Postnatal Yoga - An Interview with Cat Gieser

I am not a yoga teacher, but yoga was an important part of my prenatal and postnatal journey. Yoga cultivates breathwork, flexibility, calmness, strength and more and I would recommend a postnatal yoga practice to almost all new moms. I met yoga teacher Cat Gieser through a mom group that I belong to and immediately fell in love with her short, simple to follow yoga flows designed for moms. She also just launched Yoga Mama Flow - an 8 week program with three 25 minute sessions of yoga each week. I was excited to catch up with her and learn more about her philosophies and programs.

How did you discover yoga? I took my first yoga class in college because I heard about all the benefits of doing yoga and thought I'd give it a try. To be honest, after that one class I left feeling like it wasn't for me and like I needed to go on a run or lift some weights. It was so slow paced and I didn't know any of the posture names. The teacher led us through quite a bit of chanting as well, so I felt really awkward and disconnected for the entire hour not knowing what what the heck was going on. At the time, I had no idea of the different styles of yoga and assuming that all classes would be the same, I never went back. It took me a few years to test the waters with yoga again.

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YOGA MAMA FLOW BETA PROGRAM SIGN UP ° Apply to join the test group for YMF 8-week beginner program and try the program free! 8 weeks of yoga, 3 days a week for 25 minutes led by yours truly right from home! Link in my bio to apply. ° I’m in tears sharing this bc it’s been a JOURNEY to get here. I created Yoga Mama Flow after experiencing such crazy highs and lows postpartum, feeling like I completely lost my footing in life wondering if I’d ever wake up actually excited and energized to take the day on. ° The chaos of motherhood completely took its toll on me and the expectations I was putting on myself were literally driving me into the ground. I went from doing power + vinyasa yoga 6 days/wk + teaching pre-baby to almost none at all. I struggled to find a routine that I could stick to and found myself immersed in taking care of my family and work 24/7. It took feeling so out of control to finally realize that I had to prioritize myself if I ever wanted to feel like myself again. ° I decided to create a yoga routine that was actually sustainable. I practiced 25 min, 3 days/wk. I practiced in the early morning, during nap time, or after dinner. I created a calendar to stay accountable, but also gave myself flexibility and grace when unexpected things came up. ° As the weeks passed, I could feel the strength building up inside of me. I was less on edge, I was more patient, and I started to look in the mirror with loving eyes rather than judging. I felt my outer layers of anxiety and sadness literally start to melt away. I’d chat with fellow mamas about my progress and the idea of sharing this process/program just kept coming up. So many other mamas were facing similar struggles and the thought of being able to help empower and support them on their path to living out their best motherhood journey literally made me feel so alive. And now, many many many months later, here I am taking apps for the beta program - so crazy! ° My intention has always been to help my fellow mamas glow from the inside out and I can’t wait to start this journey with those who are ready! I’ll see you on your mats soon, mamas!

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After graduating, my then boyfriend (and now husband) and I moved to Half Moon Bay, CA. Half Moon Bay is an incredibly beautiful coastal town in Northern California where my husband grew up and it felt like a dream to have the opportunity to live there. But after a while, I started to feel really secluded and depressed in the small town with the constant dreary weather and not having many friends in the area. I was also going through a big career change and was mostly working from home by myself. A hot yoga studio opened up down the street and I figured it would be a great way to build community, relieve some anxiety and stay warm during the colder days in Half Moon Bay . I signed up for the new student special for a week and was instantly hooked. I couldn't believe how challenging the class was on a holistic level - mentally, physically and emotionally. I felt every muscle in my body working and I had the sweat stains to prove it too. I had never tested my focus and belief in myself in this way before and I left each class feeling accomplished, rejuvenated and ready to tackle whatever challenges came my way. Yoga became a huge part of my life and continued throughout all the cities we've moved to since - San Francisco, San Jose, and now San Mateo - it's been the gift that keeps on giving and an ever evolving journey to deeper self discovery!

