Yoga in Early Motherhood: A Follow Up to Ashtanga During Pregnancy

[More than a year ago, Wendy Spies practiced Ashtanga through her pregnancy and wrote about it in Ashtanga During Pregnancy: One Ashtangi's Experience. This article became our most read, with almost 14,000 views as of December 2007. She also posted a video on YouTube.com, 9 Months Pregnant Backbends, which has had almost 70,000 views. This is a follow up more than year later, answering some of the questions you've asked in the comments sections. -Ed.]

Thank you so much for the wonderful questions. I had intended to write an article when August (my son) was 6 months old. It has been 14 months now and I am only now having enough energy to indulge any “extra projects”. Any extra time this past year was spent on trying to reconnect with my husband in our marriage, get my practice more regular or catch up on sleep!

I am glad I waited. We recently weaned from nursing and it has been another layer of experience I did not expect. I had some pretty severe (but thankfully short lived, about two weeks) depression when I stopped nursing my son. The mental shift caused by the drop in prolactin was profound for me. What I found interesting during this period is that the dramatic shift allowed me to observe the effect of the hormones on my monkey mind. I was living my dream life and knew that, yet I still felt terrible, like life wasn’t worth living.

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baby August in savasana (7 months old)

I practiced off and on through that period and eventually came out of the funk. I would like to say that the physical practice of yoga and meditation brought me out of it, but it didn’t. I practiced as much as I could during that time I tried to meditate more but found it nearly impossible. I was truly overwhelmed with negative thoughts. I was dragging myself through my practice not enjoying a single minute of it. I would like to believe that it would have been worse if I hadn’t practiced, but I am not sure. The only thing that actually helped me was time. I told myself that if the depression went more than two weeks then I would seek medical attention. Luckily I didn’t have to. This depression ended about a week ago and my practice feels more solid than ever.

It is amazing how trauma builds character and devotion. I am thankful I experienced this. The overall big shifts in hormones for the past (almost) two years have been a very educational experience. It has been an opportunity to really separate the mental from the physical and observe my own inner dialog. I believe that this is a journey we can all share even if we don’t carry a pregnancy. We most easily have the opportunity to become the observer when our lives shift. Through changes caused by injury, trauma in family and jobs, moving, even through happy additions to our lives, we have the opportunity to use our practice to observe those mental and physical transformations in ourselves. One day we are strong and flexible, the next day we are not, one day we are happy and the next an overwhelming sadness overtakes us. Gifts are given to us and then in the next breath taken away. These experiences give us an opportunity to separate our identity from these gifts, to get deeper, to find our own true nature. What am I if I am not strong? Happy? Friendly? Flexible? We are then able to feel closer to those around us, to truly understand how we are all fundamentally the same beautiful people wanting to be happy and struggling through life’s journey.

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baby August in tadasana

Now onto the questions…

I’d like to know more about your breath. Did you practice ujjayi breathing not only in your practice but during labor as well? Or did you practice other breathing techniques like Lamaze during labor?

My husband can probably answer that question better than I could. The details of the labor are very fuzzy to me now. I remember getting momentarily very angry at Terence, my husband, when he wasn’t “breathing right”. We had been taught one technique in our classes, but then when we got down to the labor, I found that technique very stressful, it was making me anxious. So through my declaration, “don’t do that! Do like yoga, yoga breath.” We immediately began doing some long deep breathing. (Terence says that the counting associated with yoga breathing really seemed to help bridge through the contractions.)

How far were you in your practice before you got pregnant?

(I am going to assume that this is a question about where in the Ashtanga sequence I was when I got pregnant.) I was blessed with a flexible back, so when I started Ashtanga second series was actually easier for me than first. I think that is true for many people. I had a very traditional hard-nosed teacher who took away all the postures and started me with a half primary and was very conservative with giving our postures. I was officially just barely into second series when I got pregnant. However, I teach “vinyasa” and practice and teach all kinds of different postures. So, I wasn’t always just doing primary series. Also, I found that I was really testing the patience of my teachers during this time. I added the splits sequence in there for a while, I did some pigeons and extra lunges.

