I often get asked by students when they are pregnant if they can continue their traditional yoga classes. Or what exactly the benefits are of them joining a special Prenatal class. Many whom have an established practice worry that the class will be slower then what they are looking for, others without an established practice wonder if it is something worth investing their time in, if it is just ‘relaxation’.
Yoga and pregnancy as a whole have been wildly misconstrued in our culture – American – by putting them both into boxes that do not fit every angle of the multi dimensional and rich definitions that they encompass. For yoga, it is more than just a rigorous and ‘different’ way to exercise. Although certain styles of yoga can for sure raise your heart beat and work your core, at its essence yoga is more than just sweating it out a mat. As for pregnancy, our culture has used centuries, maybe even millennium, to frame it as a ‘condition’ that put women in a more fragile state physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Although when pregnant women have a new set of boundaries that they work from, pregnancy in and of itself is not a condition, but rather a new and strengthening experience.
Over the next several posts I will outline just why joining a Prenatal Yoga Class is one of the best things to do for you and your baby regardless if you have an established yoga practice are just coming into yoga for the first time while pregnant. I will outline why skipping your regular class for prenatal is beneficial, why and how your practice will change with pregnancy, and what prenatal yoga offers. To start with I am going to ‘debunk’ some common misconceptions around yoga and pregnancy that our culture currently holds to.
Yoga is a vast enterprise, and continually evolving from its traditional roots. We first see yoga as early as 5000 BEC as some postures and meditations carved in stone in India. From there yoga evolved to become a student teacher relationship, where the student is learning how to achieve oneness with the universe, or their concept of ‘god/goddess energy’. From this we get many texts on the subjects, the most notably being ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ dated from around the transition into CE, and the writings on Hatha Yoga from the 11th Century CE. Both of these text use the physical practice of yoga, or asana, however the main focus is on meditation, daily life, and connection with the divine.
Today most people see yoga as just the physical practice or the asanas, leaving out much of the other benefits from the rest of the practices. Although there are some teachers that weave in meditation, pranyama (breath work), concentration, mantra, and other aspects; when someone opts for a yoga class there is a general expectation there will be lots of moving associated with stretching, some raise in heart beat, and abdominal/strengthening work, anything extra is usually seen as frills. As we delve into the wonderful nature of prenatal yoga, these concepts will be challenged, as prenatal yoga focuses more outside of just the physical benefits, and into more mental and emotional ones (and for some spiritual).
Prenatal Yoga, although it does comprise of many poses, looks to deepen the value of these poses by connecting them with preparation for labor and birth, as well as to deepen the mind/body connection. Many classes also encourage meditation as a way to help ease the transition into motherhood. Further Prenatal yoga takes great advantage of the idea of theming classes to help in still ideas like empowerment, trust in one’s body, higher self esteem, and more to help moms to be explore just what pregnancy and motherhood means to them.
Pregnancy has also been a bit changed in our culture. Historically pregnancy has gone from something that was seen as an empowering rite of passage, to almost like an illness that needs to be treated, or some unexplained burden to have kids. In our culture we often see images and media portrayals of labor where woman are in extreme pain, screaming, and usually cussing at their partner or doctor. Labor is painful, however it is also transformative, with some woman describing it as a spiritually enlightening or a moment where they truly felt connected to the whole world. The difference between these outcomes often boil down to the attitude that a woman has going into labor, and the attitude that women have regarding pregnancy and birth.
Again we see prenatal yoga looking to change that perception in a mother to be’s mind regarding what pregnancy means and how to respond to changes in a birth plan. We know that just as in life, birth does not always go the way we want it to; however how we respond to the changes to our plan, or our ideal, can be the difference between having an awful experience, to having a transformative one. Prenatal yoga looks to challenge our perceptions and prepare us for whatever type of experience we have without allowing us to be disempowered from the experience. After all, how much more empowering can it be to realize that you just grew a whole new life in your womb, and that you are about to bring that new life into the world? You are about to bring a conscious, sentient being into the world, and there is nothing more powerful than that.
Over all yoga and pregnancy have changed drastically. However when we go back to understanding their roots, and place in our lives and experience on this plane of existence, we see that our misconceptions are often unfounded. We can take these old views of pregnancy and yoga and merge them with our new lives in this day and age and find something truly profound and empowering.
Practice in Peace and Love ❤