Everyone knows that a prenatal yoga class is a rite of passage for pregnant mothers.
Who doesn’t want to bring their bump to their mat, and connect with their breath and their baby?
Prenatal yoga looks a lot different than your typical open level vinyasa class—not only for the obvious reasons, like everyone looks like they are smuggling basketballs in under their yoga tank tops—but because there will be a strong focus on the mind-body connection that we have at this special time.
One thing you may likely encounter in a prenatal yoga class is a “keep up,”or a kriya.
Kriyas are specific movements or yoga postures from the Kundalini lineage of yoga. Often they are a small, repetitive movements that will feel challenging and perhaps overwhelming in the moment. You may wonder why do we do these crazy things, and what the point of this exercise is.
I still remember when we experienced a keep up at my first yoga teacher training. At the end of the training, we were told we were doing “arm raising”—keeping our arms and hands up, outstretched, for an hour.
Of course we were scared. Could we actually do this? But scared or not, we stood on our mats and became human letter T’s. We stared out the open windows of the Lower East Side yoga studio on a hot August day, and at the fire escape, draped in brightly colored yoga mats drying after being cleaned, looking like modern-day prayer flags. We looked at the brick walls. Looked at our feet. Found something to focus our gazes on as we embarked on this journey together.
With arms extended, we grew. We breathed together. We opened our hearts. We believed in each other. But most of all, we felt. We allowed ourselves to feel hot, tired, sweaty, shaky, and overwhelmed. We allowed ourselves to feel powerful. It felt like our energy filled the huge space, bounced off the exposed brick walls, and poured onto the crowded and hot NYC streets below.
Obviously nothing can prepare you for what birth feels like, but kriyas are a good start. And they do not have to be an hour long! Just a few minutes will do, to start.
Kriyas will not feel like a contraction, but they will be a physical sensation that you cannot run away from. A feeling of discomfort that you have to stick with and breathe through. We are so comfortable in our modern lives—air conditioned yoga studios, soft beds to sleep in with big pregnancy pillows, comfy couches to sit on. While these modern luxuries are amazing, they can make us lose touch with our ability to handle even the slightest bit of discomfort. Sometimes the smallest bit of discomfort can cause us to panic and feel stressed.
A kriya usually starts out pretty easy, but quickly gains intensity, and can occasionally even feel like “too much.” In those moments of struggle, we can sit back an observe our thoughts. Where do we go when we are challenged? Do we leave or bodies, or do we stay in the moment? Do you speak positively to yourself? Do you start with the “I can’t” or “I don’t want to?” What is the story you tell yourself? Where does your breath go? Does it deepen? Or do you panic a bit and does the breath become more shallow?
Even if you are far from a prenatal yoga class, you can try one on your own at home! Here is a simple Kriya, or “keep up” to start with:
- Find a comfortable easy sit, maybe sitting up on a pillow or a blanket.
- Close the eyes and take a few deep, grounding breaths.
- Bring your thumb and pointer finger together to find a mudra, or gesture.
- Extend the arms out like a “T” in opposite directions.
- Gently circle the wrists back.
You can start small, maybe just a two-minute keep up. You can set a timer, or move to the length of a favorite song. If you ever feel too overwhelmed, you can bring your hands down slowly to rest on your knees, and begin again. However, challenge yourself to stick it out, and breath it out, even when you think you can not continue moving. Often times, once we take a rest and break the rhythm, it can actually be harder to get back into it.
Even if you have a regular vinyasa practice, and you know how to modify or what to avoid, a prenatal yoga class can be really special. It is a time to harness the powerful connection between body and mind, and hopefully even get to experience a “Keep up.”
Author: Logan Kinney
Image: Darla Hueske/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman; Katarina Tavčar