The Benefits of Prenatal and Postpartum Yoga
Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Amy Bossler, Ph.D, sat down with me over some delish lattes (decaf for me of course) to chat about the benefits of prenatal and postpartum yoga before heading to Clarksville's Downtown Commons with our babies to showcase some of her favorite poses. I met Amy at Crossfit Solafide, and we quickly found out we had a lot more in common than our local box: we both lived in Hawaii for nearly a decade without ever crossing paths despite similar friend circles.
A Pennsylvania native who considers Hawaii home, Amy is a former teacher at Nanakuli High and Intermediate on Oahu who earned her doctorate in special education with a concentration in Pacific Island studies at the University of Hawaii Manoa. In addition to working as a certified scuba dive instructor when she lived in the Islands, she continued to pursue her passion for yoga and earned her 200 Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) during a six-month stint in Nashville at Hot Yoga Alliance in 2010 to be with her (now) husband.
Amy's pregnancy experience with her nine-month-old daughter inspired her to garner certificates in prenatal yoga, "Bring Your Own Baby" (BYOB) yoga and "Movers and Crawlers" toddler yoga at Blooma Nashville, Music City's only studio dedicated to maternal yoga and wellness. She teaches several days per week, which can be found on Blooma's online schedule. If you spend a few minutes with Amy, it's easy to feel her radiant energy she exudes from helping others. Read on below to hear our chat.
Katie Soltas: Tell me about your background in yoga.
Amy Bossler: I have been practicing yoga for over 15 years. I started as a college athlete (in rowing), and it was part of our training program. I fell in love with yoga and continued practicing well after my rowing days. Over the years I have devoted myself to practicing many different styles of yoga (Asthanga, Baptiste, Bikram, Ingvar, Restorative, and now Prenatal). Every style has different benefits and lessons to teach us about connecting our minds and bodies.
KS: How has yoga impacted your life personally?
AB: After college, I immediately started working as 9-12th grade special education teacher. The stress of the job took its toll on me physically. I started getting stress knots in my shoulders. At the time, I wasn’t practicing regularly or making time to take care of myself. I had completely thrown myself into my work. One Friday night I went home from school with tears in my eyes because my shoulder hurt so much. I hadn’t been able to lift my arm above my head for weeks and knew that I didn’t want to live this way. The next morning, I went to my local yoga studio. Within a few weeks my shoulder pain was gone, and I was better able to manage the stress of being a new teacher. I realized then how important our practice is and how lessons we learn on our mats transfer to our everyday lives.
KS: From your experience, what are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
AB: Our training at Blooma was designed to help instructors support women through each trimester and postpartum. The sequence used was designed to prepare mamas for birth, physically and mentally. Prenatal yoga classes also share tools to help soon-to-be mamas during labor and delivery. We practice different types of breathing and poses so that the mothers feel empowered to use them. We also have a lot of fun in class and encourage women to get in touch with their inner goddesses, because let’s be honest, women and our ability to give birth is pretty darn amazing.
KS: From my personal maternal journey, postpartum yoga is just as beneficial but for different reasons – to heal physically, but also emotionally from the stress of the past nine months and now taking care of another human while still recovering yourself. What is your take on this topic?
AB: I completely agree with you. After I received the clear from my midwife to begin exercising, I immediately started with postnatal yoga. These classes are designed to help rehabilitate the post-baby body (including the pelvic floor and abs). Classes are designed to be mindful of the physical changes we went through and help us connect with our new babies. The BYOB classes are my absolute favorite. New parents, caretakers, grandparents, nannies, etc. are guided through infant massage, songs, poses to share with baby and poses to assist baby with developmental milestones. I love watching families connect with their little ones. Plus, it doesn’t get much better than the first sweet smiles and giggles of our little ones.
Many of us find ourselves living farther away from our support systems and without new mama mentors. In Bring Your Own Baby (BYOB) classes we invite new parents to share and openly discuss the ups and downs of the fourth trimester. We laugh, cry, share advice, give hugs, celebrate our successes, validate each other’s feelings, recommend TV shows for those marathon feedings, and most importantly provide reassurance that this is a season and we are enough.
KS: What are the best yoga poses for pregnant women?
AB: Squats!!!! Lots and lots of squats! One of my favorite (and arguably the best known) midwife, Ina May Gaskin, said pregnant women should do 300 squats (unweighted) a day during pregnancy. Historically, we women squatted many times throughout our days. Unfortunately, in modern times we sit a TON, which can translate into weak pelvic floors. Squats strengthened the pelvic floor and also ease lower back pain because they help strengthen the glutes, which support the pelvis and sacroiliac joint.
Squatting additionally prepares women for labor as we spend a lot of our time in similar positions during contractions and recovering. Toward the end of pregnancy (39 weeks and beyond) we actually call babies out while performing squats in prenatal yoga. We visualize and literally use gravity to assist in making the pelvic opening wider and guiding baby out. I always get emotional watching mamas call out their babies. It’s incredibly powerful to feel the energy of all the mothers surrounding her in class and to know how much she’s gone through and about to go through in this journey into motherhood.
I would also encourage warrior II pose for leg/glute strengthening and hip opening. Figure eights and flowing postures are great, too. There are simply too many beneficial poses to name; these are just a few ideas to begin including in your practice.
KS: If mamas-to-be or new mamas take a standard yoga class (or practice at home), what are some things to be cautious about?
AB: Listen to your body. The instructors are there to guide you, but you are your own best teacher. If you notice that certain poses make you dizzy or lightheaded, give yourself the grace to step back or skip it all together. Twists feel great on the lower back, but as baby grows you’ll have less and less space. I’d recommend open twists (away from the leg) instead of twisting over the leg. You still get the benefits of the twist and you are not squishing baby. Something else to consider - when transitioning from a fold to standing positions, try walking the hands up the body slowly. Pregnant women become lightheaded easily because of the increase of blood in our bodies. Take your time rising up!
Finally, no more ab exercises. Our abs need time to soften and separate to create room for baby. Super tight abs can turn into a severe diastasis recti. Basically, any of the poses that put you in a C-shape (including wheel) should be abandoned until post-baby. In my opinion, its just not worth the risk. If you are concerned about diastasis recti, ask your prenatal instructor. We can guide you in doing a self-check, but its always best to talk to your healthcare providers.
KS: How often do you feel women have to practice yoga to receive all the benefits?
AB: It really depends on the woman. Most will feel better immediately after just one class. You usually feel more at peace and rejuvenated. I’d highly recommend modifying to a completely prenatal practice by the time you reach your third trimester. This will provide ample time to practice the poses, breathing techniques and meet other expectant and new mothers. If you only have time for one class a week, great! If you can squeeze in more, fantastic! Do what works for you. Yoga should never be an added stressor to your life. This is a time to take care of yourself and be taken care of (we set up mat, props, and offer shoulder massages at the end!).
Amy is currently working on bringing prenatal yoga to Clarksville, TN in partnership with NBalance Yoga. Stay tuned for updates!
Update on prenatal and postpartum yoga - October 2019:
I came across this study on toxic versus safe yoga mats recently, and wanted to share with you all. I never really considered this as a potential threat before having little ones, but it's better to be safe than sorry, especially while pregnant or with a newborn. If you have any questions, please put them below in the comments, as I have a connection with the Consumers' Advocate organization who brought this to my attention.