BENEFITS OF FAMILY YOGA

 “Movement is a powerful tool. We can transform our bodies, families, communities, and the planet… simply by moving more.”

Katy Bowman

 

As a mother of two gorgeous babas I am understanding the value of Yoga not just for my own self care and wellbeing but the profound impact for my family dynamic. I feel so strongly about the hugely positive benefits of family yoga, that I am starting a family yoga class with a gorgeous friend, mama and fellow yogi Sonja. An opportunity for us to share and explore together with other families, build community, support and promote the value of self care, inquiry and love for ourselves and our families.

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As part of the integrated training in family yoga, mum and baby and post natal yoga, with the wonderful Uma Dinsmore and Janice Wong, I was asked to reseach and explore how yoga could be of assistance to young families. So here are my humble musings and personal experience.

 How Family Yoga has benefitted me

When thinking about this question I was reminded of a really crystal-clear moment I had as a young mother. One which I went on to write about on my blog ‘babies are the best yoga teachers’.

Watching my baby from the day he was born, I was mesmerised by how effortlessly present and adaptable babies are.

As a yoga enthusiast I had always struggled with the things that babies just did organically. It had been a hugely profound experience for me, as I had worried that having a baby would impact negatively on my yoga practice; I wouldn’t have the luxury of practicing when I wished, going to class, travelling for training etc. So I was astounded when the opposite happened. Having my baby opened my eyes, my heart and my being to all the details, all the parts I had been quick to brush over on route to something bigger. I had missed the essence, the simplicity and the subtleties of even the smallest gesture, movement, breath or moment.

I kept coming back to these realisations and how Yoga became part of my day to day as a result of having my baby. I think these also apply to how Yoga can be so beneficial in family life;

Having a baby is a perfect lesson in the art of living in the present moment.

Prioritising Rest – Learning about self-care and self-love

Breathing Patience – Slowing down and noticing the detail.

Finding a Daily Practice of Self care – How yoga helped me navigate my ever-changing emotions, physicality and thought processes as I transitioned into Motherhood.

 In a world where people are increasingly over stretched, stressed and often overwhelmed, in western culture where family and children are not a priority of society and where most modern-day families are not surrounded by extended family or community for support, there is, I feel an ever-increasing need for Yoga. As Deborah Jackson discusses in her book ‘three in a bed’, we are not supposed to raise our children alone. As the well known African proverb says ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Yet there is tremendous pressure on parents to be seen to be coping, to be the balanced, self-sufficient, independent and able to juggle, work, family life, healthy living, social lives etc. Yoga with its diverse array of techniques for calming, strengthening and harmonising mind, body and spirit, can support and help families to be active together, conscious and mindful of their own needs while consciously respecting others and our environment.

So what is the value of Yoga for families?

Family Yoga can encourage a sense of playfulness, fun and creativity in interactions between parents and their children to help enrich communication, support closeness and personal connection and enhance everyone’s development in a nurturing way.

1.    SELF AWARENESS & MUTUAL RESPECT

Babies and children are already embodying and practicing the principles of yoga in their everyday, both present and awakened to their experiences, their senses and their bodies. As parents we can learn from them. Family yoga can help to cultivate open minded acceptance in a parent child relationship. The impact of a family sharing time together to be exactly as they are and to learn from each other can have a profound effect on relationships, cultivating mutual respect and deepening self awareness both of our own body and breath but equally important, of our relationship with our environment our responsibility to, and impact on it.

IN ACTION: Honouring where our body is, recognising and checking in with our breath and our body as we move through asanas together, and on our own. Sensitising to our environment and its relative impact upon us.

I did pranayama each day when my son was feeding or sleeping, watching him, his breath and the rhythm of his belly was incredibly relaxing and reminded me to explore the fullness of my own breath. Amidst the chaos of extended sleep deprivation and a feeling my parents will relate, that very little is within your control, having a daily routine of even a few minutes to focus on the breath was powerful beyond measure. Calming for me and deeply nourishing for my nervous system. I fully admit that this and savasana kept me from loosing my marbles.

Uma Dinsmore Tuli and Janice Wong  Demonstrating family yoga partnering options for shoulder stand.

Uma Dinsmore Tuli and Janice Wong Demonstrating family yoga partnering options for shoulder stand.

2.    ACCESSIBILITY

Yoga is accessible and can be available to all. Yoga can be done anywhere, it requires little or no equipment and is relatively cheap to attend a class or free if done at home. In a world, where the modern family is often living independently from their extended family or a support network and time and money are often a restriction, this is an attractive option. We can definitely do much more to increase accessibility of yoga for all. In Edinburgh, I am hugely grateful for the amazing work of Laura Wilson and Edinburgh Community Yoga for this.

