Director of Meadowlark's Morning Mysore Programme, Sarah Hatcher, shares her experience and knowledge of practicing whilst pregnant in the Mysore room, and the various paths you can take if you would like to practice yoga if you are expecting.
“Simply trust the body and follow the breath.” Judy Cameron, Yoga of Birth
The Mysore room is the melting pot of transformation: when you walk in you immediately feel the heat, hear the music of people’s ujjayi breath, and witness bodies moving in the space with rhythm and pace. And you are pregnant. Do you belong in here?
You’re very welcome to be pregnant and practice in the Mysore room at Meadowlark Yoga. If you’re not here in Edinburgh, speak with your Mysore teacher about practicing as each programme is different; some Mysore programmes don’t want pregnant mammas in the room. This may be the case if the teacher isn’t prenatal trained or they haven’t had a baby of their own. The Mysore room, after all, may not be the right place for you.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of practicing in the hub of the Ashtanga yoga method, right in the cave of the fiery cauldron, and I’ll share how I’m getting on practicing at 8 months pregnant.
At Meadowlark Yoga, teachers Emma Isokivi, Karen Kirkness, Joanne Ewen, Devon Taylor and myself are all mammas and each of us has practiced through our pregnancies. This doesn’t mean we are all knowing on all things prenatal, however we take great care to give you the most thorough instruction on what to do and what not to do.
I believe the safest way to practice during pregnancy is to have the freedom to build your own practice within guidelines. Our job as teachers in the Mysore room is to keep the pregnant student safe in their exploration: gentle encouragement to try this or try that; yes this is ok, no this is what we don’t want to do, etc. This type of dialogue and connection with the student keeps the student focused on their own inward development and their pregnancy rather than asking them to perform yoga to a strict standard based on rules that do not apply for pregnancy.
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga does have many rules, some of them are: bandha, breath, dristi, and proper vinyasa which includes a solid memory of the order of the poses and linking them together with the breath. However these staple elements - ujjayi breathing, bandha and vinyasa - are drastically modified during pregnancy so we bend the rules slightly so we can still follow them as closely as possible by abiding by these basic guidelines:
If you’d like to invert the body, a headless headstand like forearm balance (Pincha Mayurasana) would be a better alternative or altogether, skip it completely until after the pregnancy and do shoulderstand with supportive blocks instead. The most important bits about turning the body upside down is that there will be more blood flow to the head which could be strenuous rather than helpful; if shoulderstand can be held without change of breath, without stress on the neck with the weight held in the arms and shoulders instead of the neck - then this would be acceptable.
Tailoring the yoga practice to the mother is the most important part of a safe prenatal practice. A balance of meditation, mantra, asana, and pranayama specific for pregnancy with visualisation is best done within a self-practice model like the Mysore room. This means the mother can begin at her own pace and wind their practice when they are ready rather than wait for a guided class to lead this. This further prepares the mother for her birth by deepening her own understanding of her body’s wellness which both builds confidence and independence during labour.
Currently my practice is catered to what is best for me - a little bit of primary, intermediate, some third and a couple of fourth series poses - and this recipe is keeping me safe and healthy. It is daily mantra and pranayama which are the gateway vehicles for labour - visualisation and meditation come easily when pranayama and mantra are steady. Many of you hear me chant to Durga “tano Durga prachodyat” or sing sutras and chant to Siva while I’m practicing. Is this still ashtanga you may ask?
The mind is concentrated on samadhi - absorption of the self, the eighth limb of ashtanga yoga. Always a nice reminder when seeing a pregnant mamma practice that the goal of yoga isn’t just to master an asana but to hone our skills - any yogic skill we can develop - and aim it towards samadhi. After all, samadhi comes in more ways than just from asana.
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