Resources for Ashtanga yoga and pregnancy

Fertility necklace with stones such as rainbow moonstone, believed by some to enhance fertility

Fertility necklace

Lots of pregnancy talk/thoughts in my world of late:

  • I have two friends who are both roughly 36 weeks pregnant, and they’re tracking progress on Facebook. It’a amazing how the human body accommodates change (like, in the case of one friend, twins).
  • One of my sisters recently sent me a beautiful fertility necklace containing a mix of stones such as rainbow moonstone, and on a recent call, she very helpfully started to tell me about a fertility app her friend used. “No app!” I protested. “The necklace will do just fine. :-)”
  • In searching for something else earlier today, I randomly stumbled over a new segment on Kino MacGregor’s YouTube channel in which she says to look out for a few new videos she’ll soon be dropping that featuring a Miami Life Center teacher, Alexandra Santos, at 34 weeks pregnant:

My interest in Ashtanga and pregnancy was piqued a couple years ago when a friend who had gotten pregnant asked me if I knew of any good resources for pregnant ashtangis. As with most everything, a qualified teacher is the best resource. Beyond that, in looking into some resources for her, I was surprised at how few “official” sources there were out there.

It’ll be interesting to see what content Kino releases soon.

A little consensus, a lot of lack of consensus

I haven’t spent a ton of time pouring over online resources for Ashtanga yoga and pregnancy, but what I have read through tells me that a few points seem to enjoy a fair amount of consensus: Women should avoid twists, jump-backs and poses that involve being on the belly. And if there is one overriding mantra about Ashtanga and pregnancy, it’s this: Listen to your body. Everyone seems to agree that it’s imperative for a woman to listen to her body (makes sense!) and follow her intuition (agreed!).

When it comes to specifics, it seems to me that the advice can start to diverge quite a bit. I am particularly fascinated at the moment by the debate over whether ashtangis should practice in the first trimester.

On whether to practice during the first trimester:

“All women are different and react differently with the pregnancy in the beginning. Some are very tired and feel nauseous, and vomit, others are feeling well. It is best to not do the practice during the three first months to see how the pregnancy is going. Even if you feel strong and healthy it is good to let the body rest because so many things are changing in the body during this time. For some it might take a little ‘will-power’ to slow down though.” —Interview with Saraswathi Rangaswamy

“The decision to practice yoga during the first trimester is an individual matter. Since this is an article about Ashtanga Yoga practice, it must be emphasized that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois advises women not to practice Ashtanga Yoga at all during the first trimester. This advice makes particular sense if one has experienced a miscarriage or when high-risk pregnancy factors are present. Since one generally does not know whether a pregnancy is high-risk until second trimester or later, it is advisable to take a conservative approach to one’s practice, beginning with the first trimester.” –“Ashtanga Yoga Practice During Pregnancy” article by Betty Lai on Ashtanga.com

“It is not wise to begin any new vigorous activity if newly pregnant. The first trimester of pregnancy is particularly more delicate. If however the activity is well established by making the appropriate adjustments one may continue a modified version for the duration of the pregnancy.” —David Swenson and Shelley Washington on Ashtanga.net

“Take rest from all asana practice during your first trimester. It is a very sensitive time for you and your baby. Your body is going through deep changes to adjust to the new life inside, and make a ‘home’ for him or her.” — from Ashtanga Yoga Victoria.

“Many women find it feels most natural and comfortable to avoid practicing any Yoga-asana at all during the first trimester of pregnancy. It is generally recommended by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Rangaswamy NOT to practice Ashtanga Yoga during your first trimester.” —Ashtanga Yoga Canada

“During pregnancy, it is okay to feel warm and to sweat while practicing, however, especially in the first trimester, it is very important not to let your body reach and remain at 102 degrees or above for any sustained length of time. If you have any doubts, stop and rest. Let your body’s signals guide you, if you feel short of breath, dizzy or nauseous, then you may be too warm.” —Ashtanga Yoga New Orleans

“Miscarriages are natural and devastatingly common whether you do everything by the book or not. I can understand why people look for answers as to why miscarriages happen. All the reasons I have heard about why they occur from other people (she ran, she twisted, she jumped, she fell) seem to be trained on limiting the mother’s mobility and blaming her for whatever might go wrong. I decided to practice for the rest of my first trimester, but only because I felt like it. David [Robson] told me to stick to standing series for the remaining 6 weeks I had in my first trimester. In India, I don’t think Sharath would teach a pregnant woman for the first 3 months but that makes sense to me because he wouldn’t have a chance to have a regular and sustained teaching relationship with anyone because of his schedule. I did standing for a few days, but I wasn’t sick or nauseous and I felt better moving than sitting around. So after two days, I asked David in the car before Mysore if I could do the rest of primary. A week later, my backbends were still feeling good, and I asked if I could add on dropbacks, and that was OK too. The week after that I added on some intermediate, and David crouched down beside me in the room and said, ‘Umm. No. Just wait until 12 weeks.’” —Stan Byrne, from her blog, Miss Stan

