Reprinted with Permission from Lilipoh Magazine
The imperative for higher consciousness can be no greater than when we bring another human being into the world and begin the process of raising our children. For the past several years I have had the unique experience of teaching yoga to mothers, children, and families to bring yoga benefits to pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, and family relationships. My experience is that a regular yoga practice teaches future mothers and new parents how to be healthier, more conscious individuals. Furthermore, a yoga practice extends that awareness to their family relationships and the choices that they make about childbirth, health care, education, social responsibilities and other crucial dimensions of parenting.
Because of the recent widespread popularity of yoga, most of us have a basic understanding of the nature and benefits of this ancient practice of postures and breathing: better physical health, more mental peace, and stress reduction. “Yog” is the Sanskrit word for “union”, and refers to the intent of the practice to unite our physical, mental and spiritual selves as one. The yoga postures and breathing cultivate our facility for self-awareness and ultimately, consciousness. In the end, this practice makes us stronger as individuals and strengthens our relationships with others.
With my husband, I have operated a yoga school in San Francisco since 1998. We teach yoga as taught by B.K.S. Iyengar, an Indian master teacher, who has been a leader in bringing yoga to the western world. In addition to classes for the general population, I have offered four classes that provide a unique opportunity to bring consciousness to the family process: Prenatal yoga for women from conception to birth; Prenatal Partner Yoga for expectant mothers and their partners; Postnatal Yoga for women and their babies from four week after vaginal birth or six weeks Caesarian birth; and Parent and Toddler Yoga for parents with children from crawling to three years.
Prenatal Yoga is a safe and comprehensive form of exercise and mindfulness that a woman can begin when she becomes pregnant. Specific yoga poses build strength and help to expand the abdomen. They support the development of the fetus and the health of the mother’s organic systems (digestive, respiratory, nervous, endocrine). When I was initially trained to teach prenatal yoga, I learned that in addition to providing information about the yoga poses and their health benefits, I also needed to draw a correlation between a woman’s inner strength and her ability to believe in herself during labor and birth. Some of the feelings and mental chatter that happen during a yoga pose can be pointed out to a student and then used as a tool for them to begin to understand what their response may be when undergoing labor pains. When I discuss this in class, women become more aware of both the physical dimension of their practice and of their mind behind it. They see themselves and their relationship to their bodies and to their lives.
An important element of all classes is the women’s circle at the beginning of each class. Students report to the group on the progress of their pregnancy and share any related issues they may want to discuss. Topics include physical discomforts, problems with health care providers, decisions about birth options, housing and transportation or work difficulties. This discussion shapes the class that I teach that day and gives students the opportunity to tap into each other and their community for resources to solve problems.
Prenatal Partner Yoga
Occasionally I teach a Prenatal Partner Yoga class with my husband. This is often the first time that a couple does something together as new parents.
The class is taught primarily for the health benefit of the mother and baby. Yoga postures are intended to help the mother during her pregnancy and to assist during labor. Couples are taught how they can use postures during labor to assist with complications and to ease pain and shorten labor. The
unborn children are very much included in the class, making mothers and partners even more aware of their current role as parents.
A few men have recently begun taking the prenatal class with their wives. The women like having a few male partners in the room, because it connects them with their own partners in absentia. The men are among strong women; I see them being empathetic (especially during the circle time when the women speak). This awareness of the power of the mothers, coupled with the effects of the yoga poses, influences men to be responsible and sensitive.
Postnatal yoga classes focus on common postpartum discomforts and help strengthen the entire body with a specific focus on relaxing the neck and shoulders, building abdominal strength, toning the pelvic floor, and calming the nervous system. Some believe that the postpartum yoga practice can improve lactation. The babies come to class; mothers nurse as needed. Sharing the postpartum recovery with yoga classmates reinforces the strong community bonds and alleviates the isolation that is so pervasive during the early months after birth.
Yoga for Parents with Young Children
As the first infants stopped patiently sleeping and cooing while mom did yoga and started vocalizing, crawling, and walking, I started a third class for parents with children. In this class the parent rotate for 10 minute intervals of not doing yoga but watching all of the children, reading to them or assisting them with climbing on some of the larger yoga props and co-playing. The children feel safe and the parents are able to do the poses safely without the distraction of watching their child. We break for singing and snacks together. The parents who attend really love it. This class is mostly attended by pregnant women and their toddlers, and moms with toddlers and newborns.
The success of our family yoga programs comes from the community and consciousness awakened in the prenatal class. We have an unusually high retention of mothers in the postnatal and parent-toddler classes, and we see many of our students return for second and third children, and for their own individual practice without children. At the heart of our program is the belief that through this physical practice, we can improve the health of pregnant mothers and expand their awareness of new family relationships, community support, and parental responsibilities. The physical practice of the mother is the doorway into the physical, intellectual and spiritual family into which her child is born.
Marisa Toriggino began studying yoga and meditation in 1987. She received her Advanced Teacher Training Certification from Ananda Yoga and became a disciple of Yogananda in 1997. Marisa is a certified prenatal and postnatal yoga instructor. She has studied many styles of Hatha Yoga, and is currently studying the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, under Senior Advanced Yoga Instructor Manouso Manos. Marisa has a Fine Art degree from UC Berkeley and occasionally teaches Yoga and Art courses. With her husband, David Nelson, and their daughter Arielle, she owns and operates Yoga Garden of San Francisco.