Sacred and Sweet: Mama Baby Yoga {part 1 of 2}

When Jess Helle-Morrissey gave birth to twin boys in January 2011, she stepped not only onto the path of motherhood, but also onto a new career path. Now a birth doula, childbirth educator, prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher, the psychotherapist lives in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. “My life path changed pretty dramatically after I became a mama,” Jess says. One thing that kept her grounded through those early days of parenting twins and redirecting her career? Yoga–with her infant boys.

With advanced degrees in Counseling Psychology and Clinical Social Work, Jess is nearing completion of a Master’s in Holistic Health. She’s practiced yoga for about ten years and mindfulness meditation for about seven. Given her training in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and several healing touch modalities, Jess’s interest in a postnatal mama-baby yoga class isn’t surprising. And yet, she says, the experience of taking her infant boys to yoga has been nothing short of sacred.

Here is Jess’s story about taking her twins to the 1-hour BYOB: Bring Your Own Baby mama-baby yoga classes, which are inspired by the Yoga Bonding sequence created by Lisa Bergly, in Minneapolis.


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Baby bridge

Mamahhh: When did you start BYOB & how long did you and the boys attend?
Doula Jess:
I started going when we got the OK to leave the house—around 8 weeks postpartum. Since my boys were born a wee bit on the early side (34.5 weeks), we were on house arrest during January and February, but the minute we got the word from the pediatrician, I was at BYOB! We went nearly every week until they started being too mobile, around 7 or 8 months. As Betsy, our BYOB teacher says, “You’re ready to graduate when you’re doing more baby-chasing than yoga.” My boys are nearly 16 months old now, and I still miss BYOB.


Mamahhh: What inspired you to try BYOB?
Doula Jess:  
I was just an overwhelmed new mama looking for someplace to go. One of my major inspirations was to stay connected to the community I’d found at Blooma while going to prenatal yoga. Being home alone with the boys for their first two months was crazy-making to say the least! I could not wait to get back out into the world, and to reconnect with a place that was very calming and centering for me during my pregnancy.


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Yoga play at home

Mamahhh: What was the class like, physically, for you and for the boys?
Doula Jess:  
For me, the physical aspect of the class was just the right amount of challenge and grounding. I think when I was pregnant, there was this hyperfocus on my body because, you know, it was growing two people. But once those two people were not inside my body any more, I sort of lost track of taking care of my own body, because I was focused on taking care of my boys, if that makes sense. BYOB was a great place for me to gently come back into myself and get to know my new postpartum body. And that part was really interesting, too – I was more flexible/stronger in places I hadn’t been before and tighter/weaker in others where I had more range of motion before. It was like a whole new body. And it was a body that I had new reverence for because of what I now knew it was capable of.

For the boys, one of the physical things I really appreciated over time was how the class was more or less the same each week. So because of that routine and repetition, I was really able to see as a mama how the boys changed and grew from week to week and month to month. I remember one week where I realized how big they were getting because they could do the “big boy” version of Warrior II – sitting on my leg instead of being cradled in my arm. And I swear, I could tell they were proud, too! And on a very practical level, lots of the infant massage stuff we did in class each week was very helpful at home for things like gas, colic, and bedtime routine.


Mom and doula Jess Helle-Morrissey

Motherhood turned Jess's career path toward childbirth education and pre/postnatal yoga.

Mamahhh: Were you able to meet other mamas in the class? That’s so helpful when you’re new to mothering!
Doula Jess:  
The connection/community part was huuuuuuge for me. At first, and this may sound selfish, it was a big weight off my shoulders to see that being a new mom was hard for other moms, too. Because BYOB can be a place where some of the challenges of new motherhood really come to the surface. And as a new mom, I would think, “I’m really struggling with this, it must be because I’m just not good at being a mom.” That’s an oversimplification, but just barely. So to see other mamas whose babies cried a lot, or spit up all the time, or wailed through diaper changes, or whatever it was—it was a big comfort.

One piece that was very meaningful for me was that my boys and I struggled mightily for months to make breastfeeding work, and ultimately it just didn’t. It was the biggest heartbreak of my life—something that could literally bring me to my knees with grief, and still can from time to time. I was super hung up at first on being judged by other people for giving my babies a bottle, and BYOB was a very public “outing” of sorts. It became clear pretty quickly that not only was I not being judged, but other mamas would reach out to me and comfort me (I think my sadness was pretty apparent). One of the mamas even gave us some of her extra pumped breastmilk, which was the beginning of our using donor milk to feed the boys. (At 16 months, we are still bottle-nursing with donor breastmilk. We got hooked up with a mama who is planning to pump for us until the boys are 2). There aren’t words for the gratitude I felt for that aspect of the community.


Mamahhh: What about mama-baby yoga was moving and memorable?
Doula Jess: 
So much. First of all, our instructor Betsy was this beautiful, calm, caring presence. She made everything seem OK even when it felt like things were spiraling out of control. Every class, she let us know that if we needed to change diapers, breastfeed, bottlefeed, rock our babes, whatever, it was all good. She radiated such love and such heart that it was hard to be stressed out in her presence, even in the most chaotic of moments.

Of course the bonding aspect of the class was really lovely. I would find myself so often looking around at the other mamas and seeing such incredible tenderness in their interactions with their babes that it brings tears to my eyes right now as I’m thinking about it. It was just such a tangible, visible example of the power of the mama/baby bond. The fact that everything we did in BYOB was done with such intention behind it, I couldn’t help but feel that beautiful bond with my boys. 

Finally, the little rub-down Betsy gave all the mamas at the end of each class was like a little piece of heaven. It sounds silly because it lasts maybe 30 seconds, but I looked forward to it each week. It was often the only touch I got during the week that was simply meant to nourish and was not expecting anything from me in return.


Mamahhh: What would you say to recommend this class to new mamas?
Doula Jess: 
Honestly, I would say, “Just go!” It can seem so daunting to leave the house with your little one (or ones!) at first, so just getting out the door and going to the yoga studio feels like a huge step, and it is! But even if you don’t feel like it, or the thought of the hassle is enough to make you want to stay home, you won’t regret it once you’re there, I promise.


Read Part II of our convo with Doula Jess, about the esoteric aspects of mama-baby yoga, and the adventures of being a mom of twins!




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