Friday, July 18, 2008

Issues in pregnancy... part 1

This is going to be an ongoing post, as I have time to write and as I continue to research a lot of the issues involved.

To begin with I'm 37, and am currently 20 weeks into my third pregnancy. My life with a pregnant body over the past 5 years has coincided with the second half of a decade of daily ashtanga practice, opening and growing an Ashtanga Yoga school in Spokane, WA and continuing to advance in my own studies. I'm not an authorized teacher, (and most likely never will be) I spent the years of my life (in my 20's, before marriage, having children, and in general householding) when I might have been in India, training and competing around the world in rowing.

As far as how my body felt and what I did on my mat during my pregnancies, it has differed from the first pregnancy to my second, and again with my third. For one thing, my practice has advanced despite the fact that there has only been about 18 months interspaced over the past five years that I've not been either pregnant or nursing or recovering from pregnancy. Prior to my first pregnancy I was proficient at first series but still not open enough to bind in supta kormasana, and also still not dropping back. Prior to my second pregnacy I had gotten up to eka pada sirsasana in intermediate, and prior to my third pregnancy I had just added vashistasana from the first advanced series.

But more importantly prior to my first pregnancy I was still sleeping all night long (something that now five years later only happens a few nights a year).

I bring this point up because how much rest you get is very much going to affect what you are going to want to be doing on your mat during your pregnancies.

Because I was able to have enough sleep, and my pregnancy was progressing normally there was no indication that I should adjust my practice other than for my growing belly - so I was able to practice 5-6 days a week up until the last month, and because I wasn't doing advanced backbends before I was pregnant, it wasn't a question during.

Above is a way of continuing with the prone backbends while pregnant. In the picture I am about 18 weeks in my current pregnancy, and I've just taken two blankets rolled up and placed one under my lowest ribs, above the zyphoid process, and one under my hip bones. You can continue doing these backbends on the blankets for most of your pregnancy putting no pressure on your uterus and is a way of keeping your back muscles strong. This will help counter the growing weight on the front of your body and the tendancy for extra forward tilt of the pelvis.

The picture of kapotasana is also at 18 weeks - and because I have abdominal separation/diastasis recti from my two previous pregnancies, I have been backing off of this pose and will stop this and other deeper backbends after my fifth month.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Pregnancy, Menstruation and Motherhood...

This is from a workshop with Nancy Gilgoff in Munich in 2002.

(Entirely paraphrasing here)

MENSTRUATION (not practicing during). Nancy says she originally, as a liberated '70s hippie chick, thought this was just brahmin chauvinistic bullshit. Quickly changed her mind. Extremely bad idea to attempt bandhas or inversions, because they are completely contrary to the body's natural downward flow. So ashtanga practice an absolute no-no. OK to do some other kind of gentle asana practice if you really want to – but also a good opportunity to practice non-attachment to daily asana practice.

PREGNANCY. Absolutely fine for women who already have an established ashtanga practice to continue all through pregnancy (obviously with much modification in the later stages, although Nancy says she had a student who practiced third series into the ninth month) Wait three months after birth before resuming ashtanga practice. Not a good idea for pregnant women who haven't done yoga before to start with ashtanga - fine to start with other forms of yoga practice.

MOTHERHOOD. Children are sent to to disrupt all your preconceptions, shatter your attachment to your yoga practice, make you rethink everything you thought you knew about your future, your present and your past. Graphic description of Nancy as single parent yoga teacher, trying to nurse baby with one hand & adjust students with the other. Apparently the students were fine with this. Must be nice to have such supportive students.

TEACHING CHILDREN YOGA. Fine for small kids to play with asanas - although no headstands before the age of 12 as the bones of the skull aren't completely fused yet. Not so good for adolescents circa 14 to 17 - the bones are growing faster than the muscles, joints are unstable, stretching can be very uncomfortable & unpleasant. Nancy has no problem with parents bringing small children into class – good opportunity for the childless students to learn to chill out and let go of their beliefs about how a yoga class “should” be. (Having gone through the finishing sequence at one of Lino's workshops with Lino's six year old son Oliver and my friend G√ľnther's nine year old son Alex playing next to me, I completely agree). Her daughter (now 19) does yoga but normally chooses to go to another teacher.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Growing Up with God

This is part of article written by Jessica Kraft printed on Yoga Mates, excerpted here with their permission.

It’s an ancient hindu saying that “the mother and father are the child’s first guru.” Children learn the most basic human skills from their parents: along with eating, walking and talking, children readily absorb spiritual lessons from Mom and Dad, including how to commune with nature, how to seek calm in the midst of chaos and how to reach out to a higher power. Likewise, spiritual leaders guide adults on this path, helping to tune our spiritual instruments so that we can play in harmony with the universe. In a sense, spiritual leaders are parents to our souls.

