I have almost two weeks to go until my due date, and I am having a little moment of gratitude towards my Ashtanga practice for carrying me so safely and happily to this point. Right around the time I conceived, I felt incredibly vital. The daily practice had really softened and opened up my body. I felt equal parts strong and flexible, and I was up to any yoga challenge the practice could throw at me. I guess in some ways, I got my biggest yoga challenge yet. So far, I haven’t missed a practice. I hope I can continue to practice up to the day I give birth
When I was about 8 weeks pregnant, Joanne Darby told me, “Pregnancy is an intuitive time, just listen to your intuition and you will be fine.” That statement has been my guiding light for the past 8 months. I do think my practice has helped me immeasurably during the pregnancy. I don’t feel ill or really that tired. I never got crazy hungry. And unless I am in 38 degree weather, my ankles are a fairly recognizable part of my legs. My only craving so far has been for lemonade, which doesn’t seem all that bad. I also know I have been very blessed with an easy pregnancy thus far, but I’m aware that the regulating properties of the Ashtanga system, the dailyness and vinyasa krama, have given my body and my baby an anchor.
At 6 weeks when I found out I was pregnant, I asked my doctor what was contraindicated for pregnancy particularly for the first 12 weeks when miscarriages are so common. I mentioned twists, backbends, jumping in vinyasas, and working up a sweat. My doctor, who isn’t usually nonchalant, brushed off my concerns. I went into further detail:
S: But we twist in half-lotus, against our knees! I drop backwards on to my hands! The room is a million degrees!
Dr.: You can stay in bed, or you can continue your regular activities. But either way, if nature intends you to keep this pregnancy, then you will keep it.
I thought that was a little granola for her regular bio-medical party line, but that has since been confirmed to me by other doctors and midwives. Miscarriages are natural and devastatingly common whether you do everything by the book or not. I can understand why people look for answers as to why miscarriages happen. All the reasons I have heard about why they occur from other people (she ran, she twisted, she jumped, she fell) seem to be trained on limiting the mother’s mobility and blaming her for whatever might go wrong. I decided to practice for the rest of my first trimester, but only because I felt like it.
David told me to stick to standing series for the remaining 6 weeks I had in my first trimester. In India, I don’t think Sharath would teach a pregnant woman for the first 3 months but that makes sense to me because he wouldn’t have a chance to have a regular and sustained teaching relationship with anyone because of his schedule. I did standing for a few days, but I wasn’t sick or nauseous and I felt better moving than sitting around. So after two days, I asked David in the car before Mysore if I could do the rest of primary. A week later, my backbends were still feeling good, and I asked if I could add on dropbacks, and that was OK too. The week after that I added on some intermediate, and David crouched down beside me in the room and said, “Umm. No. Just wait until 12 weeks.”
And the two of us just started a dialogue that went pretty much like that for the rest of the pregnancy. I get treated like any other student in the room, I get pulled up to the front, and my alignment is gently corrected. David has said no to me only one other time when I wanted to do kapotasana again in my 8th month. And he was right, both times.
Before I went to India in my second trimester, I practiced up to supta vajrasana. I wasn’t that big, so I rolled up two blankets and put one under my chest and the other under my pelvis for the intermediate backbends on the belly. In India, I practiced full primary. I wanted to be just another student in the room, not the pregnant lady who needs a lot of attention. I was so grateful that Sharath let me do what I could everyday. He told me to do trikonasana twice instead of twisting in the revolved version, but that was all. In retrospect, although it would terrify me when Sharath or Saraswathi would put me in some horrible spot in the room, they were treating me like any else – capable and strong. I think that says a lot about the two of them, considering the culture they live in – i didn’t see a single pregnant woman during my stay.
Now, I do primary, a non-twisty-more-squatting version of pasasana, krouchasana, ustrasana and then dropbacks. I do my full closing, because according to Saraswathi and the medical professionals I have talked to – the baby won’t turn around just because I am upside down. Although, the lovely midwife who practices at our studio told David that they recommend inversions when the baby is head up to try and move it head down, which is pretty cool.
Once you get pregnant, your body becomes everyone else’s business. You are relatively autonomous one day, and the next you are subject to a host of opinions – some kind, some a little mean but all well-intentioned. Certainly, most people have an opinion about Ashtanga and pregnancy and I have heard just about everything under the sun. While pregnancy is a condition, it isn’t disease or an illness. I think the misconceptions we spread about pregnancy and fitness are little off-shoots of misogyny. People would tell me not to do one pose or another, but then some people would also tell me that they thought I was having a boy because girls make you look fat and tired. Most of it is a big load of crap.
Pregnancy is crazy and amazing, and I think like parenting it defies expectations, fairness, and rules. It is nice to imagine that everyone will fit the same identifiable shape or follow the same developmental steps, but it seems to me that just like you get the kid you need, not the kid you think you want – you also get the pregnancy you need.
I do really hope that anyone reading my little blog will trust in themselves and the practice throughout pregnancy. I remember when I first got pregnant, and I read everything I could find about pregnancy and Ashtanga. Most of it was so incendiary, I remember one woman writing about how if you do headstand the baby’s arm will poke through the uterus. It made me so frightened to practice (Ok – not the baby’s hand thing – I have managed to retain a scrap of common sense throughout the past 9 months). To be honest, I’m not sure what the motivation is to scare women off practice. David has really helped me by letting me work, get sweaty and try every morning, but he has also helped by telling me when enough is enough and I need to soften and relax. Every morning, I don’t have to think or worry about what I should or shouldn’t be doing. My body and my baby are my guides. They surprise me everyday with what I can achieve.
I do less asana, but I think this pregnancy has made my practice much stronger.
(photos by Tim Bermingham)
Next post: I promise way more aliens and cockroach vampires and way less sycophantic yoga talk.