Some links

eka pada
Hi folks. I’m stuck in blog limbo because I have SO MUCH TO SAY that I can’t even begin to sift through my brain. So, by way of breaking the writer’s block, here are some links and a wee announcement.

Upcoming workshop! I’ll be teaching a 2 hour arm balancing workshop at Moxie’s Nob Hill location on April 4th, hence the pic above. I’m super excited because a) it’s my first ever workshop and b) I freaking love arm balances. I’ve already spent a bunch of time figuring out a sequence that will target specific areas of the body to make key arm balances more accessible for all levels, followed by time working on specific poses in a way that will make balancing feel more available and rounded, even if your feet barely leave the ground. I would love to see you there, and please shoot me a line if you have questions about the content or level. Again: Sat April 4th, 1-3pm.

And then some links just by way of indicating where my head is at right now.

Are you addicted to a fast paced vinyasa practice? Read this and think again:

This is a wonderful article about the relationship between trauma and violence and some creative ways that this is starting – just starting – to be handled. I’m extremely interested in trauma research and loving how much this is getting airplay right now (check out All Things Considered for a bunch more recent articles around Adverse Childhood Experiences in particular).

Being a good friend, old-fashioned style. I would have loved everything about this article already, but it also references three books I love (The Empathy Exams, The Unspeakable, Art as Therapy). Sorry to put this so bluntly, but get your ass off Facebook and get intimate again:

What do you think of when you think of beauty? I love how the eyes shine in these photos of luminous women from around the world:

If you’re in any way a body-mind geek, these vintage illustrations of somatic consciousness will leave you enthralled:

Stephen Cope, one of my favorite yoga and mindfulness writers, nails what it’s like to get in touch with reality, and to feel better by feeling more fully:

“Holding space” is a term that is bandied around in the yoga world, and elsewhere, with little nuance. This is a beautiful breakdown of what it might actually mean:

Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

New Year, New Classes

Happy New Year everyone! January is a pretty interesting time to teach yoga. So many of us are using the marker of a new calendar year to reassess our lives and priorities, to set intentions, and to live well. Yoga teaches us that this process of paying attention and making change can happen at any time, but just like everyone else yogis need a reminder of this, and I’m personally happy to embrace anything that helps us get more honest about our lives. And of course, as we are all more open to new experiences and the breaking of habits at this time of year, it’s fun to see fresh faces in class, and to welcome newcomers to this remarkable practice.

I’m thrilled to be adding a few more classes to my schedule from next week. I’ll now be regularly teaching the Tuesday 6am class at Cardio-Tone on 24th Street as well as my usual Thursday 6am. I’m genuinely in awe of the committed group of practitioners who come to class so early to be able to work yoga into their day. Kudos. I’m delighted to be joining the team at Moxie Yoga and Fitness too, and I’ll be teaching the 7am class on Mondays and Wednesdays at their Mission location (20th and Folsom), and a Sunday 11am class at their brand new Nob Hill studio that opens this coming weekend. The Moxie philosophy is to make yoga approachable for all, which means the 55 minute classes start and end bang on time, we approach the practice from an accessible physical viewpoint, and provide modifications and intensifications for all levels. Since having a baby I’ve had my eyes opened to the realities of fitting yoga into a busy schedule, so I really embrace the studio’s aims to respect your time and needs. On top of that both the Moxie locations are very comfortable, with gorgeous flooring and a nice warm but not overly hot climate. Come find me there from this coming weekend (Sunday 11th)!

Finally, I wrote out my current working definition of yoga the other morning and thought I would share it here. It is, of course, in constant evolution, and as such I’m tentative about publishing it in any forum, but as part of my own new year’s resolving, I’m trying to be more transparent and more integrated with this kind of thinking. I’m heavily influenced by Michael Stone and Jason Crandell and their interpretations of mindfulness teachings in the yoga context, and I’ve taken the opening basic definition just about wholesale from Michael. Let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Yoga is intimacy with things the way they really are. On a gross physical level, we cultivate intimacy with our bodies through asana – where we face restrictions, where we have flexibility, where we are strong – and try to adopt an objective stance towards these attributes. In a similar way we work with gross physical sensation during the course of an asana practice, allowing sensation to be just as it is, without flinching from its reality, or attaching narrative to it. Over time, our levels of awareness deepen and we develop this process to become intimate with subtler layers of emotion, energy and thought processes. We work on accepting these layers in the state in which we find them. Through this process of intimate honesty with ourselves, our nonjudgmental, accepting attitude expands to others, and compassion grows for what we understand are the multifaceted internal lives of others, just as we have embraced our own complexity. In this way, the intimacy of yoga is a deep, personal understanding and experience of the interconnectedness of all beings.

