Friday featuring … Yogic Expectations

Occasionally in this world, we come across a person who knows what they are talking about, speaks plainly, and in so doing acutely shifts our perspective. Uma Dinsmore-Tuli PhD is one such person. She describes herself as a “writer, visionary, radical yogini, Total Yoga Nidra advocate and eco-feminist activist”.

I signed up for her Pregnancy Yoga Teacher Training earlier this year following a recommendation from one of my teachers, Maren Weege, and on the understanding that Uma is recognised as a specialist in this space. I didn’t realise that I was in for a week of such fascinating, useful, thought-provoking and immediately applicable information that went well beyond the qualification to teach yoga to pregnant and post-natal women.

Key for me, was the shift from asking, ”How must I adapt my practice / what I’m teaching to accommodate a pregnant or post-natal body?” to “How can the tools of yoga best serve and nourish me / this person in front of me?”. Prior to this training, my thinking on this point was that a pregnant woman isn’t ill, and shouldn’t be treated as such; that she has the right to continue on ‘as normal’ in her yoga practice (and life); and that encouraging her not to overstretch, to rest as needed, to avoid significant core work, “closed” twists, backbends, jumping and inversions, would just about get us there.

During the training, I came to realise that this view, while grounded in a sort of naïve feminism, and informed by an accurate anatomical understanding, was distinctly unsubtle.

It didn’t allow for any of the following facts, and key themes of the training:

  • Change is happening. Change is happening all the time anyway, but the process of growing a baby and bringing it into the world necessarily involves a massive shift. Physically, socially, mentally, emotionally and financially, there is no doubt about it, things will not stay the same. There is an ever-evolving new ‘normal’. Why then, would we strive to keep everything the same, including our yoga practice? What is the purpose of such an approach, and why might that be our mindset?
  • Giving birth means letting go. Related to the above, we can use the opportunity of our yoga practice, our place for safe experimentation in our lives, to build our capacity for acceptance and surrender, embracing our ever-changing bodies and lives. Perhaps the strength we can cultivate isn’t just in our biceps, but in our minds, in our ability to sustain, gather ourselves and grow?
  • Pregnant women are wonderful yogis. Asana (the poses) are of course useful for pregnant women, adapted as individually appropriate, for a range of purposes. But the attributes of pregnancy bring with them an enormous opportunity to practice and enhance our understanding of breathwork, chanting, mantra, mudra and philosophy – tools of yoga oft-neglected in modern classes. Pregnant women naturally want to connect to their breath, bodies and babies, cultivate their intuition and learn to be with pain and challenge.
  • Community is essential for humans, including pregnant and post-natal women. I’ve written before about the use of embodiment practices, such as yoga, to connect with the wider bodies of our society and our planet. Creating a welcoming, non-competitive environment in which we are free to be just as we are is liberating and empowering. When one is preparing to give birth – for the unknown pain and fear and overwhelming love that comes with it – even more so.
  • Likewise, rest is essential for humans. All around me, I see the pace of things increasing – back-to-back meetings, inboxes with 3,000 unread emails, and a standard response to, ‘How are you?’ being some variation of ‘Oh yes, I’m very busy, just the usual’. At the same time, I also read much about the mental and physical benefits of still practices, such as meditation, restorative yoga and Yoga Nidra. Without going into the science, and the specifics of these practices and the benefits they bring (a post for another day) it seems to me that we could all do with a good dose of doing nothing, of learning to relax our nervous systems and to rest. The exhaustion of pregnancy, and the need to heal post-natally are underestimated, and this is where the space and time for a practise promoting rest comes in.
  • And not least, we must speak about the facts – of female anatomy, of menstruation, pregnancy and menopause, about the loss of babies and the many post-natal women without babies for whatever reason who are expected to go about their lives as normal and for whom there is no mum-and-baby special yoga class. Ignoring and assuming leads to shame and fear and loneliness, and there is space and opportunity for many of us to be more open, to encourage questioning, free choice and discussion. In short, to create a more equal and all-embracing society.

So, it turns out that it’s not just all about what kind of twist is appropriate for a pregnant woman! On that note though, I did also take away a long list of useful yoga practices and thoughts that will inform my own practice, as well as my ability to welcome pregnant and post-natal women into my classes, and design classes especially for them.

I will share more widely one of our pieces of assessment. We were asked to produce a one-page handout of key precautions for pregnant and post-natal women practising yoga. I’m planning to publish this in an upcoming episode of Friday Featuring …. I hope it will be a useful summary in an arena which can be a mire of dos and don’ts, rumour and confusion.

I’m certainly at the beginning of my journey into this specialism and I’d love to hear your thoughts on practicing and teaching yoga for pregnant and post-natal women. Along with teaching yoga and meditation to children, it’s an area where I’ve found people are willing to share experiences and resources, which helps us to grow a supportive community.

Breathe, make space, be compassionate.

Susie xx

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As well as conducting training for teachers of therapeutic yoga for pregnancy, birth and post-natal recovery, Uma Dinsmore-Tuli is the author of the excellent resources, Teach Yourself Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth and Mother’s Breath: a definitive guide for breath, awareness and meditation practices for mothering, as well as the massive tome, Yoni Shakti. With her husband, Nirlipta, she founded the Yoga Nidra Network. Their website has a huge array of Yoga Nidra resources.

You can read more about Uma here and find upcoming classes, workshops and trainings (as well as books, DVDs, audio files and other resources) here.

Maren Weege teaches yoga in East London. As well as regular Pregnancy and Flow & Restore yoga classes, she offers regular Birth Preparation and Restorative & Yoga Nidra workshops. She has trained extensively with Uma, and with Max Strom. Here website is here.


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