Yoga Without a Mat: how my yoga practice changed in motherhood

Written by Clara San Diego

When I first started practicing yoga on a regular basis, one of my teachers was pregnant. She taught our evening class twice a week until almost 38 weeks pregnant. She was strong, graceful and nothing less than inspiring. She went through each sequence with us, demonstrated every posture and never seemed short of breath or energy. From the front row of the class, I never even saw her shaking. I was in awe. Although at that point, years away from thinking of having my own children and with no insight or experience to the demands of pregnancy, I planned on being just like her. She made it look easy, and then, I had no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be easy for me too.

The more I practiced yoga, the more mothers I encountered. I watched other women practice all throughout their pregnancies. I watched videos of Instagram sensations, women at 9 months pregnant, holding handstands for five minutes, then transitioning through advanced sequences. The more exposure I had to yoga and pregnancy, the greater my expectations became for myself for when the time came. Now, I was not proficient at inversions or expecting to be upside down on my yoga mat during my pregnancy. But the message that I was seeing was, pregnancy doesn’t have to slow you down. 

One of the things that I have always loved most about yoga is the adaptability. I am a strong believer that yoga is for everyone because EVERYONE can do yoga. Every posture, every transition, every sequence can be modified to fit the needs of the doer. It is possible to practice yoga and still work around injuries or other physical limitations. There are classes for all levels, and many tailored to specific health conditions or demographics. There are even pre- and postnatal classes, as if I needed any more convincing that yoga is perfect for pregnancy and motherhood. As I grew this new found love for yoga, I was happy to see that it wasn’t something I would have to stop doing when it came time to have kids. I almost became eager to be able to “show off” my strength, just like all those other yogi-moms.

The month before I was to get pregnant for the first time, I finished my 200 hour teaching certification. My program was six days a week for four weeks, which made for an intensive curriculum. We practiced ourselves for hours everyday, observed others, studied the postures and practically (literally) breathed yoga. All that work and let’s be real, I had never been so physically strong, especially in my practice of yoga. I felt empowered and confident that my practice would only keep growing and improving, even when I was to get pregnant. During my teacher training I also encountered a lot more mamas. Many of my new teachers and fellow trainees were moms, ranging from having grown children to just a few months postpartum. My fascination continued as I observed all the pre- and postnatal classes I could. I talked with these moms about how inspiring they were, asked about their yoga journey through pregnancy and into postpartum, and the conversations only fueled my desire to be strong and inspiring too. I had ladies tell me that “honestly, the prenatal class was a little too easy, so I just went to my usual classes” and my heart soared. I became so confident that I would keep up my regular, daily practice through my impending pregnancy. I secretly thought, “I’m not even going to have to modify my postures or movements”, because if THEY could do it all pregnant, I would too.

And then I became pregnant. Let me digress from my yoga practice for a moment and describe the rest of my life situation at the time. My husband and I had just moved to a new state for him to start dental school. Little did we know; we were on the brink of the toughest and most demanding academic year for him that we’d ever faced together. Having just moved to town, I had no family or friends close by. I found out I was pregnant a few weeks after furnishing our new apartment. I hadn’t even settled in to a routine in this new home, gotten a job, found a studio to practice yoga at or even made a friend, when the nausea hit. Sickness like I had never experienced before rocked me. I woke up nauseated, spent the majority of the day vomiting and most days didn’t even have the strength to get out of bed. Without a job or any kind of social life, I could stay in bed all day and no one noticed. My husband was gone at school everyday and came home only to study late into every night. As cliché of a student schedule as that sounds, it really was like that. I threw up so much, I stopped eating. I sipped expensive bottled water because it was the only thing I could sometimes keep down. The longer this lasted, the worse I felt emotionally too, and the nausea and intense vomiting lasted for months. MONTHS. I was so lonely and scared and didn’t talk to anyone about what was going on, not even my long-distance friends.

