If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression, then you know that this is not something to be taken lightly. We spoke to yoga mama, yoga teacher and travelling yogi, Tara Mestre, who tells us firsthand how yoga for postpartum depression can help during this difficult period.
"My journey with post natal depression was one that started a few weeks into my son's birth and was brought about mostly by a traumatic birth experience and difficulty breast-feeding, combined with the loneliness of being a new mother," Tara tells Lots of Yoga. "I guess it was a grieving period for my old life. Post-natal depression is hard to explain and affects people differently. For me, it was characterised by an overwhelming sense of loneliness and sadness. I was very much stuck in a negative thinking pattern and dwelling on the birth and what I could have done differently.
Before having my son and even during pregnancy, my go-to thing when I was feeling tired or low would be yoga. One of the outcomes of having my son was the physical effect it had on my body. For at least the first 8 months of his life I was unable to fully practice any form of yoga and this was hard for me to deal with at first. Instead, I turned to different forms of yoga to get me through."
Yoga For Postpartum Depression
"The biggest hurdle in my depression," continues Tara, "was this feeling of having to fit in and be the ultimate mother and I felt like I couldn’t be the person I was before. Yoga teaches us to accept ourselves just as we are and this was invaluable in my recovery. The acceptance of who I was saved me in the end."
Slow gentle yoga for postpartum depression practices focusing on the breath and connection to movement in a mindful way are key. For new mothers, life becomes quite demanding very quickly and it isn’t easy to switch off. Practicing with presence and really listening to what the body is saying is imperative. New mothers should feel nourished and loved from their yoga practice so Restorative Yoga poses are the best ones out there, think eye masks and bolsters. (Here's how you can make your own yoga bolster in under 3 minutes with items that you most probably have lying around the house!)
Pranayama (Yogic Breathing)
"Deep belly breaths and shoulder rolls were my saviour in those early months," says Tara. She also began incorporating Pranayama into her many night-time feeding sessions, practising alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Sodhana) during the day if she felt stressed or anxious.
Asana (Yoga Poses)
Tadasana (Mountain Pose). "I used Tadasana on a daily basis to keep me grounded. Once I let go of what I thought yoga had to be I practiced the type of yoga that came naturally to me and in the moment."
Cat/Cow. "This was also another great posture for me as I spent so much time sitting down breastfeeding this helped me loosen up my spine and started to bring strength into my arms and as time went on I would practice a more dynamic version which gave me those feel-good hormones I was lacking."
Legs up the Wall. There are so many restorative postures you can benefit from and Legs Up The Wall is a great one for water retention, heavy legs, restlessness and insomnia.
Supported Savasana. "I did supported Savasana with a bolster underneath me so that my chest was open and I could fully recline into the posture and breath comfortably. With a blanket and eye mask, I would quite often fall asleep on my mat."
Meditation and Gratefulness
Practicing gratitude and stillness are imperative in yoga for postpartum depression. Depression is often caused by being overwhelmed with feelings. In order to prevent this, and if at all possible, trying to nip this in the bud when you first feel the depression building up could help. This is a signal to slow down and find acceptance.
Meditation and chanting can be used to help clear negative energy and chanting is a therapeutic way to cleanse the mind, body and soul. Tara also recommends attending a Kirtan chanting class.
4 Top Tips to Overcome Postnatal Depression
"It seemed as though I had to go back to the very basics of yoga in order to move forward with my practice," says Tara, "and my practice in effect was letting go, patience and acceptance." Here are Tara's top tips for getting back into the yoga swing of things after having a baby.
1. Don’t rush.
The physical effects of having a child last for at least a year, which is something that many don’t realise. Post baby, there could be a feeling of having to get your body back as it was, and basically carry on as though nothing has happened. Instead of putting pressure on the body, this should be a period of finding a new found respect for the body.
"A good friend of mine who has had 2 children and is a yoga teacher told me early on to wait at least a year," says Tara. "I gawped at the idea but she was right. Every time I tried to push myself, it backfired so there is plenty of time for you to build up your practice nice and slowly and those first few months are so important for recovery. There are mixed opinions about when you should get back on your mat, but it depends on how strong your practice was before hand. I would say wait at least 6 weeks before attempting anything."
2. Work within your limits.
Yoga teaches us to be in the moment and to honour where we are right now. If you are used to a physical practice, this might be frustrating for you at first and it might seem as though you are going backwards, but sometimes in order to move forward we have to slow down and really understand where we are especially in our bodies. That's what yoga for postpartum depression is all about. Feeding your baby nonstop can lead to sore shoulders and back ache so gentle stretches to loosen these are absolutely fine.
If you are breastfeeding, your body will continue to secrete hormones that make your ligaments longer and more flexible. For this reason, it’s best to avoid any deep open stretches to prevent any potential damage to your ligaments. Do what feels right and if it feels like too much, step back and wait a little bit longer.
3. Join a class.
"My best advice would be to go to a yoga for postpartum depression class which is specifically designed for women after birth and also to listen to your body," says Tara. "My weekly yoga class was my chance to really let go, cry if I needed to, and just bond with other mamas who were going through the same thing." Many towns and cities now offer mother-and baby yoga classes which are essentially for you (the babies just tend to just lie there), giving you an opportunity to stretch out those problematic areas in your shoulders and lower back which tend to suffer the most in those early months.
4. Ask for help.
Becoming a parent can be a very challenging experience and for some, extremely difficult. "Depression can make you feel very cut off but my saving grace was asking for help," Tara tells us. "I recognised things were not right and I asked for help straight away. Asking for help is not a failure and amazingly you will then realise that no one is superhuman and people are compassionate and kind." Reaching out can help you immensely. You are not alone! You will be surprised how many people are going through/have gone through the same thing and will be more than happy to lend listening ear or helping hand.
Yoga for Postpartum Depression Youtube Video
This is a full 70-minute yoga for postpartum depression video on youtube that you could do from the comfort of your own home. Make sure to consult your doctor and yoga teacher before doing any new exercise.
Yoga for Postpartum Depression Books
Here are some books to help you through the difficult postnatal period so that you can feel good, inside and out.
Tara Mestre is a first time mama to an almost three-year-old boy and currently lives in Spain with her partner Ben in their converted camper-van. Tara qualified as a yoga teacher when she was 8 months pregnant! Tara is an avid yogi, passionate about healthy living and spending lots of time outdoors. To learn more, check out Tara's blog or follow her on Instagram.