Yoga for mental health in pre and post natal women

The biggest thing that giving birth (and raising a child) has taught me is the art of surrender.

The biggest thing my yoga practice has taught me is the art of surrender.

The two are entwined, if we see our journey into motherhood as a spiritual practice.

The pregnancy and post natal periods of a woman’s life are transformational. They can bring so much joy, happiness and connection, but for many women they can also bring feelings of sadness and despair.

It’s ok to feel this way - it’s totally normal. In the world we live in we see everybody’s highlight reel. The perfect bump and baby pictures filled with smiling faces. This might be the edited life that we put out there but often what happens behind closed doors, the stuff that doesn’t make it onto our filtered social media feeds can be very different.

So you’re pregnant - it’s a dream come true and you expect to feel..amazing? joyful? prepared for your baby’s birth and motherhood? but do you?

Of course some women love being pregnant and can fly through it but for others it’s difficult to accept their changing bodies, their changing lives - you just tend not to see those parts.

It may sometimes feel scary or overwhelming. Pregnancy and motherhood can bring up all of your fears, doubts, anxieties and a whole host of different emotions.

So how do we as women best navigate our way through this transformative time?

Well firstly we realise that we are not alone. Since the beginning of time women all over the world who’ve gone before us have experienced the same hormones, the same bodily changes and the same fears and anxieties that we have.

Even though you may sometimes feel isolated, know that on the day you give birth there will be approximately 350,000 other women there with you - birthing a new generation into this world. There is strength in sisterhood.

But what can we do practically to create deeper connections with not only other women who are experiencing the same things but also with ourselves, our own bodies and our brand new babies? What can we do that can help ease those stresses, fears and anxieties? help us to sleep better, feel better and prepare us for our transition to motherhood?

Here’s where yoga comes in.

Pregnancy Yoga

Yoga literally means ‘union’ and away from the flashy images on instagram, the practice of yoga is about us reestablishing connection with our deepest selves first and foremost but also the world at large. How we connect to ourselves sets the tone for how we connect to others.

Through the practice of gentle asana (postures) pranayama (breathing techniques) mudra (hand gestures) and deep relaxation and meditation we can learn to let go of tension in our body and our mind, learning the art of surrender.

Yoga teaches us to live in the present moment. The more time you spend focusing on what is present, the less you worry. Worries are fears of what might happen, not what actually is happening.

When you learn to cultivate that feeling of presence, through yoga, you create present moment experiences of peace, breath and stillness. It allows us to not only prepare for a calm and peaceful birth but also for the journey into motherhood. It gives us a new feeling of confidence in our abilities and in our bodies as we prioritise what our body needs in each moment. We can allow our inner wisdom to lead our experience which is exactly what happens during labour.

Your body contains an inner knowing that connects you to every female on this planet. The potential to create life! You don’t need to ‘do’ anything. You just surrender and your body takes care of growing an arm here and a leg there.

It’s the same with birthing. When we seek to control the situation, to project our own fears onto it this creates more anxiety and worry. But what if we just surrender? allow that same divine wisdom that grew our baby to bring them out into the world? just let that process continue without our mind (or anybody else’s) interfering? By practicing yoga and meditation throughout pregnancy we can learn to quiet that interfering mind. To breathe how our body guides us and move how our body intuitively knows how to. During the birth of my son, it was my meditative breathing keeping me in that state of surrender that helped me through.

Postnatal Yoga

In the post natal period we might again have all these expectations of the joy and unconditional love that we’ll experience. So what happens if in reality we feel sad, lost, lonely or anxious?

When the reality hits that this little human is depending on us for everything we can often feel overwhelmed and isolated - stuck in the house as life is now structured around the nap times of a week-old baby.

Many women suffer from emotional and mental health issues at this time, again - you’re not alone! Everything that yoga brought you throughout your pregnancy can also be applied here too.

The art of surrender. Acceptance of the present knowing that these hormones won’t last forever, these sleepless nights won’t last forever, your body will feel like yours again and you WILL bond with your baby.

This is a big one for so many women - the lack of instant bonding. Of course for some women the bonding is instant but for some - its not. That’s okay too, it’s normal.

You’ve just been through a huge life changing experience physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. It’s normal to feel out of sorts, to feel a bit lost or confused. And it’s normal to need SUPPORT.

This is where yoga can also help. Firstly through meditation. Having even a few minutes every day for yourself. To sit, be still, take a few deep breaths and tell yourself that you’re going to be fine, because you are going to be - and so is your baby.

Although it might feel like a struggle to get out of the house at this point, heading to a postnatal yoga class can be hugely beneficial. Go there in your pyjamas, go there with leaky boobs, go there with baby sick in your hair, just go there, because you know what? every other new mum there will be able to relate and that’s what you need in this moment - community. That’s also what yoga can give you. Not to mention the fact that gently moving your body, breathing deeply and connecting back to your pelvic floor will help to make the connections with this new body you’re in, which in turn can help you to accept the changes and improve your mental health too.

It takes a village to raise a child so give yourself a break. Learn to breath, to move in a way that slowly rebuilds your body from the inside out and your mind will follow.

If you’re going through any of this now or have been there in the past or are just about to embark on this journey then well done. Know that you’re doing an amazing job. My biggest piece of advice is to be gentle with yourself - a new you has just been born too.

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