In my mind I had imagined pregnancy to be this beautiful and blissful journey. I would be joyful, glowing, doing yoga everyday, eating organic veggies and in the flow of life. Now, as a first time mama-to-be, I reflect on the past 30 weeks and it's far from what I had imagined.
First trimester brought on intense fatigue, nausea, and strange food cravings: barbecue potato chips, fermented pickles, peanut butter, carbs, and meat. Suddenly eating vegetables felt like a chore. As those symptoms and cravings started to subside, the second trimester brought on a wonderful surge of energy, along with swelling, new aches and pains, heartburn, and a flare up of carpal tunnel, not to mention trouble sleeping. The fluctuations in hormones are real and wild. As for the third trimester, so far I just feel bigger, wider, and slower, experiencing a new feeling of fullness.
Meanwhile, miraculously there’s a precious baby growing and moving inside. While everyones’ experience of pregnancy is different and unique, we can agree that a radical transformation is taking place physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
There are so many benefits to practicing yoga and meditation during pregnancy. The yoga asanas, or postures, can help relieve the physical aches and pains that naturally arise during pregnancy, offering much needed relief for the neck, shoulders, low back, pelvis, and hips. Maintaining a steady yoga practice helps to strengthen and stabilize the body and can also be incredibly empowering, centering, and grounding. In Prenatal Yoga we adapt and modify the poses, pace, and style of practice to support our changing bodies and make space for our growing babies.
The breath is an essential part of yoga, nourishing us from the inside. For me, one of the most useful techniques has been to examine my breath in relation to the habitual thought patterns of the mind. When the breath is short, shallow, or held, it usually reflects a thought or sensation that is arising. I find that walking, or as I like to say "waddling", is a perfect time to practice being with the breath and watching the landscape of the mind.
It’s the nature of the human mind, to be dispersed in time, ruminating over the past and anticipating the future. It can be even more restless and scattered during pregnancy due to hormonal changes, anxiety, and anticipation. In my experience, the mind is a broken record that loves to plan, prepare, and worry about all the things that haven’t happened yet: how the birth will unfold, and what life will look and feel like once the baby is born. It’s easy to get swept down the river of fear or fantasy. Cultivating an awareness of breath can invite us to pause and return to presence, arriving back into the body and connecting to the life force, within and all around us. The breath is also essential for preparing us for labor, childbirth, and beyond.
As a student and practitioner of yoga for over 25 years, I’ve seen first-hand how yoga increases our capacity to hold the tension of opposites simultaneously. You may have experienced this while being in a yoga pose, balancing effort with ease, developing strength and suppleness, or holding the tenderness of knowing and unknowing.
During pregnancy, we can be absorbed by the magic and mystery of new life growing inside, while riding waves of physical and emotional changes, discomfort, and uncertainty, ie: laughing and crying from the pain of a urinary tract infection while the baby is kicking you in the pelvic floor, or trying to remain calm and positive while waiting for your genetic test results.... The whole process of labor and childbirth (and all of the intense physical sensations mixed with ecstatic joy and celebration) takes massive capacity and at the same time a deep trust in the innate wisdom of life.
Another gift that yoga can offer during pregnancy is to strengthen our muscle of awareness and promote conscious relaxation. Yoga teaches us when and where to engage and how to soften, relax, and let go of any tension, grasping, or holding. Relaxation is a key skill to practice and get good at, especially in the third trimester of pregnancy. This is when we need to cultivate greater awareness and develop an intimacy with our inner landscape, deepening our intuition and tapping into a powerful flow of embodied wisdom that’s uniquely available during pregnancy.
As I look up from my rocking chair at the finish line (aka 40 weeks), I am reminded that yoga invites us to surrender and let go of our attachments. Personally, surrender is way easier said than done because it requires a willingness to Trust. The yogis called this quality of trust shraddha, which is not a blind faith, but rather a trust based on one's own experience, that life is on our side, that the universe has our back, that there is a divinely orchestrated plan for us. At the end of the day, this gives me some peace, knowing that my job is to do my part, to prepare, to tend to myself and the baby, and then to consciously surrender - let go of my attachments to the outcome and Trust that I have given this baby the best chance I possibly can to come into this world and thrive.
In reflecting on the journey, I have come to realize that these moments of raw vulnerability and self acceptance have been the doorway to beauty and bliss, and that these qualities are available when we slow down, listen to our hearts, get honest with ourselves, and awaken to presence.