So are children born to spiritual leaders given a boost in their spiritual development? How did their early exposure to the enlightened practices of their parents influence them? We asked several kids of leaders from different traditions about their childhoods to see what, if anything, they might recommend to parents looking to cultivate a child’s inner life.

Mallika Chopra, 35
Daughter of Deepak & Rita Chopra

Mallika Chopra, daughter of Deepak Chopra, mother of two, doesn’t like to think of her background as particularly spiritual. “Everyone assumes I grew up in a very spiritual environment. But while my parents were on their journey, I really had a regular childhood,” Chopra recounts. She did, however, start meditating from the age of 9, and was given mantras to focus on while playing. “It was nothing structured, or dogmatic, though,” she says. “Meditation gave me a real sense of security and self identity… we would meditate as a family sometimes, and as I grew older it became something I could do for myself — but they never made us meditate.”

As an adult, Chopra prefers not to label her practice, but rather focuses on integrating service to others, sharing knowledge and stories and fostering her children’s growth as global citizens. “I don’t try to shield my kids from reality. They’ve been exposed to extreme poverty in Indian slums, and I talk to them about how all children are similar — they laugh, they play, they cry. And even though we all have different circumstances, we should all be cherished.” Mallika has written books inspired by the process of parenting and now runs a website with her
father covering health and wellness at


Monday, June 23, 2008

One in Two Out

My friend Katie (whose baby just turned 20) said to me last night: "it's way easier to have three babies, than when you have two and are pregnant with the third." So glad to hear that.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Local South Hill Mom Attempts 3rd Series

About two months before this baby was concieved my teacher David and I decided I should start working on vasisthasana. Upon adding the first advanced pose to my practice David said: "the deeper you get into the practice the more closely you need to follow what Guruji says." I took that to mean such things as six days a week, no practice on moon days, eating a sattvic diet, etc... but more than that I contemplated the possibility of deepening awareness of the pranic effects of the breathing, of bandhas, of drishti and also dhyana. Living all of this off of my mat...

(insert record scratch sound here)

And then I got pregnant. Another interesting thing happened at the same time, I started to notice a clicking sound in my knee for a few days during practice that ended up being a torn meniscus. (insert second record scratch sound) That being a whole other topic we can leave it for another blog - but what ended up happening is that at first when it was acute it was nearly impossible to practice, and then after several weeks I was able to modify gently, all of this happending during the first trimester. In my previous pregnancies I was able to practice throughout the full pregnancies - this one was not starting off the same.

To compound the knee, the truth was that with the demands of my other two daughters. and the profound exhaustion from this new baby growing I could barely function by the end of the day, and practice for the first time did not help energize me but just made me more tired. So I found myself following the current recommendation in Yoga Mala and for all intents and purposes taking my first trimester off from asana practice.

I think a lot of people find this recommendation confusing, and worry about taking this time off. But one of the best articles I've read (Ashtanga Yoga Practice During Pregnancy by Betty Lai) explains this very well: "The decision to practice yoga during the first trimester is an individual matter. Since this is an article about Ashtanga Yoga practice, it must be emphasized that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois advises women not to practice Ashtanga Yoga at all during the first trimester. This advice makes particular sense if one has experienced a miscarriage or when high-risk pregnancy factors are present. Since one generally does not know whether a pregnancy is high-risk until second trimester or later, it is advisable to take a conservative approach to one's practice, beginning with the first trimester."

So what it boils down to is following your own instincts and honoring this time where this new life is beginning inside of you. If this is your first pregnancy you may or may not be all that connected to what that means. And if you've been practicing Ashtanga for many years, you may be more connected to what that means. Betty's recommendation is that if you have no reason to suspect that there are complications with the pregnancy you may choose to practice during the first trimester. But I would add that you also proceed with an openess to this new experience and consider the pranic needs of the baby as well as your needs. I think in my case, this baby wanted me to back off of the physical part of my practice and delve into my spiritual connection with him/her, with my other children, my husband and with myself. Recieve your pregnancy just like you recieve the gifts of each asana, the practice has always been there and will be there when you are ready for it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Morning practice...

For some reason today, both girls are still asleep, I snuck out of my bed and Dan who was sleeping in Lucy's bed was able to get out undetected. I'm hoping to leave the house without one of them waking and begging me not to. They know that I'm going to practice yoga - I think it's funny; "mom, why do you always have to go practice?". How cool though for them, the only thing they know is that their momma goes and practices something every day. The idea that I'm not an adult that is done learning, that I'm still working on something even though she doesn't know what it is, I think, is one of the best things I could ever give her... or am I just justifying the two hours I'm gone every day?