Saturday, June 25, 2011

Balancing Vata After Childbirth

All those years of yoga, and some elementary knowledge of Ayurveda, and I still had no idea what was in store for me, energetically, after baby.

In the days following the birth of my son, I felt like I was scrambling just to know which way was up.  Breastfeeding was more challenging than I ever imagined.  Sleep deprivation and hormone rushes reeked havoc on my mood.  And learning how to comfort and care for my new baby was a minute by minute exercise of trial and error.

Still, two weeks later, adjusting as well as one could, I just didn't feel right.  I resumed gentle yoga about a week after giving birth, just to center myself and find some quiet.  The practice was helpful as I began to reacquaint myself with my no-longer-pregnant body.  I needed to find a little peace in the tumult.  Yoga has always given me that.  But this time I just couldn't get that grounded feeling I needed.

In one of those groggy, upside down moments I got an email from one of my yoga teachers, Amba Greene, who is also an Ayurvedic Practitioner and Educator.  She was hosting a workshop on healthy eating.  I figured three hours of Ayurveda with like-minded people might be just what I needed to feel a little normal again.  I immediately arranged for my mom to watch the baby so my husband and I could attend the workshop.

Well, the universe gives you what you need, and right then, some balance was what I needed.

As we explored that qualities of the three doshas and what might indicate an imbalance in one area, I quickly realized that I was in the midst of a major Vata imbalance.  (If you're interested in learning more about the doshas, or elements, and Ayurveda, visit Be Nourished Ayurveda.)  One of the things that can trigger Vata imbalance is erratic eating or sleeping.  There is nothing like the nutritional needs of a newborn to throw you into an erratic sleeping and eating pattern!  Amba also informed me that the nervous system is strongly affected by childbirth itself, irritating Vata.

Wells and me, 9 days after his birth
Dry hair and skin is a sign of Vata imbalance
So I needed to get into Vata pacifying mode fast.  Amba's first piece of advice. . .oil massage.  She said my husband should massage me daily with oil--I wasn't going to argue with that!  I also took to massaging my skin with oil each day before showering.  It's a calming and also invigorating practice that anyone can benefit from.

Next, I switched to Vata pacifying foods.  I changed from cold, crunchy cereal with milk for breakfast to warm oatmeal or toast with butter.  I'd been snacking on apples and I switched those to peaches or clementines.  I indulged in lots of root vegetables with dinner.  I enjoyed soups and comfort foods.

Within days I felt much more myself, and much better able to cope with the many twists and turns of being a new mother.

Again, I do not claim to be an expert, but here are the key words I used to balance.  Avoid: cold, dry, rough, light, spicy, bitter.  Increase: warm, heavy, oily, sweet, sour, salty.  Basically any food or activity that embodies these qualities was either increased or avoided.  For example, I avoided taking walks in the cold, dry February morning air and walked when it was warm out instead.  After coming inside, I'd drink room temperature water or hot tea instead of chilled water, and I would eat a snack like warm, buttered banana bread.

If you are pregnant, I strongly recommend a session with an Ayurvedic practitioner so you can be prepared for the Vata imbalance and make the transition smoother.

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