Trying to conceive? Already pregnant? Give yourself and your unborn baby the gift of prenatal yoga.

If you are reading this, the chances are good that you are either pregnant (congratulations!), or hoping to be soon. Even if you’ve never done yoga before, starting it when you are pregnant can be one of the best things you could do for yourself and for your baby. When paired with a cardiovascular exercise such as walking, yoga can be an ideal way to stay in shape during your pregnancy. This age-old practice keeps you supple, tones your muscles and improves your balance and circulation, with little, if any, impact on your joints.

Another reason that yoga is beneficial is because it helps you learn to breathe deeply and relax, which will come in handy as you face the physical demands of labour, birth, and motherhood. In fact, one of the first things I will teach you in a pregnancy yoga class at my Stellenbosch yoga studio is how to breathe fully.

Different breathing techniques (pranayama) can help to prime you for labour and childbirth by training you to stay calm when you need it most. When you’re in pain or afraid, your body produces adrenalin and may produce less oxytocin, a hormone that makes labour progress. A regular yoga practice will help you fight the urge to tighten up when you feel pain, and show you how to relax instead.

Medical experts at the Mayo Clinic have even touted prenatal yoga as “a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages stretching, mental centering and focused breathing.” Along these same lines, according to a report in the April 2009 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, rigorous studies have found scientific proof that yoga helps the body deal with stress by slowing heart and breathing rates and lowering blood pressure –  which can benefit new mums after the baby’s born, too.

The benefits of yoga aren’t limited to your physical well-being. Taking a prenatal yoga class is a great way to meet other pregnant women — to become part of a community of like-minded people who are going through a similar experience. Being in a positive, supportive environment with others like you can give you a regular emotional boost and keep you motivated to continue exercising.

Whether you have been practicing yoga for a while or are a beginner, it is extremely important to seek out a yoga instructor who is specifically trained in prenatal yoga, someone who knows what asana are safe and what to avoid, and how to advise you to modify your practice according to your own pregnancy.  As far as I know, I am the only yoga teacher in Stellenbosch who is qualified to teach pregnancy yoga, having completed my advanced PTT module at Ananda Sanga in 2011.

I kept going with my regular yoga practice with both of my pregnancies but only once I had done a one-on-one prenatal yoga class with Anne Combrinck at Ananda Sanga  where she taught me how to adapt my practice to pregnancy. For those who have never done yoga before, I strongly advise that you attend the prenatal classes that I offer at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch (once you are past 12 weeks), but for those of you that already have a strong practice, you are also welcome to join the regular classes, but be prepared to adapt and modify when we are doing twists, belly work etc. I also offer one-on-one classes  just to show you the basics of how to do this, if that’s what you’d prefer.

“Nicci completed her Yoga Teacher training with distinction, in 2011. She has subsequently gone on to complete a Pregnancy Yoga Teacher training also and is a confident, competent and wonderful Yoga Teacher. ” Anne Combrinck – Principal Educator at Ananda Sanga.

Please contact me for more information and / or class times.

For more information about why prenatal yoga can be so beneficial, read on…

Five excellent reasons to do pregnancy yoga at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch! (Source: Amy Lynch, MindBodyGreen.com).

Looking specifically at a pregnant woman’s body, yoga can specifically work the areas with the most need in a class geared toward pregnant women. Below are some of the most important pains, areas of interest and common pregnancy issues yoga can safely and gently alleviate and improve.

1. The Breath: Breathing is not something we often think about throughout the day. It is a mechanical function of the body. We never really have to remind ourselves to breathe, but we should, especially to prepare our body for the process of labour. Breathing is a very important part of delivering a baby, it helps to relax the body and take your mind from the pain and strain.

2. The Pelvic Floor: The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles that form a bowl attached to the pelvis. This muscle supports the vital reproductive and digestion organs, as well as the baby during pregnancy and plays a vital role in sexual intercourse for both men and women.

