Putting mom’s body together again

Yesterday I swam for the first time since last October. Having finally received the go-ahead for exercise at my six-week check-up on Monday, I spent what free time I could carve out during the week doing a series of activities I hadn’t been able to for ages:

1. Tuesday: I took a hot bath.
2. Wednesday: I got a massage.
3. Thursday: I went swimming.

I’ve come to see these as necessary activities not just for me, but also for everyone around me. On the especially exhausted days recently, not only have I been miserable, but I’ve managed to make everyone around me miserable too. The destructive power of an unhappy mom is considerable! So my husband knows to send me out of the house when things are getting bad. On one particularly exhausted day, he said to me, “Why don’t I watch the baby and you go to Half Price Books and buy some books?” Now, I need more books like I need a tornado to go through my living room (oh, wait…), but I dutifully went and did what I needed to do for the sake of my soul. I don’t think what he did is pictured in Porn for New Moms, but it should be.

Anyway, to return back to swimming… During my pregnancy, I splurged on prenatal massages twice. I don’t usually go for massages, but I thought my body deserved them then. But what surprised me was how psychologically important they were too. Even during a pretty easy pregnancy, I still felt like my body wasn’t really my own anymore. People stared at my belly, and every time I went to the doctor’s I was poked and prodded in various ways. It started to feel like my abdominal area was just a totally different part of me, available for the viewing and inspection of others. When I got a prenatal massage, I nearly wanted to cry, since it was the first time I felt like a whole person, with body and mind both belonging to me.

Fast forward to labour, a c-section, breastfeeding… now my body feels even more cut up into chunks. This bit is for the baby, this bit was cut up and needs to be kept dry and not used for anything, this bit is still bleeding, this bit hurts from lifting the baby, and this other bit hurts from bending over too much. It’s a completely fragmented experience of my own body. And while massage and the bath helped a bit, it was really when I went swimming that my body didn’t feel like bits anymore.

Plunging into the water I felt shocked by its coolness, and so I focused on that. I had been a bit scared about my first bit of exercise — would my abdominal muscles hurt? Would I feel them pulling the way I did a few weeks ago when I stood up holding the baby? But they felt fine when I started swimming, my back pain went away, and suddenly I could just give in to the meditative flow of being in the water. I’ve never been a particularly strong or skilled swimmer — in fact, I really only started to like it in university, after reading a book on swimming and working on my technique (yes, I do everything via book learnin’!) — but I can now breast stroke for ages.

Even more surprising than the fact that my body felt ok, in fact just like my old, pre-baby body, was this: I found I wasn’t getting tired at all. You would think after six weeks of no exercise, lack of sleep, round-the-clock breastfeeding, and only short walks, the first bit of cardio would have me huffing and puffing at the edge of the pool. Not only did that not happen, but I only left the pool because of the cold weather, not because I was tired. I really felt I could have gone on swimming for another hour, forgetting all those worries and to-do lists that usually fill my head.

I am now really looking forward to starting some gentle postnatal workouts and bellydance…

Review of Tracey Mallett’s 3 in 1 Pregnancy System

There are a couple of things that are confusing about Tracey Mallett’s pregnancy videos. The first is that she’s done two, 3 in 1 Pregnancy System and Fit For Pregnancy. I have both, and if you read their covers they seem pretty similar. Both make a big deal about being 3-in-1 in multiple ways — three stages of pregnancy, three disciplines (yoga, pilates, and sculpting), and three body sections. This makes it seem as though you’re going to get some kind of complicated modular system with an elaborate DVD menu. This is not the case.

Look! Normal sofa cushions! I have those too.

At least as far as 3 in 1 Pregnancy System, which I did this morning, is concerned, what you get is a simple, hour-long workout that does indeed balance all the body parts and draw from different movement practices, and that has modifications for the third trimester. And you know what? That’s just fine. The video really hit the spot for me, and if anything, I’m rather relieved that I could just do it without making too many decisions.

