Yoga for the miserable days

Under the very capacious category titled, “Things they never tell you before you get pregnant,” one of the entries has to be:

Sleep deprivation begins before the child is born, not after.

This is the result of a spicy cocktail of anxiety dreams, a big, uncomfortable belly, acid reflux, and the need to urinate every twenty-six seconds (give or take two seconds). Now to make this even more fun, try going to the hospital for a nine-hour “prepared childbirth” class, and you will ask yourself the following:

Why did no one show me lengthy videos of women in labour, oh, about seven months ago?

Why did no one explain to me the mechanics of the human pelvis, and the two corkscrew turns a child has to make to exit through it, at some point during my education?

But the sordid reality is, no one did, and now you are tired, scared, and wondering how you will deal with a baby who screams all night when just having your sleep interrupted already makes you miserable.
I’m fine, really, how was your week?

Well, the glorious thing is that I did manage to sleep for most of the night last night, and eager to get back to some modicum of sanity and productivity, started the day off with Yoga Journal’s Yoga for your Pregnancy. I didn’t have much time nor much energy, so I decided just to stick to the 30-minute “energizing workout,” which as I previously wrote, was not particularly vigorous. But I wasn’t ambitious — I just wanted to stretch everything out a bit, to feel my body move in a pleasant way, and to prepare for a longer program tomorrow.

The result? Magic. Seriously. I love the pilates and dance-based workouts I’ve been doing lately — and look forward to reviewing more — but there really is something special about yoga. And there’s something really special about yoga that you’re doing for yourself, when you don’t really care about looking good or pushing past your limits or impressing anyone with how you can balance on your pinky.

I took it so slowly today, but really focused on the deep, deep breathing, and on making each stretch and movement count. My old yoga instructor would have been talking about “intention” — without really knowing it, I did have an intention for this simple little yoga practice, and that was to centre myself again. And it worked. When I got up, I was sure that my body was wonderful, I was having the easiest pregnancy any woman had ever had, I wasn’t afraid of labour, and that wiping another human being’s poop for the next few years would be absolutely hilarious.

I’ve read it a thousand times, I’ve heard it said just as often, but I still have to learn it myself: yoga is not about “getting ninety minutes” in or setting a record. But to me, it’s not about spiritual awakenings either. It’s just about allowing myself to take an effective, cheap happy pill with no side effects.

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

Working with Prenatal Yoga Complete

I’m not ready to do a review of Prenatal Yoga Complete yet, since I’ve only worked with one program. This is more of a preliminary report!

I wasn’t sure whether to spring for this video, since quite a few people on Amazon did not like it. There are so many options out there, why go for something poorly rated? However, when I realised that it’s basically Iyengar yoga, I was too tempted, and finding a cheap copy in the Amazon Marketplace, decided to go for it.

I don’t have a lot of experience with Iyengar yoga in general. I went to one class at the BKS Iyengar Yoga Studio of Dallas a while ago, and keep meaning to go back. My recollection of the experience was this: I did not feel that drug-like relaxation that I usually get from a yoga practice, nor did it feel like a strain at any point, so I was at first disappointed. However, a little later I felt great, and since that one single class, I’ve found myself recalling the careful, precise instructions for the poses we did even when I’m doing other yoga programs.

That’s my way of saying that I suspect there’s something to this whole Iyengar thing, even if it’s not immediately satisfying the way a more active form of yoga is. And let’s face it, when you want the relaxation and release of yoga, setting up a million different props is probably not what you’re looking to do.

Prenatal Yoga Complete is a modular DVD, which I think is pretty cool. Basically, you choose a trimester and then you get a menu offering practices of varying lengths addressing different pregnancy issues and goals: things like dealing with morning sickness, back pain, or aiming for relaxation. The pregnancy sciatica has been cruel to me lately, so I chose a second-trimester back and hip workout.

The modular construction of the video means that there isn’t flow from one asana to another — each is essentially a different clip. Set up often takes a bit of time, and even though the descriptions are detailed and long enough to allow you to get everything in place, sometimes you will have to pause the video. You need quite a few blankets, bolsters, blocks, etc., but Mary Pappas-Sandonas does suggest substitutions in the introductory clip on props. And a lot of poses are done against a wall, which was a challenge for me since I did not have a free wall handy, but I was able to do most poses just fine without it.

Little did you know that a grand piano is a useful yoga prop!

What I loved is that this program gives you time. If you enjoy that aspect of yoga that is about paying really close attention to every single muscle, aiming towards best alignment, and breathing through a challenging pose, this is the video for you. The props made many of the poses easier to achieve than what I’m used to doing in other prenatal yoga DVDs, but I made up for that ease with attentiveness. And some of the asanas, done carefully, were much harder.

