The Physical Body: What we do is at least as important as what we don’t do
When I teach a prenatal class, it is not simply a modification of a regular class that eliminates practices contraindicated during pregnancy. I very purposefully include practices and information that are especially important during the prenatal period. For example, we may work with mula bhanda as pulsation and with a specific breath pattern to both facilitate release of the pelvic floor during birth and to gain the awareness to be able to rebuild pelvic floor strength postpartum. In an open class, mula bhanda may not be mentioned at all or it might be taught in a way that could encourage too much tension in the pelvic floor. Another good example of this deliberate construction of a class is that we might focus on optimal spinal alignment and moving our bodies in ways that would not contribute to the development of an unnatural separation of the abdominal muscles. This sort of attention is unlikely in an open class and I have met more than one practitioner (and even yoga teachers!) who participated in lots of backbend-heavy practices and ended up with a more-than-slight diastasis recti. One way of understanding this is that while, at 20-some weeks, I could easily go to an open yoga class and execute an Upward Facing Dog, my body would most likely be better served with chest opening that does not overly stretch the connective tissue at front of the abdomen. In a prenatal class, this asana (upward facing dog) would probably not show up, except maybe in a modified variation, while it may be cued more than 30 times in an open vinyasa yoga class.
Ultimately, this whole discussion points us to the way in which we can construct a practice that is most beneficial to us rather than trying to fit ourselves into an already formulated practice that may have been designed with a very different population in mind. But this isn’t the only reason to check out a prenatal class.
The physical body isn’t everything…
While the effects of different practices on the physical body described above are easy to see, the importance of a prenatal class as a space of connection may be a little less obvious, but still important. At a prenatal class, you will meet other expecting mamas. Typically, at the beginning of my classes, I offer an ice breaker where students introduce themselves and answer a question for the day. This part of the class offers women the opportunity to share and connect.
Prenatal yoga classes can also give you the overt opportunity to acknowledge the life growing inside. If you want to cultivate feelings of connectedness with baby, you are often given the opportunity to do this in a prenatal yoga class. You are given the opportunity to move and breath in partnership with baby. Operating from an orientation of partnership can be useful in pregnancy, birth and beyond.
So to sum up, while some mamas may be informed enough, practiced enough and physically able to go to an open yoga class, a prenatal yoga class offers timely benefits specific to pregnancy and birth that may result in a more comfortable and joyful pregnancy and early parenthood.