During pregnancy it is especially important to exercise your pelvic floor muscle as it has to support a greatly increased load at this time. Although pregnancy is not the only factor for a weakened pelvic floor, aging and inactivity can play a role; it can weaken from pregnancy and childbirth. Although not the cause, a weak pelvic floor can be the start of some health problems. That is why it is very important to work with these muscles, especially after childbirth. Like any other muscle in the body, the pelvic floor can be re-strengthened. The symptoms of a weakened pelvic floor include urinary or stool incontinence, constipation or incomplete bowel or bladder emptying, diminished sexual satisfaction, painful intercourse, inability to reach orgasm, sagging or prolapse of the uterus, bladder, or rectum, and low back or lower abdominal pain.

A strong pelvic floor muscle can enable a woman to carry a baby more comfortably during pregnancy and will help both the mother and baby during labour and delivery. Stimulating blood flow in the pelvic area after childbirth quickens recovery from any stitches or episiotomy. Women who have had Caesareans also need to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles as it is the gravitational pressure of pregnancy that weakens the muscles, not the physical event of birth.

3. The Posture: As the babies and bellies grow and change, so does the centre of gravity. One of the things that allow humans to walk upright is the balance between the lower back muscles and our four abdominal muscles. However, when our abdominals are weak, this can cause our lower back muscles to over compensate and over work, causing pain and strain in the lumbar area. When the belly moves more forward with growth, this stretches the abdominals beyond their original shape, weakening them and this causing lower back pain during pregnancy when none may have ever been experienced before, especially in the third trimester. Although pregnancy is not the time to do major core work, it is recommended to gently work all four abdominals to keep them a little strong. After your baby is born, it is common for women to find some separation has occurred between the right and left side of the abdominals, exercises that bring the belly toward the spine can help bring the abs back to pre-pregnancy shape.

Yoga can also help alleviate the pressure the lower back is under during the shift in gravity. By stretching the upper leg muscles and the lower back, tension will start to release. Partnered with the smart abdominal work, your body will feel less pain as it goes through the journey of pregnancy.

4. The Feet: Surprising to most, the foot actually has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. And although our feet get us around the entire day, we rarely take the time to take care of them, or check how we are using them, especially as that centre of gravity moves over the nine months.

With the shift of the centre of gravity in your body as your pregnancy progresses, this changes our stance and pressure in our feet and joints. The two most common problems become over pronation and oedema. These problems can lead to pain at the heel, arch, or the ball-of-foot. Correct alignment and awareness taught in a yoga class can help to alleviate these problems.

5. The Hips: Prenatal yoga can help bring back flexibility and comfort to the groups of muscles and bone structures in the front and back of the hips. Hormones released during pregnancy soften and relax joints and cartilage between bones in our pelvis to prepare it for child birth. However, getting the muscles ready is good to facilitate an easier birth for mom and baby.

In front, we have our hip flexors, which work to flex, or bend, the hips. This brings our knee and thigh up and in line with our hip joint and toward our chest. Lunges are a great example of the work of the hip flexors. It is imperative to keep these flexible so we can easily open our legs without too much strain for delivery, as well as bend the knees close to the chest to assist with birth. Yoga can also stretch the ligaments in the pelvis, hip and leg areas, all making the positions and pushing in labour easier.

Our muscles are, however, antagonistic, which basically means when one works, the other does the opposite to allow the action. So, in order for the hip flexors to contract, the back of the hips need to relax. This is why it is essential to work the front and back of the hips in stretching, relaxing and strengthening to find balance. Again, low lunges are the perfect way to stretch the hip flexors while contracting them on the other side and the same for the muscles in the back of the hips. However, your yoga teacher can give you many poses for this area of the body.

What else can yoga do?

Research suggests that prenatal yoga can have many benefits for pregnant women and their babies. Studies have suggested that practicing yoga while pregnancy can also improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth.

It can also decrease nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath, and decrease the risk of preterm labour, pregnancy-induced hypertension and intrauterine growth restriction — a condition that slows a baby’s growth.

But don’t forget, yoga is also a perfect workout after you have your baby as well. When you feel ready to move, starting out with gentle yoga, simple breathing and stretching is a great way to start your body moving again. As you may have already guessed, or experienced, finding time to practice as a new mum is hard. A good time to start is take 15 minutes while your baby is napping to work with a gentle yoga sequence each day can work miracles for energy and body strength. Also, as your baby feeds, try practicing pranayama, the relaxation from deep belly breathing and action of the muscles helps to speed up the recovery time.

As always, check with your physician before you begin any new exercise practice.  Please feel free to contact me for class times or if you have any questions. I hope to meet you soon!