A Conversation about Body Issues in the Yoga Classroom

I opened up my Facebook stream yesterday morning and was so pleasantly surprised to happen upon a thoughtful, nuanced piece on eating disorders and yoga in Yoga Journal. It seems that the YJ editors have really taken on board all the feedback that the yogasphere has been throwing out since the change of editorship and the seeming move of YJ to feature more celebrities, more superficial content, and less Yoga. I don’t want to get bogged down with those debates here, other than to say how much I appreciated YJ giving space for Chelsea Roff’s writing on this incredibly tricky topic. It’s only by confronting the realities, head-on, of the complex psycho-emotional dynamics that we bring to the yoga mat as both teachers and students that we can start to work out ways that the practice can be a tool for healing and we need prominent publications to recognize their power in making these debates widely accessible.

I had only recently come across Roff’s story in the collection of essays “21st Century Yoga”. It was the first piece I read in the collection. While I’ve never hit the depths of anorexia that Roth endured, I know what it feels like to be consumed by needing to be thin, thinner. I know what it feels like to be aware of every morsel of food, to plan strategically when to eat so no-one else notices the restriction. I know what it feels like to exercise away any feelings, to take control over the body in a desperate bid to push away emotion, shame, fear. It’s not easy for me to write about this. But I’m sitting here and gritting my teeth and shooting for honestly and vulnerability because these issues are too important for us to ignore. I’ve put myself in the position of teaching yoga, of exploring embodiment, and as such I accept my responsibility to open this dialogue, that I have something to say about this.

It’s incredibly important that we consider that yoga might provide a space where it is easy to hide disordered eating or exercising practices, that we don’t hide from the reality that ancient concepts like “tapas” (discipline) or “saucha” (cleanliness) can be fuel for anxieties in the modern yoga classroom. That we acknowledge the vulnerability of our student population and our responsibility when faced with students about whom we might worry. And moreso that we are present with our own limitations when it comes to therapeutics. Yoga teachers are not therapists, as much as our students might sometimes think we are. How do we keep responsible boundaries while not letting the vulnerable go unaided? It’s an incredibly complex question and one that we need to be airing much more widely and publicly in the yoga teaching community.

Some things I think we need to talk about when we’re thinking about body issues are:

* The standard of yoga teacher training and whether we need to include more explicit coverage of how to handle situations where we might feel the responsibility to intervene in a student’s situation, while keeping clear boundaries around the kind of help we can provide. Let’s commit to being professionals, and raising standards. Let’s get really clear about what we can and can’t do, and be aware of other support possibilities in our communities. Let’s talk with other professionals about how yoga forms part of a holistic healthcare system. It’s not enough to train for 200 hours, play some banging music, and push people through a gazillion vinyasas each class. This stuff is too powerful.

* The teacher-student relationship in modern yoga culture. Yoga was developed as a system where a student spent extensive periods of time in individual tutelage with a specific teacher. How far this is from our drop-in, class-pass, turn-them-over studio culture. We need to find more ways to build long-term relationships with students and to acknowledge the limitations and possibilities of the yoga practice as we move away from this tradition of individual teaching. Again, we are not therapists, and should not be trying to act as such. But we are community leaders, and we need to be asking nuanced and critical questions about the teacher-student relationship in this modern yoga community context.

