January 23, 2011

Empowering the Mama-to-Be with Yoga

Pregnant women get, what? 10 minutes with their doctors a week? 15 minutes? That’s how long it takes to do a pathological scan of her body, to designate it ‘safe’ for pregnancy. The prenatal student gets to see you (her teacher) once or twice a week. Think about what a wonderful opportunity you have to support her.  -Jane Austin

Jane Austin, prenatal guru from Yoga Tree in San Francisco, speaks out to a crowd of 30 or 40 women and one man (goddess bless him) about teaching prenatal yoga. The seven hour intensive is a much anticipated event at the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco.

Students have come to find out how to teach the occasional prenatal student within the contexts of their normal classes. But what they learn might just surprise them.

What sets prenatal yoga apart from the average yoga class isn’t so much contraindications or adjustments. It doesn’t come from outside the student, or even really, the teacher. Rather than pushing herself to attain poses, the prenatal student comes to find time to be with her baby, to find companionship in her fellow prenatal students and to hopefully alleviate some achy-ness brought on by her  growing, ever-changing form.

While teachers might be more concerned with what not to do with their pregnant students, it’s important to remember that the prenatal student already has a long list of things she can’t do.  The “No List” as Jane has dubbed it: Don’t invert, don’t eat cold cuts, don’t lie on your back, no twists, no ab work…the list goes on and on.

I don’t tell the prenatal student what to do, says Jane,

 I simply ask her, ‘what feels good?’

 and then encourage her to do more of that.


What a wonderful opportunity yoga teachers have to move past the outward form and encourage the spiritual and emotional growth that yoga can provide during pregnancy.

The entire journey of yoga, for me, as a mother of three, can be experienced in pregnancy and childbirth. From the disidentification of the ego both in weight (hello?! You gain 30 pounds in less than a year and lose half of it instantaneously at birth) and in your newfound role as parent, to ahimsa (nonviolence) found in the growing/eating/living/breathing for two, to the concentration and yes, even Union, that can be found in childbirth.

In a time when the proliferation of information on pregnancy is accessible at your local bookstore or at the touch of the keyboard, and is more often than not conflicting, it is important to encourage the mother to live and feel inside her Self, to choose for herself. 

In my experience, when even the store clerk has an opinion on:  how you look, how you’re carrying, are you too fat, too thin, oh it’s a boy, it’s a girl, how to give birth, how not to give birth and oh let me tell you about five hundred horror stories of a friend-of-a-friend I once knew….it’s a welcome reprieve to go to a yoga class where the teacher looks you straight in the face and asks how are you? Well, what do you think?

The “yoga” in pregnancy has very little to do with warriors and sun salutations, for most women, but rather serves as an opportunity to be nurtured and empowered, to be viewed as whole and not ill.  Still, the asana in pregnancy has a purpose:

Motherhood is tough! Pregnancy isn’t a time for lying on

the couch, it’s a time to get ready for the marathon of motherhood!

But even on those days you can only lie on the couch all day,

you’re still doing a lot: you’re making an entirely new person.


That is what the prenatal teacher does:  to mother the mothers. What an amazing thing.


With many, many thanks to Jane Austin. For more information on Jane and her teachings, please visit: http://www.janeaustinyoga.com/

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