It’s your regular weekly vinyasa class, packed with students and suddenly, that former student who was pregnant walks in. She’s had her baby! Great and now…..what do you do? What are your post-natal techniques? How do you adjust for this new mom? Here’s some clues –
This is generally what’s happening for that Mum:
She’s spent the morning cleaning baby food from her hair
She has no idea there’s spit up down her back
She’s been VERYlucky to shower in the last week
She’s saved herself, or her baby, from a LIFE-ENDING predicament THAT DAY ALONE
She re-arranged her chest of drawers because the baby pulled everything out
She can’t remember when she last ate. By herself. Slowly. Mindfully.
She’s not even sure what the word “mindfully” even means now
How to Help this Mum:
Words of support. It’s a minor miracle she was able to show up at all. Acknowledge that.
Slow her down. With integrity and kindness. If she’s trying to power through poses to get her “pre-baby” back, slow this woman down. With tact and gentleness.
Allow her to keep her phone by her mat. Turned on. This may be her first time away from her baby or her fiftieth time. Regardless, as a new mum, it’s terrifying. Allow her to make sure her baby is okay.
Did she fall asleep in the first minute? In a forward bend? DO NOT WAKE HER. Cover with a blanket instead.
She looks tearful/enraged/wistful/something else? New mums are emotional. Don’t take it personally.
Look around. Most yoga students tend to be women. Some of them are future mums. Some have two children already. There may be grandmothers and young yoginis in your class. In the past, they would be the new mum’s tribe. Think of them as such. A tribe that has lost its traditions and is now looking to you for guidance. How you treat this mum will impact all of them. If you are gentle, caring and supportive, chances are this will make them act accordingly. They may offer extra support out of class to your student. Or, when a random baby has a meltdown in a Sainsbury queue, they will be more understanding (maybe even helpful).
Be the teacher who treats these mums with the kindness and care owed to them. It will impact your other students, but more importantly, it will impact you. Become a guide to new levels of sensitivity and wisdom towards mums.
“If you do have the courage to speak about it, you really can make things better.”
So says Prince Harry, speaking as part of a 1-minute radio message transmitted across all UK radio stations on Tuesday this week, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week (14 to 20 May 2018).
Imminent groom-to-be, Prince Harry, along with his brother Prince William and several stars, including Dame Judi Dench and Lady Gaga, joined forces and voices in the radio message, which encourages everyone who’s struggled with their mental health to come forward and share their story.
The royal brothers have had a long-held commitment to the cause of mental health, especially in children and young people, and it’s a problem that shows no signs of going away. According to statistics published by the Mental Health Foundation this year, only 7% of young adults reported never feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope in the past year, compared to 30% of older people.
So, what’s happening with our young people, and what can we do about it? One of the main contributors to poor mental health is stress. Stress is such an issue, it’s the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
The Different Causes of Stress
We’ve all experienced stress. Life throws us curveballs and then the balls we were juggling crash down around our ears. In the short term, bursts of stress can help us to be more productive as we act faster and with urgency. But when the stress levels we’re dealing with don’t subside or become overwhelming, this can lead to ongoing mental and physical ill-health.
There are all sorts of causes of stress, including illness or injury, bereavement, divorce, exam-related stress, redundancy, moving house and…writing an article about stress when your daughter is off school with tonsillitis, in other words, parental stress.
There is also the stress that comes with your job, and as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the mental health charity Mind is focusing on work-related stress. They are ‘helping employees and employers create a mentally healthy workplace where everyone feels valued and supported.’ Not to mention the stress that many freelancers face when work suddenly dries up and then arrives all at once.
What Stress Does to Us
As any yogi will tell you, the mind and the body are intrinsically linked. When the mind is under stress it has an immediate physical impact on the body. The body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which is the automatic response to a threat.
These hormones prompt the ‘fight or flight’ response, which works brilliantly when you come face to face with a snarling tiger, but when the snarling tiger is your boss this repeated hormonal flood can start to affect your mental health, as well as make you feel physically unwell. Physical symptoms can include, shallow breathing, muscle tension, blurred eyesight, fatigue, headaches, chest pains, nausea and high blood pressure.
It also affects our thought and behavioral patterns, such as being unable to concentrate and finding it hard to make decisions, and gradually our body forgets how to switch the stress mode off.
