Balancing the Brain: Easing Stress and Postpartum Depression through Yoga
I slip into the sunlit studio just in time, out of breath and frazzled from this morning's challenges: the breakfast that my daughter threw all over the dog, the futile attempt to do the dishes while she wanted my attention, and the last-minute emergency clothing change that almost made me late for my Mommy and Me yoga class. I relax into Sukhasana (Easy Pose), close my eyes, and begin to center myself, breathing and chanting the Adi mantra that precedes our Kundalini class: "Ong namo guru dev namo," "I bow to the creative wisdom within myself."
Not only does this class give me permission to relax from the challenges of motherhood, it also provides me with an important social network of other new mothers. But it turns out that there's a bigger reason why I feel so rejuvenated after a session of Kundalini yoga, and it has to do with its powerful effect on brain chemistry.
Gurmukh Khalsa, a teacher at Golden Bridge Yoga in Los Angeles, describes Kundalini as "the science of the breath." According to Khalsa, it is breathing, along with the repetition of sounds and visualization, that helps balance our hormones, purging the negative chemicals that can cause some women to experience postpartum depression. After giving birth, a woman's body makes a complicated physiological switch from pregnancy to nursing, and yoga can help a woman keep a healthy relationship with her body. Aside from eating well and sleeping when the baby sleeps, yoga is one of the best ways a new mommy can stay healthy and happy, Khalsa says.
Breaking the Cycle of Depression
Susan Ricker, another Kundalini teacher, first used hypnotherapy and breathing to help her Lamaze students relax, but she really began to understand the power of these practices when she became a psychotherapist. "Many women believe that motherhood should be the happiest time of their lives, but privately they are exhausted and miserable after giving birth. Because they are ashamed of their feelings, they don't give themselves permission to deal with the fears they have. Through fear, we get stuck in a cycle of negative reinforcement, but the visualization, meditation, and breathing of Kundalini yoga create a powerful biofeedback mechanism that can physically alter our body chemistry. By regulating our breathing pattern, we can balance the brain, linking the rational, left hemisphere with the more sensory right hemisphere." According to Susan, within a minute and a half we can wire the brain to respond as though we're on vacation.