“Yoga begins right where I am - not where I was yesterday or where I long to be” - Linda Sparrowe
As I stood on the seamstress's pedestal, I could feel that nasty voice rising up in my mind - you know, that one that only directs negative comments inward. “Look at that belly pooch, why haven't you been able to lose more weight? You look terrible in that dress and it won’t even zip at the top.” In reality, it won’t zip at the top because my breasts are huge right now to provide nutrition for my 3-month-old baby, but the nasty voice doesn’t care. Like many of the students I talk to, I have to consciously shift my mindset and work to keep that nasty voice from creeping in and pulling me under. Once she creeps in, it’s a dark, downward spiral to impatience and self-shaming.
At 3 months postpartum I’m a bridesmaid in my brother-in-law’s wedding. The dress I’m standing in to get altered, I ordered last year, when I was 7 months pregnant, completely guessing at what size to order. I ended up ordering 2 dress sizes larger than my normal size thinking of my future postpartum self and knowing I wouldn’t be back to my pre-pregnancy size. I wasn’t thinking about needing an even larger dress just to be able to zip it over my chest. The bridal industry doesn’t care about postpartum women, nursing mothers or pregnant women for that matter. They don’t make dresses to comfortably support large breasts and a postpartum belly, they don’t make dresses that are easy to nurse in and they make very, very few dresses that are even remotely suitable for pregnant women. I know this because I’ve been in weddings while pregnant and/or while breastfeeding.
My body’s tendency is to hold onto postpartum weight for around a year after birth. I breastfed my first son for 15 months and I didn’t lose the last bit of "baby weight" until after I weaned. In Ayurveda, I'm Pitta-Kapha Dosha or Prakriti, so my body holds onto weight longer and tighter than a woman who is Vata or Vata-Pitta constitution, no matter how clean I eat and how much I exercise. Some of my students and friends are back to their pre-pregnancy shape or close to it after 2 or 3 months. Others won’t be for 2 years. The bottom line is that we’re all different and while it’s very easy to compare your journey to someone else’s, it’s extremely important that you resist this tendency!
My prenatal/postnatal yoga teacher taught me that the physical and emotional changes we experience during the immediate postpartum period (the first 6-12 weeks) are almost as great as those we experience throughout the entire pregnancy! Also, I learned that we need the extra weight to provide protection for our body while we’re getting very little sleep, waking frequently for feedings and providing milk to nourish our babies. It is vital that we figure out how to honor our new bodies during this transformation so we can find contentment and peace.
However, with all that I know and all that I teach, at 3 months postpartum, some days it feels like I should be further along in the recovery of my body, both in how it looks and how it feels. Daily tasks still feel different since my core is healing. My yoga practice still feels vastly different because of my lack of core strength and different shape of my body. Poses that were accessible a year ago are still out of reach. AND THAT’S OK! It took over 9 months to grow and nurture a human on the inside and now I’m solely responsible for the nourishment of this tiny human (it’s a huge job) and I need to ease (not race) through the journey!
Truth Bomb - The most important mindset shift that needs to happen in our postnatal yoga practice and off the mat is this: It’s not about “getting your body back,” it’s about figuring out how to move, breathe and practice in this NEW body that you’re in today. It’s the same body that grew a tiny human, and yet, it’s a different body, a forever-changed body.
The beauty of yoga is that your practice meets you where you are TODAY! Yoga doesn’t care about your belly pooch or that you can’t touch your toes or do a handstand anymore (or ever).
Mantra Exercise - Get out a pen and your journal or a sticky note and write down this mantra “I honor my body.” Post it on your computer, your wall or in your journal - somewhere you’ll see it several times a day. Repeat it to yourself. Often. Repeat it so often that you believe it to be the absolute truth.
When you’re in the midst of postpartum emotion and fatigue, it can be difficult to see clearly. But, I’m a firm believer that if you can shift your mindset, honor your new body and make peace with your new body, that you can find a clearer path to healing and self-love. Your yoga is here for you today, for this body. And, It’s up to you to honor this body you are in today and get on your mat!