IN ACTION: For me, yoga was the most powerful support in early motherhood and today juggling life with two. I could do small amounts of yoga with my son in the sling, lying next to me and then as he grew, with him. I started to explore and mimic some of the movements he did in my practice. A sort of free form movement and found it was amazing for loosening and warming up the tighter parts of my body – hips etc. I also tried to start building in time to talk about the breath and using it in times of frustration or confusion or conflict. Deep breathing with the nose. Big exhales and body release and breath with sound. This was definitely integrated into family life off the mat and is something I wish to cultivate more as our family grows.

 

3.    ACCEPTANCE

Exploring postures and movement with the approach of feeling into what works best for your body is an example of how yoga promotes self inquiry and acceptance. As a family, exploring postures and modifications relevant for each person and acknowledging the beauty of difference, of personal attributes and qualities without comparison or judgement, is a wonderful thing.

In a parent child situation there is role modelling, teaching and guidance. In this context each individual can learn from the other and just be themselves in an activity and setting where there isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, just a ‘present’ way best for you and your body in that moment. This opportunity to recognise the importance of being present, compassionate and aware, in a climate where attainment, competition and comparison, be in through the education system or social media, are surely positive virtues that would be of benefit to young people and their family,

IN ACTION: As my son has gotten older we have enjoyed moving through different asanas and particularly experimenting with partnering together for certain postures. It is lovely to move into a posture together and then we discuss the shapes and how we are different in our posture but how somethings are similar or the same. And through my son’s lead we enjoy exploring our own versions of poses that organically feel good.

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4.    SELF DISCIPLINE & CREATIVITY

It is well documented that imaginative, experiential and creative play are of vital importance for children in early years and beyond, helping to nurture a Childs natural laws of growth and unfoldment. As M Donaldson states in her book ‘Children’s Minds’ yoga can develop two very important aspects in the personality of a child; self-discipline and stimulating creativity. Never more so have we needed to nurture these attributes in our children, in a society where self-adaptability, regulation and divergent thinking are needed to navigate a world of heightened sensory stimulation, where jobs, vocations and careers are now multi-faceted and constantly evolving. Where media and technology are developing faster than our understanding of the relative implications of its use on, the human brain, emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. In essence, our need to recognise the merits and use of technology must be underpinned by a deep respect and active relationship with our environment, with mother nature and a recognition of our responsibility for both the environment and ourselves.

IN ACTION: After the birth of our first son we begin practicing yoga together as a family, actively seeking opportunities both at home and in nature to move, breath, explore and play. The impact for me personally and on my now 4-year-old son has both astounded and inspired me. After the recent birth of my second son, family yoga has been an active part of our day to day lives. I continue to be mesmerised by the scope and opportunity yoga offers me as a mother and a woman. Often, we do yoga outdoors, naturally becoming more sensitised to our breath, drawing a deeper breath and never more so did I recognise the impact of this on the nervous system than in my son. He is calmer, happier and more acutely responsive in nature. The beauty, as I mentioned above is you can do yoga ANYWHERE! Yoga is so much more than making shapes with our bodies and the more subtle practices of pranayama, sonic massage, mudras, meditation and story telling can be done in all manner of contexts… Aka I have used it when; camping, in the car, in the bath, waiting for the bus, stuck in a que… (I feel a future blog post sharing these gems may be in store :).

 

5.    RELAXATION

Celebrating and prioritising relaxation and cultivating a deeper sense of inner connection. The importance of practicing Shavasana at the end of each yoga session to promote relaxation, to calm the mind, is what some believe to be one of the most important aspects of the practice. As it provides an opportunity for our body to really integrate what its learned, to observe the breath and how we feel. the use of sound vibration, breathwork, body scanning and other relaxation techniques have been proven to have a profound and deep impact on the nervous system, helping to promote more restful sleep, vitality in the body, reduce stress and calm the mind. Again its a no brainer in my mind. Every human needs this and for sure parents, babies, children and young adults. Recognising the importance of, and practical ways to ensure self care, is a valuable skill set for life’s technicolored experiences, highs, lows, set backs, achievements and all thats in-between.

IN ACTION: This is something I have done with my son since he was little, I used to lie with him next to me in shavasana, or on my chest. I have always loved this moment, feeling each other’s breath, breathing together, there is a deep connection and it also reminds me of when he was in my womb. When we attended the family yoga he chose to lie on his own mat and I was astounded that he got under his own blanket and lay still, peaceful for the whole time. He also said that was his favourite part. I think creating space and time to relax together in this mindful way is really powerful. I notice the energy shift in my son after these sessions and his ability to find stillness. I am keen to explore more ways to support this through aspects of movement and pranayama.