The first port of call is to remove whatever is causing the stress. For example, if you’re in a particularly stressful job, perhaps there’s a way of going part-time or even changing jobs. But this isn’t always possible and so we need to manage the feelings of stress. As Prince Harry said, talking about it always helps. Just by acknowledging how you feel to someone sympathetic, the stress can be alleviated.
There is eating healthier, finding ways to relax, getting outdoors and so on. But there is also yoga. Research published by the Stress Research Centre at Harvard Medical School found that by “reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration.” Mental health charity, Mind, suggests finding relaxation techniques that work for you, ‘such as a weekly yoga class, or setting aside time for breathing exercises at home’.
But according to B.K.S. Iyengar in his book Yoga, The Path to Holistic Health, ‘Mere relaxation is not sufficient in itself to counter the negative effects of stress.’
How Does Yoga Help?
Most of us, when feeling stressed out, reach for an immediate, short-term fix, such as food or alcohol. This is illustrated by the Mental Health Foundation’s latest findings on stress in which ‘46% of the people surveyed reported that they ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress. On top of that, 29% reported that they started drinking or increased their drinking and 16% reported that they started smoking or increased their smoking.’
Yoga provides an alternative to these counterproductive stress-relievers, by giving you the tools to face stress with a calm and steady mind. Through regular practice of the asanas, the five senses are drawn inwards, and over time, allow the mind to become still. This has the dual benefit of reducing negative stress while building up the strength and resilience of both body and mind.
But even in the short term, yoga can immediately help to counter the effects of stress. In one lesson of yoga, the body is exposed to exercise through the vigorous active practice of yoga, which releases mood-boosting endorphins. At the end of the lesson, the mind and body rest in Savasana (Corpse Pose), a resting state which accesses the parasympathetic nervous system – the body’s inbuilt counter-stress response system. In Vinyasa-style yoga classes, the actions of the poses are synchronised with the breath, connecting the mind intrinsically to the body and reducing stress levels. Not to mention Yoga Nidra, pranayama and restorative yin yoga sessions, which all lead to increased feelings of calm.
Perhaps the clue to keeping our heads in our increasingly stressful world is in the title of this week – awareness. When we become truly aware of our surroundings without thought of what’s past (attachment) and what’s to come (fear), then there can be no stress. But it can take a lifetime to truly find that moment.
Self-care is a term that is bandied about these days. ‘Look after yourself’, we say on bidding farewell, and ‘take care’. But the truth is that we are mostly very bad at looking after ourselves.
We ‘look after ourselves’ by binge-eating chocolates, lying in bed, chilling out and watching TV, or scrolling through our social media feeds. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing any of these things…occasionally.
But, to be accurate, this is not taking care of ourselves, but switching OFF from ourselves. Instead, we can find a way to switch on to ourselves. Here are five ways to true self-care:
When our cavemen ancestors came face to face with a woolly mammoth their sympathetic nervous system kicked in. This floods the body with the fight or flight hormone, cortisol, which gets the heart racing, flooding the muscles with oxygenated blood, ready to stand and do battle or turn tail and scarper.
The only problem is that, although the context of our lives is rather different, our brain’s hardwiring hasn’t evolved to keep up. So now, instead of woolly mammoths, it’s deadlines and never-ending ‘To Do’ lists.
Our first job is to allow our parasympathetic nervous system a chance to take the reins for a while. The PNS (for short) slows the heart rate, dilates blood vessels, increases digestive juices and relaxes muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, allowing efficient working of the digestive system. It is in charge of all the sub-conscious bodily systems, without which we wouldn’t function.
In order to access the PNS, we need to turn our brains from fight and flight to ‘rest and digest’. A sure-fire way to do this, is to do savasana. Savasana is the pose which allows the benefits of all the other poses to be absorbed into the body. We completely relax the face, limbs and body, which in turn convinces our mind that there is no danger. Our state of high readiness is briefly turned off and the PNS allows the body to simply be.
Self-care starts with the basics
The fact is we are actually not as bad at self-care as we might think. If you’ve got dressed, washed and had breakfast, you’ve already done quite a few acts of basic self-care. While this might not seem like much to you, ask a new parent, or someone suffering from a mental health condition whether this is a big deal and they’ll tell you that sometimes, just getting out of bed and getting dressed feels like a huge achievement.
