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.

Abdominal Separation [and what to if you have it or suspect you have it]

Hey there,

There are SO MANY things I wish women knew about pregnancy that simply aren’t talked about nearly enough. Pelvic floor health, the postpartum period, perinatal anxiety, your choices during birth, and perhaps really important [to me as a yoga teacher] is sharing the RIGHT movement for your body.

There’s something called diastasis recti (DR) that occurs for many women [and I might argue all] during pregnancy, especially towards the end of the third trimester. Diastasis recti means “abdominal separation.” It occurs when the connective tissue, known as the linea alba, between the two sides of the rectus abdominis (the “six pack” muscles) is stretched. During pregnancy, our bellies and the linea alba naturally stretches to accommodate a growing baby. See figure below:

diastasis during pregnancy.jpeg

After giving birth, we want to encourage the rectus abdominus to start to knit back towards one another, decreasing the stretch of that linea alba. Some women experience greater degrees of separation during pregnancy and postpartum. While this is a common experience, living with DR is NOT normal and also not healthy. Why? Because you may experience:

  • Chronic low back pain'

  • Incontinence

  • Lack of core strength

  • Lack of stability in your pelvis and pelvic floor

And, because the linea alba is so stretched, there is only stretched connective tissue/skin to protect your internal organs, rather than your core muscles.

While I do believe that most (if not all) women experience some degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy and initially postpartum, there are postures in yoga and physical fitness that can exacerbate it, and ones that can minimize it, too.

During Pregnancy:

  • When your belly starts to become noticeable, STOP the planks, crunches, bicycles, anything that puts pressure on the abdominal wall. You’ll know you’re contributing to DR when your belly “cones” or “shark fins” in the center. That’s skin pushing through the abdominals. Core work is important during pregnancy, so try deep breathing and modified side planks to engage the obliques - not the rectus abdominis muscles.

  • Let go of deep backbends in pregnancy. Heart opening is lovely and stretches the chest and the shoulders, and is especially helpful as the breasts become heavier. However, postures like wheel, full camel, even too much of cat posture (from cat/cow) stretch the belly and linea alba way too much. Protect this area with light heart opening postures - if you can feel a stretch across the top of your belly (and definitely the bottom), you’ve likely gone too far.

During the Postpartum Period:

  • See above! Refrain from “core work” like planks, crunches, etc. and refrain from deep backbends, even if your care provider has confirmed you are ready for “exercise.” Rebuilding core strength slowly and taking into account the massive changes your body has experienced will encourage stable and long lasting healing/strength.

  • A few days postpartum, start practicing belly breathing. While seated on a chair or cushion, or even lying on your back, sit up tall, close your eyes, and place your hands on either side of your abdomen. Inhale to feel the belly expand a bit, and as you exhale gently encourage the rectus abdominis towards one another with your hands. Emphasis on gently. As the weeks go on, start to deepen your breath, taking longer inhales and slower exhales. You’ll start to “turn on” your core muscles slowly. Try for three minutes, five minutes, maybe even 10 if you have it.

  • Six - eight weeks postpartum, try pelvic tilts. While lying on the floor, bend your knees so the soles of the feet are in contact with the floor. Relax. Notice the space in between the low back and the floor. Place your hands at your hip points. Take an inhale, and as you exhale, gently scoop the pelvis up so your low back presses into the floor (do not lift the hips to do so). Inhale to release. Try five times, then 10. Taking breaks and repeating. This should feel subtle, but enough that you start to feel muscles working that had been dormant for awhile!

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take it slow postpartum. Prioritizing your healing and a rehabilitation of the core, rather than how quickly to strengthen and tone it, will be much more beneficial for your body. Re-entering into exercise, especially high impact, too quickly can worsen diastasis recti and cause issues like incontinence and prolapse. Think tortoise, rather than the hare, during the postpartum period.

As always, I do love reading your stories. Have you experienced DR? What did you do to heal your abdominal separation? I learn a great deal from you and the students I work with in class. If you’re still seeking support, please find a Pelvic Floor PT to assess your DR, or contact me to create a therapeutic postnatal yoga program. Yes, I am in Rhode Island, but we can also work together via Zoom/Skype! I hope this is helpful to you, dear mama.

