Pregnancy yoga class

Pregnancy is a transformative rite of passage for women. A life changing milestone where women are greeted with variety of physiological and psychological changes weaving in together to support the growing needs of the baby. It was through my fertility and pregnancy journey where I deeply realised the importance of self-care and surrender as I immediately felt the effects of hormonal changes in my body from the get-go. I have never felt so exhausted in my life, and as many mother’s would say I didn’t feel like myself, like there as a veil hanging over me. I experienced all of that in my first trimester, a sensitive time during pregnancy where our body is doing so much extra work to create life. My journey in pregnancy taught me the importance surrender and acceptance, lessons I have touched on my mat when I move with my breath. Women need space and a practice that celebrates softness, supports change, an accessible and nurturing practice that cares for both physical and mental well-being of a mother.

As a yoga teacher, and childbirth educator, I’ve been supporting prenatal and post-natal women through classes and workshops for over a decade. It’s beautiful to witness so many women transition from one stage of pregnancy into another, and to see them back with their babies in mums and bubs classes. Many, just like me, can attest to the benefits of prenatal yoga and how it aided them during pregnancy, birth and motherhood.


Here are some of the benefits of yoga during pregnancy:


1.) Yoga can help alleviate some of the discomfort and support changes that come with pregnancy.


As the body prepares to support the growing baby, the mother’s body changes inside out. Due to pregnancy related hormones women produce during this time, one of them would be the hormone relaxin, its effects can cause discomfort in the pelvic region, lower back and other areas. Yoga, through conscious movement, breath and proper engagement can help bring a sense of release, strength, stability and more importantly a connection to the ever-changing body during this special time.


The practice can be altered to meet a mother’s needs. If she’s feeling feel tired, nauseous, and have been experiencing sleepless nights, a Restorative Yoga Practice and a gentle breathing practice like Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) can help relieve the tired body and mind. On days when mother feels energetic, she might feel inspired to move in a more fluid yet supported way, and a gentle pregnancy flow class might be suitable for her. Pregnancy yoga nurtures women’s unique needs which allows her to feel accepted and honoured.


2.) Yoga can help women decompress and re-connect with themselves.


Stress and worries can arise during this time. We live in a fast-paced environment, juggling various responsibilities. This can lead to fatigue, and a sense of overwhelm. Pregnancy yoga practice can be a space to de-stress, re-centre, a place to reconnect to the calm within. Women will learn relaxation techniques such breathing exercises, postures, meditation and visualisation practices, which will help towards slowing down, moving from fight and flight response to a more grounded, relaxed state.


The breath is an essential part of yoga practice - the breath brings us back to the present moment; the breath connects mothers to their babies in the womb. The breath is heart of yoga practice. When we can surrender to the breath we can start to let go of the “must do’s”, our mental lists, and start the journey back to ourselves. The breathing can bring a sense of ease in both body and mind. We allow the body and mind to re-set, and replenish, lowering blood pressure, heart rate and taming the busy mind.


3.) Yoga can help women prepare for birth.


Apart from preparing the body for birth, did you know that most of the yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation practices are tools that women can utilise during labour and delivery? The postures practiced in class can help women work through contractions, and according to research can even make the first stage of labour shorter. A growing body of empirical studies suggest that incorporating mindfulness practices – conscious movement, breathing and meditation - can help bring deeper awareness. This awareness can help women surrender to the unraveling that ensues during birthing. Leaning into her reservoir of strength she may discover parts of herself she’s never known before. Following our inner compass gives us ability to make informed choices that leaves us empowered no matter what the birth outcome maybe.


4.) Motherhood is the big yoga.


Yoga (“yuj”) means union. Birthing and motherhood exemplify union, a coming together, of two beings, forming a bond like no other. Motherhood asks us to open up to experiences and stretches us beyond what we thought we were capable of. It also takes us away from our comfort zone, asks us to reflect of past, present and future. It asks us to question, be brave, yet soft, to love unconditionally. When we parent from a connected space, we can pay attention to how we interact with our children, and parent from a space of love even when it’s difficult. Motherhood is yoga, it’s our practice off the mat where we can summon self-compassion, understanding and a sense of letting go as we support our children in many ways.


5.) Yoga and community.


