Pilates & Postpartum Depression: “I Needed My Spirit Back”

I struggled after the birth of my son. You could call it baby blues, or depression, but whatever it was, I wasn’t myself. There weren’t rainbows and butterflies, and it wasn’t, “the happiest I had ever been,” like everyone kept telling me I should be. I was exhausted, physically and mentally drained, and desperate for something…only I had no idea what. There was a level of shame that came with these feelings, but I genuinely believed that everyone was different behind the scenes, or in the privacy of their home. Surely people felt lost, sad and angry after having a baby, it’s just not something you would admit out loud to anyone. Right?

I was lucky that I felt more myself when I was around people. I thrived when I had company, or when visiting with family or friends. It was when I was alone that I struggled.

There was this unrelating anger and frustration that no one told me how different life was going to be…how isolating being a new mother would be…especially during a terrible winter.

Before having a baby, I was lucky enough to live in Santa Barbara, California. If you’ve never been, It’s paradise.  Beautiful weather, happy people, gorgeous scenery, and opportunities for hiking, biking, and every kind of fitness you can imagine. I was able to go to the beach, join friends at happy hour, and do tons of Pilates, whenever I wanted!

Fast forward to New Jersey winter, and I’m having my first baby. Talk about a game changer. We rarely ever left our tiny condo. And with a newborn it was nearly impossible to find a split second for myself, let alone do 30 minutes of Pilates.  I fully resented my husband for getting to leave the house to go to work, and I would let him know every single day.

Apparently, it’s not normal to send daily pictures of yourself hysterically crying to your husband while he is at work. The poor guy couldn’t catch a break, getting yelled at for going to work, while simultaneously getting angry tirades and phone calls from me all day.

He tried, time after time asking if I was ok, tried telling me gently I might not be, tried letting me have time alone after he got home, but nothing made me feel better.

Nothing.

Still, I had no idea this wasn’t “normal.”

It took one of my best friends asking me, “Why don’t you ever want to leave the house?” to make me think something was not right. Change was needed.

Because of my amazing boss at the time, I slowly found my way back to the Pilates studio, training people just a few hours a week.

Pilates is technically defined as “a system of exercises using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness.” This cold definition does it little justice. Joseph Pilates, the founder, described his work as a way to completely and thoroughly unify the body, mind and spirit. That to me, is Pilates.

I needed unity, and I needed my spirit back. I started teaching Pilates again, and realized that reminding people to breathe, helped me remember to breathe. Pilates is most certainly exercise, but it also provides this beautiful connection between body, mind and movement. It makes you concentrate on what you are doing in that exact moment, allowing for little else.

As I entered back into my own Pilates practice, I noticed that I could push through the physical discomfort of the movements. I started to work with, not against my feelings. In fact, i could use this discomfort and actually get stronger, and breathe deeper. If I could do that in the physical sense, then maybe I could do it with the mental and emotional as well.

There is an incredible thing that can happen when you’re doing Pilates, or really anything physical. I have seen it a number of times with my own clients. When you’re moving in this intentional, challenging way, breathing deeply and pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do, without even knowing it you start letting go of past patterns and habits.

By just being with the unease, it’s nearly impossible to hold onto whatever is going on mentally and emotionally. There have been many a tearful release in the Pilates studio, and apparently this is exactly what I needed for myself.

I began to let go of what I was holding on to and learn to move and breathe again. Reconnecting my brain, and my thoughts, to my body and my movement, helped me gain mental clarity, as well as physical strength postpartum.

Pilates helped me feel like me again.

It might not be Pilates for you, (although I encourage you to try it!), but in my opinion, we all need just a little something to remind us of who we are/who we were. Something that makes you uncomfortable, gets you excited, challenges you, makes you think, brings you joy, or at the very least reminds you to breathe.

During my postpartum I was deeply in love with my kiddo. Thankfully, it never affected my ability to be a Mom. I was able to get through it with an incredibly supportive husband, and friends who were not afraid to call me out. Plus, I am super grateful to say I didn’t have any postpartum symptoms with my second child.

If you are having any difficulty after having a child, PLEASE reach out and ask for help. Let’s not make this subject, or any mental health issue a taboo.

Lizanne Browning

About Lizanne Browning

Lizanne is a comprehensively certified Pilates Instructor through Body Arts and Science International (BASI) and has been teaching Pilates for seven years. She has been lucky enough to teach Pilates in several places across the country, under some of the most brilliant Pilates minds. Lizanne loves to help people find the joy in movement, and function in everyday life. Her hope is that she can motivate, make people think, and laugh, and work, and walk out the door feeling more balanced, taller, stronger and happier than when they walked in. She currently lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island, and is the mom to two beautiful children. Find her: Instagram: lizannemariepilates - Facebook: Lizanne Marie Pilates