When I was 15 weeks pregnant I left my one year old at home and ventured out to a pregnancy yoga class. It was my third attempt in as many weeks to take my I-could-vomit-at-any-moment sick self to class. Until this point every moment of every day since we’d conceived had been about surviving (more on that here), so this yoga class was my first attempt to focus on the pregnancy in a positive way, connect with the baby in my womb and do something for my own health. And though I missed a few classes due to the sickness, most of the time it became my weekly retreat.I’ve done yoga when I’m not pregnant, but I particularly like doing it when I am pregnant (especially seeing as exercise options become limited, and it is one practice that is safe and very beneficial). Over two pregnancies I have done two different pre-natal classes, two different mums and babes classes and a post-natal class.
The thing I love about yoga is it focuses on health holistically, and it is as much about mental health as it is about physical health. As mums, whose worlds have completely changed, who make a thousand tiny decisions every day, and who are entirely responsible for the wellbeing of little people, our mental health is both vulnerable and vitally important.
Physically it has great benefits too (we all know yoga is good for us, right?) You could probably do any yoga class and the instructor would modify the poses for you but I would recommend doing a pregnancy specific class. That way you get to learn techniques to deal with all those niggling pregnancy symptoms (like how to prevent night time leg cramps and what to do if you wake up in the night with a searing cramp in your calf. And no, the answer is not to punch your calf over and over until it goes away…) And even if you don’t have any niggling pregnancy symptoms, pregnancy changes everything about every part of your body and with the right instructor you can learn so much about what is happening to your body, what to do and what to expect. Oh, and you’ll find yourself in a room full of pregnant women – the information and connections you can gain from this is invaluable (but don’t go to make friends as you might be disappointed…)
Now, let’s talk about pelvic floor. You know the poor muscles that get stretched and pulled and damaged in pregnancy and birth? If you’ve given birth in an Australian public hospital recently you’ll know they offer you a session with the physio who teaches you to isolate those muscles and pull them ‘in and up’. It’s a half hour session, and then you’re on your own with only the daily exercises prescribed to you and a black and white hand out with instructions. And these exercises are BORING. They are the epitome of boring. They are so easy to forget or not do properly. But they are so important. Enter pre/post-natal yoga. The instructor will talk you through a pelvic floor segment and teach you that there are actually many ways to strengthen your pelvic floor and many exercises you can do. And if you’re lacking motivation to do them, at least you’ll know that once a week in your yoga class your pelvic floor will get a good work out (I am not endorsing only doing pelvic floor exercises once a week, you should do them daily like the hospital tells you to, I’m just saying that if you don’t at least you know that you will at your yoga class.) These pelvic floor exercises are important before and after birth, which is one of the reasons I am currently doing post-natal yoga rather than a normal yoga class.
When my firstborn was a few months old we started mums and babes yoga. And I thought it was the best thing ever. At this stage I was absolutely attached to my firstborn, I didn’t want or need space from her, I saw it as a lovely thing that we could do together. She would lie on the floor and look up at me with big eyes, she looked very happy and interested, so I felt it was lovely for her too. We continued doing yoga together until she started crawling, when it got too hard to keep her in one spot.
Last week I went to a mums and babes yoga class, with my second baby, but I felt completely differently. Yes, it was a lovely thing to do with her (and we did baby massage and some movement just for her), but right now my entire life is about doing lovely things for my baby and toddler. It is always about them. Yoga is the one thing, the one hour every week, that is not about my little people. Yoga is about me. And I find we do a lot more actual yoga in a yoga class than in a mums and babes yoga class where I need to break to feed my daughter, settle her etc. So this time around I’m not continuing with the mums and babes class, instead I’m doing the post-natal class on a Saturday morning.
What surprised me though is how differently I feel about mums and babes yoga between my first and second child. I’m sure this is a second time mum thing, a symptom of caring for children around the clock and having been doing so for nearly two years now. I have a need for my own personal space and for me time that I didn’t have when my firstborn was small. Motherhood has seasons, and this showed me that I am in a very different season the second time around.
So, where do I go to do this yoga that I’m harping on about?
Here I’d like to shout out to two of my favourite yoga places, Blissful Bellies in Durban and Kula Yoga in Melbourne. I’ve done pre and post-natal and mums and babes yoga at both. Both are so different but each was my favourite time of the week.
The first one is Isabel at Blissful Bellies in Durban, South Africa. She runs this yoga from the garage of her home. Her classes are small and intimate, she knows each of her students and their children. Her classes are casual – there’s always time for a chat before class and there’s a WhatsApp group for everyone to communicate throughout the week. As well as being an awesome practice it also became a little pregnant community for me – women I could message throughout the week to chat about all things pregnancy. It was lovely to regularly be in a room full of pregnant women and share what was going on for us. And it was even more lovely to see the birth announcements rolling in on the WhatsApp group as the months passed.
In Australia, I’ve been going to Kula Yoga in Hawthorn East and though it feels completely different I love it there too! The pre and post-natal classes are taught by Andi and Steph who have clearly been trained in this area and you get a lot of information about changes in your body and different poses that can help. And Steph and Andi say lovely things to help you visualise and connect with your baby, reminding you to acknowledge the divine feminine, the natural mother inside you. I leave the studio, feeling great physically and also with a sense of calm. The main downfall of the Kula class is that it is only on once a week, which means that if you miss it, it’s two weeks between classes.
So, did yoga help me with birth?
I thought yoga might help me with birth. In pre-natal yoga we talk a lot about positions for labour, hip openers and breathing through discomfort. I thought it was great preparation for birth. But I’m going to be honest and say I don’t think it helped me in the delivery room. Birth is such an overwhelming experience (you can read Zara’s birth story here) that I forgot everything I knew and had practiced and the pain was so intense that nothing could ease it. But it did help me feel confident in the lead up to the birth and in my body’s ability to give birth. And I do believe that if my doula (who is also a yoga teacher) had made it to our birth she may have been able to guide me through some breathing and positions to help.
It is recommended that women wait six weeks after delivery before they return to exercise. Luckily yoga is one of the first exercises that you can return to. I really missed my weekly practice in those six weeks. But now I’m back on the mat. And the best thing about starting yoga again postpartum is that all of the sudden all the poses and sequences are so much easier and you can do them without dragging your huge, heavy, pregnant body from one position to another and feeling like your squashed lungs just can’t get enough air to move. Ah, the bliss of being able to move again!
Life is busy and it’s hard to find time for myself with two kids. So don’t invite me anywhere on a Saturday morning. You’ll find me on my mat.
This post is not sponsored in any way, and the opinion here is mine alone. I genuinely love yoga and think it really helped me through two pregnancies.