The Mindful Mama
Desiree Wood is nurse practitioner at the VA Puget sound and has been practicing yoga in the Seattle area for over 13 years. Last year she completed her doctorate degree with a thesis on the use of Mindfulness for stress reduction in critically ill patients and their family members. She is also a certified yoga instructor having completed the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training at Spira Yoga in West Seattle. When she isn’t busy working or practicing yoga she enjoys teaching fellow nursing students at the University of Washington and hanging out with her two large house cats.
This blog is the personal experience of a yoga practitioner. If you are pregnant and looking for advice, always consult your doctor first. Once you have been given the green light by your OBGYN to exercise then Spira is happy to teach you modifications so you may enjoy yoga throughout your pregnancy. But listen to your doctor and your body!
Today I am exactly 22 weeks pregnant. On the precipice of entering month five of growing a little girl human, I just finished a rigorous flow yoga class for the fourth time this week. My muscles are relaxed, still tingling from the blood flow they were bathed in for the last 90 minutes. I am calm, relaxed enjoying the benefits of the “yoga brain” sensation.
Right now I am definitely enjoying the benefits of the second trimester. More energy, less nausea and the new sensation of little kicks in my lower abdomen bring excitement and abundant joy. Much improved from the first three months where I missed more yoga than I had since I began my practice 13 years ago. During the first trimester, I struggled with constant nausea, the creeping feeling of bile building up in downward dog, wanting to puke through an entire Sun A series. Nonetheless my yoga practice continues, though in a much different way than six months ago.
Six months ago my husband and I had come to the conclusion that we may not have children. After five years of dealing with infertility, costly treatments and the heartache of not conceiving a child, our focus changed. The constant uncertainty coupled with the stress and disappointment of another failed intervention created the perfect trifecta of self-doubt and shame. It was through yoga and several “40-days” retreats that I rediscovered that I was indeed a capable and deserving person and that my ability to reproduce did not define who I was. Yoga to me is a moving meditation; a practice of teaching the mind to be fully present in the current moment: appreciating the past while recognizing the impermanence of existence, relinquishing control over the unknown future.
So, here I am about to become a first time mom at the age of 35, conceiving naturally by accident on a recent trip to Paris in June. After working so hard for years to have a child, you may be thinking, “wow, this is great!” which it totally is, but there is still the doubt and anxiety, making my yoga practice more important than ever.
This is why a good rigorous yoga practice is so important during pregnancy. Of course I am speaking as someone who has practiced yoga for 13 years and has a ringing endorsement to keep up my exercise routine from my OB. If you have a medical condition or have not practiced exercise regularly then by no means am I advocating or suggesting you should put your body/baby at risk by attempting an exercise routine that you are not familiar with.
There is this concept in our society that pregnancy is a “medical health condition” and sometimes it is. As a nurse practitioner working in Critical Care I have cared for critically ill pregnant and post-partum women and the outcomes can be tragic. However, it is important to realize that pregnancy is a natural biological occurrence, not a disability and with proper prenatal care and testing can be safe and successful! Yet despite our increasing medical knowledge there are still many myths that surround pregnancy especially advice on the amount and types of exercise to engage in.
According to the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists (ACOG) physical activity during pregnancy is not only safe it a vitally important aspect to a safe and healthy pregnancy and birth.
The benefits of physical activity are numerous especially while pregnant. Physical activity during pregnancy has been shown to prevent excessive gestational weight gain, reduces low back pain and also reduces the risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. The benefits don’t just stop after baby is born, more and more medical literature indicates that physical fitness during pregnancy has long term benefits effecting not only the mother’s overall health but the health of the baby throughout the lifespan.
That is why yoga is such a perfect physical workout to engage in during pregnancy especially because of its holistic approach. Not only is yoga a physical practice it enhances the development of self-awareness, and uses the mind/body and breathe connection to calm nerves and alleviate stress.
Practicing yoga is associated with several biochemical effects such as influence on blood pressure heart rate and the hormones cortisol and the catecholamine stress response. Physiologically, yoga is mediated by several body systems and has been shown in multiple clinical trials to reduce sympathetic (fight or flight response) tone, activate the antagonistic neuromuscular system and stimulate the body’s limbic system which leads to decreased stress response.
By practicing the asanas, using breath and body awareness the parasympathetic (PNS) pathways becomes activated and thus stress hormones are reduced producing a feeling of calmness and decreased stress.
I am not saying that experiencing stress is a bad thing, it is a necessary and important part of life. But what I love about yoga is my ability to tap into those “feel good” hormones through the PNS pathway. This is good for me and my baby girl.
When we stimulate the PNS we increase:
-Rest and recuperation
-Circulation to the uterus and the baby
-Appropriate blood sugar utilization
-Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
As you can see yoga isn’t just exercise, it is SO MUCH MORE. Right now I am more in love with my practice than ever. Yoga is constantly evolving, changing and teaching me how to bring health and balance to myself and this new little human who will have to learn to function in a sometimes very dysfunctional world. I get the privilege to build a yoga foundation with her before she is physically outside of my body. That’s pretty cool!!
Many people have asked if I have tried prenatal yoga and yes I have but to tell the truth I am not ready to give up the challenge of a good hatha flow. The strength-building and physicality of the practice is something my mind and body craves. I do have to remember to modify, modify, modify. My body is definitely changing; hopping into a handstand or busting out a side crow just isn’t accessible for now. Blocks, bolsters and blankets have become my new companions, so has learning to come into rest when I am feeling fatigued. I often opt out of intense series to just breathe, allowing tension to be released, activating my PNS. Somedays that is what my practice is, communicating calm and peace to myself and my baby, just watching and being aware.