can have lasting effects on our bodies. This is not explained to women who receive this medical intervention suring labour. Back pain can last for the rest of their life. Yoga will help, but it is a long process.

Interference with breastfeeding, I would not think so, but the maman knows best what feels right for her and what does not. Breasts are more sensitive after birth and especially when breatfeeding. I found these poses to help with breastfeeding because they massaged my breasts and it helped with my production. But each body is different and it was wise for her to withdraw if that is how her body was reacting to yoga. When she is more comfortable with being a Mom (past 6 months) she could think about coming back.

Morgan Gregory


I have a lot of obesse clients in my beginner class of yoga but they have a lot of difficulty doing many of the moves because of thier size. Are there any books or references that I can use to help my students? Props would be a great help, but I teach at a community centre in a defaourized area of Quebec, Canada and such ressources are not availible. The clientel is very willing and open to yoga, so I really would like to help them.

As well, in regards to your site and class planning tool, it would be helpful to have a prenatal selection as well. Most poses are self explanatory and well known, but some that can be added and modified for pregnant women or even avoided because of pregnancy related problems (high blood pressure, diabetes etc) would be helpful.

Best regards,

Morgan Gregory


are postnatal yoga classes typically only the mother (meaning no baby)? and do they tend to last 75 minutes as prenatal classes do? thanks!

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