Pregnancy and motherhood can be a lonely time for many women. Being with other pregnant women in a yoga class can foster a sense of community (“sangha”). I have witnessed lifelong friendships blossom in classes. A sense of connection can leave a positive impact in a woman’s overall well-being. When women share their experiences amongst each other it can be a lovely reminder that they’re not alone in their journey.


If you’re an expectant mother and wish to keep healthy in body and mind, pregnancy yoga can address women’s needs, and more. It’s a match made in heaven.


“Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” - Seneca.


How true is this?


Not a lot of people know that prior to yoga teaching and training facilitation, I was investing in building a career that I was passionate about. Upon finishing my undergrad in Physics, I started out as a programmer for Citibank then eventually moved from a technical role into a business - sales and marketing - for Microsoft then I eventually led Information Management team at Fortis Partners in Los Angeles. I stumbled upon yoga as a way to manage stress and feeling of overwhelm in life. Upon moving to Perth in 2007 I eventually juggled motherhood, yoga teaching locally and overseas , and working part time for a technology company focusing on building and resolving people and culture issues. Several years yoga became my full-time work. I co-owned a yoga school, Yoga Space Maylands, and traveled around Asia to teach Mindful Birth.


My work life has been one big adventure! It has taken me to places, and experiences I never thought I would ever have in life as a little girl growing with not much, but surrounded with hope and love from family. I didn’t walk the straight and narrow line. I explored opportunities with an open mind, and an excited heart. At one point whilst I was working for Microsoft, I felt as if I was going down the global technology corporate ladder path. Being in my early 20’s and having the opportunity to sit in conferences where Bill Gates and Steve Balmer were speaking, motivating us, the young ones, was mind blowing. I could feel their passion in changing the world through technology. It was awe inspiring. There were opportunities to move into other technology firms, but every time I came out of an interview process I wasn’t as excited, and inspired and so I stayed for a few more years then hopped over to a completely different industry where I felt connection to purpose, and of course timing played a significant role too. My years at Fortis Partners, an executive search firm, where we had the most amazing opportunity to work with venture capitalists in the Bay Area, was such an eye opener to how dynamic the world is. Exposed to the behind the scenes of company building, how specific these VCs were in terms of the kind of people they wanted to employ (really specific), and the ideas start up co-founders had brewing in their minds to help change the world, was thrilling. Leaving it all behind upon our move to Perth was terrifying, but I knew deep down, that the change will pave the way for new beginnings, a new chapter in life.


Being in Perth allowed me to explore other aspects of life. In the first couple of years I continued to work for Fortis Partners remotely, and at the same time studied and practiced yoga at The Yoga Space. Life has changed with yoga in it. Through mindfulness practices – meditation, yoga asana (postures) - teaching yoga to our community, and my journey in motherhood, I feel grounded and connected to life like never before. I realised later that all these work and life opportunities that have come my way, was not based on luck alone. Opportunities presented itself, and I was prepared to take it on, even with fear and uncertainty present. There were days, and there are still days, where things seem unclear, but I know that if I embrace the opportunity with an open mind and heart and do the best I can, something special can blossom from it. Positive intention and positive action can lead to an experience where one learns so much more about oneself. The outcome unpredictable, but the opportunity for growth potential is worth the risk and challenge.


At times opportunities do not look glamorous, it can look messy, small, and may take a lot of work. All of which can come with challenges, and heartaches too, which are all part and partial of the journey. From meeting huge revenue targets, feeling like you’re stuck and not finding the solution to a work issue, spending long days, unending conflict resolution, exhaustion, feeling uninspired. But if we’re working with purpose aligned with our values, surrounded by people that lift us up and believe in our capacity to make a difference, even with imperfection present in our work life, being connected to our element, feelings of excitement and heart-fullness can move us most days. These opportunities (challenging or not) may turn out to be life changing work. Keep an eye out for those moments, feel it, tap into your gut, listen to your heart.


Take the time to cultivate deep awareness, not just the external kind where we are looking outside for answers, but more internal, where we question, discern, and explore our values, notice our thought patterns. It’s an important part of the process when presented with opportunities. Some may seem flashy and tempting but might not be a fit for now. Other times we outgrow our current situation, and a call for change is on our horizon. The gift of looking within can help us uncover the layers that we might need to move through when assessing opportunities in front of us. How do we cultivate awareness? Many studies prove that establishing mindful connection to our body, our surroundings, our breath can lead to conscious awareness and attention[1].


