Kamala Santos of Soma Doula, is an Ayurvedic Postpartum and Life Transitions Doula who has dedicated her path of practice towards selflessly serving (seva) women during transitional times. She beautifully pairs her inner wisdom with ancient wisdom coming from the Yogic and Ayurvedic traditions, which allows her to tend to new mothers and their families with a unique full body, mind and soul approach.
In this conversation, we dive into the ‘newborn mother’ experience (the first 40 days postpartum) and offer up some perspective and lifestyle strategies for navigating this tender time with more grace and resilience. I hope this conversation inspires deep nourishment, and if you enjoy this topic, please check out PART TWO: ‘Forever Postpartum’ Ayurvedic Support with Kamala Santos.
Q: Welcome Kamala! As an Ayurvedic Postpartum Doula, can you share your perspective on why Ayurveda offers a more sustainable and holistic approach to wellness for our newborn mothers?
The term Ayurveda can be defined as ‘the science of life,’ encompassing the full arc of life from birth to death. It points towards a rich and profound tradition of holistic philosophy for life’s longevity. These centuries-old practices have refined the interrelationship between body, mind and spirit. The axiom, “The first 42 days will impact the next 42 years” confirms this important conviction that Ayurveda holds toward the longevity of a woman’s life.
As a new mom, your physiology is swiftly and dramatically altered. Ayurvedic postpartum protocols are designed to be very personalized (for whom and when)—customizing diet to support digestion through herbs and food, regular oil massages, and abundant practices to aid in sleep and calming the mind. It’s designed to help shift the postpartum experience from the all too familiar “falling off a cliff” feeling into a nourishing and loving transition. While supporting mothers, these practices also help build a lovely safety net for the entire family, allowing the whole family to become more adaptable.
Q: What led you to this path of supporting women and mothers, specifically during this transformative time?
After decades of practicing yoga I felt I hit a wall, something was missing. During my Yoga Therapy training, Ayurveda was introduced and concepts started to click into place. The marriage of the two sciences felt more complete and a void was filled. A few years later, during an Ayurveda bodywork training, I experienced and witnessed profound and unspoken nourishment in the many layers of the body, mind and spirit. It was a realization that this type of care was like a dance, a beautiful meditation between the receiver and giver.
After a few years of assisting with panchakarma purification retreats, I was asked to aid a mom and child as they moved into a new home and community. The mother was extremely depleted. During our 10-day retreat together I got to use my breadth of skills and landed in my sweet spot at pure rejuvenation (rasayana).
Together we created rhythms and routine, the sense of safety, nourishing meal plans, playfulness, restorative yoga nidra, ceremony, ritual, and a lot of bodywork. This was when my “seva” (selfless service) had been fully realized.
That which I had not myself received in motherhood, was found. While giving, I was receiving unconditionally. I furthered studies with the uniqueness of the first 42 days postpartum and now work with newborn moms, and those families who find them in any major transition (including the sacredness of the end-of-life rite of passage).
Q: During any period of massive change, but especially during the first few months post-birth, our personal practice and family rhythms can easily fall out of sync. For our new mothers, can you provide a few practical tips for bringing about a sense of balance and ease?
Ayurveda recognizes the first six weeks as a time of great increase in the wind and space elements (vata) and therefore, most practices are there to stabilize and return misplaced vata. Wind and space are “energy” qualities that are reflected in the state of our nervous system, digestion, mind, endocrine & lymphatic systems, and through all of our senses. When vata is imbalanced, it is very easy for brain fog, depression and other mood disorders to settle into the extra spaciousness that is present. This is why Ayurveda suggests the first 42 days should be spent in a warm “nest”, cocooning to avoid overstimulation, to create a safe space, to feel fully nourished in the quietude of profound change and emerging love. These skills and attitudes (listed below) can easily be planned and prepared before postpartum.
❋ Get Sleep: Nothing rocks the boat more than lack of sleep, impacting recovery, the ability to absorb nutrition and understanding the babies signals. Learning to nap can be a challenging obstacle, especially the first three weeks where you are targeting upward of 14-17 hours of rejuvenating (non-continuous) sleep. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is wisdom that should not be ignored and supported by the entire household. If you are having trouble sleeping, consider brushing up on your overall sleep hygiene and explore some bedtime drink elixirs, yogic practices or possibly even yoga nidra to send you off to sleep.