The workout is divided into four sections (four? four? what happened to three?!):

Warm Up & Core Conditioning
Lower Body
Upper Body
Partnered Flexibility

Tracey has you mainly warm up using yoga moves, but most of the video seems pilates-based. I’m near my due date and not feeling that strong right now, despite maintaining a movement program, and I was able to do all but one position in the entire video — the plank. There is a modified hundred, which I haven’t seen on other prenatal videos, more abdominal work that is challenging but just barely doable for me right now, and some nice leg strengthening exercises. The toning moves are mixed in with some very satisfying stretches, which I really like. And the upper body section uses light weights to give you a little bit of muscular work.

So far so good. Sounds pretty basic, right? It is pretty basic. But I liked it. Tracey herself is adorable — she has an English accent, is pregnant in the video, and often jokes about not being able to perform certain movements anymore. She somehow makes the video really cheery and lighthearted. The attention to making moves comfortable for pregnant women is constant — I never felt rushed when moving from one position to another, always had time to get a sip of water, and even difficult moves felt controlled and well cued.

That’s it. I’m never going back to cushion-less pilates.

There is minimal prop use, but it’s also thoughtful. For example, Tracey has you use a folded towel under your palms to reduce the strain on the wrists in push ups (and it does!). She also has you use three cushions under your body while doing pilates leg exercises, and it makes the whole thing sooo much more comfortable! And guess what — these are not specialized yoga pillows or anything, but just regular sofa cushions. For once I didn’t have to adjust for the fact that I don’t have a yoga bolster in some kind of very specific shape.

What ruins the numerology of the program is the “partnered flexibility” section — but while it spoils the numbers, it really makes the video. Tracey has her husband come in and help with some gentle stretches, most of them focused on the upper back and neck. Now, I did not get help with these, but Tracey’s husband often provides tips on how to do them alone. And still, they were so, so good. It’s easy to forget that pregnancy will take a toll on the upper back and neck too, and I suffer from tightness in that region anyway. (Who doesn’t?) The super-precise instructions given for these stretches gave me much deeper, more satisfying stretches than I usually get, and I expect to turn to them again and again just to deal with computer-related stiffness.

Husbands make great props, it turns out

So there you have it. Tracey Mallett’s 3 in 1 Pregnancy System is not nearly as complex as the cover would make it seem, but it challenged and stretched me in just the right ways for the third trimester. I can imagine doing it as a postnatal exercise too, as a way of gently building up strength again.

Review of MommyShape Prenatal Complete

If you’re looking for a moderately challenging, customizable workout to keep in shape while you’re expecting, MommyShape Prenatal Complete could be just the DVD for you. I received a review copy from its creator, Diane Angela Fong, and was very pleased with the program, though I think knowing what you’re getting is the key to being satisfied with it. So far, I’ve worked with it twice, taking advantage of its modular structure. I haven’t done every exercise on the video, but I have used it in two ways I consider typical.


The workout is basically divided into five sections:

Warm Up
Sculpt & Stretch
Dance it out!
Yoga & Relaxation
Cool Down

The times for these are given, and you can pick and choose which you will do, though you do have to click again for a new section. Doing all of them would take about 70 minutes, which if you’re heavily pregnant you might find a bit much (though I would have done it easily earlier in my pregnancy). But this morning, for example, I did the Warm Up, Dance it out! and Cool Down segments, which took a little over half an hour, and I felt like I got a good workout out of it. At the beginning of each section, Diane tells you what props you’ll need for that section, which is a good chance to pause and get things in place.

But here’s the kicker: if you want a little bit of each, you can also do the “MommyShape Complete” workout, which has segments from each section, and is 50 minutes long. I actually did this version earlier in the week, and I really like the inclusion of this option. I love it when DVDs have a lot of material, but if a program is too long, it can become overwhelming, and I’m less likely to use that DVD when I’m busy. So having a simple, one-click workout that will provide a bit of cardio, a bit of sculpting, and a bit of stretching, is just right, and a great introduction to the DVD.


Diane is a professional dancer, and despite being 35 weeks pregnant in the video, is in excellent shape. She moves quickly from one position to another — much faster than I could! Especially in the sculpting and yoga sections, there are modifications to make positions easier depending on your level or trimester, but I can tell you that despite partially modifying, I really felt a burn in my thighs the day after doing the “Complete” program. (In a good way.) If you’re not in the habit of watching a video through before doing it (and because of time constraints, I’m not), you may be frustrated with how quickly Diane moves. However, this could also be a positive — when you’re doing a segment for the second time, you’ll waste less times with explanations and lengthy setup.


