A different kind of baby group…
Mother and Baby Yoga classes offer a different kind of baby group, with the focus equally balanced between mums and babies. When my first baby was little, I found myself at certain baby groups, enjoying the company of other mums, but not having much time to chat. Or enjoying seeing my baby having fun but being (if I’m totally honest) a bit bored and lonely myself. Or enjoying doing something for myself but feeling guilty for leaving my baby in the buggy or on the mat.
And so, when I returned to teaching yoga after maternity leave, I decided to create a group that I would have wanted to attend myself. I had already been leading mother and baby yoga classes before I had my own children, but now I wanted to offer a little bit more. The classes morphed into a set-up that was described by one mother as “Part yoga class, part group therapy”! And although the covid-19 pandemic has affected this, I will be returning to this winning formula again soon, and I couldn’t be more excited!
Connecting with other mothers…
My Mother and Baby Yoga sessions always start with a “Word of the Week”. This is where each mum takes a turn to introduce herself and her baby. We do this every week, even if it’s the same people, because remembering all those names is hard, especially if you’re sleep deprived! Each mum also shares their “Word of the Week” which I usually tell them can be anything, the good, the bad, or the ugly! The group is a completely safe space, and although some may be a bit shy at first, I always find that after a few weeks people are sharing everything from baby’s first tooth, to the poo-explosion that happened in the supermarket on the day they forgot the wipes! There are also often tears as mums share the harder aspects of parenting and motherhood. And every single time a woman shares her difficult feelings, they are met with empathy, sympathy, and support from the group. There’s a real feeling of being in it together and sharing the highs AND the lows.
Connecting with ourselves…
As you can imagine this part of the class can vary in length! But we always find a way to transition into some yoga practice for mums. It’s very much a case of reading the room, and as always baby has to come first, so although we try to begin with stretches for mums it doesn’t always work out! There is usually at least one baby who needs a feed, or a change, or a cuddle, and so we just work around it where possible and if someone doesn’t get to join in that week, we shrug, we laugh it off, and we say, well maybe next week. It’s rare a mum isn’t able to join in for any of the class. Once we’ve warmed up a little, I usually take us through a gentle sequence of postnatal yoga postures designed to reconnect mind and body, ease out any aches and pains, as well as help the body to heal from pregnancy.
Connecting with our babies…
We then move on to doing a bit of yoga for babies, which involves gentle movements, often with songs and rhymes. These movements are designed to encourage baby’s physical and neurological development, as well as provide some time for connection between mum and baby. We encourage eye contact (when they will look at you – often they’re too distracted by the baby next to them!) and looking for and responding to feedback cues from baby as to whether they want to carry on. I offer lots of variations as some babies might be happier sitting, some lying. And I offer lots of repetition, because as already mentioned, not every baby will be able to join in every week, and so by repeating this section of the class regularly, it’s easier for mums to remember so they can perhaps try it at home when baby is more in the mood!
Another part of the class which is an excellent way to encourage bonding between mother (or any caregiver) and baby is Sonic Massage. Sonic Massage involves using the Bija Mantras (which are simple sounds relating to the main energy centres or chakras) whilst pressing your lips to baby’s body to create a vibration which gives a gentle massage. It’s a lovely simple massage practice that you can try at any time, and can be done with baby fully clothed:
Sonic Massage (Simple version):
With baby lying down, place your lips to the following areas, whilst making the sound described below. Make the sounds low, and long, with a long humming sound at the end, and repeat each sound 10-15 times.
Area of body: Abdomen
Sound: Ram (“Raaaammm”)
Focus: Abdominal chakra (Manipura) Strength, Power, Fire, Digestion
Area of the Body: Chest
Sound: Yam (“Yaaaammm”)
Focus: Heart Chakra (Anahata) Love, Air, Compassion, Connection with feelings
Area of the Body: Head (Forehead or Crown)
Sounds: Om (“Ohhhhmmm”)
Focus: Forehead (Ajna) & Crown (Sahasrara) chakras Higher knowledge, Spirit, Intuition, Your unique connection with your baby
If baby would rather not lie down you can hold them, if you can’t place your lips to their body, then place your hand, or if you don’t have a free hand then just close your eyes and send your awareness to the corresponding part of baby’s body.
Take deep, slow breaths as you make the sounds, this will encourage your nrevous system to drop out of any “fight or flight” adrenaline response, and into the “rest and digest” relaxation respsonse. Some babies find this really relaxing too and will rest or even fall asleep (I’m making no guarantees though!), some babies find it ticklish and fun.
Every baby is different and every mother is different, and that is key to the way that I design my Mother and Baby Yoga classes, so that all are included and all can enjoy the benefits, in a way that is right for them
Yes, it IS possible to do a yoga relaxation in a Mother and Baby Yoga class. Relaxation doesn’t have to be lying in Savasana with your eyes closed in silence. The relaxation we do in these classes is very simple. You can be walking, sitting, lying, feeding, swaying, any position. The aim is not to get baby to go to sleep, or even be quiet, the aim is to learn how to relax yourself within, even in the midst of all the activity of parenting. So, in any position that works, I simply guide the mums into deep slow breathing, with a focus on a long exhale, and a sense of tension draining away from body and mind with each exhalation. Just as our children are able to release their tensions and stresses to us as mothers, so too we are able to release our tensions and stresses back to the earth, our mother.
When our classes come to a close, I have in the past offered teas and biscuits and time to chat. Making the teas is my opportunity to mother the mothers, and having time to talk, share, and offer one another support and friendship, is of great benefit to the women as well. The pandemic has made this difficult, but I am very hopeful that we will be able to include this valuable part of the classes again soon.
Connection seems to be even more important than ever following the pandemic, and I only hope that my classes offer a space where mothers can connect with themselves, with their babies, and with each other, through yoga.
Photo credit: Becky Williams, of Jet Black Squares.