Balancing the Brain: Easing Stress and Postpartum Depression through Yoga
Kundalini yoga and meditation help to balance the hormones, purging negative chemicals that can cause some women to experience postpartum depression.
Anatomy of Chemistry Change
How does all of this work? In our brain, the hypothalamus takes in information from our cells and our senses, and it generates chemical messengers. According to Candace Pert, author of The Molecules of Emotion, our cells have receptors to recognize these messengers, which are sent in the form of hormones and peptides. Our bodies respond with changes in physiology, mood and emotion, and energy level. The flow of information via messengers is not unidirectional but reverberates as self-regulating loops of information and energy.
As exhausted, stressed-out new mothers, we tax our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "fight or flight" mechanism and the release of stress hormones. By slowing and regulating our breathing, we can change the balance of hormonal messengers in our system, switching the emphasis to the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for relaxation and digestion. Changing the patterns and rhythms of our sound and breath through yoga can also manipulate the messages that affect the immune system, which helps keep us free from the ravages of stress. With so many positive elements, it's easy to see how Kundalini practice can be a powerful tool for new mothers.
Here are three simple Kundalini exercises that you can do to help fight stress and postpartum depression. Before doing these exercises, tune in to your own inner teacher by chanting the Adi Mantra, "Ong Na-mo, Guru Dev Na-mo." As you move through the exercises, breathe through the nose, keep your eyes closed and underneath your eyelids, roll your eyes up to your third eye point, or the space between your eyebrows.
1. Sit in Sukhasana (Easy Pose), eyes closed and arms extended straight out in front, crossed at the wrists. In a continuous motion, inhale, raising your arms to your third eye while flexing your spine and neck forward, then exhale forcefully, lowering your arms to your navel and curving your spine the other direction. On the inhale, visualize your "happy place", breathing in everything you need for support. On the exhale release feelings of who we "should" be as mothers through the third chakra, or navel center. This exercise can be effective in as little as 30 seconds. Rhythmic spinal flexes massage the adrenal glands and facilitate change in the brainwaves to a trancelike state, promoting healing.
2. In a standing position, extend your arms out to the side. Inhale and raise the arms overhead, palms facing inward but not touching. Exhale and lower the arms until palms are parallel to the floor and facing down. Repeat for three minutes. This movement lets your body find its own equilibrium and helps balance the brain hemispheres.
3. Sit in Easy Pose with a straight spine and eyes closed, wrists resting on your knees and hands facing upward. Gently press your thumbs and the index fingers together, followed by the thumb and third finger, ring finger, and pinky in succession. Repeat the mantra for change, Sa ta na ma: the cycle of the infinite, creation, destruction, and renewal. The sound currents from chanting help cells vibrate, creating a link to the hypothalamus gland.
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