Prenatal Yoga is not the same as "Gentle Yoga"

Hey there,

When I share that one of my specialities is teaching prenatal yoga, a common reaction is that it must be super gentle, slow, and full of stretching. In 99% of situations, people think that prenatal yoga is more “restorative”//”gentle” and it certainly can be (and at the end of every practice it is), but it’s also building stamina and strength, teaching women how to work with and through sensation (i.e. preparing for contractions), and sometimes, there is sweat.

Birth is an incredible physical feat for the body, and in my opinion, prenatal yoga provides a safe space to strength the legs, engage and release the pelvic floor, strengthen the “right” abdominal muscles, etc. With that, do I advocate for high impact exercises during pregnancy? Or “heated” classes? Or constant up and down vigorous movement? No. No, I don’t (actually, my pelvic floor hurts just thinking about it). But, my favorite comment to hear after a prenatal yoga class is, “Wow, I feel strong, but calm” or “That was so uplifting and reminded me of my strength.” YAAAS.

While I’ve shared safe approaches to practicing yoga and movement in other posts, I thought I’d expand upon my philosophy towards teaching prenatal yoga here. If it resonates, I hope that you find a teacher, practice, or place that reflects the same philosophy. Note: We can work together, too, in person or via Zoom to help you feel confident and healthy in your body during pregnancy and postpartum.

My approach to sharing prenatal yoga:

  1. Our pregnant bodies are not broken, and want to move and feel strong (though this can vary day by day).

  2. Pregnancy demands different (and safe!) accommodations as our bodies grow, change, and adapt to support the life of another human being, and the wellbeing of you, the mother.

  3. What we do, how we move, how we breathe, and how we interact with our surroundings during pregnancy can affect our birth experiences, and the wellbeing of our bodies and minds during our postpartum experiences.

  4. The needs of a pregnant woman can vary throughout her pregnancy (morning sickness, fatigue, sore muscles, symphysis pubis, etc.), and a prenatal program meets her where she’s at on any given day.

  5. Building community and sharing knowledge helps women realize the choices they have during pregnancy and motherhood, alongside a supportive group of women.

Let’s break these down briefly, yes?

If you’re pregnant, your body is not broken or “less than.” Your body is beautiful and strong and maybe different than it was (or different than other bodies around you), and this is something to work with. Regular movement, and especially a prenatal practice, will help strengthen the physical body, while also finding proper stretching to open the hips, shoulders, and relieve tension that might accumulate in the back. It’s okay to feel strong as you practice. It’s not okay to feel light headed or to overheat or feel too much pressure on the pelvic floor. A knowledgeable teacher will know the balance.

Art by @yogaprints

Art by @yogaprints

With that, there are accommodations to be made as you step into or continue a yoga practice. There is such a thing as “over-stretching” during pregnancy (the hormone relaxin makes your body more flexible). We do not want to put pressure on the abdominal wall (the belly) or strengthen the rectus abdominis (the “six pack” muscles), but working with the obliques and the transverse abdominals is very helpful for birth and beyond. Further, by practicing safe shoulder and chest openers, twists, forward bends, and strengthening postures, we’re working with the soft tissues of the body, finding more ease as we move throughout our everyday and hopefully allowing our bodies to get into the right positions to deliver our babies. Emphasis on “safe” and proper modifications for these postures, because they do look different during pregnancy.

Finally, I firmly believe that what we do during pregnancy can affect our birth and postpartum experiences, both physically and mentally. Practicing yoga is known to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system - the “rest and digest” state, which is necessary to birth our babies. We want to feel calm, grounded, safe, supported. We don’t want to feel constant fear, anxiety, worry, and/or stress. Yoga equips us with not only physical movement, but breathing techniques and meditation practices that help us acknowledge and work with challenging emotions during pregnancy, birth, and during our transition to new motherhood.

It is my aim to support women as they transition into motherhood through pregnancy, birth, and during the postpartum experience, too. As a student and practitioner of yoga therapy, I use the physical body as a portal to wellness, while honoring where women are at mentally and emotionally. And, I’d love to work with you. I’ll be sharing more about yoga therapy services soon. Above all, please move your body is way that honors your pregnancy (and feels good!), find teachers you trust, and communities who will support you.