Why do you think yoga is so important for moms? We all know that motherhood is both beautiful and incredibly challenging. Between the pressures society puts on us as mothers and those we put on ourself, it can be so overwhelming to keep up, let alone take care of yourself and your needs. It takes incredible awareness to be able to prioritize yourself as a mother and acknowledge that in order to be the best mom to your child(ren), you need to nourish yourself first. What I love about yoga is that it is a holistic practice that not only nourishes the body on a physical level, but also mentally and emotionally. It helps cultivate and strengthen this awareness of loving yourself and actualizing the power that you have within you.

What are some things new moms should take into consideration when practicing yoga? Especially early on in their postpartum journey?

  1. Check on your intentions for starting yoga or any other fitness practice. So many mamas feel the pressure of needing to get their pre-baby body back as soon as they can, which is why they want to start yoga or physical activity - I know that's how I felt! But the reality is, your body will NEVER be the same. I'm not saying you'll never be able to lose weight and build muscle tone, but it's important to remember that your body housed LIFE and a lot has transformed/shifted/stretched in order for that miracle to happen. After going through my own body issues postpartum, I'm a firm believer in embracing the power and beauty of your new body and focusing your mindset on making the best version of your new body (whatever that means to you) instead of dwelling on what you had in the past. The moment I shifted my mindset from getting my pre-baby body back to nourishing my new body, so much resistance and pressure lifted and I was able to enjoy my practice again instead of it feeling like a chore.

  2. Slow down mama. Even with the best of intentions, mamas tend to be in such a rush to jump back into working out or doing yoga. I hear ya, I was the same way! Bringing a newborn into this world is a huge change for everyone, baby included and it can take a few months to get to a place where you start to feel comfortable with schedules, routines, and the idea of taking care of another life. Your body also needs time for rest and recovery, so do yourself a favor and take some time to relax. Yoga and/or your fitness routine will be there whenever you're ready - no need to rush! I recommend taking it easy for the first 3 months postpartum and focusing on nurturing yourself with lots of sleep, high quality food and walks with your little one(s). One thing I did wish I incorporated earlier postpartum was deep breathing. Yoga isn't just about physical postures, it's about your connection to your breath and your movement. Even just sitting for a few minutes, matching the lengths of your inhales to your exhales is hugely beneficial to your body and mind!

  3. Listen to your body. When doing yoga or any physical activity postpartum, it's so important to tap into your mind and body awareness. The same movements for one postpartum mama may not work well for another postpartum mama. Take things slow and if you feel any pain, back out of the movement and try to modify. If the modification is still painful, it's a good sign to skip the move entirely and do something different.

  4. General postures to be careful of early on postpartum:

Core exercises: It's no surprise that our core muscles weaken during pregnancy. Some mamas experience diastasis recti, which is separation of the abdominal muscles due to the connective tissue stretching out as the belly expands. There are moms who are fortunate to have the tissue heal quickly on its own, while other moms continue to have a gap months later postpartum. It's important for all moms, regardless of diastasis recti to mindfully incorporate core exercises and to avoid any movement that causes pain or major discomfort. I highly recommend all moms doing a self check for diastasis recti - this article from Wellness Mama provides a great summary on what it is and how to check for it. Generally speaking, diastasis recti mamas should avoid static planks, crunches/sit ups, and deep twists which can make DR worse. This doesn't mean you can't perform core exercises at all with DR - here are some DR friendly core drills on my Instagram page.

