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Pregnancy and Yoga: A Match Made in Heaven?
The birth of a child is one of the most monumental moments in a mother’s life. It is not only awe-inspiring to witness this miracle of creation so intimately throughout pregnancy, but equally transformative for a woman to experience her own birth as she steps into the threshold of motherhood. This shared journey of growth and discovery changes a woman forever.
My first pregnancy came one year after I ‘birthed’ my first yoga studio in Los Angeles. Opening our space had been a labor of love, one I tirelessly commited to like any new mother instinctively would. When I realized I was pregnant, I was grateful that the studio had sprouted into a beautiful community of support to help water its growth.
It was joyful for me to experience how seamless the great teachings of yoga supported my pregnancy. Diving deeply into the practices of asana, pranayama, chanting and meditation became a sacred play of deepening connections to both my body and my baby. Yoga was truly the ‘glue’ that helped me stay conscious to all the changes taking place-- strengthening the areas that were becoming unstable; opening the muscles that unconsciously held tension. My practice became a gift that continued to guide and support me even during the extraordinary moments of Luca’s birth.
As a yoga teacher & trainer, I was excited to share my experiences and began to teach prenatal yoga classes during my pregnancy. I also began teaching prenatal yoga in our teacher trainings. Eventually, as my wealth of knowledge grew, I began to develop longer prenatal yoga courses, and I turned my training manual into a book. When Yoga Alliance added certification for 85-hour prenatal trainings, my program was one of the first to be accepted.
My greatest gift during my pregnancy was meeting my doula (support), Anna Verwaal, who inspired me to expand my perspective about pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. She asked me questions that challenged the norm, and introduced me to authors, midwives, shamans and doctors who also courageously veered off the ‘traditional’ path. I was given books to read like Dr. Grantly Dick-Read’s Childbirth Without Fear; Dr. Sarah Buckley’s Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices; and Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. I am forever grateful to her for her early guidance which has definitely brought more dimension into my trainings and life.
Even after fifteen years of teaching prenatal yoga and training hundreds of teachers internationally, I am still amazed at how pregnancy and yoga are a match made in heaven. I feel blessed every single time I have the opportunity to empower a woman in her pregnancy and/or support her as a new mother. I also know that as more yoga teachers learn and share this valuable information, we have the potential to evolve a whole new generation of conscious beings, one birth at a time.
If you are a new mother-to-be, where do you start? In all of my trainings, and even my pubic classes, I emphasize to start with the breath, and come back to the breath. This holds especially true for pregnancy and yoga. Enjoy this excerpt from my book, in which I share the first Essential of a Healthy Prenatal Yoga Practice… the Breath...
Excerpt from Sue’s Book – Dig Pregnancy, Birth, & Baby: A Conscious & Empowered Approach to Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga
The breath is the Divine’s manifestation into each of us. It is the very thing that connects us all in life, and yet each of us has our own experience of it. Pregnancy is the only time when two heartbeats (mother and child) share one breath. Through the breath, the mother can consciously communicate her innermost feelings to her baby. The more lovingly a woman brings her awareness to the breath, the more it naturally expands and relaxes into both her and her baby.
Cultivating a yogic breath called ‘ujjayi’ is a powerful tool to help a woman calm the mind and relax the body throughout her pregnancy and in the early stages of labor. Ujjayi breathing can be done by tightening the glottis muscles in the back of the throat and making a whisper-like sound on both inhalation and exhalation. As active labor progresses, staying attuned to the breath will help a woman remain more deeply in her ‘primal zone’ — allowing the proper hormones to be released, the cervix to naturally dilate, and stronger contractions to occur that ultimately support delivery. The breath becomes a wonderful companion for a woman to feel less tension mentally and physically and can support her in fully participating (and enjoying!) the birth process.
Pranayama (expanding the breath through various breathing exercises) is a great way for a woman to build concentration, focus the mind, and connect more fully to her baby. The word ‘prana’ literally means life force and is the key to all health and wellbeing. Prana is also described as the divine Goddess Shakti. Rather than controlling prana (the Goddess), we learn to dance with her. The more a woman can connect to the pulsations of Shakti, the more energy, clarity, and peace she will feel during pregnancy, and the more she will experience her labor with greater understanding.
Note: Pregnant women should NEVER hold their breath while practicing pranayama.
Sue Elkind is recognized internationally in the yoga community as a teacher’s teacher, with over 20 years of yoga experience. Her in-depth knowledge of alignment and therapeutics, along with her passion to teach from her heart, allows her students to expand their potential both physically and spiritually. Sue is an expert in prenatal and postnatal yoga and a lifelong meditator. As a mother of two beautiful boys she proudly home-birthed, Sue is dedicated to empowering women through yoga in all stages of life.
Sue is owner and director of Dig Yoga’s 200 and 500 hour teacher training programs, and developed a Pre/Post Natal Training that she offers worldwide. She enjoys donating her time teaching fundraisers for various causes and is the author of DIG Pregnancy, Birth & Baby: A Conscious and Empowered Approach to Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga. Inspired by keeping great company, quality time in nature and her loving family, Sue co-founded Dig Yoga in 2010 with Naime Jezzeny in Lambertville, NJ, as a place to nourish the body, mind and heart with yoga.