My Pregnancy and Yoga- the love affair continues.

Pregnancy is a funny time. As each baby and person is unique it is expected that of course our experiences as women during pregnancy will also be individual. My pregnancy has been up and down, the down times I believe have been a result of nutritional deficiencies, particularly vitamin B, which is essential to feel good!

Ustrasana 28.5 weeks

Overall, the best way I can describe pregnancy is a period of ‘ripe-ness’. The body swells and ripens even before the baby is even a baby but a tiny little cluster of cells rapidly multiplying, the breasts take on a heaviness and the hips begin to spread there is a physical ripening. There is also an emotional ripening, my yoga teacher refers to it as a ‘maturation,’ there is a knowingness of what your body needs; rest, foods and what it doesn’t need. I have had a level of intuition about my own needs that I have never had before. Creativity, patience and space have all ripened through my pregnancy so far.

So here I am in my 31st  week of my first pregnancy reflecting on the role of my yoga throughout the past 31 weeks, I have often referred to my knowledge of yoga as my pregnancy toolbox.

To begin with that intuition took over and I stepped back from my practice for the first 15 or so weeks of my pregnancy. In the first trimester our bodies create a ‘nest’ and perfect little environment for a baby to grow. We want to baby to implant and implant well. Often during this early period women are sick and are filled with a heavy tiredness unlike any tiredness felt before. It is time to be inward, restful and eat as well as can be managed; this can be difficult if all you desire is simple carbohydrates and fruit!

I practiced only light asana/postures with a focus on creating space through the pelvis, my body felt heavy and my regular more rigorous practice fell away in place of sleep and rest. I often went to my ‘yoga toolbox’ as my digestion suffered terribly during the first trimester- progesterone is a powerful hormone! I used asana to relieve gas and bloating, savasana and pranayama to help soothe the anxiety that plagued me early in the first trimester.

Pasvakonasana 29.5 weeks

Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science was a big part of my first trimester, each morning I practiced abhyanga or self massage as another way of dealing with my anxiety. I also lovingly prepared kitchari for myself when my digestion was very congested, and my agni, or digestive flame was very low due to the hard work my body was under.

Kitchari is a mung dahl, rice dish made with low amount of spice and lots of ghee* making it very nutritious and easy to digest. Kitchari is often the only thing eaten during an Ayurvedic cleanse and it is a wonderful thing to eat when you are wanting to give the body extra rest as it is so easily digested.  (If anyone would like my pregnancy kitchari recipe I would be happy to share 🙂

Pregnancy has increased my understanding of the science of Ayurveda deeply, there are other blog posts touching on Ayurveda but the science is built around the three doshas which are constitutions or mind/body types. (a quick google search of dosha or ayurveda will explain more)

Pregnancy is an increased Kapha time for me, the increase in fluid and weight, the love of sleep and food- these are all qualities of Kapha the earthy dosha. I am generally a predominantly Pitta or fire dosha (mind you , this is still present in the heartburn!) I love the slower paced nurturing kapha that has increased in me, the daily kitchen rituals and heavy slumbers. Women often notice an increase in mucous during pregnancy- this is due to the increase in estrogen which stimulates the mucous membranes but also the increase in fluid during the kapha time.  Our dosha is determined by our parents dosha’s at the time of conception and I can’t help but wonder how my husband and I’s constitutions will determine our baby’s.

Sirsasana nearly 28 weeks

Back to the yoga, second trimester the time on the mat was spent learning how to negotiate the new body, not only was my usually pear sized uterus now the size of a small soccer ball, I had 40% more blood! Lots of passive inversions to help with the circulation: viparita karani, adho mukkha svanasana. On the mat I felt relatively awkward, heavy and weak but as the baby grew and put more pressure on my body asana became more important to protect my spine and keep my strength.

Just a note on the second trimester, I was under the misguided impression that at 13 weeks the ‘babymoon’ of the second trimester starts. I didn’t feel like I could get through a day without a nap until week 17! As I said in the beginning pregnancy is such an individual experience some women never get the second trimester energy burst, mine didn’t really show up until the third and some women feel energetic and productive throughout their whole pregnancies.

So where is my practice at now? My practice is at its strongest since I fell pregnant. My teacher says yoga is not a work out, it is a work in, when I long to participate in my nightly kitchen ritual and prepare a delicious meal but can’t summon the energy after a long day on my feet at work, I practice yoga. This is the wonderful thing about practicing in a restorative way- it restores. Or when my feet are swollen or my back aches- I know exactly what to do to ease and soothe. Pregnancy is an uncomfortable time, but not a time for martyrdom I feel I can make myself more comfortable. If I become concerned about my baby’s movements I know lying over the bolster will get it moving. Or if there is a tiny elbow or knee in a less than ideal position I can coax baby to move through asana and creating space.

