Clare is a specially trained Level 3 Pre and Post Natal Exercise Instructor and Level 3 Mat Pilates Instructor based in Brighton, who is experienced in working with pregnant and post natal woman who have had a range of experiences of pregnancy, birth and new motherhood.
In the last 3 Parts of this blog, I have focused on the numerous physical benefits of Pilates for post natal women. Although there are plenty more (and we’ll come back to them in the next post!) I’d like to focus today on the positive emotional and psychological benefits of Pilates which are often forgotten.
New Mums naturally feel they are on an emotional roller coaster during the initial weeks and months of motherhood. Feeling ecstatic and full of joy one moment, then filled with fear and self-doubt the next. Kicking in within the first two weeks of birth and lasting for a number of days or weeks, these emotions are commonly referred to as the ‘baby blues’ and are experienced by about 50% of new mothers. The readjustment of hormones in the body post birth and inevitable sleep deprivation in those early weeks only serve to heighten feelings of ‘not coping’. In most cases, these symptoms subside and no medical treatment is required.
Post Natal Depression (PND) affects about 10-15% of all post natal women. It often starts within one to two months of birth although it can start several months later in some cases. Common symptoms of post natal depression include; depression, irritability, changes in appetite, negative and guilty thoughts, lack of enjoyment, avoidance of people, feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing PND, book an appointment with your GP who will be able to provide or signpost you to the best support.
The good news is, that exercise can play an incredibly valuable role in regaining and maintaining emotional and psychological wellbeing for new mums (and everybody actually!). It can provide a much needed sense of familiarity and control within the new world of motherhood. A number of studies have even shown exercise to be as effective as psychotherapy and antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
So how exactly can Pilates help?……….
In Pilates, we use the ‘Lateral Breathing Technique’. This involves breathing fully into the sides and back of the lungs as you inhale and enables you get more air into your lungs. Participants often like to close their eyes (although this is not a requirement) and/or place their hands on their rib cage, so they can feel the sensation of the breath as it fills and empties from their body. As well as delivering more oxygen around the body and enabling your cells, organs and muscles to work at their best, this technique promotes a great sense of physical relaxation.
A Clear, Focused Mind
I encourage class participants to close their eyes when initiating the Lateral Breathing Technique, where possible. This encourages you to switch off from the world around you and start to focus on your own breath and sensations in your own body. By paying attention to your breath, you will start developing a deeper awareness of your own body; the parts which feel tight or stiff, what the breath feels like in your nose and mouth, whether you are putting more weight through one leg than the other etc.
Bringing focus and attention to the breath naturally results in a slowing down of the breath as you try to get a closer ‘look’ at it, and this promotes a physical sense of relaxation. It inevitably clears the mind of other thoughts to make space for the new focus you are placing on your breath. As a result, thoughts that bring about fear, worry, anxiety, anger and stress or even wondering whether you locked the door and what’s for dinner, will be forced to quieten down and with practice, slip away.
Drawing the mind away from daily thoughts and focusing it instead on the simplicity of your own breath makes you feel more connected with and therefore more in control of, their own body. If you’ve ever practised ‘mindfulness’, you might find the feeling and results quite similar.
Focusing your attention inwards, clearing the mind of the daily chatter and enabling your lungs to physically work at their optimum encourages a wonderful sense of calm and relaxation. My clients leave each class smiling, shoulders lowered and having let go of, or placed into a more positive perspective, the worries which they carried into the studio an hour earlier. Importantly, they are also armed with breathing techniques which they can apply during stressful periods outside of their weekly Pilates class and so feel empowered to deal more calmly with whatever life brings.
If relaxation and calm is a specific goal for you, I would recommend coming to one of our adult only classes in the evening so you can benefit from a little ‘me’ time. Why not come and join us for a FREE TASTER SESSION and find out for yourself how Pilates can help your emotional and psychological wellbeing? Click here to book your space