How Pre and Postnatal Yoga benefits a Woman’s Body and Spirit
Imagine a serene yoga studio with soft morning light coming through the tall windows. A group of women at different stages of their pregnancy are happily sitting in a circle with their teacher. Some have a big protruding belly, for others it is still early days, they just show a pale face from a recent spell of morning sickness. Some are feeling tired and anxious, others glow… and whoever was glowing last week may be fed-up and angry this week, or the other way round. Going around the circle, we encourage them to share their names, to give a few pointers about where they are in their pregnancy, and then to tell us straight out what they most want to address in class today: lower back ache, swollen ankles, tiredness? Preparing for delivery? Or do they feel very energetic today and want to move and stretch quite a bit, in a way that will be safe for them and their unborn baby?
As their teacher, I have not prepared a set sequence beforehand, because I know a whole range of different techniques to help them, and will use whatever is required. We will practice poses on all fours, squats, side-bends, modified sun salutations and warriors, etc., as well as specific breathing techniques to let off steam or calm yourself down when you can’t sleep at night, which will also come in handy for labour.
At the end of the class, after a blissful relaxation which could turn into a mini-nap for some, we’ll sit in the circle again for a guided meditation, preparing to welcome baby into this world.
Postnatal Yoga Class
Fast forward to a few months later: those women from the group who were close to their “due date” are now back at the studio with their baby for postnatal yoga. We cannot guess in advance what their baby will look like, and will always marvel at the endless variety of cute toothless smiles and big curious eyes. Likewise, there is no way to tell ahead of time which “type” of mother a woman will turn out to be: very tender and protective, or almost “hands off”, or more in tune with the technicalities of keeping baby dry and fed… some anxious pregnant women transform into relaxed and super-competent mothers, some who were confident and strong beforehand suddenly seem to need more cuddles and reassurance than their baby as they adjust to the massive changes.… Again, the toolkit I have been given in my training will cater for various complaints, from sore shoulders to unstable pelvic bones, and help the ladies regain elasticity in their pelvic floor as well as normal tone in their abdominal area, without the risk of wreaking havoc with their still fragile bodies, unlike a “mummy boot-camp” approach.
Gone is the oasis of calm that we enjoyed in the prenatal class, replaced often by a fair bit of chaos, which we acknowledge with lots of liberating laughs.
Now we have a “feeding station” on the side for whoever needs to quench baby’s thirst, and we adapt our routine not only to the Mums’ needs, but also to whatever is possible to do with a bunch of babies in the room. If the majority are quiet, I may carry the occasional criers around to soothe them, whilst I verbally lead the Mums through some more technical pelvic floor exercises. If most of the babies are awake and want attention, we’ll choose something which involves more movement and sound, and interact more with them to keep them entertained.
Prenatal versus Postnatal yoga
In prenatal yoga, the focus is on encouraging the women to feel “open” as well as confident for the birthing process. We often visualise a blossoming flower bud.
In postnatal yoga, we aim to help the women “close” their body again, reclaiming their womb space and making sure they are strong and adaptable, physically and mentally speaking, to continue on their own life journey and care for their child.
Teaching Pre and Post natal yoga classes
Many yoga teachers gravitate towards teaching pre and postnatal yoga when they become pregnant themselves, which was not my case. Being a mother is not a prerequisite for teaching these practices. I was – and still am – simply in awe of this miracle of nature that is birth, and I consider it a privilege to be of service to women at this crucial time in their lives. The feedback they give is very rewarding. Being in a supportive group of women going through similar experiences is a benefit in its own right. Learning simple and do-able techniques to soothe various aches and pains, as well as addressing psychological and even spiritual needs that arise through the process of transforming into a mother is what makes pre and postnatal yoga so precious and often creates bonds that last beyond these sessions.
What a difference it makes
When we occasionally receive the visit of a grandmother in a postnatal class, who will observe us quietly with a baby (or two) in her arms as her daughter or daughter-in-law enjoys the practice, she often comments afterwards: “what a difference it would have made in my life if I had been able to do this when I became a mum.”
About the Author
Susanne Haegele is an international yoga teacher currently based in London. After focusing on hatha yoga for office workers for many years, she expanded her skill-set in 2014 by training with Birthlight (www.birthlight.com), one of the most reputed schools for women’s yoga in the UK and the one that cooperates with the Royal College of Midwives. She teaches privately and at a lovely studio aptly named YogaCreation (www.yogacreation.co.uk), near Canary Wharf.
Find out more on her website and blog: www.yoga-in-action.com