Soon-to-be moms find camaraderie at prenatal and family yoga classes

From the moment Daphne Pielak-Watkins stepped through the doors of Mama’s Wellness Joint in Center City, she felt comforted by the sight of other pregnant yogis. She had taken a couple of yoga classes in college, and her friends convinced her to try prenatal yoga. 

“There’s an awkward feeling to being pregnant at the gym, but being at a yoga studio that focuses on family health and women’s health was really refreshing,” Pielak-Watkins said. “It was nice to see other women in various stages of their pregnancy going through the same process you’re going through.”

Prenatal yoga relieved Pielak-Watkins of her muscle pain and soreness. While she also engages in cycling and cardio at her gym, she found yoga more helpful in alleviating the discomforts associated with pregnancy.

“After the first class, I slept like a baby that night and the pain hasn’t come back. I also felt more space in my body again, my own space,” Pielak-Watkins.

Her classmate Jolynda Burton has been doing yoga for 16 years and had no doubt she would continue during her pregnancy.

“Pregnancy throws off your balance and the belly gets in the way mechanically so yoga helps you carry the extra weight of the baby and build strength for giving birth,” Burton said.

Burton strongly recommends yoga to help manage life’s stresses and maintain a connection between mind and body, which is particularly important for pregnant women experiencing uncertainty and physical discomforts.

“I would be happy if everyone could have access to yoga as a form of prenatal care. I wish it would be as common as a prenatal vitamin,” Burton said.

Prenatal yoga benefits and modifications

Carol O’Donoghue, a nurse midwife at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania practices yoga and encourages her patients to take prenatal yoga classes to stay active during their pregnancies. She said yoga’s low-impact nature is ideal for women that aren’t used to exercising regularly.

“Pregnancy is not the time you want to increase your aerobic capacity or start a training program because there’s so many changes going on in your body but yoga, especially with an experienced practitioner can alleviate some of the common discomforts of pregnancy,” O’Donoghue said.

According to Chapman, prenatal yoga helps women in a variety of ways, including increasing strength, flexibility and balance.

O’Donoghue also mentioned that yoga is an accessible exercise for pregnant women because they can practice at home. If they don’t have the time or financial resources to frequent classes regularly, they can follow yoga instructors online at websites like Yogaglo.

Prenatal yoga instructors modify classes so women receive a challenging and relaxing workout without straining themselves in dangerous ways. Mama’s Wellness Joint owner Paige Chapman even requires her students to have a doctor’s note of approval. As a yoga instructor and a doula, Chapman is attentive to the needs of pregnant women.

“There are definite modifications during pregnancy like no deep twists, no deep forward bends, the legs always stay wider and you’re never putting pressure on the belly,” Chapman said.

In addition to prenatal yoga, more specialized fitness classes for soon-to-be moms like prenatal Pilates are popping up in cities. Philly Area Yoga currently has prenatal yoga and Pilates classes.

Prenatal yoga in Northwest

Sophie Simpson, owner of Blue Banyan Yoga in Mt. Airy, received her yoga certification during her first pregnancy over ten years ago. Simpson has always placed a high priority on providing yoga classes for expecting moms.

When the studio first opened, one of the original yoga instructors that also worked at the Maternal Wellness Center helped acquire a grant for low-income women to take free prenatal yoga classes. The grant was discontinued but Simpson still offers reduced prices for prenatal classes. Blue Banyan Yoga plans to host prenatal teacher trainings in 2014.

Simpson finds prenatal yoga to be especially useful in empowering women to process and appreciate being pregnant.

“Women feel isolated when they’re pregnant. This is a place where you can come and talk about what’s going on. You get bigger and things shift daily. If you don’t pay attention to that you can lose sense of body awareness really quickly. For a couple hours a week, you can stop and acknowledge that you’re pregnant. You can take time to think of the miracle growing inside you; it’s huge,” Simpson said.

Yoga for little ones

Blue Banyan Yoga also offers “baby and me” yoga classes and classes for toddlers in an effort to make yoga a family affair. Simpson’s daughter, Ruby Simpson, assists her with the toddler yoga classes that her young son attends as well.

Since two and three-year-olds are not typically known for their tranquility, Simpson shapes the class as a story time adventure that includes animals and corresponding poses. The creative and playful environment introduces the children to basic yoga poses and principles.

Toddler classes also allow parents like Angel McClelland, who has been practicing yoga for ten years, to share a personal interest with her children at a young age.

“I felt yoga would be good for socialization and a gentle physical activity. It also teaches kindness and awareness of how you treat yourself and others,” McClelland said.

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