(*for the pregnancy yoga flow scroll to the bottom of the post)
Yoga Sadhana for Mothers by Anna Wise and Sharmila Desai came into my hands one month before I got pregnant. I went through about a half of it and then had to put it down, as it affected me in a very unexpected, and not in a positive way. It was only after the birth that I came back to this book, and felt a completely different connection to the stories that were shared in it.
I was looking for books on yoga and pregnancy, written by teachers who were known to me, and to my surprise I couldn’t find many. There was no need to wonder – yoga, as a discipline, was traditionally developed by men and for men. The famous book Yoga: A Gem for Women by Geeta Iyengar (a daughter of B.K.S Iyengar), published in 1983, was probably the first comprehensive practice guide for women, based on traditional knowledge.
“Yoga Sadhana for Mothers” was recommended to me specifically, because it was written by (and for) ashtanga yoga practitioners. My personal yoga journey began with ashtanga, and even though I was no longer strictly following this method, I could still strongly connect with this type of practice.
The book has everything a mother-to-be with the interest in yoga would wish to know: guidance on yoga practice before and after delivery, general recommendations for postpartum recovery, recipes for healing Ayurvedic meals and real birth stories of ashtanga yoga practitioners. It was these stories that eventually forced me to put the book down.
There are 31 stories told by dedicated female ashtanga yoga practitioners, many of whom are well-known in the community. The stories are honest, detailed, emotional, at times even graphic. They share “raw” experiences of real women, without trying to make things look better or worse than they are. They talk about conception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum recovery, motherhood, and of course first and foremost, about the changing relationship with the practice.
In many stories, this relationship status seemed to be marked as complicated, and it was a part I personally found rather difficult to connect to. Pregnancy, if we like it or not, does put certain limitations on physical practices, and for most of us it stretches far beyond our pregnancy time only. A lot of practitioners mention that it took them at least a year after birth to come close to the same level in performing asanas as before the pregnancy. It makes about 2 years alltogether, and it is a long time. If a practice has been a huge part of your life for many years it might be difficult to accept and let go. And this is one of the first and strongest lessons that pregnancy teaches us – accept and let go, and see the practice beyond the physical exercise.
I had to go through something similar 2 years before my pregnancy, when I got an injury in Mysore, and I had no choice but to let the attachment to the physical practice go and experience it beyond asanas. I was rather surprised to read how many advanced practitioners were struggling with the same.
When we are going through new chapters in life, we always crave to hear experiences of people who went through something similar. But what I surprisingly found for myself was that some of the birth stories in the book introduced me to fears and concerns that I didn’t have before. I was visualising my birth as an easy process in a beautiful environment (my expectations were based on my strong health and trained muscles at that point), and many stories described the birth that was far from my ideal picture. So I put the book aside and went back to my inspiring fiction, thinking that positive vibes would do me more good at that point. This decision was not wrong (I got pregnant just a couple of weeks later), but only after I gave birth myself, that did not go exactly how expected, I understood how valuable and honest those stories were.
The first few days after delivery I spent going through those birth stories again – now I could relate to so many moments in them, and it made me feel as if I shared my own experience with the community of like-minded women.
What I found extremely useful in the book before delivery were modifications of yoga practice, that became a base for my own prenatal flow. I combined it with suggestions from the book Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood: Safe Practice for Expectant & New Mothers, which I also strongly recommend for all expectant yoginis. Here is the pregnancy yoga sequence that I’ve been practicing throughout my 2nd and 3rd trimester:
What was univocally acknowledged by all the yoga practitioners featured in the book, was that birth and parenthood are the best opportunity to practice yoga that life can give us. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a gift for personal growth that teaches us some of the most powerful life lessons, and as mothers we are blessed to be able to receive it.