Calmababy: Gently does it!

Suitable to attend from approximately four to six weeks after giving birth, Postnatal Yoga classes at Calmababy are a wonderful way to gently regain your core-strength and re-align the body. The classes are suitable for all new mothers – including those who have given birth by caesarean section. Babies come along to the class with mum, share her mat, sleep, roll around and sometimes join in with the poses! We talked to class teacher Vanessa Hardy about what Postnatal Yoga is, and how it benefits both mother and baby

Many people have a fair idea what yoga is, even if they haven’t done it themselves – but what exactly is Postnatal Yoga? 
Postnatal Yoga – the way we teach it, using the Birthlight method – is a highly effective, yet gentle way to re-shape, repair and close the body after giving birth. Obviously the body changes a lot during pregnancy – we have to make room for our growing baby. The muscles change and the internal organs move into different positions, so Postnatal Yoga is really about repairing, healing and strengthening. It is not about gaining a slim figure or loosing weight quickly! Postnatal Yoga aims to create core strength as a solid foundation for longerterm health. However, it is not all about the physical aspects. There is a quote we use a lot at Calmababy: ‘The moment a child is born, a mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.’ Because I am a mother myself I understand the big emotions that come with having a baby. I use this knowledge and experience to support the mums who attend the class. This understanding element is an important part of the Postnatal Yoga sessions

What are the key issues for women after giving birth, beyond its direct physical effects?
Getting enough rest! They may not be sleeping as much, could be chronically exhausted by adapting to the feeding demands of their new baby, and they are dealing with the unexpected changes to their life and relationships. In todays society women report feeling pressure to be a ‘perfect mum’, which is an unrealistic expectation! We encourage honesty between mothers. If you’re feeling tired or fed up, it’s ok to say you are having a bad day – you don’t have to cover it up with a smile and say everything’s fine when it isn’t. It’s about the body and mind together, learning to breathe and to relax, to connect and bond with the baby, and most importantly to take care of yourself and your own needs. That sounds like a very obvious thing to do, but not everyone has an instant bond with their child; they might have had difficulties during labour, or be suffering from postnatal depression. Postnatal Yoga, or any other mother and baby class, can be a real haven for some people. It means they have somewhere to come and share what they are feeling in an open way with other like-minded people. If they’re having specific problems, there’s a support network there – and that can be especially important for first-time mums or single mums, or just mums who are new to the area. It’s as much about getting out of the house and meeting others, as it is about exercising, repairing and learning to breathe and relax.

So there’s a social aspect to it, too?
Absolutely – and that is a valuable element of the class. The first few weeks after giving birth can often be busy, everyone wants to visit and meet the new arrival. However, when dad goes back to work, or everyone stops visiting so frequently it can be lonely for mums. Especially if they live away from their family or are the first to have a baby within their group of friends. Getting out of the house and being in the company of other women, who are sharing the same new experiences, is vitally important for a mother’s well-being and her state of mind. I would say that how a woman feels emotionally and socially is equally as important, if not more so, than how she feels physically.

Was it always a feature of the class that mums bring their babies?
Yes, all our classes involve the parent and baby together. That’s because the ethos that underpins everything we do is bonding. Having said that, there are odd occasions when mums attend without their baby. They may need some time for themselves, or maybe daddy is spending one to one time with their child. Whatever their reason, that is perfectly fine; if women want to attend without their baby then we support that too. During a class if baby needs be fed or changed mums can just get up and do it. It’s the kind of space where they don’t need to feel nervous about doing whatever they need to do. Even if the baby’s crying, it’s fine – it is just part of having a baby. Crying is very welcome in all our classes! That’s what we’re trying to achieve – to say whatever you want to do, it’s OK. I remember one lady who was struggling to bond with her baby and with feeding. She was tense and not sleeping. It took a huge amount of effort for her to get dressed, leave the house and walk into that class. She chose to just sit and watch the class for a while whilst holding her baby. She joined in later and then during the relaxation at the end, she actually fell asleep whilst feeding her daughter! She said it was the first time her child had fed effectively, because she was so relaxed. Most people – including those without children – rarely take time out to relax, it is really important, for the children as well as the parent

