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More and more mothers-to-be are turning to Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa's gentle asana practice to prepare emotionally and physically for labor.

By Samantha Dunn

Women do exercise in Gurmukh's prenatal yoga classes, but if all you want to do is sweat, you'll miss the point entirely. "Women think, 'If I just get in shape, labor will be easier, or I'll feel more in control.' But those abs of steel are a false sense of security. It's not about getting in shape," says 57-year-old Khalsa, who has been a Kundalini Yoga teacher for almost 30 years and has a 16-year-old daughter. She points to her turbaned head. "It's about getting this in shape. Once a woman owns her life, she owns her birth."

That's ultimately the purpose of the Khalsa Way, the birthing preparation system for which prenatal yoga seekers come to Gurmukh's studio, Golden Bridge. Classes given by Gurmukh's childbirth preparation coteacher, Davi Kaur Khalsa, an R.N. and certified childbirth educator, teach couples about the physical realities of labor, what to expect, what biological functions occur, and what nutritional support the body needs. But more than just offering birth classes, the Khalsa Way extols emotional and spiritual work as being integral to childbirth, and beyond.

"Preparing for your birth is about preparing for your life as a mother," says Davi. Ideally, according to the Khalsa Way (which is based on the Kundalini Yoga teachings Yogi Bhajan brought to the United States from India in 1969), the preparation should begin long before conception.

You might think you're just having a baby, but to the Khalsa Way you have the chance to do nothing short of save the world. Literally. "All we need are a few more saints. A Jesus. One Buddha will do!" says Gurmukh, smiling. "Take His Holiness the Dali Lama, for instance. Look at what the contribution of just one little man can do."

Ideals aside, Gurmukh and Davi know most of us aren't so saintly, and they don't expect anybody to be. In fact, the majority of the women attending Gurmukh's prenatal yoga classes have never done yoga before. She tells them just to begin where they are. "Your babies will be grateful for anything you do for them through this. You can change the destiny of your child in the world just by the way you breathe, just by the way you move," she says. The Khalsa Way teaches that babies adopt the breathing patterns of their mothers while in the womb and continue it for life, so mothers who learn yogic breathing are, by extension, giving that gift to their children.

Yoga is the cornerstone of the Khalsa Way. "Basically, it takes you out of thinking into feeling, from the mental mind into the meditative mind," says Gurmukh. "You have to look at birth this way: For thousands of years nobody read books on birthing; they just watched their mothers, their sisters. They attended birthings. They didn't know when they were due—they just counted the moons. All they knew was how they felt. Kundalini Yoga can take us out of our heads and back into our bodies to feel. It's a much different approach than intellectually approaching birth and having to transfer thought down to the pelvis."

They also believe that every month a woman is pregnant she actually relives, on an emotional level, her own unconscious emotional experience in her mother's womb. The grounding practice of yoga, they say, can provide a framework for dealing with the turbulent emotions of pregnancy.

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