Mom-Baby Yoga: Tender Awareness
• Yoga mat? Check.
• Workout bag? Check.
• Baby? Check.
It might seem like an unusual packing list, but for new moms seeking a little namaste in their day, it’s all they need. Namaste means “peace,” and for moms and their infants, “baby and me” classes at a local yoga studio can be the place to find it. With diaper bags, pacifiers and infant carriers placed between the yoga mats, these classes are decidedly non-traditional — and that’s what makes them welcoming to mothers and their babies. Instructors expect cooing and crying to mingle with moms’ deep breaths.
A Lift for Mom and Baby
“The goal of class is to help moms feel more connected to themselves and also to their babies,” says Beth Filla, co-owner of Yogawood, with Baby and Me classes at its studios in Collingswood and Riverton, NJ.
“The connection between mom and baby doesn’t always happen automatically,” she adds. “Here, they are in a situation where they learn skills to connect. It’s a great time for moms to be someplace without judgment. And it’s totally okay if the baby cries during class or if the mom has to nurse.”
Designed for the dedicated yogi as well as the newbie, classes are not high-skill level sessions, explains Filla. Teachers offer a gentle pace and step-by-step instruction.
“You don’t have to be really flexible and you don’t have to be really strong or even have taken yoga before,” she says. The classes are for moms with infants and babies who are not yet crawling.
Sessions open with a “check in,” when the moms can sit with their babies and compare notes about the joys and challenges of mothering, from nursing to starting solids, cloth vs. disposable diapers or pediatricians. “The beginning of the class is about community, building a community around the moms,” says Charla Okewole, a Yoga Babies instructor at Yoga Child at 9th and South Sts. in Philadelphia.
First-time mother Cindy Fishman, who also took prenatal and birthing classes at Yoga Child, says the sessions “put me in touch with a lot of ideas and concepts that I wouldn’t have been exposed to. The mom-empowering thinking has been very valuable to me.”
During the asana — or movement — portion of the class, instructor Okewole works with moms to “create space in the body and in the mind.” She focuses on the chest, thighs, shoulders and back areas, which can feel stressed and strained post-partum and from the feeding, holding and hunching required in the early months of a baby’s life.
With the babies on the mat — or sometimes sleeping blissfully nearby — Okewole takes moms through stretches and centering exercises that focus on awareness and breathing. She encourages moms not to overdo it in an effort to “get their bodies back” after delivery. “Be where you are and be comfortable with what you can still do after those nine months,” she says. “Yoga is about more than a pose. It’s about the whole experience.”
The experience can be especially tender when practicing with a baby. On all fours, moms take “cat and cow” stretches to arch and curve their spines. Moms are encouraged to make eye contact and fun sounds with their babies, who are resting on their backs, facing up. While they strengthen their cores, the moms also are strengthening their bonds with their babies. “All of that energy and communication goes to the baby,” says Filla.
Leah Wallach of Cherry Hill, NJ, attends baby and me classes at Yogawood with her infant son Jonah. “He lays there and kicks and watches,” she says. “It’s very free-form and at any given time there’s a mother feeding a baby or changing a diaper. It’s adaptable and flexible.”
At the same time, moms are learning lessons valuable for parenting. “When you’re on the mat, you learn lessons to apply off the mat,” says Okewole. “You can learn to be in a certain place when your baby is crying. When your child is having a fit and won’t get out of the car seat, you just breathe through it, breathe through the crying.”
Okewole, a mother of two toddlers, says, “That’s what I love about yoga: It breaks through to the mind.”
Growing Up with Yoga
Like all yoga classes, “baby and me” sessions end with a relaxation pose, often with mom on her back and baby resting on her belly. After an hour-long class, babies may be hungry or fretful, so moms may take the relaxation pose nursing or cuddling.
After class, the good vibes continue, says Filla. “Everyone is mellow and happy, so there are conversations and everybody stays a long time.”
Some relationships formed in the nine months prior to the baby and me classes. “A lot of times the people who come to prenatal classes and then come to baby and me wind up in same class,” says Filla. “It’s so beautiful to see them meet each other’s children.”
“The classes allow me to continue my yoga practice with my baby,” says Wallach. “The most fun thing is that we get to spend time with other mothers and babies. We practiced together when we were pregnant and now we practice together with our babies.”
Yoga is good kid stuff too. After the baby and me classes, children can grow with yoga through family classes, classes just for kids and sessions designed for tweens and teens.
Jennifer Baldino Bonett is a local freelance writer.