Can you talk us through a typical session?
Generally, for the first few minutes, there is spontaneous chat about how everyone is feeling. Generally, mum’s talk about what they have been doing, how their baby is that day, and lovely stories about things their baby is doing or how they are developing. Then we start with spinal alignment and postnatal breathing, which is specific exercises designed to balance the body, calm the nervous system and begin to draw in the stomach muscles. We spend some time doing this in a lying down position with the babies next to us or on our chest. Then we move on to various exercises for stabilising the hips and the pelvis. We include yoga stretches and poses as well, to allow the body to lengthen and relax. Mums can spend a lot of time hunched over, feeding, bathing or bending, so stretching out fully can be quite a refreshing change. After this we include different postures that help repair, heal and strengthen. People may hear the word ‘yoga’ and think of headstands and the lotus position, but this is not like that…. These are gentle exercises to stabilise and prevent injury. We attend to the postnatal body from the inside first, strengthening the deepest layers of the pelvis and abdominal muscles first, then working outwards. We make sure everything is done very gently, and every movement is done with the breath, which allows the muscles to relax and stretch in a natural way. Nothing is forced. If anything feels uncomfortable, then we find an adaptation, there is always a way that is suitable. The class ends with a relaxation session, most mums cuddle or feed their baby during this time and many benefit from a deep power nap. They say they feel refreshed and energised after the class. Their body feels stronger and relaxed at the same time.

Clearly some women may have given birth by caesarean – does that mean there are some exercises they can’t do?
No not really. It just means that mums who had caesarean births may benefit from a different approach to the posture, they need adaptations for poses and time for their body to heal in a different way from a traditional birth. For example they may be uncomfortable on the floor, so we start their activity on a birthing ball or chair. Everything we do is inclusive, we start with what they feel happy doing, there is always something they can do. Generally, if you have had a caesarean birth we encourage a longer period of postnatal breathing exercises and gentle drawing in of the stomach muscles. Caesarean scars often feel numb, as the nerves have been cut and women sometimes don’t like to touch the area. When she is ready we can show mum how to massage her scar, to break down any scar tissue, awaken the nerve endings and help heal any associated feelings about the area.

Do you get a wide range of people coming – those who have done yoga before, and those who haven’t?
Yes. We offer it as a mum and baby session and get a wide range of people attending. We have athletic parents that have been doing yoga for many years. Others are professional women adapting to their life at home rather than in the office, some are second or third time mums, many are stay at home mums or single mums, there is a range of ages from early twenties to mid forties, they dress differently and have different interests – what unites them all is their role as new mothers and the unknown and often strange land of ‘motherhood’ they are sharing.

How long can people carry on with the classes?
Originally we thought people would come for 10-12 weeks and then return to their usual exercise once they were ready, but actually we’ve had people staying in the class for six or seven months! Obviously when the children reach the stage where they’re mobile it’s time to move on to another class, but we never tell people to leave. A lot of people do like to come for the social aspect of it, and just switch off in a room where there are no phones, no distractions. People say to me they really miss that part when they leave – the quietness and the relaxation.

How did you come to be doing this?
I met Alison Duff, the founder of Calmababy, about 7 years ago, through bringing my son to her swimming classes when he was 11 weeks old. At the time I owned my own business, a florist, but when you have children it changes your mind-set and your direction in life. I was looking to get involved with something to do with children. Alison mentioned she was building the Centre, and had noticed how calm and relaxed I was with my own son in the water. She thought I would make a great teacher and asked if I’d be interested in joining the team. It was ideal. So I sold my business and started on a new career path. Since joining Calmababy I have studied extensively and am now a qualified teacher in Baby Swimming, Aquanatal Yoga, Childbirth Preparation and Postnatal Yoga.

Is your job as rewarding as it sounds?
I love working here and love the whole ethos of Calmababy – it is a special place and together we have created a wonderful, happy space for families. We focus our teaching from pregnancy to the age of four years old. It is so sad when families have their last lesson and stop coming to classes each week. Although we often see them back here for tea and cake in Selina’s Tearoom! I really enjoy my job. Spending time with the mothers, fathers and the children both in and out of the water gives me immense pleasure and a huge sense of achievement. It is a privilege to be part of peoples journey through pregnancy and into parenthood. It’s wonderful, it really is.

Calmababy teachers are trained and teach using the Birthlight approach to postnatal yoga. For more details about Birthlight visit: 

Calmababy 8 Botolph Bridge Estate Oundle Road Peterborough PE2 9QP 01733 707808

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