Two days before I found out I was pregnant, I floated elegantly from downward facing dog into crow pose for the first time ever. Landing my knees on my triceps and sticking it felt exhilarating. For a few months I'd been working it hard on my mat, really challenging my body to get into new postures and shapes. I was pretty much at the peak of my asana practice, and I certainly didn't expect the night I floated from dog to crow to be my last hot power practice for the next 8 weeks, but I should have known there was a lesson coming...
As we know, yoga is made up of eight "limbs", and the physical poses (asana), are just one of them. Before asana comes the yamas and niyamas, the principals and guide to interacting with our inner and outer experiences. Despite learning this in my teacher training, it's easy to forget about the other seven limbs, mainly because yoga culture today is so heavily influenced by the physical aspect behind the poses themselves. It's understandable: yoga poses make us strong and it's empowering to finally discover oneself comfortably in a pose that's been attempted many times. I didn't realize how wrapped up I was in the thrill of it all. The ego loves strong asana. Arm balances, inversions, stealthy & smooth transitions. My practice over the years evolved into a lot of asana, and a little of everything else.
Pregnancy forced me to look at my "yoga" through a different lens. I knew my practice had to change. Many yogis continue with arm balances, going upside down, and floating to and from poses throughout their entire pregnancies. I follow a few on Instagram and watching their eight month belly move from flying pigeon into chaturanga blows my mind. I've heard about the moms who attend regular hot and sweaty power classes from the beginning to the end with no problems at all.
Every woman is an expert on her own body, and every woman makes choices that are good for their own minds, bodies and spirits. I had to really look at and prioritize where I was at in the balance of those three things. I know my body loves the strength and the challenge, the stoke from my downdog-crow transition was clear proof of that...but, it didn't feel right in my body to keep practicing at that level. What I needed to look at was what my mind and my spirit were asking for as I transitioned into the next stage of my practice on and off the mat.
I realized I was going to have to step out of the world of continuous strong postures and transitions and re-introduce myself to the second limb of yoga, Niyamas. Niyamas are the principles that can help guide the way one interacts with their own inner experience. Dialing into this aspect of yoga has been essential to me as I've transitioned from hopping, floating, and balancing into a more steady, grounded practice with a whole different focus.
Here's a breakdown of the three (of 5) Niyamas that have helped shift my focus as it relates to pregnancy and slowing down my practice on the mat.
Integrating santosha has been so influential in terms of finding peace and acceptance with wherever I'm at. I always heard that every day with a pregnant body is different, and it's so true - some days I feel like amping it up and other days I need to use my bolster and just chill. Being content with whatever my body is asking me to do keeps me peaceful. When I'm feeling at peace, baby feels at peace.
Pregnancy has opened my eyes to how much importance I placed on the physicality of my previous yoga practice. I lived in the 'the stronger the better' mindset, and I lost touch with the reasons that kept me coming back to my mat at the very beginning. My mat began as a very nuturing, emotionally healing place for me, and in some ways, I lost touch with that. Feeling reminded that my yoga practice became regular thanks to continually feeling nurtured and emotionally supported has been very helpful in the present 'slowing down' period.
Meaning: surrendering to a divine life force/higher power.
There is a lot of 'surrendering' to the great unknown in pregnancy. I think it's the first thing I realized - the positive test was the very beginning of many, many unknowns. Trusting my body, it's abilitites, and the 'bigger picture' has brought me peace during times of uncertainty. Practicing this on my mat allows me to better integrate it into my thoughts, which helps with feeling at ease as I take this whole thing day-by-day.
I've been able to keep up with a strong practice in my at-home yoga space with a few modifications. At 20 weeks, I'm still feeling good, physically - but I really don't think I would be in this place of acceptance regarding all of the changes in my practice if it weren't for revisiting the niyamas and allowing them to help guide me into my on-the-mat decision making.
In a prenatal class I recently took with Stephanie Snyder on the beloved YogaGlo, she reminded me that I have my whole life, the rest of my practice, to do a thousand chaturangas. I do look forward to the day that I can practice floating through poses again, but this time in my life is short, special, and really amazing. It's my time now to honor my body and my baby, which, for the time being, are not separate entities...and I REALLY love that. <3