Yoga for two
Story by Sarah Gonzales
Bringing home a newborn can be a tiring and stressful adjustment for the whole family, and exercise may be the last thing on the postpartum to-do list.
But two local yoga instructors tell us that yoga, both before and after baby, will increase confidence, strength and relaxation – desirable benefits for even the most exhausted new parents, and for new babies, too.
Svia Rothstein, co-owner of Laughing Lotus Yoga of Anchorage, says that she originally designed her “Baby and You” classes as a place where new moms (or dads) can come together and let their babies interact in an inviting and warm environment, especially during long Alaska winters. “The main focus of the class is to make a safe place for Anchorage mommies,” she says. “We put the babies in the middle of the circle to create the opportunity for them to socialize.” Often it’s the first time babies meet other babies. “It depends on the class and who is there, but we’ll do yoga for mommies as long as the babies are relaxing,” she says. “About half way through we’ll move to work with the babies” like singing and stretching. And most times, she says, “the babies will go right to sleep” after class.
At Infinite Yoga in Fairbanks, babies also get in the act at “Baby and Me” classes. “Usually it’s about two months after giving birth when (moms) are feeling better and more confident about bringing their babies out,” says Gretchen Nolan, co-owner of Infinite Yoga.
“We do a lot of neck exercises to reduce the stress there from carrying around babies,” she says. “Then we go on to more social poses, like doing ‘downward dog’ where the babies are underneath so (the moms) can look down into their eyes,” she says. “We encourage them to talk to their babies and keep them engaged. I end the class with a little bit of massage or some nice cuddling.”
Do babies do yoga? “There are different baby yoga stretches. You do what their bodies can allow,” answers Rothstein. “Some of the exercises are intended for improving cognition like cross body movements,” and there are exercises for relieving colic and indigestion, too. But, says Nolan, the classes are really about the social aspect: “You’d be amazed to watch the babies all sharing really nicely and the mommies are just relaxed, working on themselves.”
Stretch & deliver
Many pregnant women are turning to prenatal yoga to reap benefits like a strong body and mind during labor and birth. “In this culture we tend to think of ourselves as ill or handicapped when we are pregnant and my goal through prenatal yoga is to remove that belief,” says Rothstein. “When you have two hearts beating in your body you are stronger, not weaker; you are vibrant!” She practices stamina increasing exercises called “Keep Ups” with her students (arm circles, for instance) that teach them that if they can last through three minutes of exertion, they can last through a one-minute contraction. Rothstein says the aim of prenatal yoga isn’t only a quicker labor (which is often a welcome outcome), but to help women realize: “Your body is much stronger than your mind gives you credit for.”
Breathing is an essential element of both yoga and labor, and in Nolan’s prenatal classes they “work a lot on breath work and closing yourself off to distraction,” she explains. “You get your own inner rhythm and when you start having those contractions it helps to ease the pain and you feel better.” While toughening the mind is a large aspect of prenatal yoga, the actual poses are not difficult; instead they are easily modified for pregnant bodies. “We work a lot on opening up your hips and pelvic floor and we do some Kegels,” explains Nolan. “My classes are considered gentle, healing classes.”
Both Rothstein and Nolan receive a lot of positive postpartum feedback. “I almost always get an email that says here’s the baby and thank you; the yoga was a huge help,” says Rothstein. And, recognizing the obvious benefits of yoga, these same students will often return to class to continue the practice, meet new friends and get back into shape – all while passing along the benefits of yoga to a new generation.