Yoga as treatment for colic?

Another really interesting article just caught my eye.  Titled ‘Yoga as treatment for colic?’ (by Claudia M. Gold, writing for the Boston Globe), it looks at  the benefits of yoga for the mum, not the baby, talking specifically about the importance of emotional regulation for stressed parents. I’ve always been very interested in the phenomenon of postnatal depression, having wrestled with something similar after the birth of my first child, and also having been blown away by how many of the mums who attend my baby massage courses struggle with it. For this reason, this article was of particular interest to me. It’s late and I have to get up early to teach a 6.30am class tomorrow morning, so I am going to be lazy and just copy and paste the original article below rather than paraphrasing and discussing. My bed is calling…

Just to clarify, I mean yoga for mom, not baby. In my book, Keeping Your Child in Mind, I tell a story of a mom who was struggling with both postpartum depression and a “colicky” baby. After one visit with me, she decided to take a yoga class rather than see a therapist. At a follow-up visit a couple of weeks later, their relationship seemed totally transformed. The baby smiled at her as she joyfully told me that she felt like he “had just been born.” I attributed much of the transformation to having a chance to be heard both by me and by her husband. I wonder if, in fact, the yoga had an important role to play. I’ve been thinking about recommending yoga as part of treatment both for colic and postpartum depression, two problems which often go together.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Suzanne Zeedyk, a developmental psychologist in Scotland who is kind of my counterpart in the UK. She is trying to address a large audience regarding the implications of the explosion of research and knowledge at the interface of neuroscience and developmental psychology. She’s had quite a bit of success-of course its different because Scotland is a small place that has socialized medicine. The departments of education, health care and finance all seem to be listening to her. She has even gotten the cooperation of law enforcement in understanding the connection between violence prevention and supporting early-parent child relationships. In a piece from an early education blog : Early Years the Key to Reducing Violence, a detective talks about how the “Violence Reduction Unit” is supporting early years initiatives and work with parents.

So what does this have to do with yoga? Earlier this week Suzanne sent me a link to a post she had written about the importance of emotional regulation for stressed parents. She asks the question: “Is there a child protection agency out there that includes yoga as a mandatory element of their parenting programmes?” She describes the multiple demands on mothers whose children are in foster care, mothers who themselves often have a history of trauma, with nothing being offered to support their efforts at emotional regulation. But, she wisely points out, emotional regulation is perhaps the most important and most difficult task for a mother. It is through self-regulation that a parent teaches this essential skill to a child. She says:

In other words, children’s brains and bodies can only learn what self-comfort and containment feel like when they have first experienced comfort and containment in the arms of a trusted adult. If the brain does not have the opportunity to know this state, then it will not build the synaptic connections that are able to easily facilitate emotional regulation, later on in life. If a child does not have such neural pathways in place within the first few years of his/her life, then the battle to gain control of intense feelings may forever be a losing one.

A child and mother in the child protective services system is an extreme example. But when a baby has colic, or a mother is depressed, or both, this task of emotional regulation, of staying calm in the face of your child’s distress, is very challenging. Perhaps yoga should also be a routine intervention in this situation.

By coincidence, I had just come back from a yoga class when I read her post. My teacher, who is now pregnant herself with her second child, teaches a yoga class for pregnant moms (this is also a great idea, especially given what we are learning about the effects of stress during pregnancy on fetal development.) She then offers these moms the chance to come to her class after the baby is born. So while doing my down-dogs I listened to a cooing baby, who looked to be about 3 months old. He happily kicked his legs while he intently watched his mother. Interestingly, whenever her head was down ( they were right in front of me so I could easily observe, and as those who read my blog know, I am a professional baby observer!)) his cooing reached a crescendo. Then when she looked up and smiled at him he became quiet and gleefully smiled back- a great example of a young infant’s terrific communication skills!!

Of course yoga is not for everyone, and yoga classes are extraordinarily variable. The point is that moms, particularly under the stress of colic and/or postpartum depression, need help with their own emotional regulation. Using the body to help the brain, through yoga, martial arts, swimming or even simply walking can be an important intervention that is good for the whole family!

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My interview with Yoga Awakening Africa

YAA Interview: Nicci Annette

DECEMBER 1, 2011

1.       Name: Nicci Annette

2.       DOB: 3rd October 1973

3.       What style of yoga do you teach? I teach Hatha yoga in the Integral Vinyasa style.

4.       Where do you teach? At my studio in a beautiful leafy street in the centre of historic Stellenbosch.

5.       How long have you been practicing yoga? For almost fifteen years.

6.       How long have you been teaching yoga? I’ve taught informally friends and family for a number of years, but have been officially teaching since May this year.

7.       Who have you trained with and where? I attended an intensive Teachers’ Training Immersion course in Santa Monica in 2007 with Patti Quintero and Billy Asad, and after moving back to South Africa in 2008 and having my two beautiful children, I completed my 200 hours YTT with Anne and Martin Combrinck at Ananda Sanga in Somerset West earlier this year. I will have gained my certification for specialised prenatal yoga teachers’ training by the end of December, having just completed this course, once again with Anne Combrinck at Ananda Sanga.

