When I first started practicing yoga 9 years ago after my first child was born and I was struggling with post-partum anxiety, I noticed right away the positive changes in my emotional health. When asked to write about yoga and health, I chose to dive deeper into why we feel more emotionally stable, grounded, and generally happy when we practice yoga.
Getting back in touch with your body. After my first son was born, I was filled with so much fear due to the overwhelming responsibility of keeping this infant alive, that I was too afraid to drive. The whole first month I depended on my husband and family members to drive us back and forth to doctor appointments and was basically a recluse otherwise. When I first went to the doctor for my post-partum anxiety the doctor prescribed muscle relaxers and other ways to numb my pain. I chose not to go that route and went to a counselor to try to talk through my issue instead. Luckily, my counselor recommended yoga when she saw that I literally did not know how to relax my shoulders. I carried all of my stress in my shoulders and she noticed that they were so tight they almost touched my ears. When I started practicing yoga I got back in touch with my body. I had been so disconnected from my body that I was no longer in control of it. Yoga taught me to tighten and then release each muscle in order to release it. “The Idea is to go towards any feelings of tightness, tension or emotion and breathe into that space” as Nicole Araki explains in her article on Gaia.com. When one learns how to just feel their feelings and breathe into them, they stop holding onto them and can finally let them go. Learning this was life-changing for my mental state.
Moving from fight or flight to relaxation. Ashley Turner, licensed psychotherapist and yoga teacher, explains that we move from the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) when we practice yoga regularly. This explains why I was able to move from constantly living in fear and anxiety to a state of calm and trust in the Universe once I started a regular yoga practice. Breathing deeply also has many positive effects on your mental state. Performing any kind of breathwork can be extremely helpful when things start to get overwhelming. As a new mother, I often felt overwhelmed, but yoga taught me the correct way to breathe which helped me change my perspective from agitation, anger, and overwhelm to peace and relaxation.
Meditation. Meditation has also had a positive impact on my mental state. When you meditate regularly, over time, you unlock a deeper part of yourself that can lead you to the best experiences for you and everyone involved. Some people call this your intuition, in yoga, it is called your higher self. By meditating and opening up this all-knowing, part of yourself you will find the answers you seek come to you with ease. I still have shoulder issues every now and then, and meditation has taught me to deepen my awareness into that space and fill it with light and love, which allows me to mentally change my perspective of the pain. Meditation over time leads to a more positive mindset. “Meditation can help ease postpartum feelings of anxiety and overwhelm,” according to Postpartum Support International.
Exercise releases endorphins and makes you happy. Yoga was a gentle way to get back into exercising after kids. After childbirth your body is going through so much that you might find yourself, as I did, unable to exercise the way you could before childbirth. I was a runner and counted on being able to go outside and run my worries away. This was not possible for many weeks after childbirth and even then, when I did run, I would be so sore for many days that I’d struggle to care for myself and my new baby. It is best to start with gentle exercise and work your way back into your old routine after childbirth. “Some sources believe that relaxin can stay in the body for up to 12 months after weaning,” says Shirey, a certified pregnancy fitness instructor quoted in Shape Magazine 2018. “This means your joints remain looser than usual. That lack of stability means your body is more prone to aches, pains, and injury”.
Improves your romantic relationships. “When you’re more centered and more peaceful with yourself, you’ll be the same way with your partner—you’ll view them through the same lens of compassionate, unconditional love” says Ashley Turner in Yoga Journal. Since I started meditating and doing yoga daily, all of my relationships have become closer, especially with my husband. He has known me over ten years and says he definitely has noticed a change since I started my daily practice, we have a closer relationship and we’ve become better communicators.
Self-care. When I had my first child I did not take time for myself because I felt guilty leaving my son. I finally learned once my second child was born how important and necessary self-care is, if you want to show up fully and as your best self for your children. Self-care was especially hard to fit in when I worked full time because I already had so much mom guilt being away from them during the day. How could I possibly leave them a couple evenings a week to go to a yoga class? My counselor helped me get past my guilt by explaining that you have to put your own air mask on first, like they tell you on airplanes in the event of an emergency landing. You cannot put your child’s airmask on if you cannot breathe. If I’m working all day, stressed out, and feeling guilty, then come straight home and try to be patient when my toddler is potty training, and loving and present while my second child is going between crying and breastfeeding all night, I’m not going to be showing up as my best self for them; unless I’ve taken a hour of my day to center myself. This is not hurting your children, this is helping them. Once I learned this my entire outlook on motherhood changed. I felt empowered, instead of feeling like a victim to the circumstances and stress that had taken over my life.
Present moment awareness. There is so much to be done with a new baby, or multiple children, it is often hard to take a moment to just be present and enjoy the stage you are in right here and now. Yoga has taught me to relish this moment, be present and grateful for each moment as it is. The most important lesson I’ve learned after having three children and watching them grow up before my eyes, is that although parenthood as a whole is fleeting and goes by faster than we realize, being present and peaceful in as many moments as possible is what makes up motherhood as a whole. When I look back on those first years as a new mom, I don’t remember much of the tough times: the lack of sleep, the pain of childbirth, those are all overshadowed by those quiet, peaceful moments of breastfeeding my newborn for the first time, the moment my toddler met my newborn son, the moment I said goodbye to my son on his first day of kindergarten. The beauty of motherhood that creates real change in mothers and helps us to become our best versions of ourselves is that we MUST go through the tough times. So much of my life was spent avoiding the tough times, tough conversations, anxiety-inducing situations; motherhood forces you to face all of it head-on, and the only way through it is experience it all. You can’t just avoid it and say, I’ll deal with that poopy diaper later, I just can’t handle it right now. Each challenge forces you to deal with it right then and there, and this is where you experience growth. Motherhood is being present for the challenges and learning from them. My favorite quote from Nicole Aracki’s article about postpartum depression and yoga is “The most important thing to remember with the transition of motherhood is that you cannot get around it – you simply must go directly through it.”
As a mom of three, I still struggle daily, but one thing I know I can always do to find my center is to get on my mat. Yoga is a lifesaver for mothers and fathers, and if you are stuck in fear and anxiety as I was after each of my children being born, I urge you to seek out a yoga class. When you take responsibility for your emotional health, your entire family will thank you for it. Emotional health is the greatest gift you can give yourself and your children.
With love and light,
- Cope, Stephen Yoga for Emotional Flow, Sounds True, November 23, 2015
- Diangelo Freidman, Jennifer. “5 Ways Yoga Benefits Your Mental Health” Yoga Journal.. Cruz Bay Publishing, April 29, 2016. <Inc.https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/5-ways-yoga-is-good-for-your-mental-health>
- Aracki, Nicole.”5 Ways Yoga Can Help Postpartum Depression and Anxiety” Gaia. May 29, 2013.
- Cirignano, Andrea. “9 Things You Should Know About Postpartum Exercise (and Probably Don’t)” Shape May 7, 2018. https://www.shape.com/fitness/tips/things-you-should-know-about-postpartum-exercise
5, Muskal, Robin. “Postpartum Anxiety Meditation”. May 15, 2017. PSI Blog. http://www.postpartum.net/psi-blog/meditation-for-anxiety/