When I became pregnant with my first daughter 8 years ago I had very minimal yoga experience but for some reason pregnancy yoga felt like the thing I wanted to do. Previously I had been to – now looking back and having more experience – some very strange non pregnant yoga classes; one, for example was held next to a very noisy gym so relaxation or quiet concentration was hardly possible. Yoga in general didn’t really speak to me, I felt intimidated by not knowing the correct usage of props, (especially bricks freaked me out, they looked just too small for any sensible exercise) and by all the Sanskrit terms I had no clue about. Yoga seemed like something you either grew up with or you forever stay in the back row, desperately trying to catch up with someone else’s rhythm.
Then I started to go to Ildikó Sáfrán’s classes in Budapest and had a slow realization, if yoga is like this than I am ok with it. I enjoyed her breathing exercises the most, and will never forget how she showed us the importance of soft lips during labour, made us dance to I just can’t wait to be king and do all sorts of seemingly silly movements.
Last year in June I began my training of maternity yoga at Birthlight. I didn’t really research my options in terms of what kind of training to do, just followed the recommendation of my friend and colleague “the other Julia”. During the training it slowly all started to come back to me. The camel walk, the golden ribbon, shooting an imaginary arrow in warrior pose, the pelvic floor exercise and falling asleep during relaxation at the end.
In Birthlight pregnancy yoga I have found the connection between what I know and practice as a doula and what yoga can offer during pregnancy and then labour and birth. It gives the power and control back to you over your own body, on the level of your own comfort; with how you move and also with how much yogic you wish to be.
Birthlight’s “overall approach is integrated and holistic, in partnership with mainstream health care. In today’s fast paced world, despite medical advances, ensuring the physical and emotional nurturing of pregnant women and new families remains a priority so simple that it can be forgotten.” (source) Exercises I teach during the classes aim to restore and maintain balance, paying attention to pelvic awareness, to the importance of breathing, to the bond between mother and baby and how all these through movement create a simple and enjoyable practice.
What happens during the class?
Birthlight pregnancy yoga classes might be quite different to your yoga class you used to go to before. There are no long poses, sometimes it looks like we are just wiggling our hips around or even doing something completely invisible, balancing on our feet while figuring out correct alignment or doing pelvic floor squeezes that none can see. Exercises on all fours care for the usually achy lower back, gentle upper body twists and stretches for the compressed organs, allowing for more room for the baby and more room for your own lungs in return. Standing poses and gentle walks not only help to gain sufficient lower and upper body strength but can also be used as labouring positions. Breathing exercises allow to gain confidence in your already perfect breathing, giving tools for keeping it simple and calm during labour and birth.
I am often asked if doing “normal” yoga is still considered safe during pregnancy. While we cannot ignore the fact that because of the relaxin hormone ligaments in and around the pelvis relax thus over-stretching might easily occur while doing traditional yoga poses; Birthlight yoga is only one of the many options available. It is not for everyone and it is certainly not the only truth out there. I like to think of getting to know different pregnancy yoga styles or staying with your normal yoga routine as a preparation for birth; you need to gain information to be able to make your decision. Birthlight in my opinion may appeal to people with no or very little yoga experience and also yogic ladies who would like to lighten their practice a little.
Mindset, body awareness
Besides offering physical exercise, Birthlight yoga is also about encouraging pregnant women to trust their own body and baby and to find their own comfort and preferences throughout pregnancy and then labour and birth.
I really like to hear how the birth went for those ladies who attended my classes. I am the happiest when they write me back telling about how they moved and breathed not exactly as we practiced, feeling confident enough to combine and change techniques and exercises to go with what their body and baby was telling them to do.
These ladies very kindly allowed me to share their words here as well:
“Breathing exercises have been very helpful during labor (some nurses even asked me if I have attended a course 😉 ) …and also during the long part of the labor at home I knew what kind of different exercises could help me.”
“I remember I thought a bit about the exercise where we were with our back against the wall and in a seated position, where you told us your legs get a bit uncomfortable but try to accept that and keep breathing calmly. I was often thinking OK it hurts but just accept that and try to breath as calm as possible. With breathing I naturally did something that was not exactly something we practiced but I would blow up my cheeks a bit and make a bit of a sighing noise. Anyway that worked pretty well so I stuck with that. I remember at the end I was doing part of the visualization with the funnel, but it was too much effort to imagine the funnel, so only the part where the breath was pushing the baby down while exhaling.”
As of last Sunday I am a proud owner of the Birthlight yoga for maternity diploma and I am sure I will not stop here. Yoga in general doesn’t stop to amaze me, especially when it comes to breathing, opening up new levels of knowledge before me that I would like to acquire.
If you happen to read this while expecting a baby and would like to see it for yourself what I have been writing about, come and join me for a trial class on Fridays at 11:30pm at the Zeeburg studio of Thrive Yoga (Sumatrakade 1, 1019 BJ Amsterdam)