Too Busy To Take Care of Yourself?
The Busy Mom’s Guide to Practicing Yoga
by Ginger Garner, MPT, ATC
It is ironic that I am sitting here procrastinating about penning this post on yoga for busy moms. Why? Because I am a fellow exhausted mother – with three boys under age six. Just like everyone else, I also have trouble finding time to squeeze in time for myself. (Not to mention I am typing on a keyboard that is missing 5 keys, thanks to my youngest son’s creative pursuits 2 days ago. That alone adds its own special challenge.) However, I got this question from a reader a few months back. It is very timely for moms, and for anyone who is “too exhausted or too busy for exercise.”
Q: How can a busy mom, working both in and outside the home, find time for yoga – or any exercise at all? Signed, Shelly (a busy mom working full time)
A: Dear Shelly, if I had the magic answer to this question, then we could solve a huge portion of the “mom stress” out there right now, and for that matter, everyone’s stress! However, I can offer you the same tools I use to help myself and other moms stay on the wellness wagon.
Yoga, as well as exercise, have been proven to provide stress relief, build bone density, help in weight management, prevent inflammation and the chronic diseases associated with it, such as arthritis, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and pain syndromes – just to name a few benefits. However, the majority of Americans find it very hard to commit to a wellness regime like exercise, yoga, or eating well.
The US Department of Health and Human Services report that 7 out of 10 Americans don’t get exercise regularly, despite the overwhelming proof of its benefits1.Additionally, some 300,000 deaths per year are caused by lack of exercise, namely those caused by heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several forms of cancer.
So what is a busy mom to do? Women perform approximately 75% of household management and chores, even if they also work full time outside the home.2 Additionally, women are typically the primary caregivers for children and/or aging parents. This places women in the impossible position of doing more work than they can handle. It is highly likely this unequal work load has also contributed to the increase in postpartum depression (PPD), which now stands at an alarming 25%, up from 5% just a few decades ago. In addition, up to 80% of women are reported to suffer from “baby blues,” which can be difficult to distinguish from PPD.
The fact is – exercise, especially yoga, plays an important role in decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress. 3, 4 Knowing the anti-depressant, stress relieving, disease preventing, body and mind shaping benefits that yoga offers, how can moms fit yoga into their busy schedule? As a working mom of three boys and as a women’s health physical therapist and yoga coach, here are 4 tips you can use now – to start practicing yoga.
Everyone is busy, especially mothers. Lack of time is probably the most cited excuse for not exercising enough; however, you can fit yoga into your schedule. I’ve been successful at exercising regularly (yoga is my main method) while juggling mom, life, and work duties, though not without diligence and hard work.
1. Plan your yoga routine on a weekly basis, rather than daily. Before I became a mom, finding time to practice was much easier. I practiced daily, usually for 90 minutes in the morning, followed by a walk or jog in the afternoon or evening. After my first son was born, that rigorous (and rather rigid) routine fell away. Fortunately, the practice of “living my yoga” made me flexible enough to go with the flow and adopt a new routine for my new season of life: motherhood. Now, 5 years later, I am expecting my third child – and I have found the best method for maintaining my yoga practice is to schedule it by the week, rather than daily. Sure, I still practice daily – but my yoga may consist of a relaxation/corpse or other restorative yoga pose and/or 10 minutes of meditation- what I call recalibrating my brain so I can relax and feel grateful. I typically schedule “mat time” for yoga practice, about 3 times a week for 30-60 minutes.
2. Be flexible about your practice. After my first child was born, I broke down my yoga practice into 10 minute segments. We would both get on our “yoga mats” – except his would be for tummy time or when he was older, play time. As I welcomed my second child just 20 months later, my yoga time was combined with their (limited) PBS time (public television programs). The younger one could still have mat time while the older one caught a 30 minute PBS program like Sesame Street.
Another common way I got 30 minutes of yoga in was to take the whole set up (me, the boys, and my yoga paraphernalia) to the park or the beach (we live on an island). Then I could get in play time while the kids played within just a few feet of me. The bottom line is – I make yoga time a fun and relaxing play time for all of us. Now that they are older – they love to do yoga with me (and sometimes on me) – and everyone reaps the benefits. In fact, I find they prefer yoga over their occasional PBS program. That is the best benefit of all!
