Well, we are already one month into the new year and I am sure (hoping, rather) that I am not the only one whose resolutions have gone out the window.
At the beginning of the year, I boldly made the proclamation that this will be the year for a fitter, leaner and sexier me.
Then the reality of motherhood set in and finding the time to exercise seemed almost impossible, especially when all you want to do at the start of the day is to squeeze in a few more minutes of sleep. And, all you want to do at the end of the day is to go to sleep. Let’s not even mention the middle of the day.
I love exercising, really I do, but I still struggle to find that motivation to get up and exercise when there is so much else going on. However, I know that it is not impossible.
I recently interviewed an amazing mummy, Micheline Ferreira, who seems to have found her groove when it comes to taking care of her body. Not only is she the mother of two boys but she is a practising yogi and conducts yoga classes for soon to be mummies and experienced mummies in Cornwall, England.
Here, she talks about some of the benefits of practising yoga and shares her tips for balancing motherhood and taking care of your body.
MF: I have been practising yoga on and off since I was about 16, but seriously and more consistently since about 2011 when I had the opportunity to study under a teacher and subsequently do my teacher training. I can’t really say what encouraged me to start, I just always considered myself a yogi, even before I practised it. Maybe in a past life?
TMJ: As a mother, how has yoga changed your life?
MF: Yoga changed my life way before I became a mother. I believe that it prepared me to become a mother. It prepared my body and mind after years of abuse and, now that I am a mother, I believe that it has helped me to find a reserve of patience and acceptance that I didn’t even know that I had.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle and get stressed out, I just find myself more accepting of my situation and more forgiving of myself even when I am not the “perfect ” mother that I strive to be (if that exists).
MF: The aim of yoga is to create harmony within the body and beyond the body and so the physical benefits of a consistent yoga practice are countless.
You will find that once you start to enjoy one benefit, your general health and demeanour will keep improving. It’s like a snowball effect. Remember, every system in the body is connected, so, by improving the health of one we do service to all.
For example, as you learn to stand evenly on your two feet, many ankle, knee and even hip complaints will simply disappear. As your posture improves, your mood improves. The spine aligns and decompresses itself, releasing built up tension and stress. You create space in the body so that the digestive system function improves and the endocrine system begins to balance.
The breath is also a key element of yoga practice allowing us to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases stress and anxiety and allows us to be more present.
MF: It is definitely a massive challenge and with a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, my time on the mat has decreased significantly. However, I find the nature of my practice has changed. An uninterrupted practice is simply impossible for me at the moment. Studying philosophy feels like a distant dream!
Now, it has become about having fun with my kids, making them a part of my practice and teaching them.
My 2-year-old thinks that it’s a great laugh and follows the moves, rolls around on his head and sings OM. He’s actually getting pretty good. And with the baby, it’s the same.
I lift him in the air, put him on the mat, go up and down give him lots of kisses and he giggles and giggles. This is my yoga at the moment. Being present with myself, my children and my circumstance.
Often, it is simply a breathing practice while I sit next to the crib putting one child to sleep. As simple as this is, it allows me to do something for myself even though it feels as though I have no time for myself.
TMJ: What are some simple moves/positions that mothers could do at home, in between all of the chaos, that would be effective?
MF: First and foremost, just breathe. Consciously slow down your breathing.
Stop, count 5 even slow breaths, on one hand, focusing on long exhalations. You can do this anytime, anywhere, during a toddler tantrum or while dealing with a colicky baby.(in fact, DURING the chaos is probably the best time to do it to allow yourself to become less reactive when dealing with kids!)
Once you have gotten your breathing down, you can try any or all of these simple moves.
This move lets you work on all fours, facing your baby, while he or she lies on the mat. Being on all fours will allow you to work on the spine, hips and your balance amongst other things, all while looking down at your baby, encouraging smiles and laughs.
With the wrists below the shoulders and the knees below the hips, find a neutral spine, (your natural curve). To do this you can arch the back slightly and then round the back and find somewhere in between.
On an exhale, begin to completely round the back, initiating the movement with the pelvis. Visualise moving the vertebra one by one. By the end of the exhale you should be looking toward your navel.
As you inhale, press into the mat with your hands and allow the chest to begin moving forward and up as the shoulders draw back towards the hips. By the end of the inhalation you should be looking up,
Repeat several times, coordinating movement with breath.
Downward Dog – facing baby (or with toddler running under the”mummy bridge”)
Downward dog is such a great pose to regain your strength postnatally. It strengthens the shoulders, arms, legs, stretches the back of the legs and relieves compression in the spine. It’s also considered an inversion, so it calms the brain as it energises the body.
Begin on all fours, facing baby.
Ground yourself evenly through spread fingers, curl the toes under, lift the hips up and then back, pushing the inner thighs back.
Press the heels back and down towards the ground.
Ensure that the spine is long and the shoulders are drawn away from your ears.
Press into the thumb and index finger to keep the wrists level.
From Downward Dog, lower the forearms into Dolphin Pose.
Keep the elbows in and press down with even pressure along the forearms and palms.
Lift the hips and walk the feet in slightly, keeping the legs straight.
This is amazing to tone the shoulders, and sneak a cheeky kiss on your baby’s forehead!
It’s an amazing feeling to finally be able to lie on your belly after pregnancy. Backbends and chest openers are so important for our posture, especially when it can feel like we are constantly slouching forward picking babies up, breastfeeding and picking toys off the floor, among other things.
The Cobra/Baby Cobra is an energising backbend which increases the flexibility of the spine.
To do this move, press the tops of the feet into the ground and bring the hands beside the ribs with your elbows pointed back.
Use the traction of your hands pulling down on the mat to allow your chest to emerge forward and up.
Pull the shoulders back and focus on lengthening the spine and opening the heart.
Knee to Chest (Apanasana)
Laying on your back is another one of those simple pleasures that we miss during the latter stages of pregnancy, and pulling the knees into the chest and breathing deeply can do wonders for a tight lower back.
Focus on lengthening the lumbar spine (the lower back where the spine curves inward toward the abdomen) and breathing into the lower back. You can roll around to create a mini massage on your mat and to find tight areas in the back that need attention.
Placing baby, tummy down in between the shin bones is a great added weight to make the pose even more fun and effective.
Supine Spinal Twist
This is another pose to release tension in the back in addition to toning the abdominal muscles and organs. It is also great for the digestive system.
Practising this pose with one leg straight will also give you a good stretch for the hamstrings and gluts.
To do this pose, lay on your back with arms out to the side. Straighten the left leg and bend the right knee, rolling it over to the left.
Roll the head gently over to the right.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Baby crawling, climbing or leaning onto the outer thigh of the bent leg also acts as an effective weight to deepen the stretch!
TMJ: What are your recommendations/advice for anyone thinking of starting yoga?
MF: Just start! It can be overwhelming trying to choose between all the many “styles” of yoga and different teachers. You can have completely contrasting experiences depending on which class you attend or what video you watch on YouTube, or book you read, or wherever you find your information.
Yoga is a journey of self and starting a practice is a very personal thing, depending on what you want to get out of it. You might want to try a few classes and teachers, or just find one and stick with it.
The profound benefits that people talk about are not necessarily instantaneous (although you can feel great after just one class) but come after consistent practice.
You can follow Micheline on Facebook at Yoga by Micheline and if you are in the Cornwall area check out some of her classes.