The dance segment is also tricky, but lo and behold, there is a separate 15-minute dance instructional that goes through the moves more slowly. The first time I did the video I didn’t bother with this, impatient chipmunk that I am, and I was able to follow along with almost everything just fine. I did watch the instructional before doing the program again, and that helped, but it’s not strictly necessary if you have dance experience.

The dance itself is a cardio workout with a mix of bellydance, African, modern, and Latin dance moves. Diane repeats it three times, using arm variations to keep it interesting, and then does a modified, slowed-down version for a cool-down. I have to say I really liked this segment, despite, or maybe because of the fact that it’s so different from my usual bellydance. Diane performs the moves with grace, which I find inspiring, and for a while there I felt that I was taking a modern dance class in an airy California studio. (Instead of, you know, in my living room.) And I really felt tired by the end.

My two warnings are that Diane doesn’t mirror, so you have to adjust for left and right, and while there is light rhythmic music in the background of the dance segment, the dancing is not done to the beat. These didn’t throw me off, since the general feeling of the dance portion was more loose and flowing, but they could if you are expecting mirroring and timing.

In sum, MommyShape Prenatal Complete would be great for you if you are earlier on in your pregnancy or have maintained a light workout routine, if you can adjust for left and right, and if you have some experience with basic dance moves. At 35 weeks, I find it gives me enough of a workout to really feel I have done something — beyond just stretching — but is still doable. If you are completely out of shape and/or want to be able to get everything on the first go, this is probably not the best program for you. My favorite aspects of the DVD are that it’s customizable but doesn’t force me to make decisions if I don’t want to, and that the dance segment is fun and well-performed.

MommyShape Prenatal Complete is also available at http://mommyshape.net/.

Review of Eva Bondar’s Pregnancy Workout

Eva Bondar’s Pregnancy Workout has one major strength, one major flaw, and is generally just fine in betweeen.

Eva showing you how to conduct your kegels

The strength? Its kegels workout. First of all, it’s one of the longest I’ve seen in any video. Eva uses her hands to help you visualise the muscular contractions, and it’s helpful. What I particularly like about this kegels practice is that it also focuses as much on kegel muscle relaxation as on it’s tension. I’ve always wondered about all these kegel exercises that are all about tensing the muscles, when what you’re really preparing for is conscious relaxation of those muscles during labour. Now, I know that’s easier to relax a strong muscle than a weak one, so these practices do make sense, but why not exercise the relaxation itself? The birth prep books have you relax every other muscle, and yet this is hands down (erg…) the most important one on the day of birth!

The weakness? Eva is frustratingly unspecific in her instructions. She will often start a movement and only later tell you verbally what the movement should be doing. She’ll tell you to lift a leg or do something on a side without specifying which. (Which is actually not so bad.) She’ll tell you to do something for one final rep, and then go on doing it for three or four more reps. If I’m face down in some awkward position, and heavily pregnant to boot, I don’t want to have to crane my neck to look at the screen to figure out what I should be doing!

For the most part, Eva Bondar’s Pregnancy Workout is a nice, very stretchy, quite gentle, pilates-based prenatal workout. There were a few moves I hadn’t done on other videos, and generally lots of delicious-feeling side stretches. There is also a back segment, which is a very good idea for when you’re starting to carry extra weight in the front. I can imagine doing it again, especially on days when my other pilates prenatal workouts seem too hard (this is by far the easiest), and perhaps the second time around I won’t be so annoyed by the vague instructions!

Review of Jennifer Jiménes’ Let’s Dance Together – Prenatal Dance Fitness

While it’s been a lot of fun trying different prenatal workouts — and a lifesaver in terms of how I feel — the analytical side of my brain also enjoys seeing how many different kinds of programs are out there. I’ve already reviewed several prenatal prep DVDs with dance components. In fact, Naia, Sera Solstice, and Amira‘s programs all use bellydance, which I’m increasingly convinced is just perfect for both pregnancy and labour movement itself. Earlier today I took a Lamaze class on natural comfort measures near Dallas, and almost all the moves the instructor suggested women do in labour — hip bumps, pelvic tilts, hip circles — are basic components of bellydance. She even suggested a kind of shimmy for helping with back labour, or with a baby that is malpositioned!

