It’s 2001, I’m a brand new yoga teacher, and I’m terrified.
My first prenatal class is about to start and I’m fresh out of my first yoga teacher training.
I know nothing about pregnancy (except of course the basics), and all I can think of is how beautiful these women are, how full of Shakti – radiant, powerful, wise feminine goddess energy.
I tell them in my introduction: you have everything you need within you. You ARE the goddess. Enjoy every moment of creating this little life within you.
And… they look at me like I’ve gone batshit crazy.
Over the next year I learn that pregnancy is not the sweet journey full of baby kicks and painting nurseries I’d always imagined:
- They’re exhausted. Sleep is hard because they can’t find a good, position and they’re peeing all the time. Their energy is going to making this baby and they’re pumping 1 1/2 times the normal amount of blood.
- They’re anxious. Pregnancy brings so many all-too-real worries: Am I eating too much? Not enough? Did I cause damage when I got my toes done and I was around all those fumes? How will I handle the pain of birth? Will my baby be ok? How will I handle it if something doesn’t go right? Will I be an ok mom?
- They’re uncomfortable. Their bodies change day-to-day – even moment to moment. The pregnancy hormones relaxin and progesterone cause every joint in the body to destabilize (not just the one in the front of the pelvis that allows baby’s head to squeeze out, thankfully). Wrist pain, back pain, shoulder pain and knee pain are common for the mamas, on top of baby moving organs and bones around and pressing into things that do not feel like they’re supposed to be pressed.
So, since my original draw to yoga in my 20’s was how to get out of pain, and healing was (and still is) my specialty, I figure I’ll give them some therapeutic yoga.
It helped relieve their pain for sure. I was delighted to see that the alignment principles I’d learned in my Anusara training still very much applied to the pregnant body – and were even more necessary, because their bodies were moving out of alignment all the time.
But I still felt like I was missing something. I had learned a lot of do’s and don’ts in my weekend prenatal training, and I was following them… but it felt, well… honestly, a little boring.
Plus, I was still nervous I’d hurt a mom somehow, or god forbid the baby.
It wasn’t until a couple years later that I stopped looking at pregnancy as either a beautiful Shakti-filled experience or an annoying problem that would someday go away.
I realized that a natural event in our lives usually comes bearing gifts.
I knew all about the challenges of pregnancy, and even how to resolve a lot of them.
But I couldn’t help but wonder…
Is There Anything Good About Being Pregnant?
I began to take a deeper look at the journey of the mamas in my class.
They started coming class – some as soon as they found out, others when they could pry themselves up off the couch after the hormone-storm of the first trimester – full of fear.
They were, in yoga terms, in their “small self” – that part of us that KNOWS we are not enough. We’re not doing enough, we’re not strong enough, we’re not smart or kind or good enough.
By the time they said “this might be my last class!” and we all sent them off with “slippery vibes” they were different.
There was a vibe of confidence, and groundedness, and readiness.
When they came back with their babies, we could feel it – they were in their feminine power.
I’m not crediting yoga for EVERYTHING that happened to these prenatal students… but it definitely contributed.
And, I wondered, what caused this amazing transformation?
What helped the mamas connect to their “I am Woman, hear me roar”? To their “Inner GPS” that would guide them to do birth and motherhood in a more authentic way that was true to them?
In order to know this, we have to understand a little more about how babies are made, at least on the yogic level.
Prana: the Flow of Life
On the surface, we’d done a lot of poses, became stronger and more open, and shared the ups and downs of our transition to motherhood.
But underneath, the mamas had been constantly connecting to something through their breath. They made space for it, aligned with its flow, and created a strong container for it.
That thing within is called prana in yoga, often defined as “life force”.
Prana is Consciousness + breath, or “the invisible forces that nourish the physical body.”
So what exactly is prana?
Prana is energy, or nature, or god, or however you choose to describe whatever beats your heart and breathes your breath when you’re not even noticing.
If you’ve ever been with a pet or a loved one as they passed from their physically body, you witnessed the moment when while their body didn’t change, a light had gone out inside. That was prana leaving.
This life force energy is everywhere – it is nature itself – and when it’s in our body, it’s called prana.
Prana has three main qualities:
It’s intelligent. The body is not just the smartest system we know of, it’s full of hundreds of thousands of the smartest systems we know of, talking to each other, working together – even stepping in for each other.
For instance, there’s a cell in the heart that creates the electrical impulse that is our heart beat. It was once thought that if that cell were removed, we would die.
However, it turns out that if this cell is gone, another cell moves in to take its place. It’s not as fast or as steady, but it gets the job done.
