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Family, Fitness

The Skinny on Prenatal Yoga

What should you know before attending a prenatal yoga class?

Even if you have never taken a yoga class before, when pregnant you should consider taking prenatal yoga. I am sharing my experience so you have an idea of what a prenatal class may include. Classes and instructors vary, so always let the instructor know that you are a new student and share any physical limitations before class.

I was restricted from engaging in any kind of physical activity during my first pregnancy, including yoga. This time my doctor allowed me to start taking prenatal yoga (with modifications) at 5 months pregnant. I was ecstatic and immediately began researching classes. Luckily I found a popular class right here in my neighborhood and enrolled right away.

What was the class like?

At least 20 other participants at various stages of pregnancy lined the room before each class. We started our practice by introducing ourselves, sharing our due date, what we were expecting a boy/girl/surprise, and at what hospital we planned to deliver.

The instructor was very warm and interested in building community between the pregnant mamas. The community aspect is really important since we were often talking about how the various yoga poses would prepare us for labor. It was serious girl talk, and you want to make sure that you are among friends when talking about such fun topics as squatting through labor and how to encourage your pelvis to open.

It is the community and friendships that seem to bring people back even more than the yoga practice itself.

During class we engaged in vinyasa flow, connecting breath to movement. The flows were modified to meet our prenatal needs, but flow we did, and our entire group was very intent on making sure we could master the breath before labor.

I found the flow similar to other yoga classes I had taken in the past and barely missed the poses that we avoided (more about poses to avoid below). We always started our class standing, moved to sitting and eventually ended the class in a side lying final relaxation.

I was the only one in the room who used yoga blocks, which surprised me. Rows of yoga blocks were stacked against the wall but the instructor didn’t mention using them, so people didn’t. In my third trimester I found poses like triangle and side angle so much easier with a block. Looking around the room I noticed many participants out of alignment in these same poses, forced to lean forward in their changing bodies. They would have received a much greater benefit if they would have used a block and stacked their joints, allowing for elongation and opening.

Honestly, if you plan to take prenatal yoga and the facility doesn’t offer yoga straps and blocks, then I highly recommend you bring your own. Your center of gravity changes throughout pregnancy and you will be glad you have them to maintain alignment. You can buy a yoga strap and block at stores like Target to Walmart or order them from Amazon.

Prenatal Class Exclusives

During our prenatal class the sense of community was so great that our instructor had us chanting at the end of class. And not just typical yoga chanting. We chanted for our friends in class who were at or past their due date. Specifically, we chanted for their cervix to open.

Yes, seriously.

And it was awesome.

There is nothing like 20 pregnant mamas chanting, “Open Susie’s cervix” 5 times while the entire class is settled in a very deep squat.

The families watching their children’s ballet class next door must wonder what is going on as they hear the chanting through the wall. The idea of their bewildered expressions while we chant makes me smile.

The particular chant mentioned above might be the brainchild of the teacher who leads this particular yoga class. In other words, you can’t expect cervix chanting in a prenatal yoga class because these results may not be typical. 🙂

Ultimately, what is the benefit of taking a prenatal yoga class?

Yoga is a great way to stretch, but it is really about the community of women in the room with you. In what other fitness class can you joke about cervix dilation, your changing body and the other aspects of labor and pregnancy without having to weigh your words?

If you are pregnant, it’s worth a try if you have clearance from your physician.

The Skinny on Prenatal Yoga for Pinterest

What yoga poses and exercises should you avoid during pregnancy?

Many of the poses you should avoid in the second and third trimesters include:

  • lying on your back (nope, not even happy baby pose)
  • inversions (no headstands, shoulderstands)
  • lying on your belly
  • deep back bends (no wheel)
  • deep forward folds
  • deep twists
  • hot yoga
  • any pose that doesn’t feel right

Forward folds, twists and other poses that become difficult may be modified as possible.

Family, Fitness, Health

Can I Exercise with a High Risk Pregnancy? How to deal when bed rest puts the brakes on your life

When high risk pregnancy puts the brakes on your life as you know it, including your workout routine, it can be a time of mixed emotions. So much changes so fast.

Fortunately, you are not alone and you may be able to still move your body. Here’s my story.

My Story

In 2012 at 15 weeks pregnant with my daughter, I learned that I needed an emergency procedure called a cerclage to keep my cervix from continuing to funnel open. If it wasn’t corrected quickly, I was going to lose my baby.

At the time I was teaching several fitness classes a week. I honestly didn’t understand the severity of my predicament. “Can I still sub my yoga class tonight if I just sit and talk my class through it?” I asked.

My perinatologist replied, “No, you are done. You are going to go home and lie down and come back tomorrow for the procedure. You are done teaching fitness until after your pregnancy.”

Whoa! Reality check.

