Carrying your baby in a sling, wrap or baby carrier during your yoga session - A subtle yet powerful practice.
A conversation with Dr. Rehana Jawadwala, founder of MummyYoga, on her journey of creating Keep Me Close babywearing yoga class. In this interview, she discusses her experience of carrying her daughter in a sling after a difficult birth. Rehana talks about her hard early postnatal days and discusses how her focussed breath work and gentle yoga practice led her to an important awareness on bonding with her baby. She explains how this shared yoga practice with your baby brings nourishment to you both.
What inspired you to start Keep Me Close?
The birth of my second daughter was the hardest thing I had ever done physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Despite all the hardships, here we were, mother and baby like millions of other families. But unlike many, the bond with my baby didn’t come gushing through. I was deeply affected by her birth and the healing happened slowly, subtly and gently.
In the early days, in the dark numbness of new motherhood, all I managed was to resume my walks. This time however, I had my tiny baby in a sling. Slowly these walks turned meditative as I brought I my breath awareness to them. And then over the coming months, I noticed something subtle yet powerful, she was responding to my breath modulation practice, she was responding to the care I was showing myself and she was slowly becoming a deep part of my practice by being so close to me. We were bonding and it felt right to my very core. My life philosophy of egalitarianism was right here in my yoga practice. I was sharing what was truly important to me with my baby, giving her the same nourishment, I found in my own yoga practice.
I slowly transformed the walks into additional movements that helped me reconnect with my body that had gone through so much at her birth. This was the beginning of ‘Keep Me Close’, babywearing yoga class that is now enjoyed by so many new mothers. The class breaks away from the traditional concept of mum and baby yoga and infuses in it the true spirit of partnership. This is not a class for mothers where their babies simply “come along” or a class just for babies where mums go to for an altruistic reason. This is a class where we are partners in practice. No mother, or baby is set aside.
What makes babywearing yoga such a unique practice?
Babywearing yoga, when done safely, is not only an amazing opportunity to engage in physical activity after pregnancy and birth; but more importantly, it is an opportunity to slow down in today’s fast paced parenting times. In our classes we always give the most importance to breath awareness and modulation. I think these are the cornerstones of bonding. Over time your baby will learn how you self-regulate your own emotional and mental space and can start to respond to that awareness. We have seen transformative relationships between caregivers and babies with this simple ritual of breath-based practices.
Research is very clear on movement-based therapies for physical and mental well-being and by using the principles of yoga and improving the functional capacity of your early postnatal body, the class gently encourages you connect with yourself again. Yoga can be both gentle and strong, so we encourage mothers to go down their own path of self-awareness. This ability to modulate your practice with your growing baby means you can remind yourself of the larger picture of mothering which mirrors the practice itself. Some days the practice seems elusive and hard, other days like a graceful dancer the postures are effortless.
I have also constantly seen very interesting partnerships between babies who get used to the babywearing yoga that they anticipate the position their mother will assume and tilt their heads or close in on her chest just enough to facilitate that movement, as if they know their role. This is fascinating as it displays how much our babies are involved in their mother’s activities and gives us more reason to not exclude them from something that has the potential to transform our relationship with them.
How can new parents start a babywearing practice of their own?
As you get started on your journey of babywearing yoga, the very first thing I always want to ascertain is, is the mother and baby safe in the sling? Make sure you are wearing the sling correctly and are all the safety points on general babywearing adhered to. It is also important the sling itself is appropriate for the practice. All MummyYoga teachers get extensive safety-based training before they learn how to teach the class itself. If you need to feel confident with slings, my recommendation is to go to your neighbourhood sling library for support first. Once you are happy with your sling then take some time walking, moving with your baby and get used to moving with your baby in the sling. The dynamics of movement and your baby’s growth are extremely important to bear in mind for babywearing yoga for it to become an enjoyable practice over time. I detail many of the considerations in my book, Why Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Matter.
To build up from general movement the best starting point I have discovered is simple breath-based practices while you are moving. Long exhalations, as you co-ordinate your movements and your baby’s comfort will set the right foundations for your yoga practice. Don’t rush or jump this stage. It may feel slow at the beginning and in many ways, that is precisely the point. Once your baby learns that when he is in the sling and you start to move and use your breath to signal the start of your practice, they will start to anticipate the rest of your practice and ‘come along’ willingly. But this is always the hardest part for new mothers. Sometimes, we get impatient and want to do the yoga postures and I always find myself reminding mothers to set this foundation right. It may take a few weeks, but rest assured the learning is happening on each occasion and you are slowly transforming into partners. Once your partnership is established then the yoga postures will come easily.
What is your most cherished aspect of the class?
One of the most rewarding aspects of facilitating the Keep Me Close class over the years has been to see mothers who were struggling to bond with their babies, break into a smile as they see their babies enjoying something deeply with them… those ephemeral moments are etched into my mind and deeply motivates me to share this powerful practice with as many new mothers as I can.
If you're looking for a baby sling for your babywearing yoga class we recommend our Sister Company, Oscha Slings, who make organic and ethical slings from the Scottish workshop also feature a Middle Earth Collection.
Dr. Rehana Jawadwala is the founder of MummyYoga, a specialist pregnancy and postnatal yoga practice service. She is the author of the widely acclaimed “Why Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Matter”. Rehana has a PhD in exercise physiology and nutrition with more than 20 years of professional experience in health, physical activity and exercise nutrition.
MummyYoga has a fully accredited Perinatal Yoga teacher training programme. For more information email tt@MummyYoga.com