Prenatal yoga … with an empty womb

I attended my first prenatal yoga class today, and I’m not pregnant.

The motivation was to experience and to learn, as I’m drawn to exploring this special niche within yoga.  In fact, this weekend I scheduled some practice teaching with four pregnant girlfriends.  Tonight’s prenatal yoga experience, however, triggered emotions that go deeper than the joys and anxieties of learning something new.

First, I felt slightly guilty, like I was some sort of “fraud” invading a sacred feminine space — even though I got permission ahead of time from the teacher, Teresa, to attend.  These women purposely chose a prenatal yoga class, versus a regular yoga class, for a reason: They wanted a practice tailored specifically for them.  I am not part of this “them.”  So I felt guilty.  Couldn’t help it.

It was an intimate group, just seven of us.  At the top of class, we were asked to share how this particular week of pregnancy was going.  I remember thinking to myself, “Crap, there goes being the unassuming woman in the back row.”  I loved the fostering of community and shared experience that the question inspired; but again, I was not a part of the “them.”  So I confessed to being at the practice to learn, in order to transmit the teachings to other women.  I realized, while telling the women this, that I was cradling my belly.  I didn’t get any judging looks, just a sweet smile from the teacher.

Second, it was a little surreal to be the only student not carrying child — and that in itself pried open complex feelings of maternal desire and longing.  Teresa would cue us to “Snuggle baby” or “Bring the attention back to your little one.”  I would do so to an imaginary fetus in my womb.  I began directing my intentions to a yet-to-be-born child, pretending that he or she was physically inside of me, not just within my head and heart.  This act of conjuring opened up Pandora’s Box, prompting me to toggle back and forth between various degrees of sadness and elation.  All the while, I was trying to keep these unanticipated emotions in check so that I could concentrate on the sequencing of the practice.  I wanted to embrace the emotions and recognize them, explore them — but first and foremost, I was there to learn.

I’m so glad I attended, as I did learn a lot in this single class.  Teresa was a wonderful guide.  Her class embraced beautiful flow, linking breath to movement, and female empowerment.  It wasn’t a static “Let’s sit and breathe” sort of class.  For instance, we did lots of bended knee push-ups and held asanas such as Goddess pose for lengthy amounts of time.  It was empowering, without being too straining.

Key things that I plan to integrate into practice teaching with my pregnant girlfriends:

  • Feet are never together when standing.  Always encourage a wide stance for stability.
  • Don’t be scared of movement.  Encourage a woman to move, but paying attention to her body.  If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.  Female intuition comes in handy on the mat.
  • Bolsters are great.  For a wonderful heart opener, place it long-ways behind the hips, lay back on it, and extend the arms into goal post.  For restless legs, place it near a wall and rest the hips on it while extending the legs up the wall.
  • In table, while doing cat/dog, don’t encourage arching or sinking of the belly in dog.  Instead, lengthen in the spine straight and gaze up.
  • The core can be worked while pregnant, according to Teresa.  She said while 99% of the abdominal muscles cannot be worked, you are encouraging core strength with many of the asanas.
  • No closed twists.
  • Open twists are great.  You just want to create space for baby.
  • Be mindful that students don’t compress the belly.
  • No laying on the back after 24 weeks without a bolster.
  • Avoid Malasana after 37 week *if* the baby’s head is NOT turned down yet.  Before this time, it isn’t problematic — because the baby is still moving around.
  • No crow pose.
  • Avoid inversions.
  • Poses I thought would work well into practice teaching with my pregnant girlfriends: cat/cow; lifting alternate arms/legs in table; Goddess pose; Warrior II; Side Angle; Triangle; Malasana; straddle, double pigeon; push ups on the knees; leveraging the bolster in savasana.  And I think I’ll encourage them to close the eyes as much as possible, balance permitting, to plug into their bodies and listen to their babies.
  • I also really liked this act: taking the right hand to the heart, and the left hand to the belly, while in sukhasana, at the top of class.  Then, encouraging the mother to reaffirm her commitment to the little one growing inside of her, by taking time for herself, and listening to her body.

Hmmm.  It’s a full moon tonight.  Maybe that has something to do with the emotions that bubbled up in class.  Yes, I’ll blame it on the lunar cycle.

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