Building confidence for what's to come The ones who have been here before go and get mats, pillows and a belt. The new women follow their lead and make a nest on the floor. The room is big and quiet, the women talk softly or not at all. Some move directly into a yoga pose, legs up against the wall, giving their weary feet a rest from carrying the extra weight of pregnancy. The teacher, Louann Harlow, comes in and greets each woman by name. "All right," she says, "Let's begin."
We stand in front of our mats. Bare feet feeling full contact with the floor. "Rock on your feet to find your center," Harlow instructs. "Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Hear the sound of the ocean in your exhale. Beautiful."
Through the full, rhythmic breaths Harlow teaches in this modified Ashtanga Yoga class, the women relax into their bodies, moving into the present, taking a moment to be with their babies and with themselves.
"Yoga gives a pregnant woman an understanding of herself and her body more," says Harlow. "Practicing gives her more confidence for all the changes of pregnancy and in labor."
Of mind and body
Yoga is also a physical activity. It can help strengthen the pelvic floor, the abdomen and the legs. It can stretch and ease back and shoulder aches. But the main benefit it provides pregnant women is the use of the breath. "A woman knows her body through the breath," says Harlow. "It has many benefits -- it gives the baby more oxygen, it gives the mother more energy and it can be very useful in labor and delivery."
Amy Colo also teaches prenatal yoga. She has been serving the birthing community of Boulder, Colorado for 12 years as a midwife and yoga instructor. "I am a firm believer in yoga for pregnancy," says Colo. "It helped me when I was pregnant and I can see the changes in the women in my classes. They know how to go deeper into their bodies."
The women in Harlow's class breathe and stretch and hold poses. Toward the end, she has everyone re-create their nests and lie down, knees bent. The women in late pregnancy lie on their sides. We breathe out with the sounds of the ocean, giving ourselves a few minutes of quiet presence with our bodies and our babies. True relaxation.
After Harlow brings us back from our private meditations, we quietly gather our pillows and mats and return them to the shelves. The yoga class not only provides labor preparation for our bodies but also for our spirits. It is a place we can support one another and share our feelings and concerns. It's wonderful to be with other women literally in the same state as we are. A room full of bellies, full with new life is a powerful thing to be a part of.
Harlow and Colo also invite postpartum women to join their classes and bring their young babies. Many women find themselves isolated after birth. Practicing yoga with other women gives them a chance to reclaim their bodies, they say, and be with other women and mothers. The same benefits such as strengthening the pelvic floor and easing shoulder and neck tension are equally applicable to postpartum women. Their bodies are recovering from birth and the adjustments to nursing and motherhood. They say it's best to wait at least four weeks before starting yoga again. Even then, they recommend a gentle approach.
Yoga is one of the best practices a pregnant or postpartum woman can do. It's gentle but very effective. And it feels great. Just ask one of the women with the graceful walk coming out of a yoga class.