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The Baby Pause: ‘Motherhood & Yoga’

Irish born Ciara Hannam, mother of one two year old little girl, Fiadh (pronounced Fia) and one two week old baby boy, Oisín (pronounced Osheen) lives in Bristol with her husband, James. Qualified yoga teacher on the side, music lover and marketeer in a tech firm, Ciara serves up her experiences of motherhood, the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly with a side of some tried and tested wins that helped her along the way. Definitely still learning though.

My yoga journey (Before children)

I attended my first yoga class in 2011 when I moved to London from Ireland. That first class left me in awe and pushed me in ways I had never before experienced, yet I left feeling curious to explore more.

I had always thought of yoga’s physical practise as something easy, all about stretching and zero to do with strength building or getting the heart racing and frankly, I thought I was tougher than that. I was into high intensity, fast-paced, maxed out kind of activity, which is how I had approached most things in life at that time and ‘yoga was far too easy-going for the likes of me’. How wrong I was.

I discovered the many layers of yoga the deeper I dived into it, and I suppose that’s what keeps me coming back for more. It’s not only a physical practice teaching strength, stamina, flexibility and endurance, which makes you feel great but also brings with it a journey of self-discovery and just some good life practices. No wonder it has stood the test of time.

Going to that first class was the best decision I ever made. I went on to do my teacher training in 2014, and since then, I’ve continued to learn about the multitude of different yoga styles and techniques. Still, more than anything, each time I get on the mat, whether it’s alone for 5 minutes, 50 mins or alongside my toddler, it’s time that I give myself to check-in and explore what I need to keep balanced in that moment. 

Motherhood and yoga – some commonalities 

Even if you’ve never given yoga a second thought or even if you have thought about it and decided it’s not for you, there is no doubt, motherhood in itself is yoga.

It starts with the physical challenge of carrying a baby for nine months. According to new research (Women’s Health UK), women who are expecting live at the edge of human endurance – on a level comparable to someone who’s completed the Tour de France. That’s strength and endurance training to the max. 

Then there’s labour, where intuition and physical sensation begin a complex but beautiful dance together. Senses are totally heightened, and the mind tunes in to what your body and baby need. In a way, that dance continues right through your daily life as a mother. 

Motherhood forces you to slow down, rid the ego as it’s no longer simply you that takes priority. It teaches you to find gratitude in surrendering to the simple things. Whilst it can be hard to let go of the way things used to be, especially now more than ever when we are fed stories, images and adverts of the ‘perfect’ mother on a constant reel, often experiencing things in the moment can help shift our perspective. Too often, we enforce expectations and standards on ourselves in all aspects of life, and motherhood is no different. 

Similarly, with yoga, the moment you release excessive physical effort and resistance to control what your mind thinks it should be doing, and you tune in to what’s happening in the body, the mind and the breath in that moment, you find ease and acceptance. We often get too preoccupied seeking the extraordinary moments then risk missing out on the joy of the more simplistic ones. 

Like yoga, motherhood is a lesson in patience, understanding, selflessness, and endurance (and that’s without lockdown). The practice of yoga, both physical and spiritual, has slowly become an integral part of my life and something I turn to in challenging times because it’s there to offer whatever I need, whenever I need it, for however long I need it for. That’s the beauty of it – the benefits are there for the taking in your own personal way, in your own time once you open your mind to the possibilities. 

So, to all you mama’s or mama’s to be – give yourself a big pat on the back, show yourself some gratitude with whatever self-care tricks you might have in your arsenal and remind yourself that you are more than enough. 

The Golden Thread Breathing Technique

A simple breathing technique to calm the mind in pregnancy, early-stage labour and everyday mothering.

Set-up

– Find a comfortable seat, whether that’s sitting upright in a chair, feet flat on the ground or cross-legged. You could place a cushion or pillow under you to elevate your hips and align them with your knees. If seated in a cross-legged position, you might like to put a blanket, blocks or cushions under your knees so they feel supported. 

– Once comfortable, gently close the eyes, scan the face for any unnecessary tension in the jaws, forehead, space between the eyebrows, release the teeth away from each other and let the tongue rest at the roof of the mouth, on the soft palate.

– Soften the throat and sink the chin in towards the throat slightly to lengthen the back of the neck. 

– Lengthen the spine from the back of the skull.