This is a long intro to Jennifer Jiménes’ Let’s Dance Together – Prenatal Dance Fitness, but that’s because I want to explain what makes this program different. I received a review copy of the program, and Jennifer included a note in which she explained that it’s more about developing “inner trust” in your body than typical dance fitness. The difference begins with the staging. Instead of a single instructor facing the camera, or, say, three different practitioners modeling trimester variations, this video has a group of pregnant women, dressed brightly, sitting, standing, and dancing in a circle. Already doing the video feels less like instruction and more like participation. In fact, this is one of the few videos I’ve done which I felt encouraged me not even to look at the screen — and this is a good thing. It’s hard to relax and turn inward when you’re looking up at a screen.

The program begins with a gentle warmup that stretches out every bit of your body, with some really nice seated exercises for the legs and a variety of flowing movements done on all fours to relax the lower back and pelvis. The latter chapters include a labour prep section, including an exercise to help you maintain stamina through pain, and a meditative cool down. But what I really want to talk about is the dance segment.

Now, when I go to a dance class or watch a dance instructional, I want to be taught something. When I’ve been to dance classes where students were asked to free dance at the end of class, I was invariably stressed out by the experience — not because I don’t like to improvise, but because I feel too self-conscious, especially when others are there. If you’d told me that this video had a significant portion devoted to free dance, I would not have been excited. But in truth, I wound up loving it.

Why? Well, first of all, it’s not totally free dance. You’re invited to explore movement, but Jennifer calls out different parts of your body to focus on, as in “dance with your shoulders!” Both times I did this video, I was amazed at how creative I could be with that amount of prompting — I found my body performing moves I’d learned formally in dance classes, moves I’d seen other dancers do, or just totally new motions I invented because they felt good. It was, cheesy as it sounds, liberating.

The bright colours strike a Merce Cunningham vibe…

It feels wonderful to be heavily pregnant and realise that your body still can do things that feel so lovely. But I think this kind of exercise could be great beyond pregnancy too — how much better would those stressful improv moments in dance class have been if the teachers had guided the movement like this? A lot of dancers love choreography but are scared of improv, and I think a gentle practice like the one in Let’s Dance Together is a perfect way of breaking out of the choreography box. I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the second dance segment, which was a kind of circle dance with scarves, but the “Free Dance” portion was enchanting and made me want to do it again and again.

Did the program lead me to trust my body more, or to feel better prepared for labour? I think it’s hard to answer that question before actually giving birth. I will say this: I think the workout, and especially the free dance section, are excellent at giving you practice at figure out what kinds of movement make your body feel good. The fact that you’re not following someone else’s count or precise movements, but taking each of the exercises and doing them in a way that stretches and strengthens your muscles in the best way for you, is, I suspect, good practice for labour, when you have to set your own pace and figure out what works in easing the pain. And if labour is a dance, as I’ve sometimes heard it described, it has to be improvised.

Jennifer Jiménes’ Let’s Dance Together – Prenatal Dance Fitness is available on Amazon via the link, or from Jennifer’s website, Let’s Dance Together.

Review of Suzanne Bowen’s Long and Lean Prenatal Workout

Suzanne Bowen’s Long and Lean Prenatal Workout is one gorgeous pilates-based workout. Actually, to tell you the truth, it doesn’t feel like a prenatal workout at all. Suzanne herself is not visibly pregnant in the video, and there’s almost no “baby” talk. She does tell you to take rests and get water more frequently than you’d hear in a normal pilates workout (rather than the “keep going, you can do this!” typical of exercise mavens). And those of us who have watched lots of prenatal workout intros can tell that the workout does not involve any exercises dangerous for pregnant women — not much bouncing, and nothing done on the back. But given all that, this is the first prenatal workout I’ve done during which I repeatedly forgot I was pregnant — and at seven months, that’s a feat.

The workout is divided into three main sections:
Standing – 20 minutes
Mat – 20 minutes
Stretching – 10 minutes

There is also a 10-minute postnatal abs section taught by Leah Sarago that I haven’t, for obvious reasons, looked at or tried yet.