At what point did you stop doing postures on your belly and forward-bending postures?

The very first thing I lost or modified was anything where my chest hit the ground. I found that my breasts were very tender as soon as I was pregnant. This made most things that required any chest on the floor impossible. The soreness lasted until just a couple of months ago. I did a modified preparation for dhanurasana and bekasana where I never rested completely on my front before going into the postures.

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upward dog?

And what was your practice like after the baby? Assuming you were up nursing, etc., were you able to go to mysore practice, logistically and energy wise?

I waited a month and then practiced a TON as soon as I could. For a few months there I was practicing every day. I was lucky enough to get a 5 month maternity leave, so I could get up super early and nap in the afternoons (or when the baby was). August (the baby) was not sleeping through the night until he was a year old. My husband was nice enough to take the baby and I would go very early before he had to go to work. Often August would sleep while I was gone, so it didn’t put Terence out too much.

Finally, how has your practice changed since you became a mom?

I went back to work after 5 months and the party was over! (I am a software designer) It was extremely difficult to practice at first. We didn’t want to leave August at daycare too long during the day. My husband still needs to exercise too, and our schedules at work aren’t as regular as we like. Sometimes Terence needs to travel or be on a conference call at 6 am. Things are getting better with each day as we learn to create more of a routine in our lives.

Also, there is another interesting element that I didn’t anticipate that makes practicing hard. There is this powerful maternal compulsion to spend every waking moment with your offspring! I had to convince my husband to force me to leave in the mornings to go do yoga.

I am lucky these days to practice ~4 days a week. Every once in a blue moon I will get in 6 days, but that is super rare. It is even more difficult now that the baby wakes up anywhere from 5:30-7 in the morning. I have recently added in a little jogging to supplement my yoga. This is something that my son and I can do together. It is difficult to practice with a toddler who is either crawling all over you or causing chaos in another room. I also get the extra support from my husband to teach 5 yoga classes a week. When I first came back I was attempting to teach 10 and then I was never doing my personal practice.

Is there any way I can return to my previous shape? Will I be able to do backbends again and also in pregnancy?

I can say that I am in different shape than before, better and worse in a lot of ways. I have a little pot belly now and I am not sure my abs will ever be quite like they were before. However, the new softness makes the jump throughs better in a lot of ways. I don’t try to force it, they just magically come. I was able to do backbends after a few months of healing. The mula (pelvic floor) area can take quite a long while to rebuild, especially if your child’s head is 15.5 inches! One of the things that was always very easy for me, salamba sarvangasana (shoulder stand) took an unbelievably long time to rebuild, while arm balances came back quite easily and better than before.

You really cannot predict how a pregnancy is going to feel until you are there and if practice is even possible. I hope to practice again while pregnant. Who knows if that will even be possible – if I will be blessed with another baby or one that seems to enjoy the practice as much as August does. I will definitely let you know how it goes if we are able to explore another yoga pregnancy!

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Wendy and August (October 2007)

4 Comments »

  1. Missy said,

    December 10, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    i am so happy to read this update. Wendy, your first article was an inspiration to me when I was pregnant. I have a 5 mo. old now and making time for my own practice is not easy, but when I do, it feels so good. I am much more into the *feeling* of it now, than the accomplishment and challenge.

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to share your story. Your son is adorable!

    Best wishes,
    Missy

  2. wendy spies said,

    February 18, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    thank you so much missy :) it is nice to have the practice change so much in this way. honestly, i am happy to get it in one time a week these days, twice a week i am ecstatic, three times and it is like i won the lottery! if you have the time and energy in your life and would like to share your story on AshtangaNews, i would love to see it!

    :) namaste!
    wendy

  3. emily said,

    March 13, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    awwwwwwww that is well cute he look like is mum.He is very very very cute

  4. wendyspies said,

    June 10, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    :) thank you! :)

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