As a yoga teacher specialising in women’s health, I have taught many pregnant women over the years. I have seen how yoga supports their changing bodies, relieves aches and pains, calms fears and anxieties, as well as empower them to go on to have a positive birth and postnatal experiences. I am not here to talk about how great yoga is in general for pregnancy, as many of you who follow me would probably agree. for those who have done yoga in pregnancy, many wouldn’t have joined until well into their second trimester. There are a few reasons behind this; maybe your doctor tells you to wait, your yoga teacher tells you to wait, your yoga teacher’s insurance tells you to wait. but why?
I want to talk about the delicate phase that is often forgotten in pregnancy, the First Trimester. The most delicate time in pregnancy, when a woman feels sick, exhausted, emotional, anxious of change plus much more.
There are many valid reasons not to jump straight into a yoga class when you first find out you are pregnant (prenatal or not). This time is so beautifully tender, everything is just settling and baby relies so much on mum’s system as well as all the symptoms mentioned above. Many yoga classes (not all) are very physically based, even the gentle prenatal ones. There is a lot of emphasis on keeping the body supple and strong and releasing tension which is fantastic for later on, but even if it does incorporate the other yogic practices of rest and breathing a general prenatal class with mixed staged women would be too much. A second-trimester yoga class is not designed for early days and they could come out feeling worse if it wasn’t adapted to their needs.
I feel, while some practices of yoga are not suitable in early pregnancy, there are so many practices that are not embraced enough. A simplified practice could really save someone from sinking into depression and anxiety or help someone suffering from exhaustion.
As a teacher, I do understand the delicate balance of energies but also how it is a lack of education and wisdom that leads to fear we may upset this balance leading many exclude a huge audience of women.
I think the main reason many women do not find yoga in the early days is more to do with society and our culture and hiding pregnancy till 3 months. On top of feeling rubbish, this stage and these symptoms are ignored by the outside world, women go about this time in silence and hiding. even if they do tell family and close friends, it is normally hidden from work and general society.
I want to open the conversation and show a different perspective of early pregnancy, one where we don’t have to hide behind stigma or taboo. I would like to share my experiences of early pregnancy and how yoga was a lifeline that is denied to so many women because of fear and accessibility. ( I want to reaffirm when I talk about yoga I am not talking about just the physical movements, but encompassing lots of levels of practices. breathing, relaxation, meditation and philosophy)
So why is it taboo to talk about early pregnancy? why do very few people share their joy before 12 weeks? probably the same issues that stem from menstrual taboo- something else that is very common and natural, that nobody wants to talk about is; miscarriage. Many women share their joy only after 12-14 weeks when the risk of miscarriage has dropped dramatically (there are so many conflicting stats that I am not even going to comment on probability) but many women only find out how common it is by experience.
If a woman does miscarry in the first few weeks, only when she reveals to close friends that she was pregnant do then they open up and talk about their own losses. It is like we don’t want to share good news in case we disappoint family, or raise hope, yet if a loss happens nobodies knows what they are going through, society hides these awkward moments and there isn’t a socially acceptable way to process early loss. If someone does open and share their experience it is normally met with pacifying comments like ‘it wasn’t meant to be’, or ‘it is very common’ these can be quite irritating for the person struggling to understand their own personal grief. Many women start to search for blame outside influence or worse themselves.
It is hard to talk about early pregnancy without talking about miscarriage. the 2 are so intertwined, I tried to write this article just about early pregnancy, but my experiences are so connected I will share my story of both.
I have experienced 3 early pregnancies. all very different. the first was not planned, I was in a little shock but completely delighted. At the time I was practising Womb yoga anyway, (listening to my cycle’s needs) some days my practice was stronger and dynamic, other days it was mostly composed of meditation, yoga Nidra and subtle energy work. When I fell pregnant I continued to listen to my body’s needs, rested and did lots of breathing. I invited my baby into my life but connecting my heart and womb with gentle movement, breath and sound. I was happy that I had the tools to support me.
This pregnancy sadly didn’t last and as quick as it came it was gone. I continued to practice my gentle flow that kept me grounded and allow acceptance, the simple ujjayi breath was a lifeline to sanity to deal with the physical side of the loss. We had told a few friends and family and was glad for the support we had at this time.
When I became pregnant for the second time the joy was of course tinged with worry. For many women pregnancy after miscarriage is such a hard beginning, This is where I found yoga to be of such a powerful allie.
