Many women come to a yoga studio for the first time when they get pregnant. It gets recommended to them by a physician or a friend as gentle movement and calming breathing associated with yoga that can be seen as accessible and beneficial. I find it interesting, almost paradoxical, that this is an entry point to yoga for many women, given that some key traditional yogic texts that our practice is based on do not take pregnant women (or women in general) into consideration.
I am talking mainly about Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a foundational text in a yoga teacher's formation here in the West. Some of the practices on the way to one's liberation as outlined by the author(s) are not suitable, even harmful in pregnancy. This is the case for certain asanas (prone positions, closed twists, certain inversions), but also for kriyas and pranayama techniques (breath retention and diet amongst others). On the other hand, when interpreted creatively, we can see how many concepts (take Yamas and Niyamas) in their most universal sense can be directly applied to guide and support the experience of pregnancy and beyond.
In the modern days, there are so many "types" of yoga - Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Rocket, Bikram, Yin, Restorative... So what does a Prenatal yoga class look like, if you've never been to one? It depends very much on the teacher as there is a lot of space for creativity and interpretation. I believe, however, that there is a common intention to create a safe space for the mother to feel comfortable in her own body and to strengthen connection with her baby, preparing for the process of birthing both her baby and herself as a mother. Prenatal yoga is gentle, deep, kind, strong, nurturing and empowering. It is beautiful. It embodies all the qualities of the archetypal mother. We encourage connection not just to the practitioner's body, mind, breath, spirit, but also her growing baby as well as the others in the room. Creating this sense of sangha, community, provides support in moments of isolation, loneliness that a mother-to-be often meets on her journey.
So in summary, why is yoga a go-to practice for mothers to be? From personal experience as a teacher and a mother, I would argue these are the ways it supports one on her big journey of transformation:
- Accessible way of moving one's body, adaptable to a specific situation at each stage of pregnancy
- Coming to terms with change, without holding onto what used to be
- Appreciating the present moment, however challenging it may be
- Preparing physically and mentally for birth, offering practical tools and techniques
- Getting in touch with and trusting her own instinct
- Treating herself with kindness, compassion
- Finding comfort in like-minded community of women who are going through similar joys and worries
If I were to point out one key benefit that yoga brings in pregnancy, it is empowerment. In this age when pregnancy, birth and early parenting are often guided by external forces (doctors, institutions, statistics, advise of family members, social media, literature...), one can get lost in the amount of information, the weight of expectations, and lose their own voice. Maternal instinct is a super power - it is specific to the mother and her child(ren), even before they are born. It is always there to guide decisions and to navigate the ever evolving relationships. This instinct that is felt in your body, more than thought in your brain, taps into the knowing that is innate to our human nature. And somehow, our instinct becomes stronger and louder as we have another human being to look after. Moving and breathing in a mindful way, held and guided by a nurturing teacher, the practitioner can re-connect to this voice and keep it loud even off the yoga mat.
Not wanting for those who don't fit the category of "pregnant women" to miss out, I often weave aspects of prenatal yoga through my Slow Flow vinyasa classes. Be it some specific hand gestures / mudras, breathing / pranayama or even a sequence of postures. Because we can all benefit from being in touch with our inner Mother.
And the role of yoga in early parenthood? It needs its own post, because there is so much transformation happening in the first weeks and months of learning to be a mother, with a body that feels like someone else's and a little human fully dependent on you. Trust me, yoga is what preservers your sanity🙂