8.       What lead you to teaching yoga and at what point did you decide that you wanted to teach? I have been inspired by a number of incredible teachers through the years and have been humbled by their wisdom, how much they could teach me, and what a difference they made to so many lives, on so many levels – physical, emotional, spiritual. I started toying with the idea of teaching when I lived in California, and it was after attending the Immersion Course with Billy and Patti that I knew for sure that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

9.       What do you love most about teaching? It’s hard to pick only one thing! I love being able to share my passion and to spread the word about how yoga can transform lives. But if I have to choose one thing, it would probably be the beautiful sense of peace and calm that fills the studio at the end of a class – the way that yoga has the ability to calm and restore even the most frazzled mind and body.

10.   What do you love most about yoga? I love the fact that it is such an ancient philosophy, yet is so relevant to modern life.

11.   What is the greatest challenge you have overcome with the help of yoga? I struggled for a long time to make peace with the idea of God, a greater force, the powers that be, call it what you will.  I was spiritual but didn’t want to label myself or put myself in a box. I felt uncomfortable with how judgemental orthodox religions could be. I felt confused as to what the ‘right’ answer was, and how to make sense of this niggling feeling that there must be more than the ‘here and now’, yet how it could possibly be just one answer or explanation when so many people believe such different things. Yoga gave me a way to understand that there is a spiritual unity behind all the diversities in the entire creation and that ultimately there is a way for all to live harmoniously as members of one universal family.

12.   What advice do you have for people who have never tried yoga? Take off your shoes, open your mind and just try it. It may be the best thing you ever do.

13.   Do you have a regular practice? With two very busy children under the age of 3, it’s sometimes a challenge to find a regular time, but I do my best to incorporate it into my daily life.

14.   Favourite Asana? Chakrasana

15.   Strongest Asana? Virabhadrasana II

16.   Least Favourite Asana? Padmasana

17.   What are your other interests? I’m an Infant Massage Instructor and the whole space of mums and babies is one of my great passions. I love reading, walking in the mountains, playing my guitar, spending time with my family and friends.

18.   Any thank yous? My wonderful husband who has supported me both practically and emotionally in following my dream of becoming a yoga teacher. My parents for selflessly offering me the space for my studio. And all the wise teachers who have gone before me and paved the way for me to continue my own journey.

 
 

Some more info about pregnancy yoga classes

With thanks to Nina from Yoga Awakening Africa (awesome chick) and Anne Combrink of Ananda Sanga (my own personal guru):

Some more info about pregnancy yoga classes.

Pregnancy Yoga classes, taught by a Yoga Teacher with additional and specialised training in this field, provide opportunities for expectant women to develop greater vitality and awareness of their bodies. These classes also deepen their relationship with their unborn baby. Gentle postures, breathing, visualization and relaxation are learned which cultivate flexibility, calmness and confidence in preparation for labour and childbirth. Women are empowered to develop their ability to access greater relaxation, comfort and enjoyment. Calm, strength and flexibility ease the birthing process, thus reducing pain and increasing the joy of giving birth. With the guidance of the Pregnancy Yoga Teacher, women prepare for an active, normal and natural birth.

Birth and Nurturing the Baby are Natural.
It may seem strange that a mother needs to prepare for birth and motherhood; after all they are completely natural, instinctive and biological functions. Women’s bodies are ideally designed and adapted to carry, give birth to and nourish their young, just like any other mammal. However, unlike other mammals, humans appear to be the only species that has such difficulty fulfilling this instinctive potential.

This has not always been the case though. Many cultures, throughout the ages, have honoured and respected the power of women to give birth and nurture their young as central to life. It is only in our ‘modernized’ world that the power of women as birth-givers has been steadily degraded and replaced by the science of obstetrics.

Why Practice Yoga in Pregnancy?
Attending yoga classes that are specifically adapted for the pregnant woman means that a conscious choice has been made to devote some time to honouring and nurturing yourself and your unborn baby during this special time. As yoga brings your mind and awareness into your body it awakens the awareness of your baby inside and deepens your connection with your child. You will feel more in touch with your inner self, more connected to nature and you begin to discover that the power to give birth and nurture your baby lies within yourself. This is also very helpful after the birth.

Physically …
During pregnancy, energy levels fluctuate and may leave you feeling exhausted for no reason. Your body is using enormous amounts of energy to ‘create’ a brand new human being and misusing your body can result in excess tiredness. Physically, yoga teaches how to keep the posture correct as the centre of gravity changes throughout the nine months; it strengthens the back, tummy, shoulder, arm and leg muscles to be able to carry the baby comfortably and easily; it keeps you fit and thus an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients flowing around the body and to the baby; it improves circulation of other fluids in the body helping to prevent swollen ankles and other oedemas. These seem to be ‘side benefits’ when you consider how yoga prepares the body physically for the birth. It helps to open up the hips and pelvis, creates more flexibility, and strengthens muscles that are needed for the ‘pushing’ stage of labour. After all, what does ‘labour’ mean – hard physical work! Therefore it makes sense to prepare the body with stretching, breathing and physical exercise.

