Tuesday, December 7, 2010

DIY: Prenatal Yoga That Fits You

Me as the Unsuspecting Expectant New Mom
with My Boys. Fall 2010

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Confucius

The journey of motherhood could be described as perhaps the most strenuous thousand mile journey life offers.  I think most mothers (and fathers alike) would agree. Parenting, not to mention pregnancy, labor and delivery, and recovering your mind and body afterward) is the most difficult job in the world. Even Oprah says moms have the "toughest job in the world if they're doing it right."

There is good news though.  Yoga is a tool, and a way of life, that can help massage away some of the temporary aches and pains of pregnancy and motherhood. Even better are yoga's long term benefits: it soothes the mind, facilitates better sleep (critical for long term health); and, yoga's mindfulness has been proven to improve memory, brain function, and bolster your immunity for the long road ahead. Oh, and not to mention the great side effect of it getting you in great physical shape.

In over 15 years of practice, yoga has been my primary tool for treatment not only as a practicing physical therapist and athletic trainer, but also for my own health.  I use restorative yoga to offer rest, renewal, and increase mobility and flexibility.  I reserve a more active yoga practice for building strength and endurance to help women through pregnancy, labor. and delivery.  However, all types of yoga that I teach, which include meditation, build confidence, diminish risk of depression, increase energy, and help in pain management through birth and the recovery process which follows.

Finding the Right Prenatal Yoga For You

Navigating the murky waters of finding a reputable and safe (and affordable) yoga class, especially a prenatal one, can be difficult, especially since there is currently no legal regulation of yoga in America. However, finding the perfect prenatal class is only a blog away.   
  1. The fist step is to create what I call a Pregnancy Manifesto.
    Manifesto is a word being tossed around frequently these days, but mostly in relation to achieving success in a career or job.  The word manifesto derives from Latin and Italian where the word means "clear or conscious."  But a Pregnancy Manifesto is special. Women hold in their bodies the responsibility and privilege of growing and giving birth to the future of our entire planet.  A Pregnancy Manifesto, then, might be more important than any other manifesto.

    As an an enthusiastic battle-worn working mom of two young sons, ages 3 and 4, gratefully expecting our third child (did I surprise you?!), my Pregnancy Manifesto directs my yoga practice, and my entire pregnancy. It sets my intention not just for what yoga [meditation, postures (asana), hand postures (mudras), and breathing (pranayama)] I will practice, but the choices I make for myself and my child. It puts me in a state of graceful and grateful thinking and guides me in kind and gentle actions toward myself, my unborn child, my children, my spouse, and all others.  Finally, it sets boundaries around and protects the choices I make as a mother and now, expectant mother. 

    Women need empowerment. Women need to know how strong they are and what their bodies are capable of during pregnancy.  I believe a Pregnancy Manifesto can foster that by sending a clear message about what we want for our pregnancy and children.  

    It was not until I experienced the American maternity care process, during my first pregnancy, that I realized how important a Manifesto was.  I realized that women needed more compassionate, supportive care, especially from health care providers who have the experience, education, and knowledge to help women be their fittest and most confident during the journey to new motherhood. 

    If you are expecting or planning a family I encourage you to create a Manifesto, not just to help you find the right prenatal yoga class, but to help create the kind of life you want for yourself as a mother, and for your children.

    Your Pregnancy Manifesto can be simple. Here is mine:

    My Pregnancy Manifesto: 
    To fiercely empower myself for my own well being and that of my children through self-education and surrounding myself with those who want to help me thrive as a mother and succeed as a woman. In addition, through my professional degree(s) in women's health therapies and my own experience in childbirth and mothering, my mission is to, during my pregnancy, especially reach out to other women and mothers so they too can enjoy a fit and fearless pregnancy and motherhood.
  2. After creating your Pregnancy Manifesto, use it to help you find a Prenatal Yoga Class which should:
    • Support and respect your choices about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.
    • Invite movement and meditation that provides a platform for education not just about pregnancy, but also for labor, delivery, and postpartum health and well being.  
    • Be taught, preferably, by someone with an education in both prenatal/postpartum medical yoga and be a licensed medical professional in the field of women's health. You can visit PYT (Professional Yoga Therapy) to find prenatal teachers throughout the US and Canada who are trained in medical prenatal/postpartum therapeutic yoga and are also licensed medical providers in women's health. Always inquire as to the level of your yoga teacher's education.
    • Move at a slower pace than a regular yoga class - for safety and thorough instruction.  Even if you are an advanced yogini, your body will respond differently to your pre-pregnancy yoga routine. You are at increased risk for injury due to physiological and hormonal changes, so don't feel like a slower pace means an easier or less effective class. 
    • Allow for experimentation and provide many modifications for poses.  I have found that each pregnancy brings its own special needs.  Postures which worked for one pregnancy were not beneficial or effective during my other pregnancies. As a result, I treat each woman and her pregnancy individually. A good prenatal yoga teacher can safely modify every pose to suit you and your medical needs.  
    • Provide a safe, confidence building environment. If you do not feel empowered and supported by the class, leave immediately.
    • Not be rigid. Your teacher should not force a pose to be a certain shape. Pregnancy is NOT a time to challenge the body, it is a time to nurture, protect, and prepare you for birth.
    • Be playful.
    • Be safe. A good prenatal teacher should get to know you and every student in her class, and as a result, should know your strengths, weaknesses, and understand any medical history that would affect your participation. A good prenatal teacher knows her limitations and which conditions require referral to a medical professional.
    • Encourage team communication with the physician and midwife for coordinated prenatal care.
    • Teach meditation, breathing, and postures appropriate for each trimester, and if the teacher is qualified, (PYT teachers are) also teach yoga that addresses childbirth education and labor and delivery pain management techniques.
    • Encourage partner poses with the spouse, birth partner, doula, or labor coach.
    • ALWAYS - Be personally approved in writing by your medical doctor (ob/gyn) and/or midwife.

    Happy Prenatal Yoga Class Hunting and Baby Growing!

    A Final Note:  Helping Mothers
    I am a mother's biggest fan.  I invite you to send this blog post to your your expectant family and friends who are either planning a family, pregnant, or are a new mom.  Joining my blog is free and each week brings the latest information in fitness, holistic parenting, and wellness for mothers from many caring, compassionate experts in the field.

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