With love,
Leanne

P.S. While I periodically teach group Prenatal Yoga classes now in Rhode Island, I’m exploring new ways of supporting women during pregnancy. I’m especially interested in a yoga therapy approach, using the movement as a gateway to wellbeing, while honoring where emotions, too. How would you like to work together moving forward? Have you seen a specialist to support your movement and wellbeing during pregnancy specifically? I’d love to hear from you. With <3.

The body is a gateway towards your healing

Hey there,

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to "heal" lately.

Does it happen just after a trauma? Is it reserved for specific physical circumstances? Does something "big" have to happen in order to validate the healing process? How do you heal the repetitive negative patterns going on in your mind? In your body? Can healing serve as preventative care?

What I do know about the healing process is that it takes TIME. Effort. And, it usually is helpful to have a support system in place. People like therapists, yoga therapists, a trusted friend, a partner, a parent, a doctor, an acupuncturist, a yoga teacher, a spiritual teacher, etc. can be tremendously helpful in facilitating and guiding your healing process.

Emphasis on guides. At some point, YOU have to learn how to listen as your body speaks. YOU have to do the work of learning to go within, slow down, ask yourself the right questions, get still, and listen for the answers.

And, this is in direct opposition to our culture. We often (though not always) want quick fixes and band-aids so that we can go back to “doing” at what we don’t even perceive to be warp speed, avoiding our pain and traumas, and by doing so we never actually heal. We never actually find wellness. We never actually get to the root causes of what made us unwell in the first place, and so the cycle will continue.

***

If I'm honest, I've really opened myself up to the possibilities of what healing is and what it can look like, especially during my training as a yoga therapist. For me, it often starts with the body. Movement has always been a way to connect with my highest self, source, the Divine, whatever you want to call it, and the most beneficial path for me has been yoga (up until 10 years ago, it was modern dance). Although my yoga lately doesn’t always look like the “yoga” you might see on Instagram and YouTube…

And, your variation of yoga doesn’t have to look like Instagram or YouTube either.

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You can practice Restorative Yoga, only doing five poses in an hour with the support of props like pillows, blocks, blankets, bolsters, and neck rolls to allow yourself to really relax. You can put on music and light a candle, roll out your mat, and simply move to the rhythm of your own heartbeat. You can use yoga therapy balls to roll out the fascia and tissue in the arches of your feet, IT bands, shoulders, the upper chest, hips and low back. You can choose a more vigorous practice followed by a 10 minute savasana.

Whatever you do, focus on your healing, rather than your “fitness” if healing is what you need. Focus on what is happening within your body from the inside out. How does it feel? Where is the tightness? Where do you contract? What are you holding on to or guarding? So much is stored in the body. Memories, pain, trauma. I'm learning to move it out and, through my own self study, how to help others move it out, too. But, this won’t happen in a day or even a week. Your healing will likely take time.

I’m still thinking and studying about the questions on healing from above, but I have a few thoughts to bring this full circle.

  1. Trauma is a word with a wide range of differences. What might be “trauma” to one individual may not be to another. And, because of this variability, some of us push aside our experiences as not a trauma, and healing doesn’t begin as early as it could.

  2. Healing isn’t only reserved for the physical body. Your feelings matter. Honoring them matters. And, often those emotions can affect our physical state of well-being. Healing your emotional layer is a recognition that you are NOT broken, but that you’re hitting some bumps along your journey and may need support to remind yourself of your wholeness.

  3. Experiencing our bodies and reconnecting with them is a gateway towards allowing ourselves to heal. Movement (but not always vigorously), breathing, and meditation combined with other modalities (talk therapy, acupuncture, seeing a doctor, getting into nature, etc.) can be wildly effective in your growth and well-being.

I imagine this is the first post of more to come on what it means to heal, and how we can begin to facilitate our own healing process. Try reconnecting with your body as a start. Gather a support system, but know that it’s only YOU who can really know what you need. Your body is a gateway to the answers that are buried within your being. And, it is already speaking to you. Know that this process is not a quick fix, but it’s more sustainable in the long run. Let’s begin our healing journey there. Yes?

With love,
Leanne

P.S. I’d love to hear how this resonates with you, especially as I continue down this path in yoga therapy. I look forward to sharing how we might work together in a yoga therapy capacity, working towards healing using a combination of movement and yoga postures, breathing techniques, meditation, and talking about whatever needs to come up in the moment. And, I’d love to answer your questions about yoga therapy, too.