Being and Bonding: The Benefits of Yoga for Mothers
By Nicole Schnackenberg
“This is what love does and continues to do. It tastes like honey to adults and milk to children”.
Offering yoga to mothers is part of our work here at Ourmala. We feel this is an extremely important element of what we do for a wealth of reasons.
Many of the mothers who access yoga and other services here at Ourmala have experienced significant upheaval and trauma in their lives. Not only must they navigate and find a way to cope with the pain of their pasts, they also must find a way to care for and nurture another human life. This human life, this vulnerable baby, is totally dependent upon them for the fulfilment of their every need and desire. Motherhood, whilst an immeasurable blessing, is also one of the most challenging tasks of human existence. It can be challenging even when there is a supportive family and/or community network around the mother and infant, even when there is secure living accommodation and a peace-filled past. The additional complexities of motherhood for a women who has been displaced from her home and family, let alone experienced significant trauma, cannot be over-emphasised or under-estimated.
Yoga for mothers here at Ourmala aims to be restorative for body, mind and soul. It is a time for mothers to attend to their own needs and come back into the lived experience of their own bodies. It is an opportunity to nurture and treat themselves with respect and kindness. In these yoga classes, mothers are also afforded the opportunity to connect with a community of mothers, many of whom will also be struggling with, and indeed celebrating, motherhood in a myriad of similar ways. Through the yoga, these mothers connect with their own bodies, emotions and deeper sense of self and through the community practice they connect with, reach out to, and are embraced and supported by others.
Whilst their babies do not attend these classes, at the mothers’ request for a little time out, we have reason to be confident that they also benefit from their mothers’ time with us here at Ourmala. We share yoga with these mothers with the findings of a research study by Singh and colleagues (2006) joyfully in mind. In this study, mothers with children identified as struggling with their behaviour were trained in mindfulness practices for twelve weeks, followed by a practice phase of a whole year. Despite the fact that these children did not take part in the mindfulness training in any way, researchers found that the children presented with decreased levels of aggression, non-compliance and self-injury following the intervention. This study nestles nicely within a host of other findings that point to the tremendous benefits yoga and mindfulness can have on a whole family system if the mother, or another family member, alone engages in a weekly practice.
Yoga encourages women not only to be in touch with their own bodies but also the bodies of their infants. In so far as we are able to connect intimately with ourselves, we are thus able to connect intimately with others. Of course, it is through the skin, our body’s largest organ, that we give and receive physical affection and tenderness. Touch triggers a cascade of chemical responses, including a decrease in stress hormones such as cortisol and a simultaneous increase in serotonin and dopamine levels, a shift which has been shown to lift low mood and depression. Importantly, touch also increases the release of oxytocin, which promotes feelings of bonding and trust. Gentle movement and touch together are the basis of synaesthesia (the integration of sensory experience, enabling connection with people and objects around oneself). Tactile stimulation has been shown to contribute to the development of both the brain and the nervous system. Yoga can also help to strengthen the mother’s muscles, which in turn can be supportive to their ability to physically care for their baby. A mindful attitude, which is a common outcome of a regular yoga practice, can also promote non-verbal communication between mother and infant, engender mutual relaxation and help to soothe and heal any early birth trauma.
In addition to touch-related benefits, research has shown that mothers who have recently given birth experience positive mood-enhancing qualities of yoga. In one recent 2017 study by Timlin & Simpson, yoga was found to improve the psychological well-being, reduce global stress levels, enhance problem-focused coping and provide additional support and networking opportunities for first-time mothers.
Yogi Bhajan, the founder of Kundalini yoga, believed that, “children are full-fledged people with high potency antennae which record every vibration within their vicinity completely and very deeply”. The state of a mother’s wellbeing and connection to her own deeper sense of self is highly likely to be directly experienced by her baby. We feel both proud and humbled to offer yoga for mothers here at Ourmala. To find out more about our classes and services, please follow the link here. Namaste.
Singh, N., Lancioni, G., Winton, A., Curtis, W., Wahler, R., Sabaawi, M. and McAleavey, K. (2006). Mindful staff increase learning and reduce aggression in adults with developmental disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 27, 545-558.
Timlin, D., & Simpson, E. E. A. (2017). A preliminary randomised control trial of the effects of Dru yoga on psychological well-being in Northern Irish first time mothers. Midwifery, 46, 29-36.