Of course, my number one priority was my baby, so I called up all of the places where I taught fitness and let them know that I was on medical leave effective immediately.

I am extremely thankful to have had a perinatologist who discovered the issue in time to save my baby. I was on strict or modified bed rest for most of my pregnancy and my daughter was born at full-term.

You Are Not Alone

But I’m not going to lie. Going from being super active to bed rest was a rough transition. And if you are going through this right now, know that you are not alone. It is OK to mourn your active life even while you are thankful for modern medicine and the chance to save your baby. I was a wreck because I felt guilty for missing my workouts. It also felt so selfish. But being put on bed rest or being told to severely modify your activities means a loss in independence. I realize now that we don’t have to feel guilty for our mixed emotions. It is pregnancy after all. You are allowed to be emotional. 🙂

Can I exercise with a high risk pregnancy? How to deal when bed rest puts the brakes on your life

Now I am 29 weeks pregnant with our second daughter and have a cerclage again. But this time, rather than an emergency cerclage, I received a preventive cerclage at 13 weeks, which means that I can walk around, work at my desk and engage in most of my normal routine. I still can’t walk up and down stairs very often and am prohibited from cardio exercise. I am also not supposed to lift anything over about 10 pounds, including my 3-year-old daughter. It’s a very different experience, but what is the same is that I am no longer allowed to workout.

Workout Possibilities

For most women with high risk pregnancies, especially those of us with a cerclage or preeclampsia, any movement that will tighten our core or put excess stress on our uterus or cervix is a problem and a big no-no.

In 2012 I was itching to move because I went from being highly active to not active at all. I asked my doctor if I could try a video I found online called Bedrest Fitness. After I described its use of resistance bands to strengthen arms and legs when you are in a reclined or lying down position, she agreed. Of course, if you are on bed rest or told not to exercise during pregnancy, it is important to ask your doctor if any exercise, including bedrest fitness, is right for you.

Most of all, I have learned patience through this process. Right now, at 29 weeks pregnant, I can still engage in my daily activities, but I have no idea for how much longer. At any Dr. appointment I may learn that the stress on my cervix is too much, and back on bed rest I go. I’ve accepted this fact and have learned that I need to go with the flow. I also just finished this inspiring book, which is a great read for any Mama on bed rest.

Through my 2 pregnancy experiences so far, I have let go of my workout expectations for the good of my baby’s health. And with some research, I was eventually able to find a very modified form of exercise that was approved in my particular case.

I also continue to meditate in a modified position. It helps relieve my pregnancy anxiety. I recently started meditating again after a long hiatus, and every time I come back to it, I wonder why I ever stopped in the first place.

And so I continue to use resistance bands to workout, but rather than tightening the core, I breathe so I relax the core as I work my arms, legs and upper back. It’s the opposite of everything I learned as a fitness instructor, and it works beautifully in my particular situation.

So for all of you Mamas out there with high risk pregnancies, know that your restrictions may feel like forever now, but keep learning what you can do to stay fit. Even if your physician says all you can do is roll from one side to another, meditation and positive visualization will get you through.

Update September 2017: This month I launched a new website, Surviving Bedrest, as a place for women with high-risk pregnancies to share their journeys and help other women who come after them. It also includes resources curated by mamas for mamas. The site is still in development, but if you would like to share your experience with others, please let me know (and you don’t even have to be a writer, we can help you with that).


yin yoga supported forward fold

Want to slow down? Try Yin Yoga

Do you practice yoga? If so, do you like sweating through a power yoga class or relaxing into a slow stretch class?

After taking a 40-hour Yin Yoga Teacher Training with Paul Grilley in 2012, I started incorporating supported yin postures in the vinyasa yoga classes I taught. The students loved the support and deep stretch at the end of an otherwise intense practice. It was a time to slow down and just breathe.

I love taking yin classes for their deep stretch and their ability to balance out muscle groups that might be too tight from overuse. For me, this is typically my hip flexors and chest muscles from sitting at a computer all day.

Even if you are devoted to power yoga or generally prefer to avoid yoga altogether, you can benefit from slowing down in yin yoga postures on a regular basis. Yin prevents injury by stretching connective tissues like tendons, ligaments and fascia. Connective tissues don’t usually get the release they need when holding stretches for 30 seconds or flowing through postures. Using pillows and blankets for support allows you to hold most yin poses for the 3-5 minutes needed for maximum benefit.

“The” shoulder stretch

yin yoga shoulder stretchFor years my left shoulder was always injured and tight. Nothing helped, not physical therapy, not rest, not strength training. Of course, I was also waiting tables and injuring it over and over again. I forgot what it was like to have a pain-free shoulder with a full range of motion. When I started practicing yin yoga, I was able to decrease pain and move again. I could lift things over my head without a second thought. I was a new woman!