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|DIASTASIS RECTI FRIENDLY CORE DRILLS| ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ These are four of my favorite diastasis recti friendly core drills that if done with proper form, won’t worsen your abdominal gap and will help you strengthen your core muscles at the same time. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ *These videos are all sped up! Slow and controlled is the way to go. It’s not about how quick you do them or how many reps, but how you are breathing and engaging your core and pelvic floor muscles. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ BIRD DOG CRUNCHES 3 WAYS #1 Both palms and feet stay on the floor. Inhale, extend one foot back. Exhale, draw the same knee in toward your chest. On your exhale, you should feel your core engage like you’re trying to squeeze into a tight pair of jeans. Repeat 5-10x on each side. #2 Same movement as the first with the legs but add the opposite arm lifts off the ground. #3 In the full bird dog crunch both the arm and the leg lift off the mat. Inhale, lift your opposite arm and foot off the mat (your leg and arm should create one line). Exhale, draw your elbow and knee together. Repeat 5-10x on each side. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ BRIDGE LIFTS WITH BALL OR BLOCK Inhale to prepare, exhale lift your hips off the mat while squeezing your ball or block in between your knees. Again, on each exhale you should feel as though you’re squeezing into a really tight pair of jeans - like a corset is wrapping around your sides and your belly button is hugging in toward your spine. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ REVERSE TABLE TOP LEG EXTENSIONS From a reverse table top position with both palms pressing firmly on your thighs - inhale to prepare, exhale extend on leg straight, while continuing to press on the thigh of the opposite leg. Inhale back to center. Repeat with opposite leg and go through 5x on each leg. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ SEATED LEG LIFT With one leg drawn in toward your chest and the other out long, sit up really tall and try not to round your back throughout this exercise. Inhale, lengthen out your spine, exhale gently lift your extended leg up off the mat. Don’t focus on height, focus on lifting with control and keeping your back straight and chest lifted. Inhale your leg back down to the ground. Repeat 5-10x on each side. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Song is Alright by @stupead

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Belly down poses: For breastfeeding mamas or women with larger breasts, poses when you're laying on your belly can be really uncomfortable, especially if you're engorged! Try placing a blanket or towel underneath your chest for some extra padding. If you're really uncomfortable, you can always ask your instructor for some alternative poses on your back!

Poses/transitions that strain/push down on pelvic floor: Especially for new mamas - our pelvic floors have lots of healing and strengthening to do after pregnancy and labor. Poses/movements like deep lunges, wide squats, jumping etc put a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor. A sign of pelvic floor weakness are urine leaks! Any mama who is experiencing prolonged leakage should reach out to a pelvic floor specialist to avoid longterm issues!

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|| 5 MIN RELAXING YOGA || Love doing this quick sequence midday for a stress relieving break or at night when I’m winding down. Light a candle/incense, diffuse some essential oils, turn the lights down, or do all 3 and you got yourself a soothing 5-min me-date that you’ll always want to come back to! PS - energetic toddler running around is OPTIONAL and not recommended for optimal relaxation 🤣🤦🏻‍♀️ ha! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ CAT-COW (3-4 rounds): -Inhale cow pose: drop belly down towards the mat + draw gaze forward or up to ceiling. Keep shoulders away from ears. -Exhale cat pose: Scoop belly in toward your spine + tuck chin toward chest. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ SLEEPING PIGEON (4-5 breaths on each side): -Inhale one leg high in DDog, exhale draw knee to same side elbow and relax leg down to ground. -Find a 7 shape with legs. Back leg and toes extend straight back + hips squared forward. -Option to place a blanket or block underneath front leg glute for additional support. -Inhale, walk hands back toward hips - lift chest. -Exhale sleeping pigeon - walk hands forward + relax onto blocks, forearms, or bring forehead down to mat. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ SEATED FORWARD FOLD (4-5 breaths): -Find seat with legs extended long, sitting up tall. -Inhale hands over head, exhale forward fold reaching hands forward with a flat back. Place hands next to legs, reach for ankles or feet. Don’t worry about touching chest to legs. Focus on keeping a long, lengthened back. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ HAPPY BABY (4-5 breaths): -Laying on back, create a goal post shape with legs. -Reach for your calves, ankles, or outside edges of your feet. Take whatever variation allows you to keep entire spine including tailbone down on mat. -Gently sway from side to side. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ SUPINE TWIST (4-5 breaths each side): -Draw both knees in toward chest then extend arms out to a T. -Relax both knees stacked over to one side + bring gaze to opp side. -Keep both shoulders on the mat before trying to bring knees all the way down. -Option to place block or blanket underneath knees for support. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ SAVASANA (1-2 minutes): -Extend arms and legs out long - heels in toes out. -Close your eyes + feel your body relax like it’s melting into your mat.

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What advice would you give a mom who has never tried yoga before?