“The whole advice battlefield had its biggest impact when I took a teacher’s advice to not practice during the first trimester. By my second day off, it was clear that my body wasn’t a fan of that idea at all. I started to get morning sickness, which I hadn’t had before, and generally felt pretty awful. After seeing the doctor, and getting the all clear, I resumed practicing, and started feeling better right away. The morning sickness never returned….The best advice I got at this stage was from my doctor and from reading an article about Nancy Gilgoff’s comments about Ashtanga while pregnant. The doctor basically chuckled at the idea that I was heeding any advice given by non-doctors. She told me my number one job during the pregnancy was to train like I was going to run a marathon – labor was going take as much work as running 26 miles, and being in good physical shape would be crucial. The best yoga specific advice was to keep doing whatever I was comfortable doing before the pregnancy, but also listening and modifying as needed as my body changed as the baby grew.” —Wendy Spies

“PREGNANCY. Absolutely fine for women who already have an established ashtanga practice to continue all through pregnancy (obviously with much modification in the later stages, although Nancy says she had a student who practiced third series into the ninth month). Wait three months after birth before resuming ashtanga practice. Not a good idea for pregnant women who haven’t done yoga before to start with ashtanga – fine to start with other forms of yoga practice.” –One practitioner’s paraphrasing of a 2002 workshop with Nancy Gilgoff.

And those are just thoughts specific to one topic. Inversions could take up another post entirely.

Here’s a video of a nine-months-pregnant Rhonda Green (apparently she gives birth three days after this video was shot) practicing Ashtanga:

And then, after pregnancy, there’s the “fourth trimester.”

There are Bhakti babies, toddlers in Mysore and more kids heading to Mysore. I’m sure the diversity of opinions there is as interesting as the diversity of thoughts surrounding the first trimester.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Thinking, fast and slow — about yoga, gurus and everything else

Illustration by David Plunkert, via The New York Times

Thinking, Fast and Slow is sitting next to me right now, and I’m so into it that I debated whether to write this post or keep reading. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, immediately tells the reader that his aim with the book can be boiled down to what he would like to happen with watercooler conversations. He’d like this text to:

improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgement and choice, in others and eventually ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them. In at least some cases, an accurate diagnosis may suggest an intervention to limit the damage that bad judgements and choices often cause.

It’s a seriously ambitious goal, to be sure, and Kahneman’s important text offers nothing less than a fascinating approach to understanding when we can and can’t trust our intuition.

Intuition is an interesting thing — especially in the context of yoga, since one of the many benefits of the practice is that it’s designed to help us see through the veil of illusion. Sometimes — often? — our conditioned minds get us into trouble. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations — or the spinning — of the mind. Once we quiet the mind down, can Thinking, Fast and Slow help us think more clearly about thinking clearly off the mat, in our day-to-day lives?

This next passage somehow reminded me about all those times that, as students, we swear our teachers just read our mind. How did they know that was the adjustment I was craving? How did they know my back/hips/[insert body part] needed that pressure? How did they fix that back/hips/[insert body part]?

We have all heard such stories of expert intuition: the chess master who walks past a street game and announces ‘White mates in three’ without stopping, or the physician who makes a complex diagnosis after a single glance at a patient. Expert intuition strikes us as magical, but it is not. Indeed, each of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day. Most of us are pitch-perfect in detecting anger in the first word of a telephone call, recognize as we enter a room that we were the subject of the conversation, and quickly react to subtle signs that the driver of the car in the next lane is dangerous. Our everyday intuitive abilities are no less marvelous than the striking insights of an experienced firefighter or physician — only more common. (p. 11)

I kind of loved thinking about this idea in the context of our relationships with our most cherished teachers, who never cease to amaze us. Trust your guru, yes. Be grateful for, and moved by, the expertise and the inspiration. But remember that you have incredible everyday intuitive abilities as well.

That said, Thinking, Fast and Slow is about how to discern the quality of intuitive decision-making versus rational decision-making. Sometimes our gut is plain old wrong — so how do you know what you can rely on? You’ll simply have to read the book — and I highly, highly recommend that you get it sooner rather than later (one for yourself and one as a holiday gift, perhaps?). If you need more encouragement, read this New York Times review, this Washington Post review and this Financial Times review.

In any case, this post has kept me from the book long enough. I’m headed back in. Ciao, for now.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.