I also loved that this program included a beautiful, ridiculously relaxing, supported shavasana. Instead of a guided visualization or instructions to “relax” different body parts, Pappas-Sandonas leads you through a deep breath relaxation. I found this much more effective. And — the best part — after the clip for the shavasana is over, the video goes to silence. (There is nothing worse than wanting to stay in corpse pose a bit longer but having some ridiculous DVD intro music play on infinite loop.) My sciatica pain isn’t completely gone, but out of all the stretches and programs I’ve done lately for it, this one has been the most effective. I’m looking forward to trying out the other workouts.

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.

Review of Jennifer Wolfe’s Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga

I don’t envy producers of workout DVDs. I figure they have a hard time pleasing their audiences — at least that’s what Amazon reviews tend to indicate. And here’s my theory for it: the prospective audience for a workout DVD is fundamentally split: there are the people who are so dedicated to their cardio/yoga practice/bellydance drills that they need videos to supplement their classes and gym visits, and then there are the people who haven’t done anything in a while, and figure the new Laotian dancing yoga & hooping video might be the thing that will inspire them to keep with a workout program. Needless to say, these groups of people will not be satisfied with the same video.

This problem is amplified with prenatal workouts. There are the superfit mamas who aren’t going to let a little thing like the 9-month gestation of human life get in the way of their muscle conditioning, and then there are the ladies whose backs are starting to hurt something fierce and who have been terrified by their natural childbirth books into doing some kind of prenatal yoga.

I tend to fall in the latter camp, but in the case of Jennifer Wolfe’s Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga I’m split. On the one hand, I’ve done enough regular yoga classwork in the past to agree that most prenatal yoga programs really are just stretching. They feel fabulous, but are probably not helping my condition too much. On the other hand — I find this program a bit too strenuous, even when doing all the third-trimester modifications. I actually bought it in a set, Complete Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga & Short Forms, which has a DVD with 15, 30, and 45 minute practices. Because I had time today, I thought I’d jump right into the 75-minute practice on the first video, but this was clearly a mistake. At one point I had to start taking breaks and doing child’s pose repeatedly, and Wolfe does encourage this, but it’s frustrating. And my lower back hurts this evening, making me think that I might have strained myself a bit. However, I’m willing to try the shorter programs and see if I can’t work up to getting something useful out of the longer, 75-minute practice.

For now, I’ll review positives and negatives of the long program, all through the filter of my own likes and pet peeves!

The Pluses

– The workout is generally quite well cued, including verbal cues for the modifications, and the presenters “mirror” what you should be doing, so it’s easy enough to follow.
– Breathing is indicated throughout (though Wolfe sometimes seems to lose track of what breath should go where — this gets confusing).
– While I usually worry about so many lunges and what they might mean for my weak knees, movement in and out of lunges is described very precisely, step-by-step, in a way that minimizes the chances of something going wrong.
– Wolfe repeatedly encourages you to take a break if you need it.
– The practice is vigorous enough to feel like a real workout. You really get warmed up, and you’re definitely building strength.
– There’s a longish squat section that feels really good, and that seems to be just the thing for birth prep.
– This is one of the few yoga videos I’ve ever seen, prenatal or not, that has a decent shavasana: Wolfe does a long, guided meditation, with light music in the background that is not annoying. That’s impressive.

The Minuses

– The safety notes often come in the middle or second repetition of a pose. They should come right at the start!
– This may be an issue with vinyasa in general rather than with this particular DVD, but the move from a lunge to a warrior posture is often too quick to really allow for proper alignment of the feet. Now, this is a video for people who have yoga experience, but being pregnant means that finding your balance and figuring out where your feet are is a longer process, and one that varies daily.
– Those lunges and downward-facing dogs get really repetitive. They also get tiring, but it’s easier to soldier through a program that’s more varied. In 75 minutes, a much greater range of yoga postures could have been done.
– There is a little, but not much, for the neck and shoulder area. Given that this is also an area where pregnant women typically have pain, it would have been nice to have more than a head circle in each direction and an eagle pose.

This is it so far — I’ll report on the other workouts as I use them, but this one was too much for me at present. Still, for building strength it’s probably a very good idea to do something a little more rigorous than sitting on a chair and doing a side stretch.

Review of Leisa Hart’s Fit Mama Prenatal Workout

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.

This morning I did Leisa Hart’s Fit Mama for the first time. Let’s face it, there’s a need for this kind of program. While there are countless prenatal yoga and pilates DVDs out there, there aren’t quite so many available with cardio workouts. And sometimes cardio is really what you need — not so much to lose weight (obviously), but to get a bit of energy and warm up the muscles in a way that stretches alone don’t accomplish.

In case you can’t tell, you’re supposed to be sexy now.

