June 10, 2010

Yoga and Pregnancy...Perfect Partners by Emily Kneer

It was a shock to me when I learned that I was pregnant. Well, maybe not that big of a shock, but still, I did feel my whole world tilt sideways for a while.

So many questions—How does this work? (We’re going to need some books! Which books?!) What can I eat? What can’t I eat? When? What do I do about work? My job is so physical—can I continue working? For how long?

On and on the questions arose, and I found myself wondering, How will being pregnant affect my yoga practice? How long will I be able to continue practicing? And then later in my pregnancy, when I was more comfortable with the idea of being pregnant, the question became, How will yoga affect my pregnancy?

In the beginning, pregnancy didn’t affect my practice at all. I felt pretty good! I was still able to do all the poses and activites I always could do. I was tired pretty often and practice was taxing after a long day, but it was important to my self-esteem to do “as much as I could for as long as I could.” These were explicit doctor’s orders too, and I clung to them as my mantra as the weeks went by. Since I didn’t know exactly how my body was going to change, I was uncertain as to when would be the last time I could do a beloved pose or when I would have to dial down the intensity on the tough stuff.

Further into the first trimester and on through the second, I felt particularly betrayed by my body—I felt I couldn’t trust it anymore. My body’s chemistry, shape, balance, and distribution were all changing on me, and I had zero control over it. I was mad at my body for not being able to do what I demanded of it. That’s when yoga first started affecting my pregnancy. I had to start being forgiving of myself, in my practice and in life. I had to learn to be patient with my body, to think before I demanded something of myself, and to listen to what my body or the little voice in my head said. These were skills I had learned in practice but had not taken into my life yet. And by learning to take these skills into my life, not only did my yoga practice affect my pregnancy, but also my pregnancy affected my yoga practice.

The third trimester brought on big shifts in my body as the baby put on weight. By this time, there were definitely activities and poses that I couldn’t do, but now I was skilled at listening, trusting, and forgiving myself for what I could no longer do. I was much more comfortable, both with the pregnancy and with being Pregnant Emily. (Besides, I had an active little Chili Pepper in there, a growing person that I was rather endeared to by that point!)

Frankly, I was able to do quite a lot even when I was quite far along in my pregnancy. Practice was still challenging, fulfilling, and fun. But in my day-to-day life, folks were really stepping up the rhetoric: “Oh, let me get that for you!” “Oh, you shouldn’t be lifting/pushing/pulling/standing like that!” and other comments of the like became increasingly common. I would laugh and graciously let the person help me, but I was thinking, “If you could see what I do in my yoga class, you’d know there’s no need to jump to my aid. I’m quite capable.” All in all, I had a healthy and easy pregnancy, and not only was I able to stay active longer than I expected, but my body was capable of more than I expected late in my pregnancy too.

By the time my nine months were up, I really could trust my body (although I guarantee you I was not pondering such abstracts at the time!). I had started out feeling betrayed by my body and the seemingly certain sharp decline of my physical capabilities, but I’d since come to realize that because of yoga, I could acutely and completely trust my body (and mind) on the journey of pregnancy. My practice had made me healthy, active, and mindful. I could trust my body to tell me when it had had enough and was tired or in discomfort. I had the presence of mind to listen and adjust without hesitation or judgment.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, I could trust my body to do what I asked of it during the delivery itself. I was focused, existing entirely in the present—not frightened or worried about the future. Because of my practice, I was able to relax on cue—so much so that I was able to doze between contractions and save my strength. I was able to quickly identify where I was holding tension and promptly let it go. And finally, being so familiar with my body and its groups of muscles, I was adept at focusing on the physical demands of delivery, allowing me to really isolate my pushes.

So, like so many relationships in this world, one condition helped the other, and vice versa. Yoga absolutely smoothed the path of my pregnancy, in so many ways. And being pregnant brought my yoga practice to a new level of challenge, patience, mindfulness, and forgiveness.

These lessons are continuing to evolve for me as I get back on the mat. I’m fighting hard to get back to the level at which I was practicing before I became pregnant. I’m also fighting hard to forgive myself as I slowly make my progress. But if I never get there again, that’s okay too. I have a sweet little daughter to look after!