Fertile Ground – Preconception Yoga

Sometimes it feels weird when a new student turns up for their very first time at my little yoga studio in Stellenbosch, and it transpires that they are the only one attending the class. Not weird for me, but weird in that I know that the person in question is likely to feel totally in the spotlight and that they can’t escape my gaze, and that that may make them feel uncomfortable.

And what I’ve realised over time is that these things ALWAYS happen for a reason. Every single time it has happened, it turns out that there is a very real need for us to have some one-on-one time together, without other students. I recently had a situation like this and, given the specific topic that we ended up discussing somewhere between Cat and Cow,  it reawakened my passion about using yoga as a tool in falling pregnant, or to deal with the sometimes overwhelming stresses of trying to do so, or in handling infertility issues or procedures.

It just brought home how very many people take it for granted that pregnancy is just a God-given right and that it will happen, on cue, when you decide that the time is right. As I, and so many other people know, this is absolutely not the case at all. Pregnancy – from the point of conception to a full-term, healthy pregnancy, labour and subsequent birth, healthy baby and mother – is nothing less than a full-blown miracle, and one that so very many yearn for and are simply not able to experience, due to a myriad of reasons, none of which are due to any fault or failing of their own.

I read an article by Denise Kersten Wills, a writer based in Washington, DC, about how calming techniques taught in fertility yoga classes can support women on the path to pregnancy, and I wanted to share some of the salient points with those of you that are interested.  Read on, or visit the original article here.

After more than a year of trying to get pregnant, Michelle Cutler was beginning to feel deeply disappointed, anxious, and frustrated with her body. Cutler was just 32 but had long suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal imbalance that’s one of the most common causes of female infertility.

Cutler tried fertility drugs and two rounds of intrauterine insemination without success. It seemed as though every woman she knew was moving on to motherhood while she stood still. “I felt so stuck,” she says, “like my life was on hold.”

Through the Fertility Centers of Illinois, a consortium of clinics where she received treatment, Cutler learned about Pulling Down the Moon, a holistic fertility center in Chicago that offers yoga, acupuncture, massage, and other treatments. Cutler began taking fertility yoga—gentle classes that emphasize breath, relaxation, and opening the muscles around the hips and pelvis.

Similar programs are cropping up at yoga studios and fertility centers across the country, driven by patient demand and doctors’ growing interest in alternative therapies. Some fertility yoga classes are designed for women with diagnosed problems, but others welcome those who are just beginning to prepare themselves for pregnancy. While there’s been little research on whether fertility yoga aids conception, other research about yoga and stress suggests it may.

And yogic philosophy can help women stop trying to control the process. “As they say, ‘You can’t force the river,'” says Brenda Strong, a yoga instructor who teaches fertility yoga at UCLA’s Mind/Body Institute. “The idea is to invite the river to flow through you.” Some women report that after they stopped struggling to get pregnant, they conceived. Others imagined parenthood in a new way—by deciding to adopt, becoming a godparent, or focusing on a creative project.

When Cutler first tried fertility yoga, she was emotionally depleted from the failed insemination attempts and was preparing to try in vitro fertilization (IVF). Yoga, she says, helped her stay grounded. “I felt so nurtured and so cared for,” she says. “I experienced a sense of calm, and I hadn’t felt that in so long.”

She also noticed physical changes. “I started to actually feel like I was opening my hips and making my body ready to receive embryos,” Cutler says. And within just a few months, she became pregnant through IVF and now has twin daughters, Ella and Brady. Cutler can’t prove it, but she is convinced that yoga helped her have a successful pregnancy.

When Strong began researching infertility in 1996, little information about fertility yoga was available. Strong, an actress who plays Mary Alice on ABC’s Desperate Housewives, wanted a second child but was struggling to get pregnant. She wasn’t able to find what she wanted elsewhere, so she developed her own fertility yoga program, which she began teaching at UCLA in 2000.

Since then, interest has grown. “Especially in the last year, it seems to have hit a critical mass,” Strong says. One reason is that science still can’t explain many aspects of infertility, which affects 12 percent of women of childbearing age in the U.S. Approximately 20 percent of cases are considered “idiopathic,” meaning doctors can’t identify the cause.

