Teaching to Prenatal Students: How the Pregnant Body Feels

Pregnant woman outsideAs a yoga teacher looking out at a group of prenatal students, it can be difficult to determine what your students need from you on any given day. Your students will most likely be in different trimesters. Some students may have aches and pains, while other students will be full of energy and ready to practice more vigorously. One way to help guide you is to put yourself in their shoes before you begin class, reminding yourself of what it might be like to be pregnant.

Unfortunately, placing yourself in their shoes isn’t as easy as it sounds. Ask a pregnant woman how she feels in her body and the answers will be wide and varied. The nature of pregnancy is that each experience is unique. One pregnant mother describes it like this: “My body feels ever changing; each week there is growth and new reactions to food and activity. It reminds me to be slow and thoughtful in my body.” Some of the most common aspects of pregnancy are listed below, but always remember to ask your students how they feel and get a sense of their energy and temperament as they speak their responses.

Body Temperature
In general, your students are probably running on the warm side for temperature with their increased blood volume, and may appreciate being asked if they would like the room slightly cooler than your regular classes. However, several mothers recently interviewed also attest to being consistently cold, so always ask your students how they feel.

Energy Level
Some women will be filled with aches and pains, have low energy, or just need quiet and space to be away from the daily demands of their life. Imagine yourself feeling heavy, weighed down, or with the weight of the world on your shoulders. Others may feel energetic and ready to take on more physical exertion. Imagine the joy of a new being inside your belly, ready for the new things to come, and a bounce in your step. Depending on the day, their ailments, and their sleep patterns, a women’s energy level may fluctuate. As women near their third trimester, their energy may take on a slower pace, where a more internally-focused yoga practice may feel right. “I am always ready for a nap,” one pregnant mothers says. “I slept 7AM to 7PM the other day.”

The Pregnant Mind
What does it “feel” like to be pregnant? The pregnant body and mind is bathed in hormones. Women may feel happy and joyful at times and scared and fearful at others. They may be more sensitive than usual. On the downside, body ailments they are dealing with on an ongoing basis and lack of sleep may affect their mood. On the upside, both the body and mind are expanding into the creativity of space as their body creates new life. There is a softness, a letting go, and a connection with the fluidity of growth as they allow their new baby and themselves to grow. “My mind is racing with all the changes in life,” says one pregnant mother. “It has not hit me that I will be full term in nineteen weeks.”

Aches and Pains
Some common ailments your pregnant students may be dealing with are:
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
• Swelling in ankles, feet, wrists
• Foot or leg cramps
• Sleep deprivation
• Heartburn
• A feeling of breathlessness or lack of breath
• Dizziness
• Morning sickness
• Itchy skin
• Sore or tender breasts
• Low back pain
• Sacrum pain
• Sciatica

Level Changes and Up-Down-Up
Imagine added weight on the front of your body, increased blood volume with still only one heart to pump it, and all the possible ailments associated with pregnancy. Repetitious sun salutations with frequent up-down-up pattern seem like less of a good idea when you take all aspects of the pregnant body into consideration. Feel this in your body when you design your practice, and be aware of too many level changes during your class.

Channeling the Pregnant Body
Getting in tune with what it might feel like to be pregnant before you teach can help connect you to your students and get you in the groove of teaching a prenatal class. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes develops compassion and goodwill towards others. However, we should remember that every human experience is unique and the idea of feeling what it would be like to be pregnant should not be used to make assumptions about how another person feels. Affirming each mother’s experience as unique may be all that is needed to get your class off to a good start, to validate their individuality and make your students feel entitled to have their own relationship with their body and baby.