As some women in BJJ will already know, the process of becoming a mother is very hard on the body and the ‘big joke’ is that just when you need to be in your best condition to cope well with sleep deprivation, nursing, and a constant cycle of picking up and putting down your baby, you find that your body has been pretty thoroughly traumatised. Add to this mix the circumstances of many of today’s parents who may have no local family to help look after the little person, and mom’s self care, recovery, postpartum fitness and well-being is not a straightforward proposition.
My husband and I have made decisions about child rearing and nursing that have meant less personal freedom in the shorter term. We also choose to live and work far from our families. We are a great team with a unified vision of our home, family, businesses, and also support each other’s personal endeavours. Overall, I feel good about our decisions and feel happy most of the time. Our decisions have had an impact on my ability to train, as childcare considerations don’t mesh with available class times, and this has had significant repercussions for my sense of well-being. Losing touch with BJJ since the pregnancy has meant losing touch with myself, to an extent, and I’ve felt dissatisfied and disheartened with my body over this period.
The baby weight is rather intractable. Slow progress is being made, nevertheless the person in the mirror doesn’t look like ‘me’. More importantly, she doesn’t feel like me. The feelings of energy, power, vitality, invulnerability, lightness, grace and general brick-house awesome – feelings generated and maintained by consistent BJJ practice – have been stripped away. I’m tired of being tired, of struggling with climbing stairs, of barely being able to activate my core muscles, of stiffness, of heavy feet and leaden legs. The greatest gift I received from BJJ, and what has most bound me to the art, is the superb fitness and well-being it imparts (ahem, knee injuries aside). The 7 years of training prior to pregnancy had emancipated me from all body-image static, left me feeling strong and energised, confident and ready for anything. The last year has been a big step backward in this regard.
All is not lost!
The boy is now nearly 8 months old and since the start of the new year, I’ve been able to get a pretty respectable (if not pre-baby optimal) gym schedule going. A big step change for us has been getting to the point where I can give the baby his last feed, Daddy gets home and runs the bedtime routine while I scoot down to the gym. While the timings don’t yet accommodate travelling to Dartford BJJ for class, regular sessions at the gym are starting to pay dividends in terms of losing weight, regaining strength and getting some head space. In addition to home-based privates or rolls with training partners once a week when possible, I’ve been enjoying a regular diet of interval training classes using kettlebells and suspension trainers, treadmill work, and yoga.
Yoga has been a big part of my postpartum recovery and fitness regime. Mom and baby yoga has been a part of our daily routine since the little guy was 8 weeks old, and while not rigourous, has done wonders for helping with all the little repetitive strain injuries and aches and pains that come with making a baby, birthing that baby and looking after that baby. Mom and baby yoga has been vital to initial recovery of my core as well as techniques for using breath to chill the eff out when the daily slog of baby care starts to wear thin.
Recently, I’ve been able to boost my yoga practice to the next level and have started weekly classes at my gym with a lovely instructor called Kym. Kym teaches ‘dynamic hatha yoga’. This is a pretty tough class in terms of strength and flexibility and I can see some serious benefits coming my way in terms of core strength and continued knee health and rehab. While I’ve done some yoga off and on over the years, I’ve been more of a Pilates-girl and have practiced Pilates several times a week for the last 10 years. I’d always found yoga a little too ‘hippy dippy’ and didn’t really care for philosophical exhortations with my poses and stretches. That’s now changed and this week’s session did me a power of good.
Class often ends with a wind-down meditation lying in the ‘corpse pose’. During this week’s class, Kym guided our thoughts towards introspection and reminded us to appreciate our bodies as the only one we’ll ever have and asked us to reflect on all the things our bodies had done for us and gotten us through. Thank goodness for a darkened room as the tears started to roll. I realised that the years of struggling with knee rehab compounded by the effects of the pregnancy and postpartum on my body and lifestyle had taken a real toll that I hadn’t fully recognised. I suddenly became conscious of a great amount of anger with my body; throughout the pregnancy and postpartum I’ve had a lot of negative feelings about what my body couldn’t and can’t do. The idea that my body and I have been on journey together and it has done so much for me suddenly ‘clicked’ for me. My emotions were stirred by the realisation that my body has been very good to me and, for goodness sakes, helped to create, then incubated and safely birthed a healthy baby and now creates perfectly calibrated nourishment to beef up his jelly rolls and help to give him the best start in life. How could I be so angry with this marvellous body?! Sure, I don’t move as well – in an athletic or everyday context – and I’m carrying a bunch of extra kilos, and, where BJJ is concerned, my core isn’t working well for me, my timing is shocking and I’ve forgotten a huge amount. But hey, I am getting stronger and more able, my body is recovering from this amazing creative trauma of making and delivering and caring for a little person and I’d do well to love and appreciate these old bones for everything they’ve been through with me. The message of self love and appreciation, of caring for and honouring oneself – a message that is central to my instructor’s approach to BJJ and repeated in the yoga context – really got through some personal barriers and I’m grateful for that. This body has done some amazing stuff and is sticking with me, so I might as well step up and stick with it!
I can’t recommend yoga enough for ladies working on their post-natal fitness. Alongside benefits of improved core fitness, greater flexibility and reduced repetitive strain, the centrality of love and peace to yoga practice can really help with postpartum emotions and difficulties, however deep they may be buried. Allow yoga to help you to tune in to how you effect others and how they effect you. Reach out with love and recognise your connection with your surroundings. Be the best person you can be. Go out there, dear reader, and be lovely.