Subduing Stress

Stress, however, is known to raise the likelihood of infertility, and yoga is very effective at reducing stress. Women who have trouble conceiving experience anxiety and depression rates similar to those of patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other serious illnesses, according to a study from Harvard Medical School. And even women without fertility problems can find trying to have a baby—a mysterious process ultimately beyond our control—an anxiety-inducing experience.

The links between stress and infertility are complex and not fully understood, but cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, can interfere with ovulation, says Eve Feinberg, a reproductive endocrinologist with the Fertility Centers of Illinois. Lower stress levels and having a positive mood and outlook can increase the odds that fertility treatments will work.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that reducing stress (through yoga and other means) can boost fertility comes from a study by Alice Domar, PhD, of Harvard Medical School. She created a fertility program at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and later opened the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health.

In 2000 Domar found that 55 percent of infertility patients became pregnant (and had a baby) within one year of participating in her 10-session program, in which they were introduced to yoga and meditation, along with other relaxation techniques and acupuncture. In a control group, just 20 percent had babies.

“Yoga is really good for patients who are highly anxious, and fertility patients tend to be anxious,” Domar says. “A lot of these patients are angry with their bodies for not doing what they want. Yoga gets them back in touch with their bodies.” Domar warns, though, that vigorous exercise may impede fertility, and she suggests women avoid physically demanding forms such as Ashtanga and Power Yoga if they are having trouble conceiving.

East Meets West

Of course, yoga is not a silver bullet, particularly for problems such as blocked fallopian tubes. “We can help with the hormone regulation, stress levels, and blood-flow issues,” says yoga teacher and Pulling Down the Moon cofounder Tami Quinn, but she urges women to consult doctors. “The East-meets-West approach is the fastest way to meet your goal.”

Any woman who wants to enhance her reproductive health—whether or not she has diagnosed infertility—can benefit from yoga, says Eden Fromberg, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Soho OB‑GYN and founder of Lila Yoga, Dharma & Wellness in New York City. “Stress is harmful to just about everything physiologically,” she says. “When the body feels like it doesn’t have enough energy, it will start to shut down the less crucial functions. One of those is reproduction.”

During her fertility yoga workshops, Fromberg introduces students to Fertility Awareness, a practical method of charting physical signals (such as body temperature and cervical fluid) each day to find out when a woman is able to conceive. Studies have shown that couples trying to get pregnant have much better odds if they know when the woman is fertile, and some women find a sense of empowerment when they tune in closely to their own fertility cycle.

When Leslie Pearlman and her husband began trying to have a baby four years ago, she did her best to push the what-ifs out of her mind. Pearlman, a Forrest Yoga instructor from Hampton Bays, New York, was 35 at the time. What if she had difficulty getting pregnant? Worse, what if she couldn’t conceive at all? She found comfort in being able to read her body’s fertility signals. “I had this wisdom I was tapping into,” she says. After three months, she became pregnant with her daughter, Maya, now a toddler.

Letting Go

While the medical profession views yoga as helpful for fertility primarily because it reduces stress, yogis see much broader benefits. It balances hormones, opens the hip and pelvic areas, and improves the flow of energy through the body.

In nearly 30 years of teaching, John Friend has helped many women with fertility issues. The founder of Anusara Yoga, Friend says he’s noticed a pattern: Often, the apana vayu, the body’s downward-flowing energy system that’s involved in reproduction, is pulled upward, usually because women are unsettled in some way. “You literally get ungrounded,” says Friend. To the trained eye, he says, it’s easy to recognize the biomechanical signs—thigh bones that are pulled up and forward in the hip socket and a tailbone that doesn’t properly scoop downward.

Friend recommends basic hip openers, such as a lunge with one knee on the floor. Another simple position is to come to all fours, then rest one cheek on the floor, feeling the pelvic floor dilate on the inhale and contract on the exhale. “You have to bring the mind to the area,” he says.

Friend believes that women with fertility problems would benefit from any nurturing yoga class—not just those billed as fertility yoga—as long as they learn proper alignment. Beginners should stick to simple poses, he says.

Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) is often taught to women preparing to conceive because it is calming and brings energy to the pelvis. Many instructors also highly recommend Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), a restorative hip opener, as well as (Seated Forward Bend) and Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), both of which are relaxing.