And, you know, I got it for five bucks at the local Half Price Books.

Having spent almost an hour in Leisa Hart’s company today, I’m pretty much speechless. On the one hand, there are some truly good things about this video. It did get me warmed up, it wasn’t too hard to follow along, the stretching section had a few moves I haven’t seen on other programs (including a very useful stretch for targeting the sciatic nerve), and there were a couple of abdominal exercises that were creative. Also, in the bonus section there is little video with a short stretch program that can be done standing, with a chair. This strikes me as valuable for those of us with desk jobs, who might really feel the need to incorporate a little extra movement into the day. I haven’t watched the labor prep/movements bonus video, but that may be useful too.

But who can say no to a sciatic stretch?

On the ooooooother hand… (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?). Oh lordy, is this video ever annoying. The salsa cardio section is not too bad, but it is quite repetitive. Hart has the idiotic cardio instructor habit of “encouraging” her audience with phrases such as, “Sexy!” “I see what you’re doing there!” “Put a bit of hip into it!” “Sassy!” “Can you be sexy when you’re pregnant?” (Wait, did I hear that last one correctly?)

I mean, really. How sexy can I look when I’m six months pregnant and doing the cardio vid version of salsa in yoga pants in the middle of my living room? Why do I even have to look sexy during this?

Move forward to the so-called “yoga” segment. This section of the program looks like a cardio instructor saw photos of yoga moves in a magazine and assumed they were actually stills from a very active practice. There are only a few positions, and each one involves bouncing in place. Rinse, repeat. Hart demonstrates her yoga cred by constantly mentioning “deep breaths.” Except, instead of taking the slow, deep breaths typical of yoga, she blows out in the loudest and most off-putting manner imaginable. I don’t think this woman has ever been near a yoga class in her life.

So what to say in the end? The video has some real benefits, it gets your blood moving, and the stretches are not bad. (Not complete — nothing for neck or shoulders — but not bad.) If you can enter a zen state where you just enjoy the sheer ridiculousness of it, you will probably get something out of it. I can’t imagine putting myself through the fake “yoga” workout again, but I would do the fake salsa and the stretching segment. At a fiver, it wasn’t a bad purchase, but it’s not a program to chase down.

Review of Annette Fletcher’s Prenatal Stretch & Strengthening

If anyone had told me that pregnancy would make me more likely to exercise — and not just to obsessively buy workout DVDs but to use them too — I would have called them crazy. After all, how could the discomfort of a growing belly make me more energetic? It turns out that at least when it comes to light, yoga/pilates/stretching type workouts, the small aches of pregnancy actually make working out a must!

Stretch with movement

There seem to be a ton of prenatal videos out there (I have about 13, and will try to review them all!), and one of the newest is Annette Fletcher’s Prenatal Stretch and Strengthening. I received a review copy from World Dance New York, and I wager I’m one of the few people to have used this program already! When I first received it, I did the warm-up, lying down moves, and final stretches. It was a weeknight and I was too tired to go for the standing moves too! But today I had a chance to work with the whole program.

After all the introductions (easily skippable), the main program consists of:

Warm Up
Full Body Movements
Standing Exercises
Deep Stretches

No times are given for these segments either on the box or on the menu, which I would have liked so I could time my workout. However, the entire workout is about an hour long.

Annette Fletcher does some classic floor pilates, but well supported

The moves are basically pilates with a bit of yoga thrown in. The only props are two yoga blankets that Annette folds in various positions to support the poses. Nothing is particularly taxing — only in a few of the lying leg exercises are you likely to feel any kind of burn, and warrior poses are held long enough to strengthen but not to the point of exhaustion. The program is great for stretching your entire body while also working on some strength, but moderately enough that you don’t really notice. (I could tell that my endurance had improved by the second use of the video however!)

What I really liked:

– Annette is clear and not annoyingly peppy.
– A number of the positions combine stretching with gentle movement, which really helped me to relax.
– Time is spent on the neck and shoulders — you wouldn’t think these get particularly tense during pregnancy, but they do.
– Some unusual positions or combinations of positions.
– Generally good cueing. For example, there is one adjustment she has you do during a forward lunge that is simply perfect for getting the right stretch.
– An exercise for working on Kegel muscles that is about as clear as such exercises get, considering that it can’t really be viewed on a DVD!

What I didn’t like:

– I know it’s more pilates than yoga, but I missed having a relaxation segment at the end. Then again, it was easy to just turn the computer off and do my own.
– There are a few moments where Annette gives safety cues for knees (“if your knees are uncomfortable, do this”) while the exercise is underway. These guidelines should be introduced right at the start.