* The ways we communicate about the body in the classroom. Hell, I’m all about alignment and form, but how can we express in clear, direct and succinct ways that alignment is a path to awareness and attention rather than an overwhelming concern with external appearance? How can we express this in a world of Instagrammed, photoshopped, social media-oriented visuals that we’re all encouraged to post to get students on the mat in the first place? I think we start by teaching as much internal as external alignment. Let’s stop skipping opening meditations because your students are itching for their first chaturanga (or, more likely, because you think that’s what they want from you). Let’s turn the music down, or god forbid, off, and ask people to listen to their pulse when they come down from bridge. Let’s stop rushing to get from triangle to side plank in the fanciest way possible. Let’s make sure EVERY SINGLE CLASS includes at least a 5 minute savasana. These are not controversial or particularly novel statements, but go and spend a few weeks taking random studio classes and see how many of these points get skipped. Let’s get clear about what we’re teaching here.

* As an adjunct to the above points, let’s spend some time thinking critically and seriously about how yoga actually, practically, improves the everyday lives of practitioners. I mean, let’s get really honest about this. It’s not enough as teachers to have a vague sense that yoga makes people feel good. What are the specific effects of pose groups, styles of practice, favorite and least favorite asanas? I’ve really appreciated in the trainings I’ve been fortunate to do with Jason Crandell that he asks these questions, very directly. How does paschimottanasana make you feel? Stuck? Sheltered? Do you enjoy feeling your belly press against your thighs? Does it make you feel awkward? Fat? Comforted? When you twist, do you notice how your skin bunches? How does it feel on any given day? When you’re sweating? We have to commit to self-study and a great awareness of our own embodiment, as well as considering how these poses might feel for different body types. When we teach from this place of compassion and understanding, we put ourselves in a position to genuinely help others navigate their own experience of embodiment.

* Finally, for now, let’s also be more mindful about how we offer touch and assistance to students. If you’re struggling with your body in the kind of ways we’re talking about here, touch is an incredibly powerful and affecting sensation. I think we spend so much time privileging emotional opening in yoga language, and that teachers can get a bit caught up in their own desires to help students have powerful experiences, emotional releases and so on. If someone has a serious emotional problem that is being manifested in some kind of body issue, then they might be holding back feeling for a very good psychological reason and it’s not our place to meddle with this, however well-intentioned we might be. Be very careful of how, where and when you offer touch to students. Notice how they react. It’s likely that someone who is beating him or herself up about their body will find it very difficult to ask you to stop assisting them. Respect boundaries and question your own intentions, constantly.

I don’t pretend to have any answers here. But I know it’s a conversation we need to build, and revisit time and again. If it can help a single person out of a spiral of self-loathing and towards healing, it’s worth it. This is what modern yoga should be.

Tuning Out, Tuning In

I love nothing more than to start my own practice in child’s pose, which is why I offer it as the opening asana for many of the classes that I teach. The process of letting the body be supported and sheltered gives the nervous system its cue to slow down and take a break from the bombardment of stimulation that everyday life provides. We so often arrive at yoga class in a whirlwind, hurried, caught up in the day. For many of the mamas that come to my classes with babies in tow, just arriving at a room, roughly on time, is a major accomplishment.

As my teacher Jason notes, contemporary yoga heavily promotes, with good reason, the value of opening: of being raw, vulnerable, expansive. But a balanced yoga practice also acknowledges the benefits of the opposite: finding shelter, drawing inward, taking comfort. I find great relief in resting the head and closing the eyes when possible during practice (props can help with this), and finding solace from the constant outward pull of energy that a lot of my day brings.

Early in practice, I take my child’s pose with the knees wide apart, big toes touching. The width of the knees gives the hips and low back a gentle introduction to the pose and the belly can soften and drop down in the space provided between the thighs. Arms extend forward, with the forearms resting. The forehead should also rest comfortably. If this doesn’t happen for you, or there is any discomfort at all, you can lie over blankets or a bolster to bring the ground more easefully to you. The light touch of the big toes is a subtle completion of the pose – a mudra, or seal – that links the two halves of the body together.

After a longer period of movement, and especially when the shoulders and arms are more fatigued and the hips and spine more open, I take child’s pose with knees together and arms resting alongside the body. The gentle cocoon quality of the shape echoes the feeling of being enclosed and protected that this version of the pose promotes so well.