Deep twists and positions like Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), which puts pressure on the abdomen, can provide good preparation for reproduction. But women should avoid those poses when they might be pregnant, as the positions could interfere with implantation or harm the fetus, Fromberg says. Positive visualizations, heart openers, and poses that foster self-nurturing can help women cope with stress and disappointment.

Debbi Cooper, a self-described “control freak” who had multiple miscarriages, recalls a yoga class in which she grew frustrated trying to do a handstand. “I remember thinking, ‘It’s just like infertility,'” she says. “Sometimes you try as hard as you can to make something happen, but it still doesn’t work when you want it to.” When she got home, Cooper told her husband to watch as she demonstrated what she was doing wrong. “All of a sudden I got up there effortlessly,” she says.

The lesson: “Sometimes you really do need to let go,” Cooper says. In 2007 she gave birth to her son, Gabe. “I don’t know if yoga helped me get pregnant,” she says, “but it helped me find peace in a very stressful time”.

I echo Cooper’s point: at a time that The Band and I had been told in no uncertain terms, by two independent infertility specialists, that there was zero chance of us having a baby on our own without any intervention, and after too many procedures to count – and actually being warned specifically NOT to try to fall pregnant as it would definitely result in an ectopic pregnancy (if by some miracle fertilisation did occur) – we finally stopped trying, chilled out and let go. I was totally immersed in my yoga practice at this stage, The Band started playing a lot more golf, we went on a holiday to Mexico and kayaked and drank a lot of Margharitas and didn’t talk about babies at all for a while, and then our first miracle happened.  As many of these cases, I’m not putting it down to yoga, but in situations like the above, it’s a case of ‘nothing to lose, everything to gain’, so why not give it a shot?

Sending love, light and empathy to all of you that are working through this same thing. Stay strong. Breathe. Believe in miracles. Trust the process of life. Namaste.

Some more info about pregnancy yoga classes

With thanks to Nina from Yoga Awakening Africa (awesome chick) and Anne Combrink of Ananda Sanga (my own personal guru):

Some more info about pregnancy yoga classes.

Pregnancy Yoga classes, taught by a Yoga Teacher with additional and specialised training in this field, provide opportunities for expectant women to develop greater vitality and awareness of their bodies. These classes also deepen their relationship with their unborn baby. Gentle postures, breathing, visualization and relaxation are learned which cultivate flexibility, calmness and confidence in preparation for labour and childbirth. Women are empowered to develop their ability to access greater relaxation, comfort and enjoyment. Calm, strength and flexibility ease the birthing process, thus reducing pain and increasing the joy of giving birth. With the guidance of the Pregnancy Yoga Teacher, women prepare for an active, normal and natural birth.

Birth and Nurturing the Baby are Natural.
It may seem strange that a mother needs to prepare for birth and motherhood; after all they are completely natural, instinctive and biological functions. Women’s bodies are ideally designed and adapted to carry, give birth to and nourish their young, just like any other mammal. However, unlike other mammals, humans appear to be the only species that has such difficulty fulfilling this instinctive potential.

This has not always been the case though. Many cultures, throughout the ages, have honoured and respected the power of women to give birth and nurture their young as central to life. It is only in our ‘modernized’ world that the power of women as birth-givers has been steadily degraded and replaced by the science of obstetrics.

Why Practice Yoga in Pregnancy?
Attending yoga classes that are specifically adapted for the pregnant woman means that a conscious choice has been made to devote some time to honouring and nurturing yourself and your unborn baby during this special time. As yoga brings your mind and awareness into your body it awakens the awareness of your baby inside and deepens your connection with your child. You will feel more in touch with your inner self, more connected to nature and you begin to discover that the power to give birth and nurture your baby lies within yourself. This is also very helpful after the birth.

Physically …
During pregnancy, energy levels fluctuate and may leave you feeling exhausted for no reason. Your body is using enormous amounts of energy to ‘create’ a brand new human being and misusing your body can result in excess tiredness. Physically, yoga teaches how to keep the posture correct as the centre of gravity changes throughout the nine months; it strengthens the back, tummy, shoulder, arm and leg muscles to be able to carry the baby comfortably and easily; it keeps you fit and thus an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients flowing around the body and to the baby; it improves circulation of other fluids in the body helping to prevent swollen ankles and other oedemas. These seem to be ‘side benefits’ when you consider how yoga prepares the body physically for the birth. It helps to open up the hips and pelvis, creates more flexibility, and strengthens muscles that are needed for the ‘pushing’ stage of labour. After all, what does ‘labour’ mean – hard physical work! Therefore it makes sense to prepare the body with stretching, breathing and physical exercise.

