My Prenatal Yoga Philosophy

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MY PRENATAL TEACHER TRAINING

I was interested in becoming a prenatal yoga teacher pretty much right after I finished my 200 hour yoga teacher training in 2011. 

At the time there was a shocking lack of prenatal yoga training in the DC area, so my fellow yoga teacher friend and I ventured up to Baltimore, Maryland to take a class with the one teacher who offered a program.  We fell in love with her – her style, her voice, the way she held space, and her emphasis on educating the students. It was a no brainer to sign up pretty much immediately after we informally interviewed her post class.

The training was done by Heather Brown, yoga teacher, doula, childbirth educator, natural birth and midwife advocate, and all around awesome human being. For four weekends my friend and I trekked up to Charm City Yoga (later bought by YogaWorks) and thus began an adventure that would later change the course of my life.

The training was an immersive experience, learning so much about the female body, childbirth, and how yoga can support a healthy pregnancy. My teacher ingrained in me how important it is for each pregnant woman to know their options during pregnancy and heading into labor and delivery. This in turn has made me passionate about empowering women to educate themselves while pregnant. I also encourage them all to hire a doula to help achieve the best outcome. (Seriously, doulas are THE BEST).

HOW MY PREGNANCIES INFORMED MY TEACHING STYLE

I started teaching prenatal yoga as a single woman with the hope of one day having kids of my own. I met my husband literally THE DAY I graduated Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training in 2012 and we got married in 2015. We now have 2 young daughters together (a 2 year old and 5 month old at the time of this writing). When I taught prenatal yoga before my first pregnancy I had a teaching style that was more of an equal balance between strengthening and relaxing. My style evolved after experiencing pregnancy in my own body.

In the beginning of my first pregnancy in Spring of 2016 I very suddenly felt overly flexible. My hips are already very open and now here came the hormones relaxin and progesterone which started to destabilize my pelvis joints. One day I felt like my leg was going to pop out of my hip socket! It was then that I started incorporating more hip strengtheners in the regular yoga classes I taught. I also was finally thru the first trimester fatigue so I dedicated myself to attending strength focused prenatal yoga classes 1-2x a week. It was summer so I also hit the outdoor pool and regularly did laps. My hip strength improved quickly and walking felt normal again.

With my second pregnancy, I experienced significantly more destabilization around my pelvis. It got to the point where I was sometimes unable to get off the couch or to straighten my body upright. I was practicing yoga but I needed more help. My acupuncturist speculated that I was experiencing issues with my pelvic floor and potentially piriformis. I received a recommendation for a fantastic physical therapist that specializes in women’s health and the pelvic floor. I looked forward to that appointment every week! There I discovered that my glute medius was not firing properly on my left side and my SI was a bit unstable. This was causing some intense referral pain all over my left back side. This wasn’t surprising because pregnancy can weaken our gluteal muscles so it’s important to emphasize strengthening them.

MY PRENATAL YOGA PHILOSOPHY

Thru my two pregnancy experiences and hearing my students’ feedback, I now lean towards a heavily strength based form of yoga and exercise for pregnancy. One of the most common complaints of pregnant women is sore hips. This discomfort of pregnancy can be reduced by strengthening the muscles surrounding the pelvis.

My classes also include feel good stretches with mindfulness to not go as deep as you may be able to. With relaxin and progesterone preparing your pelvis for childbirth, there is the possibility of overstretching anywhere in the body and not feeling the detrimental effects until you are postnatal. 

Prenatal yoga class is also a fantastic time to mentally prepare for childbirth using breath and discomfort practices.  I also teach the diaphragmatic core connection breath to allow students to access their deep core system for optimal pelvic health.

Beyond the actual yoga, I firmly believe that attending an in-person prenatal class is enormously beneficial to all attendees for the community it creates.  We always start class going around the circle and hearing what is happening in each woman’s life and pregnancy.  This is a time to share and ask anything in a supportive environment where you will be heard, validated, and offered loving advice if needed. Hearing mamas share tips with another struggling mama is incredibly heartwarming.

