Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Keeping the Practice Alive: Tips for Yogini Moms

I was recently asked for some tips on helping mothers keep a daily yoga practice with the demands of motherhood. As the mother of two small girls, I have experienced firsthand the the process of of having children and maintaining an Ashtanga Yoga practice. My advice is to start at the beginning - birth.

Birthing is not only an incredible experience for every woman, it is one of the most intense moments she will go through in her lifetime, regardless of whether the birth was "easy" or difficult. It is a moment in which the woman transforms into a whole new state of being: woman to mother. Before becoming mothers it was "relatively" easy to work yoga into our lives, but after having children, our personal needs no longer come first, and the needs of our children often seem to be limitless. Often you try to work around a new schedule and end up practicing at inopportune times, almost always resulting in frustration. In addition, it's not just the struggle to find the time to practice, but also to muster the energy and will to follow through with it (while most of us would prefer to fit a nap, in any downtime we have).

My Ashtanga teachers in Mysore, India (Sri K Pattabhi Jois, R. Sharath, and Saraswati) recommend that mothers take off at least three months after birth before returning to full practice. If you are able to respect that, then I recommend it. You will most likely avoid unnecessary stress regarding your practice, and will be more likely to avoid injury if your body is not yet ready. A woman's body is still very fragile in the first months after birth. While hormone levels are very high, making ligaments and joints much more flexible than normal, it is imperative that women remember to rest, and enjoy this special time afterbirth to bond with their baby. However, some women have a very difficult time refraining from practice for very long. I, for example, was unable to wait three months before starting my asana practice again. Waiting just made me feel anxious. If this sounds familiar, you can try returning to practice earlier, but you must go slowly and and try not to push.

Whenever you do decide to return to your yoga practice, I would like to share some tips on how I have kept a daily practice as an Ashtanga Mama.

1. Start out slowly. Each day allow yourself to do a little bit more, but do not force it on yourself. It is almost impossible to return to your pre-birth or pre-pregnancy practice just after having a child. If you practice ashtanga yoga, for example, you might consider sticking to the standing asanas for the first weeks, and then gradually a
dd asanas as you are able to do them, but only if they feel right to your body. Even your teacher cannot be totally sure on how far to let you push yourself - only you can know how far to proceed. It is something you must feel, and also something you have to try to consciously observe. Take stock on how you feel afterwards. Do you have enough energy? Are you too tired to take care of children later in the day? Use these clues to adjust your temporary post-pregnancy practice. Unfortunately for me, between my own stubbornness and a teacher´s eagerness, I pushed myself unnecessarily in backbending and a few other asanas before I was ready, when my second daughter was just one. Although my body was able to do it, afterwards I did not feel well and could barely move for some days. So make sure you are patient and take your time. There is no rush. A little each day is much better than a lot twice a week.

2. Make time. Set up a schedule and try to stick to it. If you are able to do your practice before your children wake up in the morning, I feel that is the best time to fit it. If not, then wait for the morning nap, or when school starts. If you yourself work all day, you will have to plan accordingly, but in my experience the best time for practicing is when children are sleeping or when they are not there. Trying to practice when your children are present can not only be very frustrating, but also very disruptive. Having to attend to your childrens' needs after coming out of kapotasana can have some pretty uncomfortable effects on everyone involved! So try to find your best time of day, and stick to it. As mothers, you need that hour or so to yourself. If you are able to achieve it, most likely you will find yourself feeling like a more focused and loving mother the rest of the day!

3. Have a ritual.
Everyone who has practiced yoga
for a number of years usually has their own personal ritual, whether you have your tea and a shower, or light your candles or incense. Create the mood, and do it the same way everyday. In this way both your mind and body will feel it is time to practice, and you will be less likely to lose your motivation. Try to always practice in the same space, and make that space inviting. If you attend classes, make sure that before going you maintain your ritual to prepare you for your practice there. Do not get lost in completing chores beforehand - practicing will provide you with more energy and patience, so remind yourself the chores can wait until later, and take care of yourself first. I am certain that you will discover, that having a daily yoga practice will enable you to have more energy to do everything you need to do in a day.

4. Do not give up, and be patient with your body. With having a baby, an enormous transformation has taken place inside and outside of you, and you should respect and celebrate that. For breastfeeding mothers especially, be patient - your energy will return eventually. I breastfed my first child for almost three years, and my second for two and a half. It can be very tiring and you will not feel the same in your practice while you are nursing. Do not feel discouraged, as you are doing the best thing possible for your baby, and it requires an immense amount of energy from your body. You are feeding your child from your own body, which is an amazing thing! Take care of yourself, eat well, and know that little by little, with a slow and steady practice, you will find you again and be a great mother at the same time.

Lea Perfetti was born and raised in upstate New York. An athlete at an early age, she began practicing Ashtanga Yoga in 2001, while studying biology and women´s studies at Syracuse University. Lea first traveled to Mysore, India to study with Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath from 2003, and continued to make anual trips until 2008. Living in Spain since 2004, Lea has taught in various yoga schools throughout the country. She currently teaches Ashtanga Yoga at CDO in Lisbon, Portugal, but holds workshops in New York, Norway, Brazil, Spain, and Thailand. Lea is passionate about organic living and living close to nature, and has dedicated the last few years to studying how the relationship between yoga and maternity influences intuition, health, and one's connection with nature.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there - thanks for this post. As a new momma - 6mth old girl, finding time to practice is HARD. Detaching from full practice seems to be the challenge. I am committed to quality not quantity so to do what I can - when I can.

    I hope to start developing a more established home practice and to do the best with what I have got. I try to to to the shala twice to 3 x's a week. If I can squeeze in 2 short form practices at home - I will be VERY happy!