This time we told very few people. I took even more care with my physical mat time and dived into a deep meditation and yoga nidra practice. The act of doing nothing and accepting what you cannot control or change was very profound. I listened to lots of Tara Brach, and read lots of Eckhart Tolle both who help me stay grounded and present, not worrying every 2 seconds or googling every twinge or symptom. I wondered if there were a lot of women like me out there, women who wanted answers and reassurance, but there isn’t anyone or anything that can calm your mind apart from you.
When I let my guard down I found myself pulled into the web of fear (think a good name for internet) of baby discussion groups and forums, full of questions to whether their baby and pregnancy was healthy, sadly these questions are only answered by 100’s of other fearful women asking the same question. Nobody says ‘it will be ok’ no one is there to reassure or give good advice, it is just fear feeding fear. The words I saw most were ‘petrified’ ‘scared’ ‘devastated’ ‘anxious’ ‘terrified’ This jolted me back into myself and got me to listen to my own experience, was I these things? Yes, I was worried and nervous but because of my practices of breathing, mindfulness and acceptance, I was always brought back into a present mindful state. don’t get me wrong, mindfulness isn’t any less painful, reality is quite harsh, but I knew the answers didn’t lie with anybody else, only within me.
knowing the outcome doesn’t change it.
This was the biggest lesson I learned. wanting to know the future doesn’t actually change it! I wanted to know everything was ok with baby. Instead of putting my trust in my body and the process I found comfort in regular scans and doctors. when you see a little bean on the screen and you are reassured.. but for how long? I had another steep and harsh lesson at 10 weeks when we went back to the doctor and saw our ‘bean’ was no longer growing, in fact it probably stopped not long after the previous scan. This time I was devastated. I sunk into a hole of sadness and grief, not many people knew, so the burden was on my partner. but even in this hard time, my yoga practice was always there. OK so my physical practice of asana was not at first, the first tool I brought out was the breath. Ujjayi and golden thread breathing guided me through a physically and emotionally painful process, The deepest healing took space in yoga Nidra, walking meditations, medicine walks, being in nature. Only when I allowed my body to be sad, rest and release did I start to emerge.
I could go into more detail about how I emerged, but I want to save that as it is so rich and powerful story on its own. For now, I want to jump forward to pregnancy number 3. Can you imagine how I would feel? 2 losses and now pregnant again! But Actually, I was very ready. I had used the time between the last pregnancy to find health vitality and really manifested this baby.
I was back in the early pregnancy days. This time I knew my mistakes from the past and wanted to fully embrace this new being without fear. I did all the sensible things and properly monitored by a doctor etc. but we didn’t keep it a secret for long, we shared our news freely but also told people of our history and need for support. I started early, listening to the needs of my body, resting, breathing, Yoga Nidra, keeping planted in nature and lots self-care. Physical asana at the beginning is sometimes too much, even for me with a strong yoga background, I put my asana practice on the shelf, only adding in the occasional organic stretch although Restorative yoga was an energising winner. Breathing; again kept my focus and this time I really used the power of affirmation.
simple and profound, I repeated my mantra almost until it was the soundtrack to my breath.
Those doctor appointments was still a little nervous but knew that they meant nothing if I didn’t trust my own body. I had been through the worst and survived so could handle anything. Fear was kept at arms length. Google and forums were banned and support was found in friends and colleagues.
We place so much emphasis on birth without fear, but what about pregnancy without fear, surely it starts here in the early stages.
I am now writing this at 27 weeks pregnant. my baby is wriggling and kicking. I trust my body knows how to nurture her, and she knows she is safe. I put this down to my yoga, meditation and mindful practices throughout. My physical practice has come back and really helps with all the things I said at the beginning. Of course, worry doesn’t go away, but I also know I am doing all I can and somethings are out of our control.
Practising yoga in early pregnancy not only kept my mind calm, it helped with my physical symptoms, it helped balance energy, connect and bond with my baby and affirm to the world I was pregnant. I feel if we don’t start with this early on we miss an amazing opportunity for support both physically and emotionally.
I am not recommending that women should just join a regular yoga class or even a regular prenatal class designed for 2nd trimester, there is no way I could be present for the length of a class in the early days! But I feel there is a missing space for these women like me. I benefited from the subtle practices of rest, nurturing, affirmation and breathing. learning to connect with my baby and my own intuition from an early stage and encourage other women to do the same.
So If this is you and you need the extra support, If you are a prenatal or womb yoga teacher, are you offering such space and inclusiveness? this issue of fear, taboo of miscarriage and insurance (really?) needs to be addressed. Here is me standing up giving support to those that need it, knowing that I may need it again in the future.
xx Andrea xxby