Body Image Support after Pregnancy
Whether you’ve had big babies, little babies or multiple babies; you may notice that your body doesn’t look the way it used to before you had your little angels. And that’s OK. Don’t give up on your after baby body. I know that it’s discouraging to deal with something that may be out of the norm for you. There are a lot of helpful support available to you, which includes yoga, massage (or bodywork), and support groups.
Yoga for Mamas
Yoga is a two in one support system that you are able to access at anytime. The first being the internal work, or inward focus. This includes pranayama (or breath work), centering, affirmations and meditation. The internal work will set the path for building self-patience and a deeper self-understanding in an unconditionally loving way.
The second being the asanas (or the physical part). The asanas help us to move our bodies dynamically and get circulation flowing. It helps us to create sweat and reduce the fat around the belly. Yogic postures can create more flexibility and ease with our physical selves. It may not happen overnight, especially if you’ve had babies over the age of 35 or 40, but that’s where establishing patients through the internal work comes in; the work of self acceptance, unconditional self-love and understanding true value.
In the mean time, the best place to look for reassurance is your own children. Always keep in mind that you have someone who loves you unconditionally. They love you no matter what your body looks like. So when you’re feeling down and out, in that moment, just think of them wanting to hug and squeeze you as you are. Keep in mind the way they say “I love you” and how they always desire your attention. Allow your children to keep you going when you have that downward spiral moment. And once you get over the downward spiral, turn back to your yoga practice and build your strength from the inside out.
Sit in a comfortable position – allow your eyes to close (or create a soft gaze looking a few inches in front of you) – take notice of your breath – with each exhale create a feeling of sinking deeper into your seated position (feel your shoulders to fall away from your ears) – with each breath allow your mind to soften. To interrupt any intrusive thoughts, take a deep breath and let out a loud OM on the exhale to bring your awareness back to the present moment.
While in a comfortable seated position do Dirga and Uji breathing. These are calming breath techniques that are wonderful for stress reduction and getting your mind and body’s system to calm. Dirga breath is a three part breathing technique that helps you become aware of your breath and being able to control it at a slower and more mindful pace. Uji breath incorporates Dirga breathing, but adds sound to assist in focusing the mind on the here and now. This is a great technique if you tend to worry a lot. Sound is made by slightly constricting the back of the throat, which makes an ocean like sound.
Bring in a more active breathing technique to get your circulation moving and burn up stagnate energy. Techniques such as Kapalabhati (insightful details in an article by Larissa Carlson from Kripalu) and Agni Sara (article by Modig Internal Disciplines gives a “How to”) are ideal. Kapalabhati is vigorous breath work that releases tension in the abdomen. Just be mindful to not do this pranayama if you are pregnant, had recent abdomen surgery, or have high – uncontrolled blood pressure. Agni Sara is a blend of breath retention and stomach pumping. Great for digestion and getting the system active again. Similar precautions as Kapalabhati.
Start with basic postures that are not overwhelming. Maybe start with twist, torso focused movement, and bridge posture. Then move into postures that used the abs more, like inverted boat.
If, at first, the slower pace of yoga is not enough for you, then try something new like Journey Dance (created by Toni Bergins). This combines the essence and philosophy of yoga with dynamic dance movements. Find out if there is a class near you through the Journey Dance website.
Another resource is Shake Your Soul: The Yoga of Dance classes (created by Dan Leven). This is a movement class that awakens your body’s whole system through powerful, yoga inspired dance movements [find an instructor]. Great for the nervous system and circulation. Also check out SomaSoul: Somatic Therapy, if you are still going through postpartum depression. SomaSoul incorporates mind body healing through expressive arts like movement, yoga, meditation, etc. (created by Dan Leven). It addresses the emotional body.[find a therapist]
Massage Therapy or Bodywork
Another helpful resource is massage therapy. Massage has so many encouraging benefits. I’m sure many of you know the more popular benefits of massage. However, an additional includes the feeling of healthy connection. For some it may sound if’y, but for those of you who have body image challenges, healthy touch can have a positive mental effect (of course for someone who have had experience with physical or psychological abuse, it is understanding that this may not seem ideal. However, it may be ideal to deal with this aspect with a professional therapist then find a massage therapist you feel safe and comfortable with).
As far as the typical benefits, massage gets circulation and nutrients moving throughout the body. This helps with removing toxins and stagnate material out of the body.
Swedish Massage – massage can have both physical and psychological benefits. Overall, massage benefits the nervous system that dictates the bodily and cognitive functions. Physically, massage can move out toxins and stagnation from the body. Psychologically, it can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It is truly relaxing, and therapeutic as well. [Learn More]
Reiki – is energy work that works with the body on a deeper energetic level. This modality makes the time and space for you to let go and “just be” as the therapist realigns your wiring. Excellent for reducing stress, decrease worrying, pain reduction, etc. Reiki is also ideal if you are not able to have more physical work, like massage, done. [Learn More]
Positional Therapy – structurally realigns the body. Wonderful for Moms who’s hips are out of place after having babies. Positional Therapy also provides things you can do at home to establish new habits around body posture and dealing with in the moment limitations. [Learn More]
Ayurvedic Massage – there are various types of Ayurvedic bodywork treatments. An Ayurvedic massage is a wonderful modality that focuses on the whole person to bring about balance and healing. Many of the massages you can do for yourself. Here is a link that will get you started and introduced to the world of Ayurvedic Body Treatments*.
Connecting with other Mama’s…
After baby, life can get a little lonely. Connecting with other mothers can give you company and an outlet with others who understand what you are going through. Most city and towns have Mama groups that meet up, support one another, and provides resources . Although, if you don’t have a group in your area there are some good ones on Facebook listed under Support & Comfort, and for being active Health & Fitness. I also have a group called, “How I Stay Inspired: A Share Circle“.
My Personal Story
I cannot pretend that I am not disappointed in myself with the way my body turned out after having children. I went from [pre-babies] around 96 pounds (I am short) to [post babies] about 140, all belly. At a later age, I had big babies . My first was 9lbs and 3.8oz when I was 33 years old, and my second was 9lbs and 6oz when I was 42 years old. It was after my second when I went over the edge with my weight and extended belly. I even went through depression for a while (still do, on and off). That depression scooped me into the inability to get up and move; to do my yoga, dance, hike, or even enjoy life.
Being someone who has a degree in psychology, certification in yoga, and licensed in massage & bodywork; my mind goes to, “I should know better”. But what I have to remind myself is that I’m human, and even though I have this as my background and profession it does not mean that I’m immune to imperfection. However, having this background does remind me that I am in control and I am able to make a difference in my body and with my mentality around my current situation. It is a work in progress.
What is helping me is the time I take with my children and being able to create joy. We dance and sing (as loud as possible) around the house. My youngest loves yoga, so I have started to do a practice with her. I am mindful about what I eat and when. And any chance I get, I make sure I get some type of bodywork and massage. My strong love and pure enjoyment I have for and with my family keeps me going and motivated. There are times it can be overwhelming to take care of everyone else, and forget about myself. When I realize I’m in this mode, I make sure I allow myself to stop, close my eyes, and breath deeply. I accept the gentle reminder that the efficient time I take for myself is essential. If I am a wreck, then there is no way I can realistically be there for others and be productive.
Articles interviewed of and written by Larissa Carlson, E-RYT 500, 1000-hr Kripalu Teacher
Ayurveda 101: 3 Rejuvenating Self-Care Practices for Spring – Yoga Journal Website
Ayurveda 101: 4 Small Changes That Make a Big Difference – Yoga Journal Website
*What is abhyanga? – Mother Nature Network