Mentally and Emotionally ….
On other levels, yoga helps to bring your whole being into balance. It influences the mind and body positively, benefiting you emotionally. Yoga, especially with a focus on breathing, quietens the mind, allowing you to feel more peaceful within yourself. It is calming and reduces anxiety – you feel more present in your body and thus mentally and emotionally balanced.

Pregnancy is a natural state of ecstasy and celebration. There are many peaceful and blissful times to be enjoyed during these months. Yoga can help you make the most of the contentment, well-being and fulfilment which women can experience when they are pregnant. Its benefits will continue in the many pleasurable hours you will spend with your baby after the birth.

Preparing for Birth and Coping with Labour
In most traditional societies, women are encouraged in pregnancy to build up their strength and improve their fitness in readiness for the birth. On the whole they give birth easily and we can do the same.

The processes of birth are involuntary, they happen without your conscious control. The sensations experienced during the hours of labour as your body opens to give birth are very powerful. They take you to your limits of endurance. There are times of extremes both pain and pleasure, ecstatic highs and deep dark lows involved in the extraordinary inner journey which brings your baby to birth.  Yoga is a wonderful preparation for this. It teaches you to make space between thoughts to focus on what you are feeling in your body and to surrender and let go, which is exactly what you need to do during labour.

Breathing lies at the very heart of yoga practice – without mindfulness of breath the postures are lifeless and static. In Pregnancy Yoga classes breathing correctly and deeply, as well as using the breath as a focus, is learned. Breathing properly throughout pregnancy and labour are important for your baby, who is depending on you for his/her oxygen supply. To be able to concentrate on the breath – the source of all life – can help you get through the most difficult times in your labour.

Many of the yoga postures learned in the class are similar to the positions women instinctively assume in labour. These positions are then spontaneously applied during the labour allowing comfort and ease for the different stages.

Overall Benefits of Pregnancy Yoga
All in all the practice of yoga brings awareness of breath, body, mind and feelings, which enables the mother-to-be to stay in harmony with her child throughout her pregnancy. It gives her the confidence to follow her instincts while giving birth and as a mother.

For more information: contact me at nicci@yogawithnicci.co.za or call or sms me on +27 78 563 8152. I look forward to hearing from you!

_________________________________
Anne Combrinck (BSc; NHD(Chem); YTC; YTherapyDip), a Yoga Teacher and mother, used yoga to prepare for her son’s birth and has been teaching yoga to pregnant (and post-natal) women for many years.

She also trains Yoga Teachers and facilitates a workshop to further train Yoga Teachers to specialise in Pregnancy Yoga Teaching. There is a Pregnancy Yoga Teacher training workshop coming up in November 2011.

Contact her for more information: Tel:(021) 855-1470 or email: anne@asanga.org.za

Cleaning of Spring and shaving of Labradors

It’s all taking shape. 

They say that you need to be the change that you want to see (which brings me to the question, who are ‘they’ anyway? And why are ‘they’ quoted so often, as if ‘they’ are the font of all wisdom? But that’s for another post, another day).  Well, whoever they are, I can’t help feeling that they would be mighty impressed with some of the changes that I’ve made over the last few months, had they been paying any attention.

I’ve been feeling for some time that there are a few things that just haven’t been working quite right in my life, and so it’s been with gusto that I have brought about some changes.  A major one is having resigned from my corporate job to enable me to focus on building up my yoga business (whilst spending decent time with my children), but there have been many smaller ones too, such as the tweaks that I’ve made to my diet, consciously eating a whole lot more healthily, drinking less wine (my vice) and almost completely eliminating wheat, dairy and red meat from my diet.  I am making a point of dry-brushing every day before I shower, and it may be wishful thinking but I swear I see some effects already (or perhaps I just need to clean the mirror).

