According to Jyothi Larson, “Practicing Yoga with your baby is a wonderful way to add joy to your first year together.” This popular Yoga teacher talks about the specially adapted Yoga poses she has taught hundreds of moms and their “Buddha babies”—her term for the happy and calm babies in her classes.
Integral Yoga Magazine: What led you to teach postnatal Yoga?
Jyothi Larson: About 15 years ago, I started teaching a postnatal class at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City. I had been teaching the prenatal class already and I felt that I was letting the moms down by having the program stop after they had given birth. I think that women especially need it after the birth. I wanted to start a class that women could comfortably come to with their babies.
New moms are tired a lot. And, as the baby gets heavier, mom’s posture suffers. So, Yoga really helps. I think that the babies really benefit from it too because they are with mothers who have a community where they can share their concerns. After my daughter was born, I realized the importance of a community for new mothers. The class just grew and grew.
IYM: What do you do in your classes?
JL: I never know what we are going to do on a particular day because I don’t know what age group will show up, or the mood of the babies. So, I just go with what is going on with the babies. We usually do about half the class with games, exercises, and asanas for the babies. And, the rest is pranayama and asanas for the mothers. I stress the importance of continuing to do Kegel exercises and the importance of breathing and posture.
A lot of the class is just fun things to do with the baby. If your baby is getting a bit cranky or fussy, you can always put them up on your shins and do “flying babies.” If you hold your child with ease and comfort and let them feel safe, it makes them feel so good. If your kids are throwing major tantrums when they are two-years-old, you can sometimes just pick them up and breathe that deep deergha swaasam breath with them and it can really mellow them out.
IYM: How do you adapt the class to the younger babies?
JL: I adapt it by playing games with them. We’ll do something with their arms that we call “open, shut them.” It is basically, [Jyothi demonstrates while singing] “Open, shut them; Open, shut them; Open, shut them; Put them in your lap, lap, lap!” The moms are doing the motions for the babies and the babies are getting the stretches.
Babies are such natural yogis. They do the cobra pose on their own. It is very exciting when they start pushing up and lifting up their head. Downward dog is a natural for children. They like to crawl underneath their mothers as they are doing their Yoga. You can do the pigeon pose with your baby right in front of you while you’re singing a little song to him or her.
I look at it more as a way of bonding with your child, so that you can still get your Yoga practice. Because when you are a new mother, you may have been used to rolling out your mat every day at a certain time. You don’t get to do that any more. This gives you a chance to still do your Yoga while being with your baby.
IYM: Tell us about Yoga Mom, Buddha Baby. Photo: YogaMom.jpg
JL: The first part of the book is asanas that are beneficial for the third trimester of pregnancy. There are strengthening exercises such as warrior pose and trikonaasana. There are also basic warm-ups that are good to do all the time. The next part is asanas that can be done right after the birth. You need to do Kegel exercises right away. You also need to work the abdominal muscles right away. Even when you have had a Cesarean, it is essential to start doing basic movement, like holding the abdominal muscles together and lifting up the head and doing the pranayama. The pranayama is important. All of the movements that warm-up the joints are also important.
The next part of the book covers six weeks postpartum. There are movements to do with your baby that are nice for him or her. Again, they are not big major asanas. But, we even do little bicycles, bringing the baby’s elbow to the knee slowly. Of course, you always want to watch the reaction of your child. If he or she doesn’t want to do it, then basically you don’t do it.
The book then goes into ways to strengthen your body while having your child right on top of you. You can put your baby on your shins. As long as you lift up your head, the abdominals are engaged. They love it, so your baby is having fun. You are working your abdominals and babies really like it. A great way to work the abdominals is to watch the posture and bring the belly button toward the spine, while walking with your baby on top of you like this [Jyothi demonstrates]. Slow kinds of motion introduce easeful movement to your baby. But, they are also getting you to move.
IYM: You also train Yoga teachers to work with new mothers. Please tell us about the weekend program you conducted in Yogaville for Yoga teachers.
JL: I named the first day, “the case for abdominal and pelvic floor strengthening” because that is really so important for the new mother. I also talked a lot about the alignment and stability, and the changing body. It is a lot about posture and how to help the pregnant woman or the mom just after she has had a baby. The importance of using the abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor muscles in your asana is very important.
That evening we did a restorative Yoga class for prenatal and postnatal. During the second day, in the morning class we covered asanas to do with babies. We went through some of the games and movements. That afternoon we looked at different issues that come up in the prenatal and postnatal classes. We addressed topics such as going with babies’ schedules and class length. I always let women know—and the dads, too, if they want to come—that they can come in half an hour late. It is hard to get places on time with a newborn baby. The last day we covered anything we didn’t get to earlier. Also, I like to show new and different postures.
IYM: How did you get involved in Integral Yoga?
JL: I was turned on to Yoga by my mom when I was 16. I saw what a difference it was making in her life. I thought, “I want to do this,” so I started to take classes various places. I always would go back to Integral Yoga because that is where I felt comfortable. I liked the vibe.
After my first daughter was born, I decided that I didn’t want to go back to the fashion industry. It was important to me to make a difference in people’s lives. I started to teach Yoga and I’ve never stopped teaching—it’s been 11 years now at the NYIYI!
I feel that the Integral Yoga tradition lets people come to it and feel comfortable, and feel that if they don’t understand something they can ask; they won’t be judged because they don’t know. It is just a very welcoming community.
For more information about Jyothi’s work, please visit: www.easefulbody.com
Prenatal Hatha on Mondays at 10:30-12 p.m.
Postpartum Hatha on Mondays at 12:30-1:45 p.m.
Postpartum Hatha on Fridays at 12:30-1:45 p.m.
An Interview with Jyothi Larson