Empowering Yoga

The studio where I used to take W for baby yoga is running a promo with free prenatal yoga classes on two Tuesdays, and today was the first one, so I decided to give it a try.

Last night was the third ballet class in a row that I'd missed since I was too tired by the time 6pm rolled around, so I was glad for a morning workout opportunity.

The yoga was so different than ballet, and it brought the prospect of impending childbirth into clear focus for me. It wasn't that strenuous as yoga classes go, but it was quite a workout for me personally. But mostly I found it extremely valuable for the "centering" that took place. The different poses and breathing exercises really allowed me to get in touch with my pregnancy in a way I hadn't really felt before. In going through the poses, I felt in some way connected to the millions of other women throughout the ages who have probably used the same poses to prepare their bodies for childbirth.

I think it's telling that modern childbirth preparation classes here in the US tend to focus on everything that tends to happen in the hospital-- the various pain relievers offered, the procedures, the monitoring, the cutting, etc. But for most women around the world until only recent times, childbirth preparation probably involved only getting their bodies physically primed for the task, if there was any preparation at all. It's my understanding that some civilizations did more to prepare women than others.

While I think the ballet is definitely helping my alignment and maintaining strength in my core muscles, I know have a better realization that while it's been good for me as a general form of exercise, it's not necessarily going to help me strengthen the parts I need strong for childbirth.

The prenatal yoga might actually do that. I doubt a once-a-week class will change my body much, but I do have some prenatal yoga videos that I am newly motivated to pop in and work through more regularly.

As I was in class, I was thinking, "marathon, schmarathon, the physcial challenge that lies ahead of me is far more challenging than any foot race, and I should take training for it seriously." What is running but putting one foot ahead of another for several hours? Childbirth requires changes in the very shape and structure of your bones, muscles, and ligaments, plus the strength to push another human being from one part of your body out through several other parts then into the world. Now that I have been through the process once, I have a better understanding of what a difficult challenge it is. Natural childbirth, at any rate. I have no idea what it's like in a hospital setting hooked up to monitors and epidurals and all that, or having a baby delivered through surgery, which I imagine must be grueling in its own way.

But natural childbirth I'm starting to remember a little more clearly bits and pieces from my first experience, and knowing now what I didn't know then, I look forward to being a little better prepared this time. The main thing I regret is using my pre-labor burst of energy to take a 3-mile walk-- my muscles were fatigued by the time labor actually arrived, and it made progress more difficult for me. This time when I get the burst of energy I will know what it's really for, and instead do some light activity that will get me mentally prepared for childbirth without physically exhausting me before labor even begins!

And I will do more specific core-strengthening exercises now so my abs and back are strong and fit to help when it comes time to push. And I'll also focus on strengthening my thighs and the other leg muscles needed to hold a squatting position. Not that I expect to hold a squat for a long time (thank goodness for the birthing stool), but I recall there was a fair amount of moving around to different positions necessary to help the baby through the birth canal, and the more leg strength I have, the easier it will be to move around even when my hips are grotesquely distended and my body is otherwise all wonky and unusual.

Of course I realize no amount of preparation can ensure a smooth, easy, or painless childbirth experience, but I am confident that a certain amount of physical conditioning can help me be as well-prepared as possible, and a good physical condition upon going into labor will bode well for whatever is to follow.