Just making sure we get to bed in good time, eat regular meals and wash occasionally is a great start to taking care of ourselves, and sometimes it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
In the book, ‘mindfulness for busy people – turning FRANTIC AND FRAZZLED into calm and composed’ by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel say:
“We have done more in a day already than most other species are even capable of, and definitely outwit every computer ever invented.”
So well done YOU!
Self-care sometimes means STOPPING
Self-care sometimes means that we say ‘no’ – to everything – including yoga. I know this seems crazy, but all these hashtags such as #yogaeverydamnday lead us to think that if we don’t hit the mat every single day, we’re not practising. This is simply not true.
The first principle of Yama (moral ethics) is ahimsa or non-violence. When the body is exhausted, doing a yoga practice is a form of violence on our own body. The best yoga is actually just to rest, or we risk a depletion of energy or even injury.
Self-care includes self-appreciation
We are too hard on ourselves. We compare ourselves to others. We always fall short. But if a close friend confides in us about a challenging issue, we would tell them to take it easy, that they’re doing the best they can and to try to let things go…but we are often terrible at taking this advice for ourselves!
Think back and make a list of all the things that you’ve achieved, big and small. Try to remember a kind thing that you’ve done for someone recently. Tell yourself that you’re proud of yourself and take a moment to let it sink in.
Self-care can sometimes be care of others
There are many of us who spend a lot of our time caring for others, be it as parents, carers, nannies, doctors, nurses, teachers and of course, yoga teachers.
It is the hardest job in the world being responsible for other people’s well-being, both physical and mental, but it is also one of the most rewarding.
Sometimes, when we feel that we ourselves are at a low ebb, turning our attention outwards and giving our energy to others, suddenly a mini-miracle occurs: the energy that we give out comes back to us, quadrupled.
There are so many ways to care for ourselves. Try one today!
Spring is a time of renewal and new beginnings, a perfect time to nourish your liver! This raw cucumber mint soup is packed with liver cleansing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Cucumber has high amounts of water which make it a natural diuretic which in turn helps to cleanse your liver. It’s also a great way to load up on more vegetables! ☘🍋🌱💪. You may also add in extra mushroom & seaweed broth for a boost of minerals.
1 cup raw, unsalted cashews
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp onion powder (optional)
1/2 lemon, juice squeezed
1 tsp Himalayan pink salt (to taste)
Soak the cashews in 2 cups of filtered water for 4-8 hours. Rinse and drain the cashews. Place the cashews in your blender along with: 2 cups of filtered water, garlic powder, onion powder, and lemon juice. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add more water if you need to. Set aside until the soup is ready.
1/2 cucumber sliced
1 cup spinach leaves
2 tbsp mint leaves
1/2 clove of garlic (optional)
300ml filtered water
1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt (to taste)
Pinch black pepper (to taste)
1-2 tbsp Cashew cream
1 tsp olive oil
Add all of the ingredients to your blender apart from the cashew cream, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add more water to thin out the soup if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately. Top with a dash of cashew cream and olive oil. Garnish with micro greens and edible spring flowers. Enjoy!
Compared to many ways of keeping fit, yoga is relatively safe. But it is not entirely without risk. One American study shows that there were about 2,000 yoga-related injuries seen in hospital US emergency departments every year from 2001 to 2014’. Read more here. If you are one of the unlucky ones with an injury, you may be wondering what you can do to recover. See a doctor? See a physio? See a sports masseur? Or simply rest? Here’s a few tips to help guide you back to health.
1) Avoid injury
First of all, the best way to manage an injury is to avoid getting it in the first place. And the best way to do that in yoga is to listen to your body. Be fully aware of what you are feeling during your practice and remember that yoga should never be painful. And I mean never…
Many poses involve stretching, after all one of the great physical benefits of asāna is increased flexibility. But any feeling of stretch should be comfortable and remain constant or ease off as you hold the pose. Any stretch that is increasing intensity as you hold it is a dangerous one; by that I mean one that risks causing an injury. Read more here.