In the Ashtanga system of yoga, the fifth of the eight limbs suggested as the path of the yogi by Patanjali is called pratyahara, roughly translated as withdrawal of the senses. It’s hard to over-emphasize the benefits of getting still and quiet, and tuning out some of the many distractions in our lives. When we remove the external stimuli to which we are drawn to react, we can start to notice the subtler layers of internal reactions, and cultivate space and ease around them. Just like all other aspects of yoga, tuning out and tuning in is a practice, something that gets easier with repetition. Soften your expectations and know that this level of relaxation and ease is a state that you can cultivate: and that it’s well worth doing so.

New Schedule!


I am super excited to be teaching Yoga for Mamas AND a Vinyasa Happy Hour class over the summer, at Cardiotone in Noe Valley. I’ve really missed teaching the past 9 or so months, but the reality of juggling a toddler and a day job just didn’t make it feasible until now. Over those months my practice has shifted a bit, so while you can definitely still expect a nice juicy flow, I’m hoping to bring a lot more subtlety of alignment and a renewed focus on mindfulness and the art of paying attention to detail to these classes.

Please come join me for one or all of these classes soon: Mondays and Fridays at 11am for mama yoga, and Fridays at 4pm for all levels vinyasa. I look forward to practicing with you (and possibly your little one!). 

Yoga and Optimal Fetal Positioning

I’m migrating a set of posts I wrote about aspects of prenatal yoga over to this blog. Today’s is about optimal fetal positioning and how to think about this in a yoga context. I was kind of obsessed with this for the last couple of months of my pregnancy and it’s quite likely that I didn’t need to worry about it quite as much as I did (in the event my baby moved into the perfect position just days before I gave birth). But it’s definitely worth knowing the general points here and I’m sure there are many others who, like I was, are looking for ways to get baby OA ready for labor. If that’s you, good luck, and remember that baby has a funny way of getting in place just in time! AD

Somehow I find myself sitting here 38 weeks pregnant. That’s really pregnant, like the baby could come tonight pregnant. I miss my vinyasa practice, which I traded for an exclusive prenatal practice around 35/36 weeks. My regular vinyasa class had just become a bit too fast-paced and hot for my body, and although it still left me feeling pretty good from the challenge, I was starting to worry about whether my baby was getting squished and thrown around a bit too much. I think the decision of when one should finish practising is incredibly personal, but having discussed this with other recently pregnant ladies at my studio, the a majority seemed to agree that a month or so before the end was about when they also felt like slowing down.

And then there’s the matter of positioning, which is what I really want to discuss today. The theory of optimal fetal positioning (OFP) holds that labor can progress most easily when a baby begins its journey through and out of the pelvis in the occiput anterior (OA) vertex position, meaning in simpler terms head down, baby facing towards mamma’s spine with its spine nestling into the front of the bump. In this position the baby is able to tuck his or her chin to navigate the pelvis and vaginal curve, and the circumference of the head entering/leaving the vagina is smaller in comparison with a baby whose head is entering face forward, which is called an occiput posterior (OP) position. OFP theorizes that most babies will need to turn from an OP to OA position during labor to be born, and that this might lead to longer more intermittent labors, back labor, or the need for interventions like vacuum/forceps to help the OP baby deliver.

I could go on at more length about all this. That’s because my baby, two weeks away from his guess date, is posterior. Resolutely posterior come to that: I’ve tried every single bit of positioning advice there is, had weekly acupuncture, seen the chiropractor, spent hours visualizing him turning, asked him to turn and explained why I want him to turn. To be honest, no-one else is really that worried about it: the chances are, given how many things I’ve tried, that my pelvis is shaped in such a way that he needs to be posterior right now, and that when everything opens up in the early stages of labor, he’ll turn right around and things will progress as normal. Or maybe he is one of the small number of babies that come out backwards with no problems – who knows?!

