By Deb Flashenberg
While the inspiration to first step onto the yoga mat may come from the popularity of prenatal yoga or a suggestion from the care provider, the experience of yoga, for many women is often far deeper than simply a good stretch and a nice, quiet savasana (corpse pose) at the end of class. Prenatal yoga is often the passage way for many women to start to learn about their body and be present with the sensations of daily change.
Prenatal yoga, such as that offered at the Prenatal Yoga Centre (PYC) which I founded 14 years ago, ought to focus on offering women a supportive community, education, and attending to their physical and emotional needs. From this three prong approach, the newly pregnant women have an opportunity to look deeply at the journey of pregnancy from all angles- the physical, the emotional and the educational which can assist them in making empowered choices about how they can take ownership of their pregnancy and birth.
In prenatal yoga, we start with the gross, most accessible experience and then refine it to the more subtle body. The asana (the yoga poses) offer the students a chance to be present with and feel the sensations of their changing body and the growth of their baby. We stretch, we open and we safely experience strong sensation. Personally, I do not believe prenatal yoga should be a watered down version of a “regular” yoga class. Birth is an extremely physically and emotionally demanding event that can benefit from a tremendous amount of preparation. Part of the preparation is to have the students feel challenging sensations in the poses. This shifts the mother into a more subtle experience of looking inwardly at what she needs to handle the sensation. Does she start to connect to her breath, does she need to make sounds, does she innately trust her body has the capacity to move through moments of discomfort? By facing these obstacles in class, we ask the student to develop an appreciation for her body’s abilities, and hone active relaxation skills for labor.
Beyond the physical side of the prenatal yoga practice, we interweave childbirth education into prenatal yoga. The attendance of childbirth education classes hovers around 60% for first time mothers in the U.S. This leaves women relying on other external sources such as friends, family and online information, all which may not be delivering reliable, accurate and evidence based information. Thus the mother may be at a huge disadvantage of being unable to make informed decisions, subsequently the mother ends up handing over her birth experience to the hospital and care provider and being removed from the decision making process. To help counter the missed education that some women do not get to experience, prenatal yoga pepper childbirth themes into each class and provide extra reading material. Education equips women with communication and decision making skills that allow them to feel more involved in their birth experience. Therefore delivering mothers become more empowered, present, and satisfied with the outcome, even if the scenario unfolds differently than expected
By building physical and emotional coping techniques and being well-educated about birth choices, the mother can approach her birth with confidence, self-assurance and comfort. She can take a stance on how to treat her body and baby in the birth process. When a mother can emerge from her birth experience feeling seen, supported and empowered, she can start on the path into motherhood from a deeply powerful and fulfilled place; all of this perhaps ignited at the moment when she decided to try out a prenatal yoga class and first stepped on her mat.