With love,
Leanne

Your relationship to your body

Note: This message may be a trigger for those dealing with body dysmorphia or eating disorders; however, it focuses less on that and more about true self-love.


Hey there,

There was a time I was seriously disconnected from my body.

My obsession with my body as a thing outside of “me” didn’t really begin until my mid-20’s. At that time, I had been dealing with chronic stomach pain and overwhelming anxiety. Eventually, I’d get a diagnosis of severe gluten intolerance, but not before I dealt with all the stress through extreme physical exercise and an obsession with “eating clean” (a term I now loathe…but, we can talk about that in a later letter). I’ve shared this before, but both practices affected my fertility and even more than that, they altered my relationship with myself.

When I started to find a healing path, I promised to give myself more grace and to celebrate my body throughout all its stages of life and giving life. It’s been a long road to get here, and I cannot say I look in the mirror every day and don’t find something to critique. But, I can say, after having a baby I truly am more comfortable being in my body than I ever have been before (at least in my adult life…I’m pretty sure my toddler self was in awe of her body). But, it’s not just because of the “having a baby,” but because of the relationship I started to develop with my body over the years. What is your relationship like with your body?

Image from #takebackpostpartum via @nazzie_ox on Instagram

Image from #takebackpostpartum via @nazzie_ox on Instagram

***

Yes, today is a day of romance and love [Happy Valentine’s Day!], but before you radiate that love outwards, can you focus on you? Consider:

What is your relationship to your body?
How do you talk to her?
How do you treat her?
Do you listen to her needs?
Do you know how?
Do believe it’s even important to listen?
What could you do TODAY to show love to your body?

***

Before finally conceiving, I remember realizing that my way towards wellness was to start to believe and embody that joy did not come from my physical looks or even abilities. They are not associated. I could choose to feel joy and happiness, even if I didn’t go for a five mile run, even if my body didn’t look the way I “wanted” it to. I started to find joy in other ways - more yoga (no hot yoga), more long walks, more slowing down to prepare a nutritious meal, more notes on my mirror that said things like “I love and approve of myself” (I’m serious), and really listening to what my body wanted on any given day (rather than what I thought I should do or had to do). I found joy in how my body could feel…and she could feel amazing, which in turn could create feelings of joy.

I promised to take care of myself the same way during pregnancy - to appreciate a growing baby, to move in ways that felt good (more prenatal yoga) + LOTS of walks - and later postpartum - to take my time to heal, practice deep breathing to connect and slowly rehab my core & pelvic floor, get outside, and to try not to judge my belly.

But, I’ve found that it’s really hard to come to this realization when we are disconnected from our bodies. Your body, your mind, and your soul are delicately intertwined and each is trying to talk to you all the time. But, are you listening? I think that’s the first question towards building a relationship: How can you listen to your body more? Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes and ask that question. Note what comes up. And, based on the answer: How can you show your body you love her? Is it rest? More deep breathing and meditation? More warming soups? Getting outside? Patience?

Your body is a vessel meant to help you live out your work in this life (familial, professional, etc.), and we certainly want to treat it well. It is an undeniable part of you, but our bodies alone do not hold the key to contentment or love. So, maybe the next time you find yourself getting frustrated with her, you start to build the relationship: What does my body need in this moment? Am I listening? I can promise that with time this will be incredibly healing, and will help you establish more of a connection (and appreciation) with your Self [not a typo].

With love,
Leanne



P.S. This week I’ve been writing about listening to our bodies and also connecting with the deepest layer of ourselves (really our beings), too. You might also like reading this piece on your heart’s deepest desire.

P.P.S. Thank you to all who answered the Q’s from the last email! I will be responding to your tremendously helpful thoughts soon, and am excited for what’s to unfold next for Yoga Dear Mama.

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I share encouraging, informative, and down to earth messages, each with a healthy dose of humor and honesty. Basically, the kind of thing I'd want to read during pregnancy and later postpartum...because gosh motherhood is confusing. When you subscribe, you'll receive my messages on What I wish I would've known before baby & a quick guide on the Yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy.

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