Friday, 31 January 2014

Pregnancy yoga – a beginner’s experience


Me and yogi bear 

This article was published in Yoga Therapy Ireland's Winter 2013 issue (Issue No. 56); this is the unabridged version and probably one just for the ladies, although the men might learn something too ;) 


Last December – just in time for Christmas – we found out that I was pregnant. Thus began the journey through nine months of pregnancy, to the moment of delivery of Baby Alannah Marie.

As I look back now, the nine months seem to have passed in the blink of an eye, although there were times when I felt I would be pregnant forever and I was impatient for the birth to come. But growing a baby is a very intricate process and it’s not something to be rushed! The whole pregnancy experience for me though was amazingly smooth - no back pain, no SPD or swelling, no restricted movement – except of course in the last four weeks when sitting anywhere comfortably becomes a challenge in itself (get a birthing ball – it will transform your life!). Other glamorous features that seem to be unavoidable for most women are piles and varicose veins, and the increased pressure on the pelvic floor. There were times during the last few weeks when I would get crippling darting pains in my groin area – and that’s when you realize that the pressure of a baby’s head bearing down on that ‘hammock’ of muscle is something that’s going to need some attention to ensure recovery of its function once all that pressure comes off – think pelvic floor exercises as often as possible before and after to counteract any potential problems post-partum.

One of the main things that helped me through the pregnancy, and now three weeks into the post-partum phase, was participating in the YTI Pregnancy Yoga training course between January and March this year. In terms of physical and mental preparation, understanding the whole process and changes to come in my own body, learning about the kind of problems that pregnant women in general can experience – not least how to adapt my own and my class’s yoga practice – the course was fundamental. Every woman would benefit from taking part in the course, and especially yoga teachers who need to understand how to help pregnant women to move, breathe and cope throughout pregnancy, labour and delivery, and what comes after.

I really understand now the whole thing about emphasizing plenty of cushions (for sore bums!); about being super conscientious of the softening of the pelvis in every move; and the superpower of being present in the moment – aided by deep breathing (pranayama) and meditation, along with relaxation (savasana). You don't really understand it (as I found) until it happens to you, as is the case with so many things - the classic learning by doing. But in having completed the pregnancy yoga course in my own first trimester, I had the benefit of learning from the years of experience and insight of the course leader Trish Malone and participating midwife Aileen Murphy to guide me at every stage. And pregnancy is very much an experience that changes as you go through the trimesters so you need to be aware of how your abilities change in response to your physical and mental changes over 40 weeks and more.

Never under-estimate the need and the power
of relaxation....

From about week 35, I really started to prepare myself for labour and delivery. The first stage of labour (effacement and dilation of the cervix) is about pain management and that is where breathing and relaxation coupled with a few valuable poses come in. The second stage – the actual delivery - is less about pain and more about effective pushing. As for the first stage and the contractions – wow, such pain I have never experienced before, but all positive of course. It started in earnest on a Thursday morning and by lunchtime I thought we were in well-established labour - but no! I was only 1cm dilated when I landed in Mullingar Regional Hospital at 4pm - but the cervix was completely effaced and they kept me in. We sat in a room and waited, and waited and then walked outside to the shop (probably weren’t meant to - but I knew they wouldn’t kick us out) - the walking was good and helped me feel like I was keeping the whole process moving.

From about 10pm the crippling back pain began and we realised labour was only then well established even though I had thought the pain couldn’t get any worse. The baby had started to turn her head for some unknown reason and while she had been perfectly poised for delivery for at least 5 weeks previous, this turning resulted in serious lower back pain. I couldn't walk. The midwife was 100% supportive in helping me with a natural birth as much as possible and suggested a hot bath. I actually couldn’t get into it with the pain and ended up heaped on the ground beside it instead. The best position I found for this phase was kneeling on the floor over the birthing ball, with my husband putting direct pressure on the lower (very lower) back pain area. It was difficult to keep the breathing going but the midwife was great in reminding me - she wasn’t taking any nonsense and just kept saying Breathe Catherine breathe. You really need to hear it as opposed to relying on yourself to do it when you're in that kind of pain, and you need someone to be firm and authoritative – so bear that in mind when you’re preparing with your birthing partner.

I managed to get sick at this point and it was then that I reluctantly agreed to take pethidine, as I was still only 2cm dilated by 10pm. The pethidine didn’t take the pain away entirely but it softened the blow. That was when the magic started and because I was more relaxed, I went from 2cm to 8cm by midnight. Once we got installed in the labour ward I was given a small dose of sintocin to progress the last few cms, and I was making the most of the gas and air. When the time came for pushing, the pressure was unbelievable as the baby worked her way down - it was five contractions and three pushes with each and she was out. I did have to have an episiotomy at the last minute, but I didn’t feel it. It didn't frighten me at the time and I just went with it.

After the delivery early Friday morning, I didn’t sleep really until Saturday - home by Sunday, and since then every day is a learning curve. The stitches were very sore in the first week but daily baths with tea-tree oil and a strict policy of taking it easy helped me through. Now at nearly three weeks I can take a short walk but I realize that I must take the time to let my body recover so as not to hinder its long-term recovery. I am limiting myself to relaxation, breathing and meditation for another three weeks and no rushing back to headstands or ambitious poses that I might think I can get back into, but why would you stretch your body when it is still in self-healing mode?

In other aspects, the breathing helps for the initial stinging pain as herself latches on to a tender breast in the first weeks, and those difficult first bowel movements when you realise that sometimes going to the loo can be far worse than labour and delivery - it’s probably the thoughts mixed with the physical so best to think happy thoughts on the loo!

Having shared our experiences during the YTI Pregnancy Yoga course, and now having experienced the whole thing first hand, it is more apparent to me that every person has a different experience of pregnancy and labour and that really the mental preparation (relaxation, breathing and meditation aids) is probably as important if not more important that the asanas in the pregnancy yoga classes. Overall I found the following worked for me - regular walking at all phases of the pregnancy; daily breathing and meditation (about 20-30mins) and at least 15-20mins asanas - either while gardening or outside or a dedicated indoor session, which wasn't always feasible time-wise or physically. I was basically chopping the tops off the spuds and working in the garden up until the day before labour and I had plenty of strength in my legs, arms and mind - enough to go the distance and enough to go beyond that if necessary. I found the contractions during effacement and dilation of the cervix the most difficult – keep up the breathing and the asanas to maintain your mental and physical strength – endurance is necessary, while the pushing was easy enough (if there was an easy) and I put this down to squatting from the beginning to the end (I was deep squatting up until 36 weeks).

And the prize for all this pregnancy yoga and preparation and investment? Well, I just have to look at Alannah Marie to know that it was all worth it and that I’d do it all again in a heart beat. And I look forward to sharing the experience and helping other pregnant women on their journey through my own pregnancy yoga classes.

Catherine Wilkie is an ecologist based in the midlands, working to restore and rehabilitate degraded wetland, peatland and woodland habitats, both in Ireland and also within the global context. She completed her Sivananda TTC in 2008 and took part in the YTI Yoga pregnancy course in 2013, inspired by her own pregnancy. She loves to write, stand on her head, walk in the woods with new arrival Alannah, and spend time with her husband and their dog Holly in their kitchen garden. She writes about all these things in her blog www.hcottage.blogspot.ie 

No comments:

Post a Comment