What’s the scoop? The standing segment was ballet-inspired but eminently doable. There are light squats and lunges, but all done so precisely that even my usually-weak knees didn’t protest for a moment. (And have been fine all day afterwards.) Most of the leg series are accompanied by arm movements that will really warm you up. This section felt really beautiful, and gave me a feeling of lightness I haven’t had in a while.

The mat work segment was, frankly, challenging. I don’t have an enormous amount of upper-body strength anyway, and found I simply had to take breaks here and there. And there was an oblique exercise that I could have done easily before pregnancy, but at seven months was just not going to happen anymore! But, to my surprise, the abdominal exercises were much easier to accomplish without strain than in other prenatal videos.

Also excellent was the stretching segment. While it helped to be warm for this, I would recommend it as a stand-alone program to anyone who is pregnant or has back pain. The leg, hip, and back stretches were extremely effective and satisfying, even though Suzanne warns you not to push yourself too hard or too far. I could feel my prenatal sciatica slipping into nothingness…

The workout closes with the invitation to relax while sitting on or your side, while music plays for a while. I wound up not finding this music all that relaxing, but when I turned off the video I realised I was surprisingly refreshed given the practice. The Long and Lean Prenatal Workout is a program I expect I’ll be using even when pregnancy is only a memory!

Review of Patricia Friberg’s Belly Beautiful Workout – Prenatal

Patricia Friberg’s Belly Beautiful Workout – Prenatal Fitness for a Beautiful Pregnancy is an excellent addition to a prenatal workout collection. While most prenatal workouts are yoga-based and focus on stretching, Belly Beautiful Workout is Pilates-based and will make you feel some burn, but it is also gentle and precise enough to be done even by a seven-month pregnant woman!

I received a review copy of this program, and was excited to try it because of the props. Patricia uses a Swiss ball and an elastic band in her exercises, and suggests you set up on a sticky mat. Now, this could be annoying if you don’t have the items, though the mat is really optional and the Swiss ball can be replaced in most cases with a chair. But I was glad — for a while, every exercise DVD I bought came with a free elastic band, and I somehow have acquired two Swiss balls I don’t quite know what to do with. So I’m happy to play with a program that teaches me how to use them.

The workout is divided into several sections:

A segment on Pelvic Floor Work (separate from the full workout)
Warm Up
Upper Body
Lower Body

There is also an intro and a section on Diastitis recti, and Patricia tells you throughout the workout which moves to avoid if you have the latter.

In general, this is the kind of video that looks super easy to do when you watch it on screen, and is in fact much more challenging. The warmup is probably the only one I’ve done on a prenatal video that really warmed my muscles. The upper body segment uses the elastic band. Most of its moves are not terribly strenuous, but you will definitely feel some of them. (And the upper body tends to be neglected on prenatal workout videos, so I think it’s valuable.) And the lower body segment has some moves performed leaning sideways on the ball that are very difficult by the end. Patricia makes leaning on that ball look easy, but I fell off multiple times while trying to perform the exercises! The one thing I would say is that if, like me, you have weak knees, you should be careful performing these exercises and the lunges in the lower body workout.

This is much harder to do than it looks

The stretch segment is short, but effective (it also uses the ball, to my surprise!), and it leads to what I think is the real gem of the program: the relaxation segment. Now, most programs, even the yoga ones, tell you to relax during shavasana, or in a best case scenario, tell you to picture something relaxing or to relax particular body parts. Patricia sets you up in a position safe for pregnant women and then guides you through a progressive relaxation that is very similar to one in Preparation for Birth: The Complete Guide to the Lamaze Method. It involves tensing each muscle for five seconds and then relaxing it, which is much more effective than just “trying to relax.” How effective? Well, let’s just say that by the end of the relaxation segment, I had relaxed right out of consciousness. Even though I had been awake and alert just a few minutes earlier! I wound up having a wonderful nap on the floor (yes, right on the yoga mat) and will use that segment again just to practice guided relaxation.

I only did parts of the pelvic floor segment, but exercises do teach you how to access the Kegel muscles in a slightly different way than I’ve seen elsewhere, and I can imagine them being very useful. Most of them could also be done sitting at a desk.

