When I started teaching yoga an enthusiastic pregnant student kept showing up. Although she melted into the hip openers and expressed her gratitude after class, she intimidated me. I hadn’t made sense of the prenatal yoga “rules” and I assumed her pregnancy made her fragile. Turns out, my fear was exactly what she didn’t need. In the decade since, I’ve faced my trepidation, questioned myths about prenatal exercise, and became a certified perinatal instructor. Now as the In-House Yogi at Clif Bar & Co, one highlight of my job is working with the “preggos.” Witnessing each woman’s passage into motherhood has taught me more than all my academic research.
In the boisterous employee gym we circle our hips, roll our necks, and stretch achy low backs. Warrior poses and squats create waves of intensity to summon deep breathing skills. We become familiar with a variety of birthing positions and relaxation techniques. I often hear venting about a lack of sleep or nausea. Sometimes I just offer a quiet place, arrange bolsters for a restorative pose, and oversee a nap.
Pregnancy invites women into embodiment beyond athletics. One cyclist easily rides 200 miles over the Bay Area hills, but now faces the less delineated challenge of childbirth. While the gym measures strength in pounds and stamina in mileage, prenatal training reminds women of their power that can’t be quantified.
While contending with a changing body, preggos are poked, probed, and groped with superstitions, projections, and politics. Their shifting partnership navigates an array of medical options. And apparently, sufficient First World parents must do a lot of shopping. While assembling the external resources, I hope our sessions are a reminder of their internal resources.
Amidst all the chatter, pregnant women can establish intimacy with their breath and hear their intuition. They can trust themselves and ask for support when needed. Beyond the insecurities, they have the stamina to provide unconditional, parental love.
Too often we perceive pregnancy as foreign and, like I did, let our fear thwart us. To overcome my anxiety, I learned about our brilliant design to birth and nurture a child. I support these women with awe and respect.
SADIE CHANLETT-AVERY is a yoga instructor and holistic fitness trainer who grew up barefoot on a farm in West Virginia. As a chubby kid she felt awkward on the co-ed soccer team and clunky in dance classes. By adolescence she gave up on organized sports and became increasingly sedentary... more »