There have been structural changes too: I am slowly transforming my studio space into how I really envisage it, and today had bamboo blinds hung across one entire wall, covering the shelving there – the results are mind-blowing! It totally transforms the space from a semi-functional stretching spot to a dedicated, seriously-focused-on-yoga spot. Next week I start painting the remaining three walls (eventually gone for a violet-like shade…brave, but I’m confident. More about that in another post…). 

I’m whipping my garden into shape, clearing a large creeper-infested space under the trees for my little boy to have a jungle gym there (his Christmas present), digging up the large patch of what used to be lawn but what eventually was merely dust interspersed with surprisingly vicious thorns, and having roll-on lawn put down there instead.  Even my beautiful Layla-dog isn’t getting away unscathed: I’m toying with the idea of having her shaved for summer – our neighbour just had her Labrador done and apparently it makes a huge difference in terms of them keeping clean and in particular drying off properly after a dip in the pool (as these suburban pets of ours are inclined to do) so that they don’t get that ubiquitous wet dog smell. 

I have organised all the kids’ toys and transformed the study from a dingy, claustrophobic little room into a light, spacious, welcoming and functional space where both The Band and I are now happy to work. I repacked all our bookshelves and have recycled a plethora of old magazines, so all of a sudden I feel that there is space, not only in my house but my head. I cleared out my clothes cupboard, my jewelry box, the garage and have even gone so far (or obsessive) as to tidy out the crate  in which I keep all my gift bags, wrapping paper, ribbons, balloons, cards etc.

With The Band’s help, we’re even managing to change the way that we handle the occasional (snigger) conflict that comes up in our relationship, and the results there have been no less spectacular.

Reading back over what I’ve written, I realise that you, dear Reader, would be forgiven for assuming that I must be well into my third trimester and about to enter labour, so frenzied does all this activity sound.  Maybe it’s to do with Spring arriving, maybe it’s deeper than that and is my response to this niggling feeling that I need to somehow regain control over my life.  Maybe it’s not deep at all but just plain and simple feeling sick and tired of things being cluttered, stuck, disorganised, and taking action to change it.  Whatever it is, the effects have been almost as beneficial of a good long yoga practice: I feel restored, calmer, more focused, energised, motivated, peaceful. And excited about what the future holds.

I am by no means the ‘finished business’ yet (will I ever be?) but my new favourite way of summing up how I feel about the changes that I’m bringing about is: ‘I am in the process of positive change’.

Yes, ‘they’ would surely approve.

Why do yoga when pregnant?

(With thanks to Ananda Sanga for the notes – these are from the teachers training course I’m attending two weekends this month)

Pregnancy Yoga classes provide an opportunity for expectant women to develop greater vitality and awareness of their body that is home for two, as well as to deepen their relationship with their baby. Gentle postures, breath work, sound and chant work and meditation are learned to cultivate flexibility, calm and confidence in preparation for labour and childbirth. Women are empowered to enhance their ability to access greater relaxation, comfort, and enjoyment. Calm and flexibility ease the birthing process, thus reducing pain and increasing the joy during this special time. With Pregnancy Yoga, women prepare for as active, normal and natural a birth as possible.

The process of birth is not a Hollywood script with harp music, diaphanous robes, and sweetly smiling cherubim. It is hard work made of muscle, sinew, sweat, blood, and love. By toning the body, mind, and spirit, yoga can help a mother be present for the miracle of birth. “Yoga helps you prepare for the unknown by knowing yourself.”

Birthing Preparation for Couples

This provides an opportunity for couples to enhance awareness of and confidence in pregnancy, labour and birth. Through discussion, gentle postures, breath work, sound work, meditation and basic massage, couples cultivate greater relaxation, understanding and enjoyment for childbearing. Couples practice postures together that are both beneficial and enjoyable during pregnancy and during labour. Partners feel more connected to the unborn baby. The presence and encouragement of a woman’s partner is a powerful aid to labour and delivery. Partners develop greater understanding to support the birthing mom with confidence and sensitivity. 

Post-Natal & Baby Yoga

Once the mother has given birth she returns to this special yoga to help her body return to normal as quickly and effortlessly as possible. These classes can be attended with ‘baby’ and are made to be fun and uplifting.

