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Regain Your Shape: Exercises After Childbirth

The very next day after a normal childbirth, the mother can practise Catuspadasana-Cat Posture on All Fours, to help her organs resume their normal position. Six weeks later, she can perform this exercise, pulling in the abdominal wall while completely contracting the abdominal muscles as she breathes out with the back hunched and the head lowered.

Providing she has not undergone episiotomy or experienced other complications, the mother can perform Asvini-Mudra in the Januvaksasana symbol of the Mare in the Knee-Chest posture ten days after childbirth. Like the Cat Posture, this exercise helps the womb return to its proper position. It also restores to the muscles of the vagina, distended by childbirth, their original elasticity. Asvini-Mudra plays a role which is j list as important after as during pregnancy. Since the exercise consists in alternately contracting and relaxing the muscles of the perineurn and the entire pelvic region, it helps, first, to exercise and to relax to a maximum the vaginal muscles at the moment the baby is born and, second, to restore the muscle-tone once birth has taken place.

As of the sixth week, the mother can gradually resume practice of the other Hathayoga exercises. The following asanas are designed to strengthen the abdominal muscles, loosened by pregnancy, but a choice of exercise should be made according to one’s individual abilities.

Asanas marked with an asterisk (*) should not be performed during menstruation.

Ardha-Halasana *
The Half Plough Posture

We recommend that one should begin the training of the abdominal muscles with this exercise, raising only one leg at a time. Repeat the exercise two or three times on either side.

The Spinal-Column Posture, Legs Raised

Lie on the back, and place the hands on the thighs. Breathe in deeply, raise the head by bringing the chin close to the sternum, then raise the trunk and legs while keeping the feet some 30 cms off the ground. Stay in this position for five seconds, lungs full, directing the attention towards the abdominal region. Breathe out while at the same time resuming the original lying position, and relax.

This exercise can be practised 2 to 4 times in succession, gradually increasing the number of repetitions.

The Boat Posture

Lie on the back, and while inhaling, raise the arms above the head. Exhale, at the same time raising the head, trunk and legs. Hold the arms outstretched so that they form a line parallel to the legs. Remain in this posture for a few seconds, lungs empty, back straight, then taking a deep breath, resume the lying position and relax. This exercise requires careful concentration if one is to keep one’s balance. It can be repeated two or three times.

Boat Posture, Hands on Ground*

Sit with the legs outstretched, hands on the ground beside the top of the thighs. Slightly tilt the trunk backwards. While breathing in deeply and maintaining one’s balance with the hands, slowly raise the legs some 60 cms off the ground. Hold the posture for several seconds with lungs full; then gradually lower the legs at the same speed, while exhaling, and relax. The attention should be directed towards the abdominal region. Women who experience difficulty in retaining the breath should breathe normally during the exercise. The asana can be repeated two to three times in succession.

Tolangulasana *
The Balance Posture

Position the legs as if for the Lotus posture, Padmasana, then tilt the trunk backwards, supporting the body with the elbows. Clench the hands and place them beneath the buttocks. Using the clenched hands and the forearms as a lever, bring the head forwards, and raise the trunk and legs so that the abdominal muscles are fully contracted.

In order to increase intra-abdominal pressure, thereby toning the internal organs, breathe in deeply before raising the trunk and legs, and retain the posture for a few seconds, lungs full. Direct the attention towards the abdominal region. Relax in a sitting position.

This asana is particularly recommended for restoring the stomach distended by pregnancy to its original shape. It is also an effective way of ensuring muscles tone. The exercise should not be performed by those with abnormal blood pressure, a weak heart or lungs, or by those suffering from ulcers.

It can be performed two or three times in succession.

Yoga-Mudra With Stretching of Back and Arms*

Sit in the Lotus position Cross the fingers and, while turning the palms of the hands upwards, raise the arms above the head. While breathing in, stretch the arms and back, remain two seconds in this position, with lungs full, and then breathe out slowly leaning the trunk forwards until, with the open palms turned outwards, the thumbs are touching the ground. Rest the forehead on the ground and remain in this stretched posture with the back straight for five seconds. Remember to draw in and contract the abdominal muscles while performing this posture.

Inhale deeply while raising the trunk and arms, then stretch once again before lowering the hands and relaxing in a sitting position.

The first part of this exercise stretching the back and arms upwards and lungs full while in a sitting position -strengthens the lungs, and tones the heart and the abdominal organs.

