By Alyssa McNeilly.
Pregnancy, birth and the early stages of motherhood often require women (and men) to stop engaging in certain types of activities and indulgences. Caffeine, camembert, and rollercoasters generally need to take a back seat. Six months ago I gave birth to my second child and although I have reluctantly taken a break from the morning coffee, it is with great enthusiasm that I have maintained and extended my relationship with Iyengar. Thus, I would like to share some of my thoughts and experiences on how I have found motherhood and yoga to be a perfect blend. My apologies if some parts of this article lack the detail they deserve, but my attention and time is currently somewhat divided at the moment!
I once chatted to a practitioner who avoided a hip replacement thanks to Iyengar. She was able to prove this connection through the measurements her Doctor had taken of her body before and after years of classes. Although I cannot produce the same type of numerical evidence, I certainly feel that yoga can be of great assistance for women during pregnancy and for the journey that follows. One particular asana I feel was of great assistance to me is the forward stretch, Uttanasana.
During the birth itself, I do not recall saying to myself ‘ok Alyssa, this would be a good time to try an Uttanasana with your thighs pulled up.’ However, a solid nine months with my hands on blocks in this pose created a strong and powerful intelligence in my body. For me, this asana became instinctual. It assisted me to feel grounded and focus my energy deep down to my baby and into the earth. When contractions came in thick and fast, this asana prevented my shoulders from clenching up around my ears and therefore I avoided the headaches, neck and shoulder strain experienced in my first labour. This experience made me realise the power that forward bends can generate just by ‘being’ in the pose. I now hope to be able to apply this experience back to my practice.
During my second pregnancy I often felt uncomfortable with inversions, feeling that these stimulated heartburn. I did what I could manage, however in order to keep ‘connected’ with these asanas, I found that by simply reading and viewing pictures of various inversions, this was better than shutting these away. The book ‘Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood’ (Iyengar, Keller, and Khattab) became an invaluable resource for me. Some may argue differently, but by reading and understanding these poses in detail, I feel I could derive some benefit. Viewing images was, as continues to be, a useful way to keep my body and mind fresh in the memory and feeling that I had known. This book is also great reference for general practice. Therefore, if there came a time again where I was prevented from physically doing some types of asana, I would not shy away from using the images and reading as a substitute. It cannot, of course, replace the real thing, but it is better than doing nothing!
Getting back into practice after my baby arrived has been both harder and easier than I expected. Admittedly, this paradox has again only been of benefit to my overall understanding of Iyengar. It has taught me that nothing good comes of rushing, and so much can be gained from doing even what may seem as the most insignificant amount of practice. Physically, I could not believe how much ‘drawing myself back in’ after pregnancy would be an amazing feeling (and challenge!) In this statement I refer to the simple act of putting my feet together in Tadasana. After nine months of inviting my body to stretch, open and expand, I now have to coax my body to reverse this.
Attending Shanya’s ‘Mums and Babes’ sessions have been (to use the language of My Iyengar) a ‘boon.’ I look back at some notes I wrote after my first session and what stands out are the words ‘energy’ and ‘coming in.’ Coming to these classes has been a great way to build confidence in my body and be in a space with other mothers. Shayna is able to beautifully coordinate and manage unsettled babies while making sure you get some time to remember what it felt like to rest in Savasana after a nice session of working your body. Going home with the smallest of things to remember such as phrases like ‘ear lobes down’ and ‘softening the throat’ can be plenty to sustain me though the week. I definitely recommend these classes to anyone who has had a baby, regardless of previous yoga experience.
I admit that at a time of my life where I would expect to be doing less practice than normal, I am actually finding that I am making practice at home a priority. I relish times where I have sleeping children so I can get a sequence of standing poses done. However, I find that even being able to do, for example, five minutes in Supta Virasana can be a great way to organise my body and mind for the day ahead. I often find that even if I have the opportunity to have a twenty minute sleep in the afternoon, I prefer to spend this time in Viparita Karani. I end up feeling more refreshed and energised, whereas sleeping would have just made my body feel ‘groggy.’ Another method that has assisted to stimulate energy has been employing Shayna’s trick of wearing a belt strapped around your shoulders – a very powerful way to reverse the forward slump that breastfeeding can bring!
I have also realised how much I can actually use yoga to heal myself. I am not referring to anything dramatic, but I feel it is significant to mention nonetheless. For example, our family has recently experienced the wave of winter colds. Combined with a baby who was only sleeping for very short intervals due to teething, I was left feeling a bit low on energy and my blocked sinuses were driving me crazy. Normally I would be searching for outside sources to help. I’d be looking for a session of acupuncture or some generic medication from the chemist. These options were not readily available to me at the hour of need. However, I was able to find relief from spending as much time as I could in inversions. Salamba Savangasana helped to drain my blocked head and give me a bit of a ‘lift’ that I was craving. Supta Padangusthasana also was a good way to keep my legs working while feeling like I was able to up some energy.
Attending the Otway Retreat in September is normally something I would be jumping at, but for obvious reasons I won’t be. And I am ok with that. I am learning so much with where I am at right now. I am feeling good knowing I am still on a path that is heading in the right direction. I have learnt that yoga is truly something that is for anyone at any stage of their life. Bellies and babies included.