Who's it for?
A typical postnatal class is geared toward women with babies who are precrawlers, says Christine Reeves, an instructor at The Yoga Studio (yogastudio.net) in Toronto who specializes in pre- and postnatal teaching. At this stage women are unlikely to want to be away from their babies for long, and they are feeding them regularly, so a yoga class where babies are welcome is ideal. Women can begin attending about six weeks after birth, says Reeves, or about when bleeding has stopped – although anyone who has had a caesarean should wait a bit longer. It's a good idea to check with your doctor first, and you should let your instructor know if you're having any postpregnancy complications, such as a prolapsed uterus, or if you did have a caesarean or have stitches in the perineum. Also, as in any yoga class, always mention if there are any parts of your body that are causing you problems, such as sore knees or tender breasts, and your teacher can help you adapt poses to suit your body.
What's a class like?
Postnatal classes can vary a great deal, says Reeves, depending in large part upon the age of the babies. "My class is mostly for the mother," she says, "because you could have babies anywhere from six weeks to six months old – a huge difference in terms of activity level, alertness and awareness." Her class stays gentle and participants are encouraged to pay lots of attention to their babies. "We are on hands and knees on top of them or lying on the floor beside them, in some poses maybe even holding them," Reeves says.
Restore your body
One benefit of attending a postnatal class as opposed to a regular gentle class is that poses are geared toward the postpregnancy body. "I give them a full routine," Reeves says. "I touch on all parts of the body so they feel a fully rounded stretch and relaxation of tight muscles. But there is emphasis on certain parts of the body that need it most." For instance, women with young babies tend to have what Reeves calls "postnatal hunch" – a tight upper back, neck and shoulders from constantly feeding and carrying the baby. To counteract this, she incorporates a lot of poses that open the chest and stretch out these areas. Reeves also emphasizes abdominals and the pelvic floor, both of which can use the extra conditioning after a pregnancy.
Rejuvenate your mind
Everyone knows about yoga's reputation for relaxation, and postnatal classes are no different. "Very often women are tired and wired and overwhelmed," Reeves says. "All that deep breathing really calms their nervous system. They come out of the class deeply restored." She notes that rather than being fatiguing, like many forms of exercise can be for many people, yoga replenishes your energy.
A social network
Many women feel overwhelmed after giving birth. Attending a postnatal yoga class gives them the chance to get to know other women in a similar situation. Reeves finds that her students really appreciate the social aspect of the class. "Getting out with the baby to a class and realizing that all the other mothers in the room are having the same difficulties takes a huge load off their minds," she says. She even makes socializing part of the routine. "I like to serve tea and cookies at the end," she says, "and we hang out for half an hour and talk."
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What about the babies?
While Reeves focuses on the mothers during her class, the babies get a lot out of it too. "I like to do a bit of baby time," she says. "If the babies are needing attention we'll stop the flow of the yoga and do some baby massage to relax them, calm them and connect with them. And later in the class we might sing some nursery rhymes and do some tickles and bounces."
Since everyone taking the class is a mother with a baby, moms can feel comfortable doing what they need to do to keep their little one happy. "I encourage women to stop and feed their baby at any time," Reeves says, "just to sit and prop themselves against the wall, or change a diaper when they need to -- they don't have to leave the room."
And while in the beginning babies might find the class a bit overstimulating, Reeves finds that as they become used to it and get a bit older they enjoy being in a group with other babies. "I've often found that the babies will sit and stare at each other," she says. "It's kind of fun to see them. Sometimes they make friends at five, six months of age, and they sit there and keep each other occupied during the whole class."
Find the right class
As in any discipline, whether academic, spiritual or physical, it's essential to have a teacher you trust and can connect with. That means trying out different teachers and being prepared to switch to a different class if you're not satisfied. As well, you should find an instructor with postnatal training (which often comes in a package with prenatal training) in addition to their regular yoga teacher training. "There are things they need to know about the postnatal body and mind," Reeves says. "Beyond that, the teacher needs to know how to keep the babies happy and involved so the mother can get her class in and have some fun with her baby."
Take your practice home
The benefits of a regular yoga practice can be increased by incorporating poses into your daily routine, even if it's just brief interludes in a busy day. Reeves encourages her postnatal students to practise every day, even if it's just three or four poses for 10 or 15 minutes. "It's going to help them tremendously just to do a couple of gentle backbends and a couple of abdominal strengtheners," she says, "and it's good for the baby to have their mother on the floor with them." She suggests asking your teacher for a handout or posture recommendations.
Find a class today!
With all of these benefits, why wouldn't you take a postnatal yoga class? Look for one today, by searching on the web or asking people you know for recommendations, then pack up your baby and go -- and above all, have fun!
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