This afternoon I completed my final workshop for my teacher training program; the topic was “Teaching Yoga to Pregnant Students”. I chose this workshop because I realized that I didn’t know the first thing about pregnant students. (What poses can they do? What poses can’t they do? What discomfort [or worse, damage] might I accidentally encourage by inadvertently instructing a pregnant woman to do something that she shouldn’t be doing?) While I don’t currently have plans to teach prenatal yoga (though I never say “never”, because I have learned that my path in life can go any direction at any point in time), there is always the possibility that if I do teach, a pregnant woman could drop into one of my classes – and I want to have at least a hint of an idea of what to do.
Today’s class was taught by the owner of the studio – and I have to say, there is quite a difference in the quality of instruction I receive from this person compared to many of the other instructors at the studio. She is competent, confident, clear, concise, and wildly capable; she “gets it”, and equally importantly, she knows how to “give it” as well.
The first half of the session we talked about guidelines to adhere to when teaching pregnant women; and while some of the suggestions are specific to people with babies inside of them, many of the guidelines apply to every person taking a yoga class. For example, the primary guideline is “Trust your body. If it feels good, all is good; if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it!” I have written about this guideline in many other posts within this website; but it is always an excellent reminder to me. I’m an overly-driven person – I feel like if I’m not pressing my limits, if I’m not doing absolutely all that I can, then I’m slacking, underachieving, being lazy. In reality, it’s not very healthy to constantly push oneself as hard as possible; rest is not only “good”, it’s actually a necessity. (Our bodies make us lie motionless and unconscious for many hours each night for a reason.) So, even though I’m not pregnant, this guideline is one that is still very valuable for me to hear again (and again, and again…). Another guideline that applies to pregnant women that also resonated with me personally is the notion that human bodies are in a constant state of change. What was easy for a body (me) yesterday may not be easy today, and what is easy today may be challenging tomorrow. [And the inverse also holds true – what was difficult yesterday may be okay to do today…] Yoga is about recognizing the truth of the present moment – and responding to that truth honestly, appropriately, and compassionately. Compassionately. Again, another reminder that bears repeating for my own practice (and life)…
We then spent a few minutes talking about the most common physical conditions pregnant women face in a typical yoga practice: sciatica, sore wrists, heartburn, hyper-flexibility/unstable joints… After a brief discussion about how to guide a student through these issues and/or suggest appropriate modifications, we took a break, then returned for the experiential part of the workshop.
At this point in the session, the instructor had each of us fold a blanket, then secure it to our stomach with a yoga strap – in effect, letting us experience (to a very small degree) what it’s like to be a pregnant student.
I really wasn’t expecting this; I thought the workshop would be mostly lecture, and maybe a demonstration or two. It didn’t even enter my brain to think that we might all “pretend” to be pregnant to get a feel for that experience. I was a bit taken aback – and at this point in the class I actually got a little emotional. When I had the weight and bulk of the blanket on my stomach, I really did feel what it might be like to carry a baby; and knowing that I won’t be a mommy… well, it was hard.
For the last 60-90 minutes of the session, the teacher led us through a variety of different yoga poses, and we got experience how easy (nor not) they all were to do. It was interesting – some of the poses I like the best in my personal yoga practice were some of the poses I liked least as a “pregnant” person. I got to feel how even a “simple” action like moving from a standing position to sitting on the floor is a challenge when a big belly is involved; and I got to really appreciate why pregnant women “waddle” when they walk, and why they move more slowly than usual. I was also surprised at how much my body awareness increased once I was “with child”; my body needed to move in entirely new ways, and I had to re-learn how to do basic, basic moves.
As I’ve written before, the hands-on learning this program provides is much more powerful than any reading, discussing, or intellectualizing I could do; so while initially it was a little difficult for me to pretend to be pregnant, the internalized knowledge I now have as a result of that hour of “pregnant practice” was deeply valuable.
And at the end of the hour, I got to take the blanket off, be free of the bulge, and be able to touch my toes again. That’s not all bad, either. : )