Prenatal yoga teachers training and oxytocin overdose

I’m really looking forward to this weekend (and the third weekend in November) as I’m doing my specialised teachers training in pregnancy / pre-natal yoga at Ananda Sanga in Somerset West. Since having had my own two beautiful little ones and having gained my international certification in infant massage in 2010, pregnancy, babies, and particularly pregnant mums are an area of interest that is very close to my heart.

I am privileged to have one pregnant yogi in one of my classes already and there are another two who have expressed interest, so I am almost humming with excitement and anticipation at how wonderful it’s going to be to actively move into this space. I run my next infant massage course early in the New Year, and so what with presenting prenatal classes and having my studio double up as a venue for all those perfect (and they are all perfect, every single one of them) little babies and mums, it’s going to be a veritable oxytocin-fest!

Speaking of oxytocin, what an incredible hormone! Also known as the ‘love hormone’ or the ‘cuddle hormone’, it is probably best known for its roles in female reproduction (it is released in large amounts during labor, thus facilitating birth, and after birth helps with stimulation of the nipples and facilitating breastfeeding). What really blows my mind, however, is that it has been shown to be associated with the ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people. This is one of the many reasons why infant massage is such a powerful ‘tool’ – it fosters bonding between infant and caregiver (male and female) due to the increased production of the hormone during massage – by both the massage-giver and the massage-receiver. It also has a wonderful calming effect, which is probably why after an infant massage class, even though it’s often fairly chaotic (there is inevitably someone crying – sometimes the mums as well as the babies! – someone sleeping, someone feeding), there seems to be a lovely sense of calmness and serenity about those fabulous women when it’s time to leave.  Imagine if you could buy it by the bottleful and take a quick swig if you were feeling unloving towards your better half!

I’m so happy for you

I recently read a lovely thing that said ‘Take delight in the good fortune of others to create more happiness for yourself’.  It made me think about how often I am surprised by how many people seem to struggle to rejoice in other people’s good fortune, luck, success, achievement, joy, happiness – call it what you will. 

Case in point: having had the staggering privilege of my firstborn coming into this world healthy and happy and, within a relatively short period, sleeping through the night, I was astounded when not one but two of my dear friends commented, when I fell pregnant again: ‘well, you’re going to get your comeuppance with this one’ and other comments along the lines of ‘you’ll never get so lucky a second time around’. It was all I could do to stop my jaw from literally hanging open.  Never  mind the fact that we worked hard at it (thanks to a fairly strict bedtime routine – it doesn’t work for everyone and not everyone approves, but it worked like a charm for us), whatever the reason for our good fortune, I would have really thought that the wish would rather be for me to have exactly the same wonderful ‘luck’ with the second baby (who, by the way, slept through even earlier than my son). I know it’s unyogic to gloat, but I did have a little, tiny, miniscule gloat as I typed that. As I said, I  have a way to go along my ‘evolutionary path’ (as my yoga teacher calls it) and I obviously have a lot to learn from Patanjali’s teachings…

 I was reading recently about the brahmaviharas (the yogic teachings on love), which show us the way to a kinder, more compassionate relationship with ourselves and others, and thought how interesting it is that so many people seem to be scared of yoga, finding it all esoteric and a bit spooky, where in fact the teachings of the ancient sages are actually so beautiful, so helpful, and so very focused on helping us become more. I was amazed when I first read Patanjali’s Sutras and realised that they are actually very similar to the Ten Commandments – only, in my opinion (and it’s all subjective, obviously), more user-friendly and easier to digest. 

More than two thousand years ago, both Patanjali and the Buddha taught the practice of mudita as an antidote to the feeling that your happiness is threatened or diminished by the happiness of others – mudita is the ability to take active delight in others’ good fortune or good deeds. In one of the Sutras, Patanjali advises us to take delight in the virtue of others as a way to develop and maintain calmness of mind. We’ve all probably experienced how painful envy can be, and how much it affects our mental well-being, and the fact is that any feelings of envy that we may harbour don’t diminish the happiness of those we are jealous of, but they do diminish our own serenity. And then I read a lovely thing about the Dalai Lama who speaks of mudita as a kind of “enlightened self-interest.” As he puts it, there are so many people in this world that it’s simply reasonable to make their happiness as important as your own; if you can be happy when good things happen to others, your opportunities for delight are increased six billion to one! It works for me!