❋ Nourishment Through Food: The postpartum diet follows a weekly protocol of foods to avoid and eat, with easily digestible foods and warming spices. Generally, these include sweet flavors, warm and cooked meals with lots of liquid components. There are many useful books to support the weekly and seasonal considerations of a new mom’s diet. As an Ayurvedic postpartum doula it is my job to modify daily meals, while observing how mom is eliminating, digesting, and using her energy. It’s all about supporting healthy digestion! After the first 5-10 days, easing into a robust meal plan may look like breakfast, snack (optional), lunch, snack, dinner, and then a sleepy elixir. Just like a new baby, try to eat every 3-4 hours.
❋ Fortify With Oil: Nothing calms the nervous system, brings nourishment to the seven bodily tissues, and cleanses more effectively than oil, primarily ghee. Although there are many applications of oil (internally and externally), the easiest and most practical way to incorporate fortifying with oil is including ghee into your diet and performing a warm body oil (abhyanga) with sesame oil on a daily basis. Just by doing these two things alone, you would be gaining 70%+ of the value full oileation protocol provides!
❋ Protect Your Energy: There are about 14 common energy leaking ‘portals’ that blow wide open, leaking your precious energy when the air and space elements (vata) are imbalanced. The most common symptoms of leaks are a racing mind, anxiety, excessive talking, withdrawal, little to no energy, frustration, and anger etc. You want to learn to be intimate with your energy states, to develop sensitivity to your inherent wisdom and learn your true desires. It is important to know how the mind, pushed by excess wind, can feed these leaks, hamstringing the adaptability needed to ride the transitional waves instead of succumbing to the tidal wave of depletion. When we support the nervous system and our energy output, we wrap ourselves in a “feel good” bubble that is at our disposal thanks to the hormone, dopamine. We can learn to activate this emergency switch, to plug the leaks, and operate in the love bubble of motherhood.
❋ Ride The Waves of Emotions: No one talks about the grief that might accompany birth, although there are plenty of conversations of joy. A mother will experience the full range of human emotions during this transitional time, including grief. If we know to pay attention to grief’s messages, we could ask for what we need or at least acknowledge what we don’t have. It’s incredibly important to process the energy of grief and fully allow yourself to mourn who you once were or the things that may have not gone as planned. In the grief love can be found.From the yogic point of view, thoughts and emotions (mind) are so deeply intertwined it is considered two sides of the same coin and it can be a big drain on energy to incessantly try to untangle them. There are depleting consequences (anxiety, excessive speaking, withdrawal, aggregation, and depression). With a little awareness, a little practice, and a lot of grace, the mind is nurtured to arise naturally and recede naturally to abide more easily in the loving moments of motherhood.
When needed, there is no shame in asking for help and guidance. Asking for support is one of the many first courageous actions of motherhood.
❋ Gently Move Your Body: “Slow and steady” is the mantra for any new mom. With this mindset and gentle movement paired with rhythmic breath, a mother can build soft mobility in her joints and aid in her recovery by stimulating the lymphatic system. Heavily modified yogic practices can be performed in bed, a chair such as Joint Freeing Series, Palm Tree flow, Sunbird and Bridge vinyasas as well as a super supported modification of ‘legs up the wall’ are generally acceptable to do with the guidance of a doula/teacher. There is also my favorite ‘blow before you go’ mnemonic, which is a posture/stance combined with an intentional strong exhale to help trigger the transverse abs, stabilize the pelvis and core in a steady stance, fully empty of breath and engaged abs before picking up the baby. This breath/body triggering goes well to protect you from injury as the baby moves to become toddler weight.
Q: The transition and transformation into our role as “Mother” often feels indescribable. Do you have any tips for ways new mothers can honor the less tangible aspects of their journey?
The beauty of Ayurveda is that it considers happiness or our quality of life (sukha), to be a fundamental right of every living being.
A pleasant mind is defined as a prerequisite characteristic of health. Although there are many tangible means, (ex: diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, etc) to support uncertainty and face the realities of change, it’s just as important to recognize and surrender ourselves to the beautiful journey and the lessons that are waiting. In Sanskrit, the word Bhāvanā is used to represent ‘awareness cultivation’, ‘creative contemplation’, and ‘feeling into what is’. This is the backbone of surrendering to our experience.
❋ Surrender To The Awe: Mothers are gifted with the mysterious and perfect rapid crash course in impermanence. At a time when you are completely stripped of what you thought was your foundation, the milestones of change are flying at you all while navigating fatigue, complex new emotions. It’s a playground for the direct experience of impermanence. Willingly (or not) you are shedding your old self identity (maiden), overwhelmed by a new role (mother) and mesmerized by the wonders brought to you by your baby. Watch your child and notice these little ones are not analyzing what was past or future, but instead are fully present, authentic, and acting without judgment.During the early days of motherhood there are many opportunities to sink into the experience of the awe and wonder of your new reality. It’s a beautiful reminder that these moments will end and that you are fully alive, fresh and new. It is in those weeks that you can surrender to the most profound lessons and later devote lifetimes to these rich teachings.