Keep an open mind and find the right style and teacher(s) that inspire you. There are so many styles of yoga, so don't give up if you try one class and don't connect with it. Do your research, ask questions, and be proactive about finding the right class for you! Also, don't let time or availability stop you from trying yoga. Online yoga classes are such a great way to learn yoga when studio classes aren't an option! There are so many resources out there - from streaming services to youtube. I'll be launching my 8 week beginner yoga program for mamas soon!

Last thing - so many people tell me that they don't do yoga because they're not flexible. Yoga is for everyone - every shape, every size, every level of flexibility and strength. Yoga is about the journey, so don't hesitate to get started wherever you are!

I too am a proponent of short and sweet workouts for moms. Tell me a little bit about your 5 minute yoga series.

Ever since having my daughter, I don't have time to go the gym or studio as often. I've learned over time that squeezing in short flows or quick workouts consistently is much more effective than inconsistently practicing for longer periods of time. I started sharing short tutorials for mamas to make it easier to get started with yoga and to squeeze it in throughout the day! You'll find things like posture breakdowns, example yoga flows and yoga poses for specific purposes on my instagram.

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|| BEGINNER YOGA POSES || ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ So many mamas tell me they want to start yoga, but don’t know how. Try these beginner yoga poses to kick off your yoga practice! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ CHILD’S POSE A calming resting posture that helps elongate the back and open up the hips. Thing about reaching your hands forward and your hips towards your heels without letting your shoulders creep up towards your ears. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ CAT + COW Two of my favorite poses I do on a daily basis. Cat + cow pose help increase flexibility in the neck, shoulders, and spine! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ DOWNWARD DOG This is Amelie’s fav posture :). It’s one of those heavy hitting poses that both stretches and strengthens the body! You’ll feel it in your hands, shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and arches! Downward dog is a great pose to help with stress relief. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ MOUNTAIN POSE A deceivingly easy posture, MP helps build strength in the legs and core. It’s a great pose to help ground your practice and really focus on your breath. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ FORWARD FOLD Help relieve any lower back tightness with a forward fold. This is a really great posture for anyone who sits for long periods throughout the day (aka anyone with a desk job!) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ PUT IT ALL TOGETHER Now that you’re familiar with each of these poses, try stringing them all together focusing on your breath in each pose. You can flow through these poses a few times to really start to warm and loosen up your body! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Try any of these out? Let me know in the comments! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Song: That’s all by @mauwemusic ° ° #beginneryoga #yogaathome #practiceyoga #homeyogapractice #yogamama #yogaforbeginners #practiceyoga #postpartumyoga #prenatalyoga #fitmother #yogamama #yogaforeverbody #postbaby #postbabybody #fitmomsofig #getonyourmat #myyogapractice #yogabeginner #homeyoga #yogatribe #strongmomma #fitmomjourney #instayogafam #yogainstructor #yogamom #yogafamily #yogaforstrength

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What are some common concerns that keep new moms from taking on yoga and what can they do to overcome them (e.g. I’m not flexible enough or I don’t have time or it's too hard to juggle with the baby)?

Time and motivation are big ones. It's no surprise that moms are pressed for time and have a never ending to do list. It can be really challenging to find the time and discipline to prioritize your health. I'm a big proponent of consistent short, but sweet yoga sessions at home. That's why I created Yoga Mama Flow, to help make yoga accessible to busy moms who need support to build strength, reset, and show themselves some love!

If you think you're not flexible or strong enough to do yoga, it's the perfect time to start! You build flexibility and strength as you continue to practice, so don't let these things hinder you from getting started!

It looks like you have a new course coming out? Tell me a bit about your new 8 WEEK BEGINNER YOGA PROGRAM.

I'm so excited to launch Yoga Mama Flow Beginner Program - an 8 week online yoga course for mamas. This course is for mamas looking to build a consistent yoga practice to help them feel powerful, energized, calm, and confident! I've specifically designed the classes and weekly schedule for busy mamas. Each class targets a specific part of the body that needs some extra attention and classes are 25 minutes long + can be done at home! After the 8 weeks, my hope is that you're able to build a consistent yoga practice and self-love/self-care habits that you can continue to put into practice to live out your best mamahood journey!

Where can we find you online?

Instagram: @catgieser