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Thoughts On Teaching Yoga While Pregnant
March 1, 2019
Since getting pregnant and having my baby, a fair number of yoga teachers (and non-yoga teachers) have asked me about the ups and downs of teaching yoga while pregnant or in the immediate post-partum period. Those conversations have led me to believe this is a topic of somewhat general interest, which is no surprise given the age and biological sex of many yoga teachers. So… without further ado, here are my thoughts.
Physically, more or less, it was pretty straightforward (but I had a completely complication-free pregnancy, which I realise was a tremendous blessing). I can’t imagine teaching hot yoga while pregnant, but thankfully, I only teach in “unheated” studios so I didn’t have to face that challenge. I felt exhausted in the first trimester but was otherwise well (I luckily never had bad nausea and never got sick), so I kept teaching, more or less, as I always had. I got a few extra covers in the early months when I was totally knackered, but by second trimester, I felt great. I even managed to complete 100 hours of my advanced teacher training while 24/25 weeks pregnant. I taught until I was 38 weeks pregnant and pretty much felt fine up until the very end, although I was sort of mentally checked out by that point which I think is common in late pregnancy. The hardest part wasn’t the actual teaching but the running all over town to get to classes. I stopped giving big physical adjustments quite early in my pregnancy and demonstrated very little, but I had never been much of a demo-er even before I got pregnant so I doubt my classes felt very different to my students. I returned to teaching a very limited schedule of classes about 4 months after my daughter was born. New mum exhaustion is a whole different level than first trimester exhaustion, and I had a few classes in those early days when I felt like I couldn’t see straight. I can’t imagine doing a full-time physical job like this so soon after having a baby. My personal practice is… not what it was before I got pregnant… and that’s totally fine by me. Fancy poses are not a priority for me at the moment. I still practice, almost entirely at home, and it’s usually fairly simple stuff. I can physically do a lot of the "hard" stuff I did before, but for now, a less complicated and physically challenging practice feels better for me. I'm practising more pranayama than I did before I got pregnant, and that feels great. I can foresee a time in future when I’ll want to return to a more challenging asana practice, but I strongly believe we use our yoga practice to support our lives, and for now, a relatively low-key asana practice is where it’s at for me.
Mentally/emotionally, it was more challenging to teach while pregnant. I am a fairly private person and didn’t share with anyone other than family and very close friends that I was pregnant until it became quite physically obvious (around 22-ish weeks for me). I also never “announced” in class that I was pregnant, in part because I felt that was making the class about me, which I always want to avoid. However, that led to a few funny situations where people were clearly wondering if I was pregnant and then had to cheekily find a way to ask/not ask. It was hard for me to feel like my body was on display. It was wonderful to have students sharing my joy during this exciting time, but when students commented on how I looked and if my “bump” was bigger week-on-week, even when they did it in a kind-hearted way (almost always), I often felt uncomfortable.
There’s a lot of pressure on yogis (and yoga teachers especially) to have a certain kind of birth: all natural, perhaps at home, aided only by one’s breath and a well-stocked pantry of herbs and essential oils. People (other teachers, students, studio staff, etc [i.e. not my family, close friends, or medical professionals]) sometimes tried to tell me exactly how I should go about delivering my baby. Unprompted, some shared “helpful” and detailed accounts of how traumatising/excruciating the experience was for their next door neighbour’s half cousin. Not what a pregnant lady needs to hear. I also saw people express noticeable disappointment/horror when I informed them that I would be delivering my baby in a hospital (three cheers for modern medicine!). A few people even tried to convince me what a huge mistake that would be. In the end, I did have an unmedicated delivery (in a hospital), but I would have been content with alternative options if they had been best for me and my baby. I imagine it can be very challenging to be a yoga teacher if you do not uphold these assumed expectations of Earth Goddess Mother.
Long story short? It’s totally doable. Your body will be okay. You will (maybe) handstand again, and you probably won’t care about that as much after your baby arrives. But it’s also not easy. You need to be prepared for a few awkward/inappropriate conversations and develop a thick skin. Financially, it’s a struggle. There’s no maternity leave pay for self-employed yoga teachers. The fear of losing classes at studios when you go on leave is justified. I was lucky to teach in very supportive studios that allowed me to return to my classes after taking some time off, but I know that’s not always the norm, and it’s an issue worth more discussion and consideration. It’s almost impossible to imagine making enough money teaching yoga to cover the costs of daycare in London, which leads many yoga-teaching parents to look for creative childcare solutions. On the flipside, the inherent flexibility of this job make it a great match for being a primarily stay-at-home parent while also getting to work part-time. I am able to teach at times when my husband can be with our baby, which feels like the best of both worlds for our family at the moment. Ultimately, despite the challenges, I feel lucky to have a job that affords me this flexibility (pun intended!). And of course, every challenge is worth it because the reward of sharing your life with a lovely, tiny human is the best thing on earth.