Uma dinsmore tuli demonstrating the use of sonic massage and bija mantra to promote relaxation.

Uma dinsmore tuli demonstrating the use of sonic massage and bija mantra to promote relaxation.

Want to try Family yoga in Edinburgh?

Inspired? Intrigued? Curious?... Come try it for yourself. Join me, Sonja and our families for some Family yoga. Sessions are scheduled for March, May, July and September. Full listings of dates can be found on my timetable and booking options are available in the class description.

So don’t take my word for it! Give it a go!

And I will leave you with these words to ponder on from Cheryl Sanders book ‘Children play’;

 ‘If we see movement as learned at a deep level through the environment, we can begin to understand it as the subtle language of the soul, and distinctly different in different cultures… Movement is not just the movement of my voluntary muscles in response to my wishes. It is also my response to the world…the disruption of the sense of movement wholly disrupts our ability to live in the world with a sense of purpose.’

 

Tess x

 

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WHY DO PREGNANCY YOGA?

How can pregnancy yoga help? 

Becoming a mother is a very personal, transformative and profound experience. Practicing yoga during pregnancy can help a woman to cultivate strength, awareness and emotional wellbeing, to embrace the changes taking place, to feel empowered and to prepare for childbirth and motherhood, physically, mentally and emotionally. 

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As your baby grows, pregnancy yoga can help to strengthen, tone and make more space for your growing baby. 

Pregnancy yoga can offer a little piece of sanctuary, providing a safe, supportive space to cultivate connection and awareness.

 Many women who practice yoga during pregnancy, comment on the positive impact of yoga in building their awareness of their breath and praise the use of conscious breathing techniques to manage and even eliminate pain, intensity and anxiety during labour. 

Pregnancy yoga is a safe and highly complementary practice during pregnancy, helping to foster a sense of calm, strength and inner balance so women feel empowered and equipped to navigate the many changes and challenges of pregnancy, birth and motherhood.

 

What is pregnancy Yoga?

Yoga is a wonderful practice to do during pregnancy as the essence of this ancient practice embodies the ‘union’ of mind, body and breath.  The developmental, physiological and emotional changes which happen during pregnancy are supported by the practices of movement and asana (poses), breath awareness and breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation and relaxation. These practices can help to support the many transitions of pregnancy, alleviate common symptoms throughout this transformative time and help you to feel more connected and in tune with your body, your baby and your breath.

There are many different schools of yoga, but all emphasise the importance of breathwork, relaxation and mindful movement. Pregnancy is not a time to overexert yourself but rather a time to cultivate deep respect and self-love. Practising yoga during pregnancy can help you to prioritise nourishing and caring for yourself and your baby, making space just for you and acknowledging just how precious pregnancy is as a time in your life. 

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When can I start pregnancy Yoga?

Most pregnancy yoga classes may specify that you can attend any time from 12 weeks of pregnancy. This will depend on the teacher and it is best to connect and discuss this directly with a specialised pregnancy yoga teacher 

It is important to find a teacher that you trust and feel comfortable with, so you feel both supported and at ease within the class. Think about what you would like to get out of the class and let that be your focus rather than a class which is nearest or at the studio or centre you already attend. Some pregnancy yoga classes may incorporate birth preparation, relaxation and visualisation and open discussion whereas some classes may focus primarily on a yoga sequence of movements or poses adapted for pregnancy. 

 

I’ve never done yoga before.

Anyone can do yoga during their pregnancy, in fact it is a really wonderful time to start and can offer such a powerful opportunity to really embrace all that is happening and use the practices of breathwork, movement and relaxation to feel a little more ‘at home’ in the physical body.

 

Why should I do Pregnancy Yoga?

The practice of yoga should evolve with you as you journey through your pregnancy and prepare for life as a mother.

1st Trimester

During your first trimester it is vital to listen carefully to your body and take this time to really connect with the body’s innate wisdom, letting that be your guide for any activity. It is advisable to avoid any strenuous exercise during the early stages of pregnancy, as your baby develops from an embryonic cell into a growing fetus and makes its home in your uterus. This is a great time for a more meditative practice and very gentle movement. A perfect opportunity to give yourself space and time to really absorb, acknowledge and reflect on the changes taking place.

2nd Trimester

In the second trimester most women feel more energised and often find sickness and tiredness abates. This is a great time to build both physical, mental and emotional strength and stamina exploring standing postures, squats and poses that focus on building awareness of the freedom around the hips and pelvis, to prepare physically for birth.  Gentle movement and exercising your body using asana can help to cultivate deeper awareness, trust and intuition for the needs of yourself and your baby.