❋ Honor Your Rite of passage: Celebrate the passage of six weeks by intention of leaving the nest of liminal space, this profound beginning phase of postpartum.. Consider reviving this time with the joy and anticipation of a baby shower or new baby blessingway (keep it simple, you are exhausted!). Gather your friends and loved ones to recognize and celebrate this transition with flowers, food, and simple festivity. Recount the many birth stories you were told, and add your own to the collection.
Q: How could adopting a nourishing personal practice act as an anchor for women on the path towards and through motherhood?
Some things in life appear to be very fluid, while others feel like a big anchor, grounding us in timelessness and sustainability. My personal favorite ways to anchor down and feel truly supported/nourished in any situation is with the use of breath observation, body scanning as a meditation and through daily self-inquiry rituals.
❋ Try This – Body Scanning & Breath: When in a seated meditation you can gently scan your body with your mind – forehead, eyes, cheek, mouth, neck, etc. As you pass through each part of the body, use your intention to relax every muscle, letting the entire body rest deeply into the bones. You can do this same practice by scanning your attitudes and emotions that pop into your mind, and relax or not engage them. The simple goal is to be in a sense of surrender, to be open and aware, allowing for full relaxation and rhythm of breath to be your anchor. You can begin this practice by tuning into the cycle of breath (gentle, full 2-5 sec inhale and exhale) with gentle one pointed concentration (drishti) counting with the mind 1,2,3… for each cycle, then adding awareness of relaxing the body through each breath cycle. Let the breath cycle be slow and rhythmic, this neurologically reconnects the heart and mind and helps reset the balance of the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system. With this centering of body, speech and mind you should feel concentration paired with focus on counting and relaxation of body simultaneously. If you lose count, or tighten up, start over. The “sit” or meditation doesn’t have to be formal. As you cultivate first attention in the body, speech and mind, in time this awareness becomes ingrained and can move second attention skills. This ability to have 50% focus on the outer world and 50% focus on the inner world becomes a great yogic skill for longevity and awareness. A tattva bhavana practice of motherhood is this gentle observational skill. It’s our skill as mothers to sense the natural flow, paving the path for clear intuitive action. This sense of agency is the greatest practice in yoga, when we pause to consider our own union of our actions — body, speech and mind.
❋ Try This – Self Inquiry Rituals: How will you know where you are going if you don’t know yourself first? This self-inquiry is the timeless anchor of motherhood and where the depth of strength and stamina, conviction and fortitude, agency and compassion arise. Self-inquiry paired with self-effort and devotion are at the heart of yoga & Ayurveda. In the beginning self-inquiry may be a simple practice. The simple question , “What is up or needed today?” when you first awake (or from a nap) begins the process, and is sadly often overlooked rushing to the task at hand. In your response, listen for what is succinct and brief, terse and direct, try not to ponder too too long, or analyze. Be gentle with yourself if the answer you receive isn’t what you expected. In time, the self-inquiry moves towards extended focus and contemplation allowing the opportunity to dig deeper. There is a beautiful teaching that says, “Contemplate deeply for the answer to be revealed. Once you have an answer, no need to return to the question.”
Some of my favorite self-inquiry and contemplative opportunities for new mothers (when there is capacity) often considered when nursing v. social feed scrolling are:
❋ What is my ‘right view’ of motherhood so that obstacles can become opportunity.
❋ How can I meet my choices with a sense of sheer delight, to live a life with no regrets.
❋ How do I view impermanence and surrender while on this path.
Q: Any “must-read/must-see” resources for mothers navigating the early days of motherhood?
The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad
Living Ayurveda by Claire Ragozzino (Ayurvedic recipes, rituals and yoga practices)
Nourishing Newborn Mothers by Julia Jones
The First Forty Days by Heng Ou
Infant Massage Handbook by Vimala McClure
Empowered Postpartum Care An online course by Sacred Window Studies
Pregnancy & Postpartum Blog Series by Banyan Botanicals
The Pure Motive A blog post on Hareesh.org
Postnatal Yoga by Jillian Woods
10% Happier An app for those new to meditation
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Each week, expect a bite-sized personal reflection with accompanying journal prompt. My hope is that by sharing these reflections and prompts, you’ll be inspired into purposeful action and we’ll both be reassured that we are not alone in this process of unraveling.
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