The second part-trunk bent forwards and lungs empty-continues the stretching of the spinal column.

Yoga-Mudra fortifies the abdominal muscles, and tones up the uterus and ovaries. The fact that the legs are in the Lotus position with foot lock-heels on either side of the groin-increases intra-abdominal pressure. This exercise is an excellent remedy for the inverted uterus. It is not recommended for those suffering from abdominal problems or high blood pressure. Yoga-Mudra can be practised two or three times in succession.

The Hare Posture

The only difference between this exercise and the previous-one is that the legs are in another position. For Shashankasana, adopt a kneeling position and sit on the heels. As in Yoga-Mudra, inhale while stretching the trunk and arms upwards, then lean forward while at the same tin-w breathing out. Hold the posture with lungs empty for five seconds while contracting the abdominal muscles and drawing in the abdominal wall. Bring the trunk and arms. up again, while breathing in deeply. Stretch once again, lower the arms while breathing out and relax. Direct the attention towards the abdominal region.

Yoga-Mudra and Shashankasana produce similar beneficial effects, but owing to the different position of the legs, the two exercises do not act on the pelvis and abdominal wall in quite the same way.

The Hare Posture is well known for its tonic effect on the pelvic region. Like Yoga-Mudra, it remedies uterine inversion. The same restrictions apply to both exercises. Shashankasana can be performed three to five times in succession.

Raising of the Diaphragm

Adopt a standing position, feet slightly apart. Bend the knees a little, and place the hands on the top of the thighs. Perform one deep inhalation in three parts, and then exhale completely. While keeping the trunk tilted slightly forwards and pushing the hands against the thighs. contract and draw in the abdominal wall, and hollow the stomach by raising the diaphragm and ribs. This upward movement of the diaphragm exerts pressure on the base of the neck, thereby producing visible hollows in the clavicular area.

Hold the posture, lungs completely empty, for some five seconds, then breathe in deeply while relaxing the abdominal muscles and bringing the trunk back to an upright position. The exercise can be repeated two to five times. The attention should be directed towards the abdominal region.

Uddiyana-Bandha ensures the correct functioning of the internal organs and fosters control of the abdominal muscles. It is a highly effective way of reducing the volume of the abdomen when distended by pregnancy.

It is not recommended for those suffering from high or low blood pressure, or from abdominal or circulatory problems. Before performing this Bandha, we recommend regular practice of the other exercises described in the present chapter.

Exercises for a Short Session at Home

Young mothers in the throes of breast-feeding and caring for their baby are often heavily occupied with housekeeping. Relaxation and keeping fit are therefore an important need, and mothers should be able to practise the postnatal exercises while remaining at home.

We have composed a short daily session of Hathayoga which permits mothers to perform the following exercises as of the seventh week after childbirth. This presupposes, of course, that the mothers in question are not suffering from health problems.

The exercises should be practised with caution, under the guidance of an expert. The session has been devised for mothers who have followed the Yoga course for pregnant women. A large number of the exercises already learned on the course are repeated here, for they also produce beneficial effects after childbirth. In order to practise them without difficulty, mothers should be thoroughly familiar with them, either by having performed them personally, or by having seen them demonstrated during the course, in the case of certain simple asanas.

There are two exceptions to the asanas recommended for the short home session, namely Tolangulasana and Yoga-Mudra, which can neither be performed during pregnancy nor learned through a simple demonstration. They are reserved for women who have practised them before becoming pregnant.

Yoga-Mudra can be replaced by Shashankasana, the first part of which is practised regularly throughout the course. The second part-trunk bent forward-is demonstrated by the teacher, but can also be performed during the first stages of pregnancy, knees apart.

Two other exercises -Viparita Karani and Ujjayee Pranayama-are included in, the session, but they call for the remarks discussed below.

Those who have not learned to perform Viparita Karani before pregnancy should practise the modified version, as performed during the course for pregnant women, i.e. with the feet against the wall. It is possible, however, to try taking, first, one foot then the other away from the wall, having raised the pelvis and stretched out the legs, in order to adopt the unmodified inverted position.

Whether modified or not, Viparita Karani is highly beneficial to women who are breast-feeding because it stimulates the pituitary gland producing the hormones required for breast-feeding and the reconstitution of the menstrual cycle. The proper functioning of the pituitary gland is essential to that of the uterus and ovaries.

