Why I Teach Prenatal Yoga
By Hillary Easom
My entry into the yoga world happened long before I had kids, and at the time my practice was focused entirely on how I felt in my body – not unusual for a student new to the practice. I found that the postures I practiced helped ease back pain from a rowing injury, and that alone was enough to keep me interested. The discipline required to maintain a daily practice really appealed to me. (I was a rower, remember? Discipline was a “thing” for me.) I stuck with it for a while, following short sequences outlined in a book.
Classes weren’t so readily available back then, and not until I moved to a new city did I start learning from a real, live teacher. Driving home one evening, I noticed a big piece of plywood leaning against the back of a pickup truck. On it was painted “YOGA” and a telephone number. I called, and the next Wednesday evening I attended my first real yoga class, an Iyengar-influenced class in a furniture-free living room, attended by maybe 5 or 6 other students. (One of those eventually ended up becoming my husband…but that’s a story for another day!) The class became a weekly outing, a nice complement to the other athletic endeavors I’d undertaken. But I’m not sure I really “got it” yet – the other stuff that makes yoga really special, different from just any physical workout.
I continued practicing on and off for the next few years, in the US and in India. I wanted to learn more, but we never know what we don’t know until the discovery happens. The layers of yoga were beginning to peel away for me, but something was blocking me from getting to the core. Maybe I just wasn’t ready.
Early in 2005 I became pregnant with my son. That Mother’s Day, my own mom sent me a certificate for a local yoga studio so that I could start taking prenatal yoga classes. What a gift! This, for me, was the turning point.
Once again I found the discipline to engage in a regular practice, attending classes when I could and practicing with prenatal yoga DVDs on the days that I couldn’t. My body felt whole – strong, open, full of ease, bursting with life. And I found a sense of contentment (santosha) beyond compare. Everything just seemed right. My physical body (annamaya kosha) was connected to my energy body (pranamaya kosha). In each practice, I found that it became easier to move beyond busy thoughts (cittavrtti; manomaya kosha) to discover my own inner wisdom and maternal instinct (vijnanamaya kosha), and I felt closer to a state of inner bliss (anandamaya kosha) than ever before. At the time, I didn’t understand or recognize what was happening, but I knew that prenatal yoga had changed my life and that someday I wanted to be able to share this experience with other women.
A few years into motherhood, needing something empowering for myself, I entered into my first yoga teacher training, always with the intention of teaching pregnant women. My practice grew, my understanding and love of yoga grew deeper than I could have imagined, and I began to recognize that this was not a job but a calling.
In Zen Buddhism, the ensō is a circle that represents teaching, strength and enlightenment. An ensō is a balance of simplicity and complexity in its design -- sometimes open, signifying that there is something more to achieve, and other times closed, representing perfection (perhaps even in the existence of imperfection). Ensō signifies a moment in which the mind allows the body and the spirit to create. Not surprisingly, I find the ensō to be a pertinent symbol for pregnancy, birth and the practice of prenatal yoga. When mothers are able to move beyond their conscious thoughts, their body and spirit join together to create a child and to bring that baby into the world.
Motherhood itself is like a blooming lotus. During pregnancy, a woman cannot imagine the changes – both positive ones and challenges – that lie ahead. As each petal unfolds, she is presented with new obstacles and also new blessings. Each season’s blossoms have a different texture and a different tone, but each is beautiful in its own way.
When we teach prenatal and postnatal yoga, we help women discover their inner strength, their ability to stay calm and grounded even in the toughest moments. We encourage students to find the beauty in the mundane, the petal among the weeds. We give women permission to dig deeper when it makes sense, to be vulnerable when healing is needed, and to be who they are for real, regardless of anyone else’s expectations or pressures. It is our job to educate, and it is our job to hold the space, allowing every woman to define herself as a mother.
As a teacher, I am awestruck at how quickly a transformation can occur when a student allows herself to be present and to listen to her own inner voice. I am humbled by being able to help women on their motherhood journeys. And I am ever grateful for the opportunity to do this important work.