Earlier on in your pregnancy, up to say 35/36 weeks, the big concern is not anterior vs posterior but just getting baby head down and ready to go. I want to clarify: this is not a post about those issues (although I may write about that another time). I’m concerned here with the kinds of movements you can make to help encourage your baby to be in an anterior position and what you might want to do to avoid encouraging a posterior position. From what I’ve said above I hope it’s clear that I don’t think anterior is for everyone – I’m kind of gambling my labor on that fact right now! – but it is likely that if you are mindful of the kind of movements discussed here and your baby settles anterior, then that is ideal for you both.

Prenatal teachers tend to be knowledgeable of these issues and the positions emphasized in prenatal yoga encourage optimal positioning. If you’re practising vinyasa in the last weeks, you might need to take ownership of adding/skipping poses to help with positioning. Here are some tips:

Anything where the belly is hanging down tends to be good for encouraging OA positioning: the hammock created by the belly plus gravity working on the heaviest parts of the baby, namely shoulders and spine, encourage the spine to nestle into the belly. So positions on all fours, and especially those with pelvic movement like cat/cow, are excellent for positioning. If your vinyasa class is spending a long time in a sequence in which you can’t participate, like a bow-pulling pose/locust sequence, doing cat-cow is a good alternative if you don’t want to spend that time in child’s pose.

That said, child’s pose is also a good belly-down pose, especially as the restorative element encourages the muscles and ligaments around the uterus to relax, creating more space for the baby to nestle into the belly. If your baby is posterior and you are working on encouraging rotation, you could consider taking a supported child’s pose (straddling a bolster, with a second bolster or pile or blankets or pillows under the chest for support) instead of a side-lying savasana.

In forward bends, keep lots of space for the belly, with the legs a touch wider than hip distance apart. Consider only coming down as far as blocks instead of reaching for the floor if this helps you to hinge from the hips rather than rounding through the back.

Avoid any time at all on the back – bridge pose, any core work (which you are likely avoiding in any case), even a supported savasana like queen’s pose. Lie instead on your side or take a hands and knees pose while the rest of the class is supine.

Down dog is a tricky one. It’s probably fine so long as you’re not holding it for a very long time, but it can also work as an inversion to shift the baby out of the pelvis which you might want to avoid if you know your baby is well positioned. Realistically though, you shouldn’t have too many problems continuing with dog pose, and prenatal classes tend to include it for the spinal lengthening and leg opening benefits which surely outweigh any positioning contraindications.

If you know your baby is in a good OA vertex position (ask your midwife to confirm positioning by palpation), you can emphasize poses which will encourage him or her to settle deeper into the pelvis, ready for labor. Squatting is ideal here and I found that taking a deep squat (malasana or garland pose), supported by a block or two under the sitz bones, was a good substitution for certain poses in my vinyasa class which just weren’t viable for my belly, like standing splits. Coming in and out of Goddess pose is a favourite prenatal sequence but more difficult to sub into a vinyasa class. If your baby is well positioned and you are in the later stages of the third trimester, you likely want to avoid poses that encourage the baby back up and out of the pelvis, like inversions, bridge pose and so on.

If you know for sure your baby is posterior and you want to work on turning him/her around, you might want to do some positioning work away from your yoga practice as well. The website Spinning Babies has the most advice and explanation of all this, but there are a few main things you’ll likely want to incorporate: lots of time on hands and knees or leaning over a ball/chair, pelvic tilts (can be cat-cow, smaller tilts, or standing pelvic tilts), and just generally keeping the hips “juicy” with lots of pelvic circles, as though you were spinning a hula hoop. The Spinning Babies philosophy also incorporates a brief daily inversion to help even out the ligaments of the uterus: you kneel on the end of a chair or bed and (with help!) rest your head on the floor so you are in a half headstand, holding this for 30-60 seconds every day. This has two effects: it allows the uterus to hang from the lower ligaments (so note that you have to have your core completely relaxed in this position), evening out any twists or tightnesses on one side; and it encourages a “malpositioned” baby back up and out of the pelvis to give him/her more space to turn around. There’s a lot more information on all this on the Spinning Babies website.

I hope this information will help you think more about positioning in your vinyasa practice. At the end of the day though, the acid test is in labor when the pelvis gets that mega shot of the relaxin hormone and opens up, so if you are like me and with a current posterior baby, relax and do what you can to turn him/her without getting too obsessed. Positioning is definitely an issue where action with non-attachment to the consequences is an ideal mind-set.

