Nourishment (noun): the food necessary for growth, health, and good condition.
It is not just our babies that need nourishment. The first weeks and months of mothering can be like a rebirth for ourselves as we grieve for the woman that was and get to know the new mother in her shoes. It is a transformational period whether this is our first child or fifth and it requires lots of nourishment for growth and health in all aspects of our being.
Here are some simple and nourishing yoga ideas to be used from birth onwards and at any time you feel depleted in energy. They can all be done with your baby in your arms or at your side. Although they may look simple – trust and enjoy – they are the foundations for the strength, stability and vitality practices we will explore in future sessions.
Supported Relaxation Pose
There are lots of fun ways to play with your baby while also getting some vital rest. Adopting a supported relaxation pose with the knees bent up (or resting on cushions or a chair) helps to relieve back ache and makes it easier to breathe deeply and efficiently.
The shape of the spine changes during pregnancy to help you balance with all that extra weight out in front. It takes time for the spine to readjust postnatally and this posture will help. Breathing deeply also gives space, oxygen and a gentle massage to all of the abdominal and pelvic organs. They have been squashed, squeezed and displaced during pregnancy to make way for the baby. Spending time in a resting pose like this one will help them find their way home.
Your baby can lie down next to you or sit up on your hips so you can chat and play – or how about you and your baby spend some time together BOTH in the baby gym – go on try – there is definitely room for two!
Ujjayi Breath / Yoni Mudra
Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai) is a lovely breathing practice to do while resting in the position described above. It can also be done sitting up, standing or while feeding your baby. I have used this practice often while pacing the floor and willing my children to please go to sleep! Babies love the sound of your relaxed breath – it was their soundtrack in the womb – and may be just what they need to help them settle or feel secure. Try shifting into Ujjayi breath whenever you find yourself becoming aggravated or stressed, and you should notice a prompt soothing effect.
- To prepare for this practice make the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open (as if you were steaming up a mirror).
- Feel the power on this exhale as it is sent out of the body and into the room – “haaaaaah”.
- Now make a similar sound, but with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages. Feel the breath pass at the back of the throat, as if like a soft, silk scarf. This should make a sound, not dissimilar to Darth Vader from Star Wars. Once you have the hang of it gradually let the exhalations get softer and longer. The sound is barely audible – jyst enough for you (and your baby) to hear.
- Notice how the power on the breath can now be directed within you, to wherever you need it most right now.
Yoni mudra is a hand position made by joining the thumbs and index fingers to form a downward pointing triangle. It is symbolic of the womb and of feminine power. You can rest the hands over your lower abdomen to form a connection with your own womb and the healing taking place. As you breathe in, know that fresh energy and oxygen is absorbed by the heart. Each time you exhale send your attention and awareness from the heart down into the womb and allow yourself to be nourished deeply by both the inhale and the exhale.
Pawanmuktasana (Joint-Freeing Series) for Feet and Ankles
These foot exercises can be done seated or lying down – they can be done in bed or while ‘stuck’ for a long period of time feeding your baby. Practice one foot at a time so you can compare sides and feel the freeing effect these simple exercises have. Strong and flexible feet and ankles is a key component of postural stability – these exercises directly affect the way you stand, walk and carry your baby – they can thus have a big impact on your postnatal recovery. The slower and more attentively you can do them the better they work!
Establish a comfortable and steady breath. Repeat each practice for 6 breaths, or as long as you feel like.
Practice 1: As you inhale, spread the toes of your left foot as wide as they will go, as you exhale curl them in tightly, as if trying to hold a pencil with your toes. Inhaling, spread the toes and imagine you can actually invite the breath in directly through the spaces between the toes. On that breath comes nourishment and vitality. As you exhale and curl the toes you lock that nourishment and vitality inside you.
Practice 2 and 3 are both movements at the ankle joint – take care now to relax your toes and just move at the ankles.
Practice 2: As you inhale point your toes away from you, opening up the space at the front of the ankle joint. As you exhale, push into the heel and point the toes towards your face. As you move, be aware of all the sensations you can feel in the joint.
Practice 3: Now take the foot around in a circle, rotating slowly at the ankle joint. Can you make half of the circle with the inhale and half with the exhale? Is it a circular movement or is it slightly elliptical? Are there any sensations or sounds?
Now pause and notice the feeling of the left foot compared with the right. Repeat on the other side. Once you are familiar with the practices you can do both feet together.
Baby Yoga & Massage Games
Here is a little song you can use to guide you through a simple foot massage for babies, similar to the foot and ankle yoga described above for yourself!
[Start with your baby lying on their back in front of you, or sitting up in your lap. Begin by tapping the soles of their feet together in a rhythm.]
What lovely feet you’ve got, what lovely feet you’ve got!
What lovely feet you’ve got, what lovely feet you’ve got!
[Now choose just one foot to work on and gently squeeze and stroke from heel to toe]
Squeeze them, squeeze them, squeeze them,
Stroke them, stroke them, stroke them.
[Hold your baby’s lower leg above the ankle and gently rotate the foot at the ankle joint, then lightly pinch each toe in turn]Round and round your ankle goes, and one by one I touch each toe.
[Cup your hands around the whole foot as if holding a little bird, then begin the song again, this time working on the other foot.]
Newborns also have a instinctive reflex to flare their toes and curl them in again in response to firm pressure on the sole of the foot – it lasts until they are 12 months or sometimes longer. Try it and see!