Overall, I think the video offers a complete, accessible workout program that tones and stretches without causing discomfort at any point. It’s not broken down by trimester, but Annette offers gradations of difficulty for many of the exercises. I’ve already done it twice in one week, and can see myself returning to it throughout pregnancy and afterward.

Review of Yoga Journal’s Yoga for your Pregnancy

Yoga Journal’s Yoga for your Pregnancy is a great little video for a pregnant woman who is starting to feel the aches and discomforts of pregnancy and really just wants to get a delicious stretch. I bought it used a few weeks ago, and Sunday afternoon seemed like a nice time to do something not too strenuous for my body. However, after I finished the program, relaxed and pleased, I went on Amazon and found that many had rated the video poorly. I was shocked! It turns out, however, that many of them are regular yoga practitioners, and they, not surprisingly, found the program too easy. I didn’t. Here’s my take:

The video is composed of several segments: a 30-minute energizing routine, a 15-minute relaxation routine, and smaller videos on breathing, meditation, birthing-room yoga, along with a short postnatal yoga practice. One option allows you to do the energizing and relaxation routines along with the breathing and meditation all in a row, which adds up to an hour of practice. There is one glitch here, in that both the 30-min and 15-min routines set you up for a shavasana at the end, and playing the program in a row doesn’t skip this. Since I did the 1-hour program today, I wound up doing two short shavasanas and then continuing on with the breathing and meditation sections — a little ungainly.

As to the main practices: this is not flow yoga. The instructor sets up each position, instructs you quickly on the variations, and you then spend a brief amount of time doing the asana. There are three women on the screen, each doing a different version or level of difficulty. Now, I really liked the way they organized this. In most videos, the star instructor does the most difficult poses, setting them up as a kind of standard, while the other practitioners do variations that you can barely see in the background. In this case, the main instructor, Kristen Eykel, usually demonstrates a pose of intermediate difficulty, while the women in the back show a harder and an easier variation. Eykel also describes the modifications — up or down in difficulty — so that you do not have to look at the screen. However, the practitioners also switch it up sometimes — the one who was doing the more difficult standing exercise might do the easier bending asana. They are at various stages of pregnancy, but the modifications they do seem to be more based on their bodies and abilities, rather than on trimester.

This is such a small detail, but I really liked it — it simply seemed more real. After all, when I usually practice yoga, I’m not at the same level for all asanas. While I’m sure all the women in this video are advanced in their own practices, the way the video is set up makes exercise more approachable.

The asanas themselves are generally not difficult — really not difficult. You will get a good stretch, and you will build strength a bit, but you will probably not break a sweat or feel exhausted if you have done any yoga before. I did not see much of a difference in intensity between the “energizing” workout and the “relaxing” workout.

The breathing segment is particularly nice. I found it one of the more approachable breathing practices I’ve seen on a video, but it was still long enough for me to feel relaxed and refreshed. The meditation segment was not the most convincing meditation I have done, but I tend to think it’s hard to meditate with a video playing in the room anyway.

All in all, my body felt noticeably different — no more pain, no more stiffness — after doing the program, and I’ve been in a calm, happy zone in the hours since. I’m looking forward to checking out the birthing-room yoga segment and the postnatal yoga practice — both nice extras on the DVD.

Review of Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga

I recently went to a prenatal yoga class at a local studio, and while the place was nice and the instructor was friendly, I was a little surprised when she explained that their philosophy is to do the same vinyasa flow as in their regular classes. The only modifications were to move the leg around the belly when going from downward dog to a standing position, and to do shavasana on the side. Frankly… it was a bit tiring, and moving my leg so awkwardly led to knee pain in the following weeks. Maybe I would have really enjoyed it had I been a hardcore yogini with a regular practice, but I was really just a pregnant woman with a body that changes every day, and I’d sort of been hoping for a practice tailored to my condition.

Note the three levels of modification!

Enter Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga. I hadn’t really worked with any of other videos, since they tended to seem a little difficult. The prenatal workout is really accessible, however, with just a slight bit of challenge. Moreover, it really seems to be designed for pregnant women — there are gentle warm-up movements and exercises specifically for stretching and strengthening the pelvic area. Many of the standing moves are done with a chair, which makes the stretching more relaxing and less strenuous. It really is a gentle, relaxing hour-long yoga practice that you simply want to repeat.

What most impressed me, however, was this: Shiva Rea has two other women, in their second and third trimester respectively, doing modified versions of the positions next to her, but you don’t even have to look at the screen to know what modifications you need to do. With every move, she also explains out loud how to modify it in case of discomfort or if your pregnancy is advanced. She even tells you to move your block to the other side of the mat when necessary. I’ve always found it a bit perverse that yoga videos will show modifications, but then force people to squint at a little body in the background of the screen. A woman in her third trimester can actually use this video without having to look at the screen — now that’s smart.