And as much as I teach and educate my students on pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum life, I’m always learning from them here too.

POSES I EMPHASIZE

Yoga poses that require more strength will enrich pregnancy significantly more than getting into deep stretches. Some of my favorite prenatal asanas are Warrior 2, Goddess squats, Triangle, and Half Moon. There are a lot of awesome strengtheners that could be done from a tabletop position including spinal balance aka Sunbird, hip circles, leg lifts, modified side planks (I like to call it “Half Moon on your knee”) and glute work. The hips can also be very effectively worked from side lying or doing work standing at the wall.

That said, I also encourage stretches towards the end of class such as Malasana (Garland pose), Pyramid pose, Double Pigeon, Pigeon, Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle), Wide-legged Forward Fold, and ANY place you can squeeze in some juicy lateral bending.D

DEEP CORE SYSTEM

I’m a huge believer of working the pelvic floor in prenatal yoga class and I encourage my students to do it outside of class as well. I teach my students a breath that accesses their deep core system to maintain balance and strength in their all important pelvic floor and in the deepest layer of abdominals (transverse abdominis aka TA).

This seems to me to be an often overlooked topic in the pre and post natal world. If you properly work your pelvic floor and transverse abdominis while pregnant then you can likely avoid (or lessen) diastasis recti and urinary incontinence and have a quicker recovery postpartum.

It’s important to note that urinary incontinence is very COMMON but it is not NORMAL. That is to say that you don’t have to live with it, so please seek help if you’re experiencing incontinence (aka peeing your pants, even just a drop). A pelvic floor physical therapist can help you work on healing all kinds of prenatal and postpartum discomforts.  I highly recommend ALL pregnant women get a PFPT.

For more about the deep core and how to do a diaphragmatic breath, see my post here.

MENTAL PREP FOR CHILDBIRTH

While it’s super important for our physical bodies to be prepared for labor and delivery, mental training is equally essential.  I had two unmedicated childbirth experiences which I credit to practicing going inwards, using my breath, and the mental commentary I entertained.

In my classes I teach breath work, meditation, and discomfort practices as mental training for childbirth.  Discovering where your mind goes when you are uncomfortable and then learning to manage your inner dialogue can have a profound impact on your childbirth experience. 

Discomfort practices include holding poses for longer periods of time or doing intense work for short bursts of time.  Even though the discomfort felt during yoga class is significantly less intense than uterine contractions, this practice is all about learning mental endurance.  

COMMUNITY IN CLASS

I am not only a huge believer of actually doing prenatal yoga, but also in attending live classes vs doing a video at home when your schedule allows. The community of women you meet and get to share with allows for a more supportive pregnancy.

Thru my two pregnancies I loved getting into that room with a group of other women going thru some of the same discomforts and thoughts that I was. It is such a safe space to talk about whatever is going on physically and mentally and to get tips and empathy from other women. I found that it really helped alleviate the isolation of pregnancy.

One instance in particular was with my first pregnancy I went thru a phase of about 10 days where I just felt joyless. Nothing was interesting, nothing sounded good to eat, nothing to look forward to. It was the weirdest feeling. My husband kept asking what was wrong with me and when I said I didn’t know I would burst out crying because I didn’t understand what was wrong.

Obviously, it was a hormone shift at the time, but in the moment I couldn’t even rationalize it. I went to prenatal yoga during that time and told the class how I was feeling when it was my turn to share. I felt so alone, like no one else had ever felt this way. But when I asked the class if anyone else had experienced that I got so many nods and vocal yeses. That alone made me feel better. Just knowing I wasn’t crazy and alone. Someone else could relate, lots of someones!

I love teaching prenatal yoga, the community, the pregnancy and childbirth education opportunities, and helping mamas become stronger and ready (as ready as you can be!) for labor and delivery. 

If you are considering attending a prenatal yoga class, just go!  Find a teacher and studio that works for you, you won’t regret it. If you practice prenatal yoga, what is your favorite part about it? 

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