The practice of mindfulness in daily life – yoga, walking, sport, even drinking a cup of tea, meditation – where we pause and allocate some time to embrace the present moment - a space to notice our thoughts, sensations, opening ourselves to experiences at a particular moment - can provide valuable insight. We bravely welcome all of it, and sit (or walk, drink, move) aware of our thoughts, paying full attention, withholding judgement and reactions as they arise. This awareness allows us to notice our thought patterns, and habitual reactions. Do these thoughts and actions serve us or have we become entangled in reactions that move us away from our passion, values, dreams? We have been accustomed to distractions – social media, television, work etc – activities that take us away from authentically listening to our body and mind, eventually leading to a feeling of disconnection in our life, our work and relationships. The practice of mindful awareness and attention in daily living, which is not limited to a yoga or meditation class only, can help bring us closer to some answers we’ve been seeking for quite some time (practice of self-enquiry).


As Jack Kornfield mentions on his book, “A Path with Heart” - “As we encounter new experiences with a mindful and wise attention, we discover that one of three things will happen to our new experience: it will go away, it will stay the same, or it will get more intense. Whichever happens does not really matter. When we expand our practice to notice whatever states arise and our reactions to them, we can make them all a part of the dance.”


This dance is life. When life opportunities come our way, or change dawns, we can start to bring forth this awareness, and with that follows thoughtful reflection and conscious actions which can hopefully prepare us for the adventure ahead of us. As the Roman philosopher Seneca says, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.”. We can’t simply sit and wait for things to happen, we must prepare as best we can, internally and externally. We need to invest in hard work, and when the opportunity arises, we are ready. We meet it with excitement and gusto.


Here are some practical tips on assessing opportunities:


Ask your self the following -


1.) What is the opportunity? As you explore the various aspects of an opportunity a lot more questions can come out of it.


For example: If you ‘re assessing a work opportunity, you can ask the employer the following:


* Tell me more about the role?

* Who will I be working with? What’s the team/manager like?

* Tell me about the company culture/team like?

* What are the common concerns (challenges) in the role?

* How does this role integrate with the rest of the company?

* Is there any room for growth?

* How do you measure success? * What is the company’s vision?


The more questions you ask the better! Interviews are a two way process. They get to know you and you get to know them.


2.) Now you need to take the assessment process a step further by asking the following questions which would require you to do some internal investigation:


Why am I exploring this change? Has anything shifted in life that prompted this change?


It’s quite common for people to stop at “What is the opportunity about?”. Going slightly deeper and figuring out our motivation can help us assess further. There are various reasons why we opt for change – current situation is toxic, financial, no longer aligned with our values and/or passion, boredom, no room for growth.


Does the opportunity provide some answers to what you’re looking for?


3.) How will this opportunity change my life/career?


After exploring the why’s of change, you can start to post the question – How? How will the opportunity change your life/career? Do you need to make some other changes in order to make the opportunity work for you and your loved ones?


An example of a major change is when one parent would need to travel for work. Then how can you make that possible when you’ve got kids? Are grandparents around to help? Do you need to consider hiring a nanny? Can you ask friends to lend a hand?


If you’re attracted to an opportunity where the money doesn’t match up to what you expected, how can you meet your financial responsibilities, and still move ahead with something you’re truly passionate about? Finding balance with passion and money matters is a real concern for many people. By pausing and taking time to find solutions, you might be able to find the solution to make it work.


4.) When? Timing is key. But is there ever a perfect time?


When you have managed to go through your pros and cons list (by moving through the steps mentioned above) , now you can move towards looking at the things that might be stopping you from moving forward? It could be that it’s not the right time to move ahead due to various reasons – family , financial, location, etc – or it could be something else – fear?


Mindfulness practices can come in handy. When you are just about to make a major life decision, you can start to have a closer look at the deeper dimensions of self in relation to the opportunities that come before us.


Good luck and let me know how you go. Keep in touch via hello@michellekpapa.com for 1:1 mentoring on the integration of mindfulness in your life or workplace.

[1] Self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART): a framework for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness; David R. Vago and David A. Silbersweig

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