Yin Yoga Helps You Slow Down

I didn’t begin practicing yin yoga to decrease shoulder pain. I decided to try it to slow down. I was in grad school and studying consumed my life. I needed a release, a place where I could relax and do nothing. So I tried Yin. My sleep improved and I was more focused. Only then did I slowly begin to realize that my shoulder was feeling better too.

How To Yin

Though yin yoga focuses on opening the hips, my first teacher taught postures for shoulders too. I still practice my favorite shoulder posture nearly every day. And I use props, which means lots of pillows, blocks and blankets so I can feel cozy and relaxed in each pose. Truth be told, pillows and blankets from around your house work just as well as fancy studio bolsters. If you feel supported and can relax into a pose, then you are all good.

Of course, please make sure to do what is best for your body and check in with your physician before starting a new exercise program.

Have you tried Yin Yoga? What helps you relax and find center?

toddler hiking through redwood tree
Family, Fitness, Simplify

Get Outdoors on Black Friday

It’s very exciting that REI is remaining closed on Black Friday and encouraging people to get outside. I’m a big fan of Buy Nothing Day (the Friday after Thanksgiving, AKA Black Friday) and love when others get in the spirit. Have you ever heard of a national retailer skipping one of the largest shopping days of the year? This is HUGE. The best part is that REI is giving their employees the day off as a paid holiday.

REI Sign not open on Black FridayNow California state parks are getting in on the action. A variety of foundations, including the Save the Redwoods League, are sponsoring free admission to 49 California state parks on Black Friday (November 27) so Californians can take a walk in the Redwoods. A donor was inspired by REI’s get outside message and donated the funds to cover the cost of free admission so people can take a walk in the redwoods. I’m hoping the FREE admission will inspire a lot of people to skip the mall and to explore the great outdoors.

If you are going to be in Northern or Central California on November 27, you just need to visit this website and request a free pass to participating parks. And do it soon because passes are already selling out for some state parks.

Thanksgiving is a time to get together with family and friends. It is a time to be thankful. And now Black Friday is being reframed as a time to be active, exercise and enjoy the outdoors. I can’t think of a better way to work off a big holiday meal than doing something active with family and friends away from shopping malls.

Now to choose which state park to explore. Hmmm…

Free Day of Yoga

When Paying by the Yoga Class is the Way to Go

We have a fine selection of yoga studios to choose from in Northern California. In many cities, it feels like there is a yoga studio on nearly every corner.

For a practicing yogi, how do you decide which yoga studio is best for you?

Most studios offer some kind of special like $10 for 10 days or $30 for 30 days. That’s a deal when most unlimited yoga memberships cost about $120 a month.

Once you finish the free period, then what?

I have joined various yoga studios in our city, and have inevitably found that there are classes that I want to take at other studios too. But then I think that I am already paying A LOT at my current yoga studio, so then I second guess whether I can afford attending a class at another studio as well.

Since I don’t have as much time to take yoga classes these days, I now pay by the class.

Yes, sometimes it is $15 or $18 for a class, but it is still cheaper than paying for a membership because I only attend a class 1-2 times per week at most. And now I have flexibility to try out any studio I want within reason. A few studios in our area offer “Happy Hour” yoga classes for half price if you are available to take a class at noon. And why would anyone want to skip happy hour yoga?

Of course, I also pay by the class when I travel. Most yoga studios don’t provide the new student special for out-of-towners.

Until you know that you absolutely love a yoga studio, then it might be best for you to explore the various options in your town on an a la carte basis.

If you are a member of a gym that offers yoga, you may be happy there. If, like most gyms, the environment is not quite the same, then you can splurge occasionally and take a yoga class in a more mindful studio environment. For the relaxation factor. For your mental health. For exploration. For pushing out of your comfort zone.

A rejuvenating yoga class at a new yoga studio may be all you need to shift your perspective for the better.



Barriers to Exercise–Exploring why fitness doesn’t fit

You plan to workout. Exercise is on your calendar and you are pumped. But somehow it doesn’t happen today. Maybe tomorrow?

You wake up. Tomorrow is now today. You plan to workout, and then life gets in the way once again.

And you wonder, “How do I break this cycle?”

Of course, breaking the cycle is important, but first let’s figure out how your good exercise intentions keep getting foiled.

For me, it’s a full-time job and a busy toddler that often keep me from exercise. Or when I am traveling and don’t have the time or the space. Daily life gets in the way. It’s always something.

If I don’t make time to workout first thing in the morning, then it is too easy for other commitments to creep up. Most evenings I’m tired and would rather hang out with my family than exercise.

So not making exercise a priority in the morning is my biggest barrier because the morning is when I am most likely to have the time and energy to exercise.

Now that I know my barrier, I can figure out ways to overcome it. That is the first step.

What is keeping you from your workouts? Can you identify what foils your exercise intentions on a regular basis?

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