Additionally, after the first decade of my yoga practice almost 10 years ago, I began to realize more and more that yoga, kind of like prayer, can be done anywhere. Yoga is not just the physical postures or the sticky mat. Yoga is a way of life. Yoga doesn’t just mean time logged on your sticky mat. Yoga can be a bike ride, a mid-day walk, pushing your children on a swing at the park, sitting on the beach or hiking a trail. This past year most of my yoga has been logged while nursing my newborn son.
Pain can be your best teacher. For example – 2011 – a single year in my life – brought events that I now recognize that serve as my greatest yoga teacher. Amidst serious health problems, outside my control, that threatened my life and the life of my unborn son, peace prevailed. I credit my faith and my yoga for that peace. I encourage everyone to do two critical things to find peace – 1. Be flexible and 2. Never lose hope.
3. Find a qualified instructor. Most people need to start practicing yoga with the help of a teacher. However, in the US there is no regulation for yoga teaching. This means anyone can teach yoga, no training necessary. The Yoga Alliance (YA) provides minimal voluntary standards for teachers, however teachers who are registered through YA do not have medical training, coursework, and are not licensed. They are also not qualified to work with anyone with health problems, since their care must be coordinated with a physician or other licensed medical professional. If you have medical concerns, conditions , or injuries, you need to seek medical care and preferably, work with someone trained in both conventional medicine and yogic medicine. You can visit the www.iayt.org site to find yoga therapists. IAYT, the International Association of Yoga Therapists is currently working toward creating standards for yoga therapy in America. You can find a licensed medical professional who can teach yoga as medicine (and often have it covered by your insurance) here.
4. Make sure you start with foundational work. Medically sound yoga must include these important components.
- Focus on the breath first. Without the breath, we cannot grow, or even survive. The breath should come before learning the posture. Practice deep abdominal breathing first, without chest breathing. Next, learn the method I call TATD breath. You can learn both breaths through the link provided.
- Focus on core work next. When it comes to the physical postures, they cannot be safe without the inclusion of core stabilization. A good therapist will know how to safely engage the core using the TATD breath. Without the core, eve the simplest postures become risky and dangerous because they are not supporting the spine. Long term incorrect performance of postures can lead to spine and joint degeneration and injury. Further, core work is essential for mothers—who experience stretch weakness, atrophy and/or potential damage to the core (abdominals, pelvic floor, and spinal muscles) as a natural consequence of pregnancy.
5. Recalibrate yoga to fit you, as a woman and mother. Yoga is not automatically yoga for women, nor is it suited to the specific needs of mothers. A practice or discipline of yoga created by a man, typically for men, is not the practice that fits a woman’s body– especially the modern, 21st century mother who must juggle work, childcare, household management—often alone as a single parent. Read my previous blog on Redefining Yoga for the 21st Century Mom..
6. Do not conform or subscribe to a rigid set of yoga postures or prescription. No set of yoga postures can fit your body through your entire life span– much less through the season of motherhood. Yoga should fit you, your individual needs, both physically and psychologically, throughout your life span. You owe it to yourself to find a teacher who can guide you on that path. A good teacher, which is what I do with my own students and patients, will also help you to become independent with your yoga practice . This means you should not have to spend oodles of money on long term yoga sessions. Eventually—your teacher should help you “graduate” to your own personal practice—helping you set up your own yoga space and practice.
Following these, and more successful tips to come in future posts, will help you start and keep a successful, safe, and effective yoga practice for a lifetime.
US Dept. of Health and Human Services.
Crittenden, A. The Price of Motherhood.
Ginger Garner MPT, ATC, ERYT500, CPI — is an educator in using yoga and Pilates as medicine, and is a orthopaedic and women’s health physical therapist. As a published author, Ginger pens the popular mothers health Breathing In This Life and for Modern Mom, Fit and Fearless Birth. Ginger is an activist for improving health care in the US. She developed the first medical yoga post-graduate program, Professional Yoga Therapy, in 2001, and started one of the first holistic physical therapy clinics in the US. Ginger has written more than 30 educational programs in using yoga and Pilates for healing and a 4-volume text on the PYT method. You can reach Ginger at www.gingergarner.com & www.professionalyogaatherapy.org. Follow Ginger on Facebook and Twitter, and Professional Yoga Therapy on Facebook.