|Me in postpartum yoga practice, |
11 months after my second son
However, I got this question from a reader a few months back, and I must answer it. It is very timely for me right now, and especially for all mothers out there who are "too exhausted or too busy for exercise."
Q: How can a busy mom, working both in and outside the home, find time for yoga - or any exercise at all?
Signed, Shelly (a busy mom working full time)
A: Dear Shelly, if I had the magic answer to this question, then we could solve a huge portion of the "mom stress" out there right now, and for that matter, everyone's stress! However, I can offer you the same tools I use to help myself and other moms stay on the exercise wagon.
Exercise has been proven to provide stress relief, build bone density, help in weight management, prevent inflammation and the chronic diseases associated with it, such as arthritis, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and pain syndromes - just to name a few benefits. However, the majority of Americans don't get enough (or any!) exercise.
The US Department of Health and Human Services report that 7 out of 10 Americans don't get exercise regularly, despite the overwhelming proof of its benefits.1 Additionally, some 300,000 deaths per year are caused by lack of exercise, namely those caused by heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several forms of cancer.
So what is a busy mom to do? Women perform approximately 75% of household management and chores, even if they also work full time outside the home.2 Additionally, women are typically the primary caregivers for children and/or aging parents. This places women in the impossible position of doing more work than they can handle. It is highly likely this unequal work load has also contributed to the increase in postpartum depression (PPD), which now stands at an alarming 25%, up from 5% just a few decades ago. In addition, up to 80% of women are reported to suffer from "baby blues," which can be difficult to distinguish from PPD.
The fact is - exercise, especially yoga, plays an important role in decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress. 3, 4 Knowing the anti-depressant, stress relieving, disease preventing, and body shaping benefits that yoga offers, how can moms fit yoga into their busy schedule. As a working mom of (soon-to-be) three children under the age of 5, and as a women's health physical therapist and yoga coach, here are 7 tips you can use now - to start practicing yoga.
The Busy Mom's Guide to Practicing Yoga
Everyone is busy, especially mothers. Lack of time is probably the most cited excuse for not exercising enough; however, you can fit yoga into your schedule. I've been successful at exercising regularly (yoga is my main method) while juggling mom, life, and work duties, though not without diligence and hard work.
- Plan your yoga routine on a weekly basis, rather than daily. Before I became a mom, finding time to practice was much easier. I practiced daily, usually for 90 minutes in the morning, followed by a walk or jog in the afternoon or evening. After my first son was born, that rigorous (and rather rigid) routine fell away. Fortunately, the practice of "living my yoga" made me flexible enough to go with the flow and adopt a new routine for my new season of life: motherhood. Now, 5 years later, I am expecting my third child - and I have found the best method for maintaining my yoga practice is to schedule it by the week, rather than daily. Sure, I still practice daily - but my yoga may consist of a relaxation/corpse or other restorative yoga pose and/or 10 minutes of meditation- what I call recalibrating my brain so I can relax and feel grateful. I typically schedule "mat time" for yoga practice, about 3 times a week for 30-60 minutes.
- Be flexible about your practice. After my first child was born, I broke down my yoga practice into 10 minute segments. We would both get on our "yoga mats" - except his would be for tummy time or when he was older, play time. As I welcomed my second child 20 months later, my yoga time was combined with their (limited) PBS time (public television programs). The younger one could still have mat time while the older one caught a 30 minute PBS program like Sesame Street. Another common way I got 30 minutes of yoga in was to take the whole set up (me, the boys, and my yoga paraphernalia) to the park or the beach (we live on an island). The bottom line is - I make yoga time a fun and relaxing play time for all of us. Now that they are older - they love to do yoga with me (and sometimes on me) - and everyone reaps the benefits. In fact, I find they prefer yoga over their occasional PBS program. That is the best benefit of all!
- Find a qualified instructor. Most people need to start practicing yoga with the help of a teacher. However, in the US there is no regulation for yoga teaching. This means anyone can teach yoga, no training necessary. The Yoga Alliance (YA) provides minimal voluntary standards for teachers, however, teachers who are registered through YA do not have medical training, coursework, and are not licensed. They are also not qualified to work with anyone with health problems, since their care must be coordinated with a physician or other licensed medical professional. If you have medical concerns, conditions, or injuries, you need to seek medical care and preferably, work with someone trained in both conventional medicine and yogic medicine. Find a qualified medical yoga therapist here.
- Make sure you start with foundational work. Medically sound yoga must begin include these important components:
- Focus on the breath first. Without the breath, we cannot grow, or even survive. The breath should come before learning the posture. Practice deep abdominal breathing first, without chest breathing. Next, learn the method I call TATD breath. You can learn both breaths through the links provided.
- Focus on core work next. Even if you must join a class to get started in yoga, which is how the majority of people do it, make sure your instructor teaches all postures based on using the TATD breath and core/abdominal stability. If they do not, standing postures and even seemingly simple postures like downward facing dog become risky and dangerous because they are not supporting the spine. Rather, without the TATD breath, a person hangs on their unsupported spine during postures, which leads to long term spine degeneration and injury. Further, core work is essential for mothers - who experience stretch weakness, atrophy, and/or potential damage to the core stabilizers (abdominals, pelvic floor, and spinal muscles) as a natural consequence of pregnancy.
- Recalibrate yoga to fit you, as a woman and mother. Yoga is not automatically yoga for women, nor is it suited to the specific needs of mothers. Your body will change, like the seasons - with each month's menstrual cycle, with motherhood, with the birth of each child, and finally - through menopause. Yoga was originally, and for the most part still is, a patriarchal system, that is, dominated by men. Although the majority of practitioners in the US are women, men still rule the design and setup of the system of yoga, its practice, and its postures. This must change.
A practice or discipline of yoga created by a man, typically for men, is not the practice that fits a woman's body - especially the modern, 21st century mother who must juggle work, childcare, household management - often alone as a single parent. Read my previous blog on Redefining Yoga for the 21st Century Mom.
Do not conform or subscribe to a rigid set of yoga postures. No set of yoga postures can fit your body through your entire life span - much less through the season of motherhood. A woman's body undergoes massive changes - even through each monthly cycle, not to mention during pregnancy, childbirth, and then menopause. Yoga should fit you, your individual needs, both physically and psychologically, throughout your life span. You owe it to yourself to find a teacher who can guide you on that path. A good teacher, which is what I do with my own students and patients, will also help you to become independent with your yoga practice. This means you should not have to spend oodles of money on long term yoga sessions. Eventually - your teacher should help you "graduate" to your own personal practice - helping you set up your own yoga space and practice.
- US Dept. of Health and Human Services.
- Crittenden, A. The Price of Motherhood.
- Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation for Depression and Anxiety Disorders
- The Anti-Depressant Effects of Exercise: a meta-analysis of randomized trials.