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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

Gentry, meanwhile, says as the day of her labor nears, this is exactly what she's concerned with. "I realize the next few weeks are about melting and softening, allowing the cervix to soften," says Gentry. "Keeping it all together is easy for me. I'm a tough girl. I'm courageous. But now it's the letting go that I have to do. I have some real anxiety about that. Can I do that? I realize what is going to get me there is being able to be by myself and really go inward, inward, inward."

What to Expect

The prenatal classes at Golden Bridge might be the largest congregation of pregnant women in Los Angeles. Mats and pillows seem to line every inch of the big V-shaped studio, giving no hint of the hardwood floors underneath. Gurmukh sits on a stage covered with sheepskin, flowers, and candles, reading birth announcements and notes from "graduates" as if at a family gathering. Women of all shapes, sizes, and colors sit in Sukhasana (Easy Pose) and hold their hands in gyan mudra, thumb and index fingers touching, often leaning to whisper and laugh with a neighbor. Before any actual yoga is done, each will introduce herself to the group and give news of her pregnancy in a round-robin exchange. One woman shares with the group her sadness that after having planned for a home birth, she might have to have a C-section. She can't get her baby to turn, and her midwife won't deliver breech.

"Everybody talks about how they want to attain a home birth, but an aware birth is really the only goal," Gurmukh tells her, but it is a lesson for the class. "Children are born at the exact time and location and to the parents to whom they are destined. We're born into this life to grow spiritually, and we only grow by experiences. Some children may need to be airlifted."

On this note the class begins. Each woman has her hands in anjali mudra (prayer position or namaste) as they chant the mantra Ong Na Mo Guru Dev Na Mo, meaning "I bow to the creative wisdom inside myself." A series of stretching, breathing, and warm-up poses for the spine and the opening of the pelvic area follow. The class then moves into a deceptively simple exercise, holding their arms out and moving their hands around their wrists for three minutes. It becomes difficult very quickly. Just like a contraction, everybody gets through it. The class rests for a moment. Gurmukh asks everyone to pick a partner, holding each other wrist-to-wrist, supporting each other through a series of half-squats. Then, the music begins. "Okay everybody, time for the soul train," Gurmukh says, clapping and jumping down from the stage. The women form two lines, coming in twos down the middle dancing and clapping, and mostly, laughing. The experience of all these large-bellied women dancing, the candlelight, and the aroma of incense feels slightly pagan, definitely primal. No one seems to notice that they have gently elevated their heart rates. Finally, each finds her place among the mats and returns to Easy Pose for a series of pPranayama exercises and relaxation.

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