My pregnancy intuition has led me to the mat, practicing and preparing for my natural birth- deep diaphragmatic breathing (I am breathing for two) harnessing my control over the diaphragm so it can aid me during contractions, hip opening, strengthening the leg muscles that lead up to the perineum as in preparation not only to birth, but to recover. I rarely have to think about which asana to practice my body leads me, although in this lifetime I haven’t given birth, we are ancient bodies that have evolved, my body knows what to do.

It is also a sacred, intimate time with my baby. When I’m inwards focusing in its little nest, when I have two hearts beating inside me, it’s a time that I dedicate fully to baby and me, really the only time I do get to dedicate to baby and me.

Namaste

xxx 

*ghee is a wonderful addition to a pregnancy diet. It is a ‘good fat’ excellent for babies brain development and building tissues. It also aids in constipation, heart burn/reflux and other pregnancy related digestive issues. 

Home Practice: Part 1

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Recently some friends have been asking me for suggestions for doing yoga at home- how to sequence asana and what makes a pretty solid practice. So I thought I would share some of what I know, on the advice of my best friend, Brooke :). I think attending regular classes for at least the first year of your practice is imperative and checking back with a teacher frequently is also very important. It is so easy to form bad habits and much harder to correct them, bad habits can also result in injury or muscle imbalances. I also think that the best yoga resourse is BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga which includes weekly practices and detailed intstruction on how to perform asana correctly. It is considered the yoga bible 🙂 

Some Notes

Do not perform inversions when menstruating, the consensus is still out on whether practicing inversions during menstruation can result in polycystic ovaries syndrome or endometriosis but it is a long held belief that it does. For some women menstruation can be a time of low energy and its important to listen and honor your body’s messages. Menstruation is considered apana vayu one of the five vital forces, apana vayu is considered downward and outward energy and it is thought that inversions contradict this flow of energy in the body. You may also feel that backbends or twists disturb your period so be curious about your body and listen to its responses. A dynamic practice leading up to and post your period is highly recommended and beneficial.

Sequencing, is very important you can’t forward bend of twist until you have sufficiently lengthened the spine . Generally speaking a good way to sequence poses is a small warm up, standing poses, inversions, backbends, twists and then forward bends. Always seal your practice with savasana and paying gratitude to yourself for making an investment in your health and wellbeing. 

I like to work with the lunar cycle as the moon has a powerful effect on our energy levels and moods. During full moon week my practice has an emphasis of on backbends and twists, during the waning moon it is forward bends, new moon inversions and waxing moon is standing pose week. In saying this it is important to have a well rounded daily practice that incorporates elements from the above list. 

Practice

I have heard lots of people say they practice Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskar (see image below) on a daily basis but nothing else. This is great and 2 x rounds of Surya Namaskar can be a great warm up but too much Surya Namaskar can really overwork the shoulders and under work the legs, so I would advise to add a few standing poses- you even build in some standing poses into the vinyasa or flow of postures. For a home practice I do believe it is a great start, it is easy and intuitive to move with the breath and can easily be adapted for those that require it. 

When you come to step 5. the lunge you could easily come into virbhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) and trikonasana (triange pose) and the same on the second side.

Virabhadrasana 2. see the torso remains over the hips and the knee moves more to the little toe edge side of the foot so you don’t roll in on your ankles.
Trikonasana, fore most people coming to the shin with a light horse shoe grip is better then straining to come to the floor. See the back heel is in line with the front foot instep. Feel you rotate the lower ribs around to make your torso more parallel to the ceiling. If it troubles your neck to look up, simply look forward or down.

In the morning it is best to practice dynamic energetic poses to wake up the body and light the fire in your belly. While if you find yourself practicing in the evening make it a more passive practice and always try to not eat for two hours before a practice. On recommendation from my yogi friend Dominique some almonds, seeds and dried fruit is a great little energy booster if you think you may pass out during your practice! Especially in winter be mindful that you have enough energy. Everyday at some point I practice supta padangusthasana, I find it lengthens and stabalises the lower back and can be a great way to really evaluate how the body feels on a daily basis. 

Supta Padangusthasana. You can easily use a belt or dressing gown belt as a strap. Starting with both feet to the wall can be a great assistance, don’t forget about the down leg, its your foundation. Don’t let the down hip lift when taking the leg out to the side think about anchoring through the down hip and buttocks.

This is a good start, but a well rounded practice involves additional hip openers, abdominal work, deeper back and forward bends, but I think this a is a good start to taking your practice home. spending some time lying out on your mat to begin with watching your breath is a nice addition. Remembering that yoga isn’t just physical postures and if you wanted to take your practice to the next level BKS Iyengar’s Light on Pranayama is a great introduction to breathing exercises. Our breath is a wonderful tool and can have profound effects on our health and wellbeing. 

I’ll continue to post suggestions for your home practice, but remember some days simple legs up the wall may be all you need. Happy yoga-ing but remember yoga is devotional practice so always come to the mat practicing ahimsa or non-violence, you are your greatest teacher. 