3rd Trimester

During the final trimester towards the end of pregnancy the emphasis is on cultivating a more restorative and meditative practice, exploring the power of the breath and its relative influence over both the mind and body. The use of breathing techniques, meditation, visualisation and positive affirmation is a really powerful way to prepare for the process of birth and motherhood. These practices are ones which are often dismissed in our very goal orientated society where ‘doing’ and productivity is viewed in the highest regard and more contemplative, inner work can be viewed as lazy, easy, boring or pointless. It is these subtle and intricate practices which can be the most challenging and subsequently which can have the deepest cellular effect on a physical, mental and emotional level and these breathing and mindfulness practices which can provide such support during birth and motherhood.  

 

What is pregnancy yoga good for?

The yoga practices of asana, breathwork and meditation can help to nurture positive qualities such as courage, acceptance, trust and patience and encourage women to really listen to and trust their natural instincts, let go of the need to control and to surrender to the moment. These qualities are some of the most powerful and positive tools during the process of birth. By exploring and integrating these yoga practices before labour, the effect is that women then intuitively use what they need during birth, as the benefits of practices have been embodied. The emphasis within any yoga class and not least in pregnancy yoga is that there is no prescribed perfect sequence, pose or set of techniques to learn.  Yoga is such a great practice during pregnancy as it supports you to find movement and deep connection with your body, your baby and in labour to work with the natural hormones released and to discover and embrace your own power and intuitive knowing.

 

Becoming comfortable and at ease with different breath techniques and incorporating sound into these practices has a physiological impact on the body helping to relax the jaw and muscles around the pelvis and in particular sound vibration and releasing tension in the lips can impact upon cervical dilation and the physiological progression of labour. 

 

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Say hello to your pelvic floor

The pelvic floor muscles provide a multi plex hammock which attaches to your lower back and abdominal muscles. These muscles undergo significant changes during pregnancy to support your growing uterus and other organs. Deep breathing and specific stretches help to increase the elasticity of these muscles. Learning to locate, activate, isolate and relax these muscles is an important process in supporting a physiological birth and improving the efficacy of uterine contractions. 

The breathing practice and adapted yoga postures used to tone and connect with your pelvic floor in pregnancy can continue to benefit you through birth and beyond and help to boost energy and relieve pelvic pain.

 

Managing change, intensities or pain in the body - Breath is Boss

The use of breathwork and in particular the extended exhale achieved when practising the golden thread breath is the bodies antidote to pain. The exhalation is when tension and anxiety are released, reducing the feeling of pain in the body.  

Yoga offers us the opportunity to both connect and discover, leading to greater self-awareness. The breath is tone rhythm of the body we can consciously influence. Calming the breath, slows the heart rate, and moves the body into the parasympathetic nervous system and away from a ‘stress’ alert or fight or flight response. So the impact of conscious breath work techniques such as the golden thread breath help us to connect with a state of ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking’. This helps to shift the focus from a ‘doing’ state, to a ‘rest and digest’ response. This can actually boost vitality, and support women to honour to the emotional, spiritual and physical adjustments during pregnancy, birth and the post-natal period. 

 

Learning to listen to our bodies - Moving intuitively 

Awareness of breathing rhythms helps to relax and nurture your wellbeing which directly extends to your baby, this is significant throughout pregnancy and beyond but particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy where heightened levels of cortisol in the mother’s body can actually inhibit the onset of labour.

Yoga tunes us into our instinctual nature, so invaluable in pregnancy, birth and motherhood. Rather than relying on willpower and a need to control, yoga and use of conscious breath techniques can help us to listen to the bodies cues, to connect and bond more deeply and intuitively with our baby and respond to changes taking place calmly.

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Give it a go!

I encourage any mama to be, to explore pregnancy yoga as a means to really embrace the full spectrum of their pregnancy journey to prepare for birth and life as a mother. It can provide opportunity to feel the power and impact of community and support from a circle of women and the space and sanctuary to come home to our truest nature as we nourish and celebrate the new life within us.

 

Check out my Next post - 5 of my favourite yoga poses during pregnancy

Be sure to check out my next post on 5 yoga poses for pregnancy & birth preparation, understanding these poses are doing on a physical level and the benefits regular practice can have on an emotional and spiritual level in preparation for birth and motherhood.

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Looking for a class?

I offer weekly pregnancy yoga and birth preparation classes, for full class details check the website.

Details and updates on workshops, events and happenings can be found on the YesYoga instagram and facebook pages.