Maria Benetos is the co-founder of Mini-Mode.com, a content and commerce destination for style-savvy moms. She is pictured, above left, with MiniMode co-founder Colleen Crivello.
I was not one of those women who felt beautiful and glowing while pregnant. Actually, I was thoroughly confused by the ones who claimed to love it and all the ways it transformed their bodies. Of course I was beyond thrilled when my little ones were born, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't immediately think "now, how do I fix this?" post-partum.
As someone who has always been fitness-oriented, I bounced back relatively quickly post-pregnancy the first time around. My second one, however, changed my body so much I was convinced I'd never look the same again. The usual routine of eating healthy paired with long-distance runs just wasn't cutting it. Plus, I was tired, stressed, and feeling completely unmotivated (understandable when you have two kids under the age of 2). It was time to shake things up. I decided I needed to adjust my thoughts about wellness and taking care of myself—rather than seeing it as work, my plan was to take on a positive, post-baby "just try it" attitude. Here's what happened:
1. BALLET BEAUTIFUL
When I thought of body types I most admired, ballet dancers were at the top of my list. Long, lean, seemingly delicate but so strong and full of power—bring it! I had heard of Mary Helen Bowers and her Soho studio, Ballet Beautiful, where you can take in-person fitness classes or stream them at home (perfect for a busy mom). I must admit, at first I felt as graceful as a—well, conjure up the most ungraceful creature that comes to mind! But I stuck to it, taking the classes each week with a smile on my face and the hope that flexibility and dexterity would soon come to me. Sure enough they did, and while I'm not by any means true ballerina material, I feel so amazing every time I walk out of that class. It toned up that post-baby belly, and wearing a leotard again is kind of rad, too.
You could not have met a bigger yoga dissenter than me: it's not "hard" enough of a workout; it's too hippy dippy; I'm way too hyper to tolerate holding those poses for a full hour—you name it, I found a reason to hate it. Enter my new and improved post-partum "shut up and try it" attitude and surprise, surprise, I found myself a wellness winner—and me admitting how ridiculously wrong I was. Is it hard? Hell yeah. And that part about me being too intense to enjoy it, well, that's the point of doing it, isn't it? I view it less as exercise in the traditional sense and more as an important thing I do for that mind and body connection. I can walk into class a bundle of anxiety and negative thoughts and leave with a sense of calm I can't get anywhere else. (Oh, and did I mention it has majority sculpted my arms?) When I can't get to class, a favorite is YogaDownload.com, which offers free 20-minute video and podcast classes of varying degrees of difficulty, plus access to unlimited, lengthier classes starting at $10 a month.
I started kickboxing because I figured dozens of models on Instagram couldn't be wrong! I had never done any sort of boxing before, so I was definitely intimidated walking into a gym that was full of mostly men, and ones who actually looked like they knew what they were doing in the ring. I was so self-conscious throwing punches at the start and made the self-deprecating comment that I felt like I was "punching like a girl." My trainer threw it right back at me: "You should hope so, because I know a lot of girls who can really kick ass," he proclaimed. My bad. Now, I proudly and confidently punch and kick "like a girl" and it's one of the most enjoyable portions of my day. The best part? It has absolutely transformed my body, more than any other exercise I've tried.
See my original thoughts on yoga to get a sense of what I thought of meditation. Who has time for that? I do—now that I make time for it. The analogy that most resonated with me and changed my view on meditating is: we work so hard to train our bodies, so why not our minds? I started with five minutes each morning using the Headspace app (free on iTunes and Google Play) and I'm now up to 20 minutes in silence, and that seems to be the sweet spot for me. The only way I can fit it into my day is to do it before the rest of the house wakes up, which means I have to get out of bed before the sun rises—a small price to pay for the mental clarity and calm it brings to my entire day.
What does this have to do with getting back my pre-pregnancy body? It all starts with the mind, and meditation brings me a sense of discipline and self-acceptance I never thought I was capable of.
5. THE REST... SURFING, VACATIONS, HAVING FUN!
This journey to recapture my physique turned into so much more for me. I learned to love being active again and stopped feeling guilty about taking moments to do things for myself. I'm a better mother when I allow myself time to be the me who is not "mom" or "wife" —just me. To laugh with my friends, have the guts to take up surfing in my 30s and run on the beach while on vacation—not because it will burn calories but because it's fun and makes me feel more happy and alive.