Namaste xxx

 

Evangelical Yogi

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Last week I got married, it was the greatest day of my life and I cannot be happier. 🙂 🙂 🙂

This week as I slowly slip back into a routine and have had two wonderful practices in the past day I realise how much an effect not doing yoga has on my body. The feelings and sensations much stronger then that of doing yoga, go figure! My body was stiff and tightly wound, my brain foggy and when I laid down in savasana at the end of my first solid practice in over a week i thought to myself , that’s the shit.

My body has felt s much  beautiful emotion, love, anxiety, nervousness and happiness over the past month to get back on the mat and be completely in my body was such relief. The familiar soreness I carry to remind me that I’m getting stronger, the smooth breath cultivated through pranayama and the unusually quiet mind, remind me of why I love yoga. When I first started doing yoga I wondered why everyone didn’t do yoga, I was righteous and to borrow my fellow yogi, Tricia’s words, ‘evangelical’! Yoga makes sense to me in a way that perhaps swimming or cycling does to someone else, but its also for me, it suits my body and my mind. It is unrealistic when I believe in my heart that we are all so individual, that yoga asana is for everyone. It is also incredibly egotistical and ridiculous to think that yoga will prevent disease, aging or other.

My new husband is not a yogi, that is however his beautiful supta baddha konasana in the photo above, he has a job that is hard on his body and works long, unusual hours and would benefit greatly from an asana practice. The few times I have managed to be so ‘evangelical’ about the benefits of yoga, he has agreed to do some* he does beautiful yoga, his is blessed with a naturally athletic, strong body, he walks lighter and seems more centered afterwards. He also agreed in his wedding vows to take some yoga classes. ( man after my heart, I know)

But tonight sitting here feeling my yoga buzz probably combined with the sugar high from the chai shortbread I am devouring, I don’t mind if he ever steps on the mat. I know it would be of course of benefit, therapeutic even, helping to combat some of the impact his work has on his body, help him unwind, maybe even inspire him to quit smoking and eat better but he probably knows this too. If he wanted to do yoga or more importantly, if there was something about his life he wanted to change and yoga could help, all he has to do is ask his wife she is a yoga teacher after all!

I think, potentially…actually probably, I’m projecting my own desire of wanting Tom to enjoy yoga with me, than Tom just enjoying yoga so from now on I will stop. Who knows, maybe one day he may step on the mat of his own accord and maybe he won’t, I’ll love him just as much either way. I will however continue to tell him of the benefits of lying with legs up the wall after a long shift, nag him about smoking and tell him to not be so terrified of vegetable juice.

I promise to stop pushing yoga on people and just love it all to myself!

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Namaste

xxxx

* When I say does yoga only poses that are either supine/lying down or sitting, and his face probably does more yoga wincing and complaining then he does!

What is your yoga….

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When I first started yoga, it was for all the wrong reasons. I worked with two gorgeous women with lovely toned bodies, beautiful gait and a tremendous sense of self awareness. I would watch them stretch their arms into urdhva hastasana several times a day with the grace of a dancer and the strength of an ox, expanding their lungs synchronising their movements with their strong smooth breath. They spoke of interesting foreign words such as ujjayi, asana and savasana.

How I longed to feel what they felt when they would say things such as “my shoulders are tight today” or my “hamstrings are finally releasing.” I’d check in with my soft, stiff body and felt nothing but numbness, my head would race- are my shoulders tight, where are my hamstrings and how can these women speak with such ease and understanding of their lovely bodies?

So, I decided to go to a yoga class. I was hooked I was like a drug addict that only needed a drug once and was addicted for life. From that first class threes classes a week weren’t enough, I read everything I could find on yoga and slowly without even realising things changed in me.

Rather than obsessing and stressing about things out of my control I thought ‘why bother’ and I let them go (for the most part). I found contentment in just sitting and doing nothing, a beautiful cup of tea became a joy, absolute joy, rather than a cup of tea. I was able to give up cigarettes without any trauma, I just stopped.

My body grew hard and strong, instead of despising my thighs and thinking they resembled Christmas ham’s, I loved them. I loved them in Virabhadrasana 2, in handstand when they launched my feet off the floor up in the air. Off the mat I still loved them when they walked me all over the city and helped me crouch to weed in my garden. I learnt to scan my body in the mornings, to check in and see how it felt, physically and emotionally.

3 years on, my practice is daily even if the asana component is sputa padangusthasana in front of the TV after a long day, or jathara parivartanasana in bed first thing in the morning, I always find time for a couple of downward facing dogs and forward virasana, though a good day is an hour of asana, pranayama and meditation.

My yoga isn’t all headstands and chanting it is also the perfect cup of tea, a rainbow or a beautiful sunset, yoga has enriched my life in so many ways I can find the joy in these little things. I dip in the freezing ocean, a cuddle with my cat, a laughing fit with my beautiful man or the perfect quinoa and pumpkin salad.

So tell me where do you find yoga?

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