A sensation of pinching in a joint could be telling you that there is too much compression in the tissues. Compression is as dangerous to tissue health as over-stretching and can cause injury too. Mindful practice takes into account how you are feeling throughout every pose and transition. Truly listen to your body.
2) Heal thyself
There is so much you can do to help your body heal. It is tempting to simply rest after an injury but this is shortsighted. The body heals with scar tissue and rest usually produces poor quality scar tissue, leaving you prone to overload in the future. It is likely that your injury will be back as soon as you go back to your normal activities, leaving you back to square one.
Scar tissue is wonderful stuff but it needs just the right amount of stress as it is healing to become strong and fit for purpose. Here is how you can help your body create strong, healthy scar tissue. The principles are the same for a mild niggle as for a more serious problem.
Avoid painful activities – where possible, do what doesn’t hurt. For example, continue your yoga practice but only do poses that are comfortable and use modifications that help you achieve this.
Movement is good – keep moving as much as you can. Move the body part in all directions but only as far as you can without causing pain. This helps the body to make good quality scar tissue that is strong, mobile and long enough for what it needs to do in the future.
No stretching – it is so tempting to stretch an injury but if you do you will be causing more damage and slowing down the healing process. Keeping the limb moving within a pain-free range makes sure there is enough tension in the healing tissue to get a good repair without pulling too hard and causing more damage.
Gradual return to fitness – as you start to feel better you can gradually work the injured part a bit harder or take it a bit deeper into poses. Still use pain as your guide to when you are going too far. If it starts to hurt again – ease back and slow down your progression. Give yourself plenty of time to slowly increase your activity level over week or two for all injuries. It is better to be patient and regain full fitness slowly than rush things and end up with an injury that won’t go away.
If you follow these basic rules,most soft tissue injuries will resolve within a few days. As a rough guide, if your injury is not at least 50 – 80% better after a couple of weeks of doing all the right things, then you would benefit from seeking treatment for it. As a rule of thumb – the sooner you receive treatment, the quicker you will recover. But which Healthcare Professional should you see?
3) Seek help
There is a whole array of healthcare professionals out there who may help. There is no right or wrong – sometimes your choice will be limited by who is available in your area or whether you can afford to pay them for treatment. Recommendations from friends and family can be very useful too – news of very good (and bad) clinicians tends to travel fast.
Accident and Emergency – most injuries do not need to go to A & E.
GP – your doctor can check that your injury is notserious and prescribe painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs to help with pain and swelling. Some doctors may be able to advise on exercises and activities to help your recovery. Your GP can refer you for physiotherapy, X-Rays or to a consultant if they think it is necessary.
Physiotherapist – physiotherapists are specialists in managing injuries and providing rehabilitation as recovery progresses. They use a range of manual treatments, prescribe progressive exercises and will advise you on when and how to return to full fitness. In the UK, your GP can refer you an NHS Physiotherapy Department or you can go directly to a Private Physiotherapist without being referred by your doctor. A physiotherapist is able to make a diagnosis, provide treatment and supervise your rehabilitation – a one stop shop really. I’m a physio myself so I guess I am a bit biased on how good we are …
Osteopaths and Chiropractors – like physiotherapists, these clinicians have a range of skills which may include those suitable for managing your injury. Most work privately and you don’t need to see your doctor to be referred.
Masseurs and masseuses – there is a wide range of massage styles; sports and deep tissue massage; reflexology and aromatherapy. I would advise steering clear of the more brutal styles of massage when an injury is fresh as it could cause more bleeding in soft tissues. But any gentle massage that may help drainage of swelling and generally boost the body’s ability to repair has the potential to speed recovery.
As a physiotherapist, I see so many people who struggle with injuries only to develop deep seated problems as the body compensates more and more. Usually the right management in the first few days will prevent months and years of discomfort and pain.
Injury first aid is actually really simple – keep doing what doesn’t hurt and gradually get back to normal as the pain decreases. And if it isn’t getting better don’t wait too long before getting help.
Zen Monkey, a sub-division of YogaLondon, is an online conduit for yoga students and teachers to share ideas and develop a catalogue of content that is informative, creative and fun. We are a community founded from the collection of writers and yogis we've mentored, worked with and been inspired by. Together, we are building a tribe that shares the tools, the inspiration and the motivation to lead a healthy, mindful and sustainable life.