You will love this video if:
– you want a bit more of a challenge than prenatal videos usually offer
– you like using props
– you like Pilates-based movements
– you want to focus on your upper body
– you want to practice deep relaxation as recommended by some natural childbirth methods
– you want practice building your Kegel muscles

You will not love this video if:
– you are primarily looking for stretching
– you have weak knees
– you hate having to buy or use props

You can get the video at bellybeautifulworkout.com/.

Review of Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise

My exploration of dance-based prenatal DVDs continues with Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise, a massive three-and-a-half hour video that includes yoga and strength exercises, dance movement instruction and practice, birthing prep, interviews with health professionals and dancers, and two performances. Amira provided me with a review copy, and in our correspondence she mentioned having intended to make a much shorter program — I guess she got carried away with the research!

Amira’s yoga warmup

So this video is really several programs in one: the first, which most people will probably buy it for, is a gentle conditioning program for pregnant women with a strong dance component. The second is a reflection on childbirth from several different perspectives: Amira’s as dancer, pregnant woman, and researcher, those of a midwife and a chiropractic doctor, and testimonials from six dancers who had children. These programs are also intertwined to some extent. I’ll deal with the second program first.

Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise for Childbirth Information

The thrust of Amira’s work is very much about recovering non-Western modes of bodily movement and preparation for childbirth. This can be seen in her introduction, and in little segments between the exercise sections of the workout. My own reaction to this was split. On the one hand, it’s incredibly silly to force women to give birth lying down, and it’s also patently clear that many of the movements in bellydance are precisely what doctors now recommend to pregnant women to alleviate pains and prepare for childbirth. “Ancient wisdom” is a broad and vague category, but there is clearly a lot we can learn from forms of movement that are not sitting at one’s desk. On the other hand, I also tend to resist idealizing either the past or non-Western medicine. Pregnancy is not a disease, but it is dangerous, and a lot of women died in the past who wouldn’t die today in North America or Western Europe. (Maternal mortality is still a major issue around the world, one Hilary Clinton has drawn attention to recently — see this, this, and this.)

Dancer Maggie shares her birth story

This is why what spoke to me most from this part of the video were the testimonials of dancers, who spoke about their own birth experiences. What came out of this was that pregnancy and birth are complicated, messy, and deeply individual. Some wound up having C-sections, some had tough pregnancies but were able to give birth vaginally, and every woman seemed to have a mix of joys and regrets. All thought they had benefited from their dance practice, but in different and nuanced ways — a feeling of femininity, a strengthened bond with the baby, or better body awareness. I loved that this section of the video showed that becoming a mother is not one-size-fits-all deal, even if many of us have ideas about what the “perfect” childbirth might look like.

Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise as Prenatal Workout

The exercise section of the video contains five sections:

Yoga Warmup & Stretch
Belly Dance
Exercises During Labor
Cool Down and Stretch

This is quite a bit of material, and you will probably prefer just to do the warmup, cool down, and one of the sections in the middle on a normal day. I’ve tried it all except for the labor exercises, though these are mostly also bellydance movements, with the interesting addition of breathing practice that even women confined to bedrest can do.

The program is extremely careful, and very gentle. While you will stretch and strengthen your muscles, there are no jarring movements or even footwork. Everything is cued slowly and precisely. It means you should do this video on a day when you’re not in a rush (you might be frustrated with the pace), but also that you’re unlikely to injure or unduly strain yourself. Subtitles and inset videos will sometimes show modifications. And the program as a whole is a complete package — every part of your body will be gently stretched or worked, though it won’t feel like an intense workout. The best result was one I didn’t even notice right away. After doing this video, I had almost three days without sciatica pain.

Kitty paws help pregnant pain!

The “Belly Dance” section consists of basic movement instruction, but no choreographies. For women who are new to bellydance, Amira’s instructions will be approachable. More experienced dancers will not find challenging moves or routines, but I think this section would be a great long warmup for a pregnant woman continuing her dance practice. (It doesn’t have lots of lunges or extended shimmies that other warmups I know use, but which might be difficult or dangerous during pregnancy.) What I think is really valuable about this section, even for women who know how to do a chest circle and a maya, is that Amira’s slow and careful repetition of the movements forces you to pay attention to your basics. I found myself really focusing on the fundamentals, striving to extend my range of motion, and working on doing basic movements in a beautiful way. It made me think that there could be a plus side to dancing when pregnant!