The First Trimester Conundrum

I wrote this piece when I was in my third trimester, and published it on a blog on prenatal yoga I was thinking about starting. I had a really nice comment on it the other day, and realized that it has been getting quite a lot of views, so I wanted to consolidate and repost a (slightly modified) version here. I hope some of you find this helpful. Above all remember to listen to your body and that all this is temporary. AD

The prenatal class I take twice a week always begins with a check-in around the room. Each person gives their name, the week they are at with their pregnancy, and often responds to the story or question which the instructor has introduced as the theme of the class. Today the second mamma-to-be said that she thought she was in the wrong class as she was only 11 weeks pregnant and was looking for something active. The instructor promised her that we would indeed be active, but by the time we had reached the third or so section, after our opening cat-cows and pelvic tilts, I looked up and noticed she had left.

I can imagine just how she was feeling. At that point, your body is probably a lot more pregnant than your mind. You’re simultaneously excited, terrified of being excited lest something go wrong, in denial, unsure of what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Your body is doing weird things but mostly still looks normal. No-one other than your nearest and dearest would be able to tell you were ‘with child’. So, a room full of women with bumps that are unmistakably babies and not just last night’s burrito, talking about juicy vaginas and pubic symphysis: yep, that’s pretty scary.

I honestly think the issue of whether, and how, to practise in the first trimester is the most difficult of all prenatal yoga questions. As with all things body and pregnancy related, it’s intensely personal. You might feel so sick that the concept of leaving the bedroom is as much as you can handle. You might feel entirely normal, completely unpregnant, essentially out of tune with the changes going on deep inside. Neither are ideal situations for the kind of intuition you need to cultivate for a safe and productive prenatal practice. And, as illustrated this morning, a prenatal class might not be the right thing either.

I discovered I was pregnant at 8 weeks, up to which I practised my normal 5-6 times per week vinyasa in blissful ignorance. The day I found out I went to my regular class, looking for some balance in the midst of strong emotions and major change. I remember pulling up into dhanurasana, bow-pulling pose, and the image of the kidney-shaped blob on the ultrasound flashing through my mind as my weight settled on my pubic bone. I had done some quick reading and knew that at this stage the embryo was supposed to be safely guarded behind those bones, but I came down quickly, feeling guilty and the first of many shots of maternal worry. I didn’t practice dhanurasana or any other stomach-lying poses like shalabasana (locust) after that, but that in itself led to quandaries about who to tell about the pregnancy and when. If you practice at a studio where you know a lot of people but aren’t ready to ‘come out’ as a preggo yet, this can be torture.

I carried on with a slightly gentler practice for the next two weeks, following the advice of one teacher who advised me to think of ‘sticking’ and ‘stickiness’ and not do anything that compromised that. Essentially this means no jumping forward or back, kicking into handstands, or doing anything that might dislodge the implantation process. I carried on twisting, pulling back a bit by not doing any binds, which were a regular part of my twist practice, and focusing on breathing down into the belly. I also carried on taking full backbends, namely urdhva dhanurasana. It’s difficult to say now, but at this point of writing I feel as though these never felt quite right to me, just as with the bow-pulling pose. But I love backbends and my ego attachment to them outrode those pesky back-of-mind niggles.

At 10 weeks pregnant my husband and I went away for the weekend. That day we took a long and beautiful hike to a cliff edge, where, as we rested and stretched for a while, I pressed up into a backbend with some joy and more than some of that ego. The hike back to the car was tiring, but I pushed on, reluctant for my body to show any weakness. That evening, we came back to our cabin to dress for dinner and I found I was bleeding. We ended up at the local ER where, thankfully, everything was fine. The bleeding remained completely unexplained by all my care providers but I’m sure I overdid things that day and I’m sure that the backbend contributed to that. It was sobering to say the least. I stopped my regular practice for the next 2-3 weeks, until that risky first trimester was past. The weeks dragged by, even though I knew I was so close to being into the second trimester. I took prenatal classes on YogaGlo instead and once safely at the 13 week mark went back to my practice with a new humility and mindfulness.

