In the world of fitness, there seems to be a new trend almost every day. Some of them pass more quickly than others: Tae Bo, Bowflex, Prancersize… But yoga, it seems, is here to stay. The practice that was once reserved for the linen-swaddled and incense-burning has been steadily growing in popularity for the past 5,000 years. People of all ages and persuasions are doing it, from toddlers to centenarians, from Madonna to First Lady Michelle Obama.
But yoga may be especially beneficial for one group in particular: pregnant mamas and their families.
We sat down with yoga and holistic wellness guru Latham Thomas, founder of mamaglow.com, and author of Mama Glow: A Hip Guide to Your Fabulous Abundant Pregnancy to discuss all things yoga and find out why it’s so exceptional when you’re expecting.
WHY DO PRENATAL YOGA?
Prenatal yoga can increase strength and flexibility, tone the body, and help prepare you for labor, but the benefits of this workout extend far beyond the body. Research shows that prenatal environmental exposures — including maternal state of mind – can affect a child’s lifelong mental and physical health. According to Thomas, and lots of scientific research, yoga is an excellent way to help you maintain a calm mental state and a sense of well-being throughout pregnancy.
The physical challenges of yoga also help prepare you for life after birth. “Yoga is a training ground for motherhood,” says Thomas, noting that the lessons you learn on the mat, often translate to real-world situations. “In yoga, when you hit a wall, you learn how to soften and back off,” a skill that can be incredibly useful when applied to parenting, she says.
GET THE FAMILY INVOLVED
Unlike other forms of fitness that might not be suitable for kids or those who haven’t practiced before, yoga is something your whole family can do together. Introducing your children to yoga at a young age equips them with valuable life skills, says Thomas. Yoga’s positive effect on self-confidence and self-awareness can help with everything from stress management before a big test, to speaking in front of a class, to sharing with others. And what partner wouldn’t want to learn how to stay calm in the face of “parenting walls?”
But if the thought of getting your entire gang together, in one place, calm and focused for a full hour seems laughable – don’t worry. According to Thomas, you don’t need to take hours out of your week, or even be wearing spandex, to have a family practice. “You can start with five minutes, holding hands, bowing heads, and simply thinking about the things you’re grateful for that day.” Whether it’s an actual, physical practice, or more of a mental one, it’s about connecting as a family, she says.
WHAT IF I’VE NEVER DONE IT?
“That’s what makes prenatal yoga so great,” says Thomas, “it’s about building strength and flexibility, so you don’t need to have any previous experience. Everyone starts at a different point, but it’s important to “practice where you are,” she says, meaning, listening to your body, understanding its limitations, and being mindful about what you can do today. She recommends finding a prenatal class that you can take in person, introducing yourself to the teacher, so they know how to support you, and starting to build a community.
WHAT IF I CAN’T “STAY IN THE MOMENT?”
Many people believe that practicing yoga is about being able to “shut off your mind,” and “be present,” for a really long time. While this would be great, it’s not often the reality for most people. “The goal is not to stop your mind from thinking,” says Thomas, “the goal is to organize your thoughts, so that when one comes up, you can see it, acknowledge it, and let it go.”
Many yoga instructors will tell you to “focus on your breath,” or repeat a mantra like “Om.” The purpose of this practice is to give your mind something to think about, and free it from thinking at the same time.
If you’re focusing on breathing in and out, you can’t be obsessing over the PowerPoint presentation that’s due tomorrow.
Being able to focus continuously on one thing, like your breath, will take time, says Thomas. But “being present,” is simply the understanding that you don’t have to pursue every thought that pops into your mind, or “go down thought trails,” as she calls them. If you find your mind wandering off your breath and back to the real world, there’s nothing wrong with you, she says, just note the thought and bring yourself back to the moment.
You can better your odds of staying present by limiting contact with mindfulness saboteurs such as work email and social media, 20 to 30 minutes before your practice. Thomas also recommends you give yourself enough time so that you’re not running in the door at the last minute, with half your life spilling out of your bag, and half your mind somewhere else.
If the breath doesn’t work for you, and you’re not into “Om,” you can pick an affirmation for your practice, she says, suggesting thoughts such as “My body is capable of doing this,” “I am calm,” or “I feel safe.” You can also repeat a word such as “happy,” “abundance,” “love,” or anything that resonates with you. When your mind wanders – and it will – don’t beat yourself up, just breathe yourself back.
WHAT IF I HATE IT?
So maybe you’ve tried. And tried. And tried again. And yoga is just not for you. That’s okay. “Not everyone’s yoga is on the mat,” says Thomas. The point is to find something that lets you mentally check out from the rest of the world, even for just a few minutes, and be fully present in what you’re doing – maybe that’s in a spin class, or a kickboxing class, or painting. “Find what makes you feel connected. If it’s not on the mat, then just use yoga for stretching, protecting joints, and preparing your body for birth.”
WHERE CAN I GET MORE LATHAM?
We here at SmartyPants know that vitamins are just one part of a healthy lifestyle, so we enlisted Latham to create a special set of yoga poses for pregnant mamas, kids, and non-pregnant friends. Watch the videos below for Latham’s signature SmartyPants yoga flows.
You can also check out the moves live in 2016, when we take SmartyPants BornSmarty to baby fairs all over the US. BornSmarty will be at Big City Moms’ Biggest Baby Shower Ever, Gearapalooza, and the Miami Green Baby Fair, to name a few.
Visit the SmartyPants BornSmarty booth, where our team of yoga ambassadors and our certified nutritionist will be providing mamas and families with one-on-one instruction and education, along with free samples of the galaxy’s best-tasting prenatal gummy vitamin.
Is your yoga on the mat or somewhere else? Where do you find that time to disconnect? We’d love to hear in the comments!
Did you love these flows? Share them with your friends!
Posted on December 16, 2015