Today's Daily Tip
Labor of Love
After the birth of her first child, Colleen Millen, 35, knew that she would approach childbirth differently if given another chance. Then a Forrest Yoga teacher in Chicago, Millen stuck to her typical yoga routine throughout her pregnancy. She modified her practice as her belly blossomed, but she shrugged off the prenatal classes at her studio, assuming her years of practicing yoga had bestowed on her the tools for a trouble-free childbirth.
But when the initial pangs of labor brought unrelenting nausea, Millen and her husband raced to the hospital, where her confidence unraveled. Nurses rushed to start intravenous fluids and hook up equipment to monitor the baby's heart rate. Millen was soon on her back, and as the contractions intensified, so did her feelings of helplessness. "I'd practiced yoga for years, but none of that was a comfort when the pain came," she says. After a long, difficult labor, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Jacob, but she still feels haunted by the lack of presence she felt during the experience.
Three years later, while planning for baby number two, Millen dived into prenatal yoga. "I cultivated a strong prenatal practice so that when the time came, the movements and breath would kick in instinctually." And that's what happened. When her labor began, Millen focused her attention on a gazing point, relaxed her jaw (to encourage the pelvis to release), and harnessed the power of her breath to make the most of every contraction. "My preparation helped me surrender to the energy and move with it instead of fighting and struggling against it."
After just 15 minutes of pushing, she and her husband welcomed their daughter, Samantha, into the world. But even if she'd had to face an arduous labor again, Millen believes that her prenatal practice would've helped. Not only did she feel more physically prepared the second time around, but she felt as though her mind and energy were more united throughout the entire birth experience.
Prenatal yoga, the deliberate weaving together of yoga and childbirth preparation, opens the door for women to reclaim their physical, mental, and emotional power and receptivity during the birth process. "Somehow, as women, we think we will automatically know how to give birth," says Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, co--founder and director of Golden Bridge Yoga in Los Angeles, who has taught prenatal yoga for nearly 30 years. "But we are so detached from our instinctual selves that sometimes we need to be reminded of what we already know."
For a growing number of women, that reminder is prenatal yoga. Expectant mothers in urban centers are flocking to yoga studios that have whimsical names such as Mamaste and Baby Om, while moms-to-be in smaller locales are finding a proliferation of prenatal classes at yoga studios, gyms, and birthing centers. What's the universal appeal? Prenatal yoga classes offer a place of refuge where women learn to connect with their changing bodies, their babies, and each other. asana prepares them physically for giving birth, but most women find that the awareness of body, mind, and breath that it teaches is what truly helps them when it's time to deliver. As Rachel Yellin, a prenatal yoga teacher in San Francisco, says, "Doing prenatal yoga doesn't mean you'll have the 'perfect' birth; it means you'll be able to accept the perfection of the birth you're given, regardless of whether it goes according to your plan."
The community-oriented approach of prenatal yoga took Stephanie Snyder, 35, by surprise. A Vinyasa Yoga teacher in San Francisco, she was accustomed to using her practice as a means to feel connected to others. But the true meaning of oneness didn't fully resonate until she joined her first prenatal class. "When I practice yoga in the company of pregnant women, not only do I feel connected to them, but I feel connected to every woman who has ever been pregnant and any woman who will ever give birth," she says. "That primal connection is empowering, and I know it will help me through the labor and delivery."
Cultivating that bond is a big part of most prenatal classes. Like many of her counterparts, Deb Flashenberg, founder and director of the Prenatal Yoga Center in New York City, encourages the women in her classes to get to know one another. She starts each class by asking students to introduce themselves, give their due date, and share any pregnancy-related aches and pains. The check-in is both an icebreaker and a means of lessening isolation. "I can see the relief register on women's faces when they realize they aren't the only ones with a particular complaint," Flashenberg says. "The sharing of information among new mothers is a wonderful perk of prenatal yoga."
Snyder, pregnant at press time with her first child, often found that her jitters were best soothed by those women in her class who were pregnant for the second or third time. Judith Hanson Lasater, president of the California Yoga Teachers' Association and author of Yoga for Pregnancy: What Every Mom-to-Be Needs to Know, says that prenatal classes provide the space for women to pass down the legacy and wisdom of childbirth. "The way we live now, pregnant women aren't around their family and friends as much." The result? As Lasater explains, "There is very little tribal support anymore for pregnant women." Prenatal yoga can be the answer. Flashenberg notes that many of her students form bonds that last long after they leave the classroom. Connections blossom into friendships, moms' groups form, and their children often become friends. What manifests is a network of support that grows richer as their children grow.
Not Just for Newbies
The community-based atmosphere makes prenatal yoga a magnet for newbies, but even experienced students may find themselves stretching in new directions. Snyder, for instance, has practiced two to three hours of Vinyasa Yoga daily for the past 12 years. Needless to say, she knows her way around a mat, yet she's discovered the value of bringing a beginner's mind to her prenatal yoga class. For the first time, she's actively mellowing out her practice and shifting her focus away from rigorous vinyasa and toward the union of being one with her baby. "It's a great way to literally start making space in your life and in your practice for your baby," she says. "And I get to practice asana that is geared toward the special sensations and vibrations that come with pregnancy." She especially enjoys Savasana (Corpse Pose) at the end of class, when the teacher offers guided visualizations, prompting the women to envision their babies surrounded by love and warmth. "Prenatal yoga is a special bonding time for me and my child in a way that's different from my regular asana practice," Snyder says.!--page-->
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