Mentally and Emotionally ….
On other levels, yoga helps to bring your whole being into balance. It influences the mind and body positively, benefiting you emotionally. Yoga, especially with a focus on breathing, quietens the mind, allowing you to feel more peaceful within yourself. It is calming and reduces anxiety – you feel more present in your body and thus mentally and emotionally balanced.

Pregnancy is a natural state of ecstasy and celebration. There are many peaceful and blissful times to be enjoyed during these months. Yoga can help you make the most of the contentment, well-being and fulfilment which women can experience when they are pregnant. Its benefits will continue in the many pleasurable hours you will spend with your baby after the birth.

Preparing for Birth and Coping with Labour
In most traditional societies, women are encouraged in pregnancy to build up their strength and improve their fitness in readiness for the birth. On the whole they give birth easily and we can do the same.

The processes of birth are involuntary, they happen without your conscious control. The sensations experienced during the hours of labour as your body opens to give birth are very powerful. They take you to your limits of endurance. There are times of extremes both pain and pleasure, ecstatic highs and deep dark lows involved in the extraordinary inner journey which brings your baby to birth.  Yoga is a wonderful preparation for this. It teaches you to make space between thoughts to focus on what you are feeling in your body and to surrender and let go, which is exactly what you need to do during labour.

Breathing lies at the very heart of yoga practice – without mindfulness of breath the postures are lifeless and static. In Pregnancy Yoga classes breathing correctly and deeply, as well as using the breath as a focus, is learned. Breathing properly throughout pregnancy and labour are important for your baby, who is depending on you for his/her oxygen supply. To be able to concentrate on the breath – the source of all life – can help you get through the most difficult times in your labour.

Many of the yoga postures learned in the class are similar to the positions women instinctively assume in labour. These positions are then spontaneously applied during the labour allowing comfort and ease for the different stages.

Overall Benefits of Pregnancy Yoga
All in all the practice of yoga brings awareness of breath, body, mind and feelings, which enables the mother-to-be to stay in harmony with her child throughout her pregnancy. It gives her the confidence to follow her instincts while giving birth and as a mother.

For more information: contact me at nicci@yogawithnicci.co.za or call or sms me on +27 78 563 8152. I look forward to hearing from you!

_________________________________
Anne Combrinck (BSc; NHD(Chem); YTC; YTherapyDip), a Yoga Teacher and mother, used yoga to prepare for her son’s birth and has been teaching yoga to pregnant (and post-natal) women for many years.

She also trains Yoga Teachers and facilitates a workshop to further train Yoga Teachers to specialise in Pregnancy Yoga Teaching. There is a Pregnancy Yoga Teacher training workshop coming up in November 2011.

Contact her for more information: Tel:(021) 855-1470 or email: anne@asanga.org.za

Prenatal yoga teachers training and oxytocin overdose

I’m really looking forward to this weekend (and the third weekend in November) as I’m doing my specialised teachers training in pregnancy / pre-natal yoga at Ananda Sanga in Somerset West. Since having had my own two beautiful little ones and having gained my international certification in infant massage in 2010, pregnancy, babies, and particularly pregnant mums are an area of interest that is very close to my heart.

I am privileged to have one pregnant yogi in one of my classes already and there are another two who have expressed interest, so I am almost humming with excitement and anticipation at how wonderful it’s going to be to actively move into this space. I run my next infant massage course early in the New Year, and so what with presenting prenatal classes and having my studio double up as a venue for all those perfect (and they are all perfect, every single one of them) little babies and mums, it’s going to be a veritable oxytocin-fest!

Speaking of oxytocin, what an incredible hormone! Also known as the ‘love hormone’ or the ‘cuddle hormone’, it is probably best known for its roles in female reproduction (it is released in large amounts during labor, thus facilitating birth, and after birth helps with stimulation of the nipples and facilitating breastfeeding). What really blows my mind, however, is that it has been shown to be associated with the ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people. This is one of the many reasons why infant massage is such a powerful ‘tool’ – it fosters bonding between infant and caregiver (male and female) due to the increased production of the hormone during massage – by both the massage-giver and the massage-receiver. It also has a wonderful calming effect, which is probably why after an infant massage class, even though it’s often fairly chaotic (there is inevitably someone crying – sometimes the mums as well as the babies! – someone sleeping, someone feeding), there seems to be a lovely sense of calmness and serenity about those fabulous women when it’s time to leave.  Imagine if you could buy it by the bottleful and take a quick swig if you were feeling unloving towards your better half!