– Take a deep inhale, lift the shoulders greatly and on the exhale, release them down. Repeat this as many times as you like until you come to a settled position with the shoulders relaxed and hands resting on your lap.

 During

– Start to breathe in through the nose slowly, filling the full sides and back of lungs with the breath (You might like to count to 4/5 in your mind if that helps)

– As you breathe out, make a small, soft opening between the lips and breathe out for a little longer (maybe 6 counts). The out breath is usually naturally longer anyway.

– If it helps, you can visualise a golden thread or a golden stream of light gently flowing out of your mouth and slowly upwards as you exhale. 

– Repeat this pattern in through the nose and out though the mouth for as long as needed, each exhale releasing and letting go of any unwanted tension. 

 To finish

– Simply blink the eyes open slowly, turning your attention to the places you might usually hold tension and notice whether you feel a difference.

You can do this anywhere, anytime, day or night, when you need a moment of calm. By breathing this way, you access the vagus nerve, which turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest, repair and digestion. Hope you enjoy!

Watch my yoga videos

Start your own yoga journey

If you’re pregnant and looking for ways to relax or stay fit, you might be considering yoga. But did you know that doing yoga while pregnant might also help you prepare for labour and promote your baby’s health?

Before you start prenatal yoga, please consult or GP or midwife and understand the range of possible benefits and what a typical class entails and important safety tips.

What is pregnancy yoga?

Pregnancy yoga or prenatal yoga, like traditional yoga, uses postures and breathing techniques to balance your mind and body. Some poses will be the same as in a typical yoga class, while others will be modified, especially for pregnancy. Make sure your instructor is qualified to teach pregnant women

A typical yoga class will teach breathing and relaxation techniques that you can use during pregnancy, labour and everyday mothering. You may also learn good positions to adopt during early-stage labour to help you through contractions and aid delivery.

What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?

Undertaking in yoga while pregnant encourages stretching, mental centring and focused breathing. Research suggests that prenatal yoga is safe for as long as you feel comfortable and can have a range benefits for pregnant women and their babies.

Yoga during pregnancy can:

  • Improve sleep
  • Social benefits – meet and bond with other pregnant women
  • Reduce anxiety and stress
  • Increase strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for labour
  • Reduce symptoms of pregnancy such as lower back pain, nausea, headaches and shortness of breath

A typical pregnancy yoga session

A typical yoga class could involve:

  • Breathing – Focus on breathing in and out slowly, and deeply through the nose. Pregnancy yoga breathing techniques might help you reduce or manage shortness of breath during pregnancy and work through contractions during labour.
  • Gentle stretching – Gently move different areas of your body, such as your neck and arms, through their full range of motion.
  • Postures – While standing, sitting or lying on the ground, you’ll gently move your body into different positions to develop your strength, flexibility and balance. Don’t forget to use items such as blankets, cushions and belts to provide support and comfort.
  • Cooldown and relaxation. At the end of each class relax your muscles and restore your resting heart rate and breathing rhythm. 

Pregnancy Yoga: Staying safe

Staying safe during any pregnancy exercise is important for both yours and your baby’s health. Here are some top safety tips to follow during your yoga sessions. 

  • Talk to your health care provider. Before you begin a prenatal yoga class, make sure you speak to your GP or midwife. You might not be able to do pregnancy yoga if you are at increased risk of preterm labour or have certain underlining medical conditions, such as heart disease or back problems.
  • Set achievable targets.  It doesn’t have to be in one go – start off doing sessions of 10 minutes and build up to around 30 minutes. Don’t forget that even shorter or less frequent workouts can still help you stay in shape and prepare for labour.
  • Pace yourself. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you hold a conversation while you’re doing your exercises, if you can’t you are probably doing too much.
  • Stay cool and hydrated. Make sure you are in a well-ventilated room to avoid overheating and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Avoid certain postures. Avoid poses which involve; lying on your belly or back, doing deep forward or backward bends, or twisting that put pressure on your abdomen. If you are unsure speak to your instructor.
  • Don’t overdo it. Pay attention to your body and how you feel. Start slow and avoid postures that exceed your level of experience. Stretch only as far as you would have before pregnancy.
  • IMPORTANT – If you experience any pain or other red flags — such decreased baby movement or contractions — during your yoga sessions, stop and contact your GP and/or Midwife.

For more information visit the NHS website or reach out to a local qualified instructor.

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