The body knows how to work as a team.
It knows what is us, and what isn’t… it knows how to adjust for any situation to support life – and it knows how to create life.
We can tap into this deep wisdom to sense our next steps, to feel which choice moving forward will be right for us, to intuit what our body needs.
It’s powerful. In graduate school I learned a term for what I had always thought was an urban myth – a mom lifting a car to save her baby.
Western Science calls it “hysterical strength.” Hmmm. Not a fan.
But whatever, there’s a limitless power we can access out of pure desire.
We use it to various degrees on the mat, whenever we connect to our intention – our heart’s most profound longings – and we find ourselves able to do poses we couldn’t do before, or deeper than we ever thought we could.
It’s nurturing. We are constantly being nurtured by the universe.
The gentle opening up of space around our lungs that allows breath to flow in, whether we’re paying attention or not.
The movement of prana throughout the body, bringing the goods and taking the waste. The hugging in of our fascia and muscles for support.
And as I mentioned, prana is all around us. The sun warms us on the beach. Water cools our feet. The sand beneath us holds us so we can settle into the earth’s embrace. The space and the gentle breeze helps us feel free and playful.
And people are of course nature as well: when people gather together with an intention to align with their highest Self, connected to their true, authentic goodness, we feel nurtured just being in that room.
So what does all this have to do with the opportunity of pregnancy?
The One Quality That Opens the Door to the Rest
Many pregnant women choose to slow down. To step away a little bit from the fray, even if they’re working.
They listen inward in a whole new way, and they begin to honor what they hear.
Instead of our usual endless to-do lists, high-achieving non-stop “I got this” attitude, some women begin to cut themselves a break.
Nap in the middle of a Saturday? OK. Eat what my body is asking for? Yes. Learn to move and breathe to make space? Sure, let’s do it.
And when they they learn to listen inward with more love than judgment, they are learning a new skill: how to turn nurturing energy inward.
Nurturing energy, one of the three qualities of prana, is special.
Consider it the “Ma” of them all – the highest, most powerful and wise.
It allows us to connect to the rest.
The pranic quality of nurturing energy is what opens the door for to the other two, wisdom and power.
For me, discovering this concept was the reason I knew I’d teach prenatal forever, and the reason I started a whole school of yoga around it: Ma Yoga.
The Gift of Pregnancy
The moms-to-be hadn’t just done poses and shared some laughs.
Many had learned how to take care of themselves, to “mother” themselves.
Why? Instinctively we know when we’re pregnant that taking care of ourselves means taking care of baby.
Plus, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know that baby will learn everything from us: how to move, how to live, even how to think.
The mamas had learned to step away from focusing on achieving, and instead focus more on being kind to themselves, getting to know themselves anew in each moment, and doing it all in a nurturing environment called a “kula” – a community of the heart.
They learned not compare themselves to others, because every pregnancy is unique.
They learned that it’s ok to be a work in progress, to not know or be certain about anything, and to let things unfold.
They learned not to berate themselves for having fear, or frustration, or doubt or whatever was coming up for them, but to feel the the feelings so they could flow through and then they’d find a new place.
And because they were treating themselves better, they could notice their heart’s desires – and make intelligent choices to fulfill them.
These choices then unfolded in a feeling of empowerment.
From this choice to nurture themselves, they were able to reconnect to their not-so-hysterical power, and wisdom.
The Current of Nurturing Energy
Think of nurturing energy as a current we can step in to anytime.
We can slow down, step back from the fray. We can sit quietly and receive our breath deeply.
We can take a hot bath, go for a walk, do yoga.
Generally, when you do this, you’re going against the grain of society, always pushing us forward to do, do, do.
But when we’re pregnant, we even have some societal backing for this.
Lots of OB/Gyn’s recommend yoga, and many people start it for the first time when they’re pregnant.
People understand if we’re less productive, if we need more rest.
Pregnancy is an amazing opportunity for moms-to-be to learn self-care practices and principles – not just because it helps them step into their power and wisdom, but also because it prepares them for what’s to come.
The ability to receive nurturing energy as a depleted, exhausted new moms can be life-changing.
As a prenatal teacher, we can help women learn to relieve aches and pains, get stronger and more flexible, and even prepare for labor and postpartum.
We can invite them to practice turning love inward, so that they can discover what they might not even have known was within: an endless source of feminine wisdom and power.
Many women take the opportunity when they’re pregnant to try yoga for the first time. They just feel called to slow down and pay attention to their body’s wisdom.
We can be standing at the doorway, saying “welcome.”
What a beautiful journey this can be for moms-to-be – and for those of us blessed to be along for the ride.