In case you hadn’t guessed it by now, I did not practice yoga. It was physically, and soon mentally and emotionally, the hardest time of my life. I was so hopeless that I would ever feel better, the reality that it could not in fact last forever was clouded by the darkness of loneliness and misery. My dear husband, with the little time he had, tried in desperation to encourage me. His frequent plea was “get on your mat, do some yoga, I know you’ll feel better if you do something you love”. He probably was right, getting up, maybe even out of the house, surrounding myself with friends or doing things that made me happy would have helped all the emotional neglect I felt. But his sweet well-meaning suggestions only made me feel worse. I was devastated that I hadn’t been doing yoga. I had…failed. I had spent years believing that I would be super yoga mom, just like all those women I saw before me, looking adorable in yoga pants with a little baby bump, and then I wasn’t. I didn’t even DO yoga. I didn’t even have the strength to roll out my mat and then I didn’t even want to. I was so weak and tired and miserable, and I used what strength I had to beat myself up for not being who or what I wanted. For not living up to my expectations. For spending years preaching that yoga was so amazing because anyone and everyone can do it, no matter what, and then I couldn’t do it. I didn’t.

Six months later, my vomiting was under control and the nausea was bearable, I emerged from that dark time in some resemblance to a human being. Without the constant feeling of nausea, I started to feel the excitement and anticipation of my little lady. My whole world got a little brighter. But I did not get back on my mat. I was so weak and tired from the months of sickness and soon the third trimester of pregnancy I couldn’t muster the strength. At that point, with my growing belly, everything about my body looked and felt different. I was ashamed to admit that I didn’t even know where to begin practicing again. I tucked my shame quietly away and continued on into motherhood.

Not long after, I was texting with an expecting friend. She expressed frustration to me that she hadn’t been able to do a lot of yoga during her pregnancy. She’d been experiencing intense pelvic pain and it kept her from doing a lot of things she wanted to. Immediately I responded with as much encouragement that one text message could contain and told her “you ARE practicing yoga as you offer yourself grace with just being okay with where you are today” This is just a season. I reminded her, like our pregnancy-didn’t-stop-her teacher would always remind us, that “as long as your breathing, you’re doing yoga”.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how easy it was for me to love my friend and tell her it was okay that her pregnancy stopped her from getting on her mat. It reminded me that yoga is about so much more than physically being on our mats. The practice of yoga is all about grace. About honoring our bodies for how strong and capable they are. How many times had teachers encouraged me to 

“be ok with where you are at today” 

“listen to your body” 

“if something doesn’t feel good, come out of it” 

“every day is different, some days we are more steady than others” 

“maybe that is not in your practice today” 

“notice your body without judgement” 

The physical practice of each posture and breath helps us to find that accepting relationship with ourselves, but yoga is meant to be taken off of our mats, just practiced in a different way.

That relationship we build on our mats prepares us for our life off of it. During those hard seasons of life we walk through, hectic work weeks, an illness, a family emergency that upheaves your daily routine, or for some of us, pregnancy and early motherhood, we can still practice yoga, by remembering to be kind to ourselves, both body and mind. Our yoga practice continues as we apply everything that we learned on our mats. Here we offer grace and gratitude for all that we are accomplishing, not comparing ourselves to others or focusing on what we aren’t doing. We let go of our expectations of how we “should” be and love ourselves where we are. We are still practicing.

I am different now. In my second year of motherhood and my second pregnancy, my yoga practice is much different than it used to be. That is finally OK with me. Most often it doesn’t include my mat. My yoga practice is the breath that I take before responding to the toddler meltdown. It’s the nap I take when my baby is napping, because today, I really need a nap. It is saying no to something I just don’t have the time or energy for and not feeling guilty. It is going for a walk when the morning weather is nice. Somedays it is cherishing that bedtime story snuggle or releasing all the tension in my face as I laugh with my daughter. Most of all, my yoga practice is me, offering myself grace for where I am at right now, being proud of myself and my body for growing and raising these tiny humans. I am learning along the way. I allow myself to recognize all that I am doing, even when it is different than what I expected I would do. I know, in another season, my yoga practice will change again; that will be OK too. I am still practicing.

Hi! I’m Clara! & this is Alice. She was born in April of last year, but I’m sure we’ve been best friends since forever. This last year with her has been my favorite one yet. 

I grew up in Vermont, but I wouldn’t trade our Arizona sunshine for any number of school-cancelling snow days! I think the desert is beautiful and my first fascination of cactus has crossed to obsession. I also love peanut m&ms, Friends quotes and hiking with my family. I like to think I am an avid reader, but in reality, I am usually listening to audiobooks. My biggest dreams in life are to share my passion for yoga with others, ride an elephant in Thailand and have a kitchen island big enough for decorating holiday cookies 

You can follow Clara on Instagram, where she serves postpartum moms through yoga.

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