Through a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) lens, pregnancy is considered the most depleting life event a person will encounter in their lifetime. That can feel a bit heavy at first glance and obviously there are benefits that far outweigh that, but I think it’s important to bear in mind the magnitude of this life event. To consider all that the body must create & support to bring life into this world. It’s pretty mind blowing when you consider it. In the same light, I think it’s incredibly important that we acknowledge and appreciate this postnatal time as an important time to support the mother’s capacity to thrive again. Which we all know is ironic since it’s also when baby requires the most from mother. Combine that with the overwhelm of new things to learn, requirements to fulfill, feeling a lack of connection with baby, feeling pressure to “get back in shape” and being flooded by others opinions on how that should happen. It’s like withdrawing money from an already overdrawn account hoping it will somehow work out in the positive. Though everyone has their strong opinions on exactly how a mother should care for herself postpartum, there are some simple ways mothers can support themselves with yoga, that don’t require a lot of time or energy expenditure.
Through a TCM lens the most important thing to address during this period is a deficiency of the precious vital substances of the body. After 10 months of creating and collecting precious resources to create & maintain this life inside of you, it’s now time to bring the focus back to your body’s capacity to thrive. Like the oxygen mask on an airplane, we know all too well that we can’t be helpful to others unless we find some time to be selfish and focus in on our own health. Of course, nutrition is important but how we manage our energy and support it through introspective practices can be a simple and precious asset for mothers.
In yoga the more introspective, still practices are the most nourishing. Practices like restorative yoga & meditation can be such powerful tools to have in your arsenal. The good news is that most women really enjoy these practices. With so much pressure to get back in shape after pregnancy, I can’t stress enough how important it is to refill the well with some good nourishment. This nourishment can take many forms: nutrition, supplements, rest, meditation, restorative yoga, mindful moments in your day; but its presence is key to thriving on all levels postpartum. When we support our internal health the positive effects spill over into every other system.
Here are some of my top tips for supporting the body’s capacity to thrive from a TCM perspective with yoga:
- Consistency is key. If yoga feels like the right path for you, I encourage new moms to invest in just 5-10mins a day of restorative yoga and when/if you feel like you want more you can linger longer but don’t feel like you need to. I recommend picking 1 restorative pose (see pictures as examples in this article) and staying there for 5-10mins. If you’re feeling restless try some deep breathing here. Restorative yoga is meant to be a form of nourishment in the stillness, as the body rests the nervous system & energy can shift from the external world to the internal, to support the internal systems & health. Restorative yoga is different from traditional yoga in that you’re not looking for a stretch here or any strong sensations, think of this as a practice to support your body to relax. There are so many brilliant checks and balances built into our internal systems, constantly trying to bring us back to balance. In a deficiency state we simply need to support our body to relax so the body can do what it does best- bounce back and be resilient. So, find a pose you like and feel comfortable in, use household items to create a cozy setup (pillows, cushions, towels, etc) and trust in your body’s capacity to thrive as you create some space for your cells to do the work. Soften or close your eyes as you allow your attention to rest on the breath. Allow yourself to relax into the shape of the pose and sense this as the time your body can take rest and soak up the nourishment of the stillness. Sense your energy shift from the more outward thinking, creating, doing to all the internal microscopic cellular maintenance and ATP production that you can’t see. As your body shifts from spending all its time and energy going, going, going – it can now shift its focus to supporting your vitality. Perhaps you can tune into a sense of this cellular vibration in the stillness.
- Mindful moments are valuable. Pinpoint a few check-in moments in your day. Maybe that’s when you’re brushing your teeth or cooking or driving or dressing for the day. Any task you do daily is a great opportunity. Use these as a reminder to notice how you’re feeling, notice your breath, maybe notice the connection to life in the breath. Allow yourself to simply listen, without judgment, without needing it to be any different, without trying to change what you feel. Listen with compassion, as you would for your closest friend. Based on those mindful moments you may want to say no a little more on days you’re feeling more tired or notice how your body responds to movement and decide what’s best by listening to how you feel and how your body responds after.
- Energy management throughout your day is key. Notice how you spend your energy. If you were to imagine it as an energy currency, where are you spending your energy? Does it align with what’s most important to you? Are there areas you can shift? Keep in mind this isn’t just about saying no, it’s also about doing the things that need to be done without spending a lot of energy doing it. Can I walk into the grocery and gather my food & nutrients for the week with a sense of ease instead of urgency? Is it possible to go through the same event of my day (and possibly take the same amount of time doing it) with less energy expenditure? There’s no right or wrong here, just experiment.
- It takes time. After 10 months of hard work your body needs some time to nourish itself on a deep level and is also usually working against a lack of sleep. So, give yourself some slack and know that every little thing you do is helpful even though the changes will be happening slowly over months. There are no shortcuts to deep nourishment & vitality.
- Remember that you are important & your health is important. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of tasks, but it’s important that your self-care comes from this place. I like this simple mantra regularly for postnatal women, “MY health matters.”