Written by Eva Sammut;
Eva is a 500 hours qualified Vinyasa Flow Yoga teacher. Having studied at House of Yoga in London and also at Sampoorna Yoga in Goa, India – she has been teaching yoga in London and Malta for two years. For Eva, Yoga is a way of life, a journey to becoming the best version of yourself which doesn’t only consist of touching your toes!
WHY YOGA MAKES MUMMIES HAPPY
There are lots of different styles of yoga, all of which offer different benefits; from very spiritually-focused and or relaxing, all the way up to the very dynamic and physically demanding. However, what all styles have in common is that yoga is now recognised as one of the best ways to encourage our body to release the happy hormone, oxytocin. The ‘love’ hormone oxytocin helps you to relax, reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels, making it a built in anti-stress mechanism. It is also associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Oxytocin is a wonderful hormone that rushes through the body when we first fall in love. In addition, some of its main functions are preparing the female body for childbirth, stimulating milk production so that a baby can nurse; this also encourages the bond between a mother and her new born. This hormone also plays an important part in sexual arousal and is released during orgasm. Having said that it is very important in non-sexual relationships too; the presence of oxytocin has been shown to increase trust, generosity and cooperation. It can also create a nurturing aspect within males and females who are not parents.
Getting the oxytocin going is very important for new mummies. In a study of 65 women with depression and anxiety, the 34 women that took yoga classes twice a week for two months showed a significant decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms, compared to the 31 women who did not partake in the classes.
You may think it takes years of dedicated practice before you start to see results in the happiness department, but the good news is that various studies have shown that the feel good hormones spike after just an hour of yoga practice. Simply put, even a single class can start changing your brain chemistry and improving your mood.
Every yoga practice incorporates some elements of focusing on the breath to invigorate or relax. Deep breathing during a yoga practice warms the body and warmth is one of the key elements that allow us to release oxytocin. By taking the body through the practice of yoga asana (postures) we warm the muscles and the joints, to make the physical body more supple, comfortable and relaxed. The ability to become aware and regulate our breathing is paramount when in terms of lowering stress levels and becoming more present in the moment, both these aspects are needed to feel happier.
Pregnancy and motherhood can bring huge physical, emotional and environmental changes that can be difficult to adapt to. Taking time each week to just breathe during a yoga class, bringing your attention to your breathing and focusing on the breath alone, therefore not worrying about anything else, can allow oxytocin to be released. Slow steady breathing is all that is needed to give a deepened sense of relaxation. It is very easy to get caught up in ‘getting the posture’, that many times, students forget to breathe or even retain their breath. This is a good time to observe and let go, releasing the ego and focusing on the flow of energy as we inhale and exhale.
For pregnant and post-natal women, whose bodies have undergone physical stress and growth over a period of time, warming the body through the practice of asana (postures) is very important as not to damage any joints and to ease the body into the various postures. During asana (postures) and pranayama (yogic breathing), the body generates heat, which warms it inside and out, this then stimulates the release of more oxytocin.
At the end of a yoga class it is important not to bolt out the door, savasana (dead man’s pose), the deep relaxation at the end of the class is the reward for all your effort. It is a great time to learn to let go, calm your mind and enjoy this relaxation time, letting the body and mind absorb all that was experienced throughout the class. Many people especially new mothers find savasana, one of the hardest poses to conquer due to all the random thoughts that go through the mind when they are lying on their mat and not moving. This is known, as ‘monkey mind’ lots of meaningless thoughts like ‘What will I cook for dinner?’ ‘Am I doing things right?’ etc. The best way to ease these thoughts and to get around them is to simply observe and acknowledge them and then let them go. Bringing your focus back to your breath and simply taking those few moments just for yourself, letting the oxytocin rush through your body.
Mums-to-be would definitely benefit from a bit of yoga in their lives as oxytocin helps birthing women through labour, encouraging surges or contractions as well as providing pain relieving endorphins and an altered state of consciousness or bliss, also referred to as ‘labour land’, which makes most of childbirth seem dream-like or surreal.
As soon as the baby is born, oxytocin is the hormone that makes new mothers fall in love in the greatest way possible with their new born. In the first few moments after childbirth, a mother receives the largest rush of oxytocin that she will ever experience in her life. Oxytocin flows between mother and child every time the baby is breast-fed, this encourages bonding and attachment. Yogic breathing and some adapted savasana practice during childbirth can aid the release of this special hormone. Yoga can also help balance hormones and balance the endocrine system, which can benefit those with antenatal or postnatal depression. By reducing our reaction to stress, the body produces less adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, which are all stress hormones.
Studies indicate that pre-natal depression and other forms of clinical depression alleviates by half if only we can talk to a friend who listens to us; again, oxytocin is shown to increase when we receive empathy. Therefore, the social aspects of getting out to a yoga class either before or after childbirth can drastically help mothers by socialising with other mothers who might be experiencing the same struggles, anxieties or emotions.
Yoga isn’t about having a bare room filled with beautiful statuesque bodies chanting ‘Om’ in unison. Everyone is there for a different reason, with various abilities and limitations, shapes and sizes. The essential thing is that everyone leaves knowing that they have done something great for themselves, they feel calmer and more in control of their lives…Effectively making them happier.
If you think yoga isn’t for you because you like or dislike a particular style, do your research, try various classes and very importantly different teachers, you will surely fall in love at some point …