And yes, bellydance does feel very good when you’re pregnant! What I found funny was that Amira included a section on arms and hands and claimed that it was for the beauty of the dance rather for any health benefits. Beautiful handwork is my favourite part of bellydance, so I’m with her on that, but I think she’s wrong on one point. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to carpal tunnel syndrome, and nothing is as great for that as bellydance hand flourishes are! They’re gorgeous, but they also have health benefits. Go figure.

The summary? You will love this DVD if you want a full but gentle prenatal workout, if you want to luxuriate in movement that will support your pregnancy, and if you want to hear about other women’s thoughts on and experiences of childbirth. You will not love it if you want a fast or sweaty workout, or if you do not want to hear about childbirth practices around the world (there are informational bits between the workout segments). You can get the DVD at www.pregnantbellydance.com.

Review of Elena Brower’s Element: Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga

At one point while doing Elena Brower’s Element: Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga I thought: “hey, this is like what I know as yoga.” That seemed like a weird thing to think considering the number of yoga videos I’ve been doing lately. But Elena Brower’s program reminded me of the yoga classes I used to take in New York, in the kids’ playroom of our apartment building, with one super-intense and wonderful yoga teacher. It has the same kind of slow, careful movement, with very precise instructions that are sometimes difficult to conceptualize, but work brilliantly once you get what she means. Later, I checked the DVD case and realised Brower does Anusara yoga, which is what we were doing back then. Maybe it’s because it’s what I’m used to, but there’s something about Anusara yoga that really hits the spot for me — more dynamic than just one position after another, but more measured than vinyasa flow.

Pigeon pose — brilliant for prenatal back pain

The program itself is short: it’s about half an hour, and flies by in what seems like less time. There are subtle modifications for pregnant women, things like very careful twists and gentle backbends and squatting work. That said, it doesn’t feel like a prenatal program. It won’t get all the kinks out (at least it didn’t for me), and it’s not so much about relaxing or stretching. Instead, you get warrior poses, some pigeon poses and forward bends and downward dogs and moves in and out of plank, and a final seated relaxation.

While I was doing the video, I felt like I was building strength. It wasn’t nearly as tiring as Jennifer Wolfe’s Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga, but I could feel it. Then, strangely, when I finished the program, I felt like I hadn’t done anything at all! The only difference was that my hips felt looser.

The verdict? I’ll wait a bit and see how my body feels. I loved the precision of Brower’s instructions, the way focusing on one muscle or breath could enable me to stretch further comfortably. I would happily purchase more of her DVDs, and am certainly looking forward to working with the postnatal part of the program. However, I don’t think this video is the complete package for prenatal conditioning or relaxation. Use it in conjunction with other programs.

Review of Heather Seininger’s Yoga Pregnancy: Pre and Post Natal Workouts

Heather Seininger’s Yoga Pregnancy: Pre and Post Natal Workouts is basically the polar opposite of Jennifer Wolfe’s Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga, which I practiced with and reviewed yesterday. Whereas Wolfe’s program seems intended to be as close as possible to a real and vigorous Vinyasa yoga practice with a few modifications, Seininger’s program is short, easy, and seems more focused on giving pregnant women the basic stretches for back, chest, neck, and hips that they need to deal with everyday pains and prepare for labour.

The video also includes a postnatal workout, which I didn’t try for now. But the prenatal workout is just right when you really only want a stretch and a bit of strength building. Seininger has a very calm voice, and she matter-of-factly instructs you how to enter each position, each time giving you a moment to center yourself and find your balance. There are warrior poses, but here you have time to get into proper form and to check your foot placement. Every asana is done carefully, purposefully, and without rushing. There is a brief (too brief!) shavasana at the end. There are modifications shown for third trimester, and these are usually cued verbally as well.

If you’ve done any kind of yoga at all, this probably won’t challenge you too much. But it’s perfect maintenance for days when you want something light, and a good way to start the day.