I tell this story not to worry anyone who wants to practice through the first trimester but just to illustrate the complexities of this time, even if you think you know your body and your yoga really well. Now, 31 weeks into my pregnancy, smitten with the wriggling little bundle inside me, I couldn’t imagine advising anyone other than to take those first 13 weeks with extreme caution. Pattabhi Jois advised women not to practice Ashtanga at all in their first trimester. Would I go that far? Probably not, since I remain convinced that my steady practice has contributed massively to my very easy, healthy pregnancy. But if you are going to continue taking vinyasa classes during your first trimester, these would be the things I would like to go back and tell myself at that point:

* Make space for baby. Make space for baby. Make space for baby. Remind yourself of this constantly. This is physical of course, but it can also be deeply emotional too during this time of intense adjustment. You are going to be making space in your life for baby for a long time, so beginning to practice this by making physical compromises is a great place to start.

* Be easy and gentle on yourself. If your normal practice is near daily and you end up on the mat twice a week during those early weeks, you’re still doing well. If you notice that your practice leaves you exhausted, back off – take fewer chaturangas and vinyasas, go a little less deep into standing poses – whatever leaves you feeling nourished by the practice rather than depleted at this time.

* Check your ego at the door. Are you doing that backbend or inversion because it’s what your body wants, or to feed your ego? Play around with skipping poses that you might be doing out of attachment and see how it feels. You might find it incredibly relieving to give yourself permission not to be perfect, or not always to be at your edge.

* Think of stickiness inside. Don’t do anything that is too jarring on the abdomen – jumping, sharp twisting etc.

* Make child’s pose your friend. If you are going to carry on practising in a normal vinyasa class during pregnancy, you are going to have to get used to going against the flow and modifying, taking child’s pose, and so on when everyone else is in locust, or twisting, or doing something that doesn’t work for your body. You can take child’s pose whenever you want without anyone having to know it’s because you’re pregnant. Notice how it makes you feel to be different or to opt out of something and use it as a learning process – you don’t need to judge your reaction but being aware of it is a good thing.

* That said, you should tell your teacher that you’re pregnant and modifying so they can be mindful of your needs and avoid drawing any attention to it. Now is a good time to be practising with someone you trust.

* Finally, the first trimester is, like all things in life, temporary. It too will pass, and you will have the rest of your life to resume your normal tempo. Use this time to be grateful for things just as they are – even if you feel sick to your stomach or so tired you can barely get up in the morning, it’s your body’s way of telling you that something beautiful and special is happening to you. There will be a time when you will miss this.

Finding Ground

Muladhara Chakra photo: Muladhara Chakra Muladhara.png
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about grounding and centering. If anything is going to shake your core, it’s having a baby: physically, emotionally, even existentially. While most of us moms in the second half of the first year have minimal diastasis (abdominal separation), it doesn’t mean our core is back to where it used to be. At the same time we’re grappling with the identity swings that come with mothering, going back to work, and reconfiguring long-held family dynamics. It’s absolutely normal to find yourself feeling a bit off kilter from time to time in such a context.

Working with the root chakra, muladhara, can help bring some stability and ease in these times. I hope the word chakra doesn’t make you run for the hills. Although there’s a lot of hippy dippy baggage that comes with this system of yogic energetics, on a simple level I find them a super helpful way to visualize some of the dynamics that come up in the body. For mamas, muladhara is critical. First of all, the physical location is right at the perineum (the area between the genitals and anus), an area that has likely been heavily affected by the process of giving birth, if you had a vaginal delivery (even if not, the pelvic floor receives a huge amount of pressure from carrying the baby in the womb). And the root chakra is all about how we experience stability and the very primordial experience of survival – something that delivering new life throws into turbulence.