As for Ujjayee Pranayama, it is important to note that a slightly different breathing technique is used after, as opposed to during, pregnancy. In the post-natal version, when exhaling, the contraction of the abdominal muscles is stronger. The mother must gradually draw in the abdominal wall to its fullest extent, a movement which cannot be performed during pregnancy. This increasingly strong contraction should be continued until there is no air left in the lungs.

During inhalation, first, the abdominal wall should be slightly arched by lowering the diaphragm, and then the ribs should be fully expanded. Throughout the duration of the Pranayama, the abdominal muscles must remain under control and should never be allowed to relax completely.

Apart from the highly beneficial effects this exercise produces on the nervous system and the internal organs, it also helps the abdomen distorted by pregnancy to regain its initial shape.

We shall now examine the part of the session devoted to complete Yogic breathing and relaxation, as well as to Interiorisation. There is no need to wait six weeks before practicing them. Breathing and relaxation can already be performed while the mother is still lying in bed at the hospital. This will help her recuperate more quickly and easily from the- exhaustion caused by childbirth. As soon as she returns home, she can also practice Interiorisation.

Once the child has arrived, the young mother is faced with a very different kind of family life, especially if it is her first child.

In the West, the mother must often perform household chores completely unassisted. She must not only cope with the fatigue caused by childbirth, the care of her newborn baby, and her lack of experience, but also with the fear that she may not be equal to her new tasks. This explains why young mothers sometimes risk going into depression. Rendered even more sensitive by the hormonal transformation which takes place within the body after childbirth, they come under considerable psychic stress, feel lifeless, despondent, and overwhelmed by events. It is imperative for the young mother to find time for relaxing so that she can eliminate fatigue and nervous tension.

The fact that she has regularly practised Yogic breathing and Savasana, the posture of tranquility and complete relaxation, during the Yoga course for pregnant women, will now prove to be of very great help indeed. The mother’s state of mind plays an important part in helping the milk to rise, and there is no need to emphasize how important the mother’s milk is to the health of the newborn child.

Anxiety, irritableness, and heavy physical or moral fatigue prevent the normal process of breast-feeding and do not allow the mother fully to benefit from the joys of having given birth to a child. Interiorisation is the best way of re-establishing contact with oneself, calming the mind, and controlling the emotions.

We recommend practising the exercises described in Chapter 2, “Exercises for Over-coming Emotional Stress.” in order to prevent the buildup of emotional tension. The following are exercises for a session lasting roughly half an hour:

1. Stretching the back: Cross-legged repeat three times.

2. Complete Yogic Breathing: Cross-legged or in the Half-Lotus position perform five to ten times.

3. Asvini-Mudra*: Symbol of the Mare in the Knee-Chest Posture, repeat two series of three to five contractions

4. Ardha-Halasana*: Half-Plough posture. Begin by raising one leg at a time, repeat this exercise two or three times on each side.

5. Utthitapada-Merudandasana*: Spinal column posture, legs raised repeat two to four times for five seconds.

Having practised for a week, one of the following three exercises may be added:

6. (i) Paripurna-Navasanao: Boat posture. Or

(ii) Variation*: Boat posture, hands on ground is easier to perform and which should be used to begin with. Or

(iii) Tolangulasana *: Balance posture, can only be performed by those who have practised it before becoming pregnant.

The exercise chosen can be repeated two or three times for several seconds.

7. Ustrasana: Camel posture, should be practised two or three times from three to five seconds. This exercise can be alternated with Catuspadasana*, i.e. Cat posture.

8. (i) Shashankasana*: Hare posture, should be performed three to five times for five seconds. Or

(ii)Yoga-Mudra, Variation *: With stretching of back and arms, can only be performed by those who have already practised it before becoming pregnant. Should be repeated two or three times for five seconds.

9. Viparita Karani: Inverted position. This modified exercise has already been practised during pregnancy and can now be performed with or without the modification. It should be repeated once or twice for fifteen seconds to two minutes. The duration can be increased by five seconds every week if practised daily. This inverted position is not recommended to those with high blood pressure.

10. Savasana: Complete Yogic relaxation, should be performed once for five to ten minutes.

11 (i)Ujjayee Pranayama: Breathing with glottis partly closed, should be repeated five to twelve times. Or

(ii)Anuloma Viloma Pranayama: Breathing through alternate nostrils, repeat three to seven times.

12. Interiorisation.

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