Physically, the root chakra is associated with the legs and feet, and how we connect to the earth. In those moments where you feel unstable, like you want to escape, or as though your identity is in collapse, try coming simply to Tadasana, Mountain Pose, and taking a few breaths. Bring your attention to all four corners of your feet – which can be together with big toes touching, heels slightly apart, or at hip width for extra stability. Inhale into your belly and pelvis, with just a light engagement of the core and awareness of the perineum. Exhale through the mouth. Repeat this a couple of times, focusing your attention on the perineum becoming slightly engaged and drawn up on the inhales and broader and softer with your exhales. Then inhale again, this time focusing on the connection between the feet and the ground, with a sense of your legs and feet becoming more connected to the earth even as you lift up away from it. As you exhale through the mouth, send the energy back down into the earth and feel the support rising up from below to meet you. Repeat with a couple more breaths, emphasizing length and connection with the earth. You may find yourself able to return to your day with a stronger sense of stability and ease.

Yoga Glo-ing

When I was pregnant I had bullish notions that I would be able to go to yoga at least 4 times a week. I had worked it out: twice at the weekend, of course, and then at least one evening class. Oh yes, and there was the Friday morning class at my studio where sometimes people brought a baby along with them. Easy peasy.

Oh how little I knew. About naps, and nursing, and how precious a two hour chunk of a weekend day would come to be. About my own fatigue levels, and physical limits. About the kind of paralysis that would stop me getting out the door to do something that I knew would nurture and restore me, but that I just couldn’t bring myself to do.

My postpartum practice was saved by YogaGlo. It’s an online resource of classes filmed with some really badass teachers. You can stream a class straight to your living room, or whatever other space you have in which you can roll out your mat. You can choose classes by theme (including a great set of pre- and post-natal classes), by duration and by level, which means that even if you have a really terrible napper on your hands, you can probably find a 15 minute sequence focused on, say, shoulders, that you can sneak into your day. There’s basically no excuses left with this tool at your hands.

It did take me a week or two to get used to this kind of practice. I missed my community and the energy of a room packed full of sweaty people moving and breathing together. But I slowly started to adapt and to enjoy the freedom to choose a practice focused on whatever I felt like. I found myself gravitating more towards gentler practices than I would have sought out in a studio. I made peace with the idea that a 20 minute practice might be all I could get that day, and let that be enough.

If you’re a mom, I highly recommend looking at Stephanie Snyder and Elena Brower’s classes. They’re full of sweet, nurturing energy, and taught from heartfelt experience of motherhood. I also love Jason Crandell’s 45 minute class for new parents. I hope you can sneak a bit more yoga into your day this way.

The Yoga of Motherhood

I thought I knew yoga. Then I had a baby.

Motherhood demands so much yoga. It demands patience and persistence. It demands an unprecedented level of letting go of expectations. It demands kindness. It demands that we stop and take a big old deep breath.

Motherhood also changes your body. Of course, there’s the whole pregnancy and giving birth thing. But there’s also the months of carrying an increasingly heavy infant, perhaps sitting and nursing 6 or 7 times a day, crawling around on hands and knees, not to mention the fewer hours of sleep. The shoulders ache, neck might be stiff, hip flexors tighten, and without the support of a strong core, that is likely still rebuilding after the months of softening to make space for that little munchkin, the low back is telling you all about itself.

I didn’t expect to be teaching yoga specifically to mamas. But as I’ve confronted these physical and emotional challenges over the first year of motherhood, I’ve turned to yoga in quite a different way to my pre-baby practice, and have felt inspired to share what I’ve found with my mom community. It’s so hard to make time for yourself when you are smitten with a baby. Space and time are precious commodities, and faced with the mountain of chores and activities, not to mention sleep options, it can be easy to become paralyzed when a free hour presents itself. In my Yoga for Mamas class I emphasize two things above all. One: that taking time out for yourself is actually a selfless activity, as it gives us the necessary space to return to the world better placed to serve those that we love. And, second, we have to let go of our previous ideas of what a yoga practice looks like. 90 minute classes 5 times a week is a reality for very few in our position. Even within this class, you may be called to attend to your baby, and feel frustrated that you are not “getting your yoga”. Quite the opposite. Right there, you’ve found your hardest pose.

Once you tune into this fact, you may even find that your practice is sweeter than ever, and that your daily life is more imbued with yoga than you could have imagined.