Yoga for pregnancy, mother & baby – interview with Yogaworks’ Belinda Staplehurst

The second a woman sees a positive result on a pregnancy test, a new life begins for her.

As a new mum myself, it most certainly has felt like one hell of a journey – pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood – and for me, yoga has been a very big, very vital part of that journey. It kept me focused during the lead up to birth and is now playing a huge role in my postnatal recovery, in terms of regaining both my physical and mental strength.

When a woman in the Warwickshire area mentions the word yoga to me, I instantly point her in the direction of Belinda and her company Yogaworks. Not only does Belinda have two decade’s worth of yoga experience, but she specialises in women’s health. After being part of her classes for some time now, I honestly can’t recommend her enough.

Her teaching methods sit well with what I personally look for in a yoga instructor – she is very focused and knowledgeable whilst at the same time urging her students, especially those leading up to or recovering from birth, to take things at their own individual pace. Her practice concentrates on the spiritual and emotional as well as the physical, and I have always found her classes to be very much good for the soul, as well as the body.

So, today I am going to step aside and let her do the talking, about what she does and how she does it. Mamas and mamas-to-be, no matter where you are in your life journey, listen up…

Rebecca: How would you describe what you do?

Belinda: I specialise in yoga for women’s health, to help support women’s wellbeing through the major transformations in life, such as pregnancy, postnatal recovery and the menopause. I was trained by Birthlight and adore their approach which encourages women from all yoga traditions and beginners alike to enjoy simple but effective practices that connect them to themselves and to other women.

R: I loved your pregnancy yoga classes – why do you think women benefit from a yoga practice antenatally?

B: Pregnancy is a time of huge change so yoga helps support women to adapt to these changes, both physically, mentally and emotionally. Pregnancy yoga can teach women ways to manage everyday aches and pains, take care of their pelvis, learn simple ways to relax and to move with ease, deepen their breath and prepare for labour. It is also a great way to meet other women.

R: What do these classes focus on? What’s important for a woman preparing to give birth?

B: My classes focus on both strength and release, as both are needed for balance. For example the pelvis and core need some stability during pregnancy, but also an ability to release for birth. The same is true for our emotional state where we need to build resilience for the challenges of pregnancy, labour and motherhood, but also need to know how to release and let go. During pregnancy the ability to relax also benefits our unborn babies, and this helps massively in labour too which is a huge letting go!

R: I like how the focus in your classes is always to take away practices that you can do at home – is this an intentional part of your teaching?

B: Absolutely! A key part of my classes for women’s health and at the heart of the Birthlight approach is the ability to integrate the yoga into everyday living so that the yoga becomes part of how we feel, move, breathe and release tension in everyday life.

R: I also got a lot from the classes on an emotional level, interacting with the other moms and yourself – it’s not something you always get from a yoga practice… is this something you think is important?

B: Yes the yoga classes address the whole woman, so that the way she feels is acknowledged and can be shared with other women too if she wants. This lessens feelings of isolation and gives us a circle of support. A woman’s emotional wellbeing is so connected with her baby – research shows more and more that the mother’s wellbeing can have a long term effect on her child’s physical and mental health.

R: Tell us a little bit about your postnatal classes too. What are the differences between the classes where women come alone and when they come with their little ones?

B: Many woman who have done pregnancy yoga enjoy continuing yoga once their baby is born. Women who are new to yoga also join these mother and baby classes – we focus on short simple practices that can involve the baby too, such as walks with relaxed holds or using songs and scarves. The postnatal yoga is key to a woman’s recovery after birth so we spend as much time as we can on realigning the spine and pelvis after the pregnancy, and on strengthening core muscles. But new mothers also need access to relaxation, so there are lots of quick and easy relaxation practices in the classes, as well as opportunities to relax more deeply. I also run Well Woman classes which woman can attend in the postnatal period without their baby and which are also open to women at any life stage, such as those wanting to conceive or those in the perimenopause and postmenopause. The focus is on enhancing women’s wellbeing with again a chance to share how we feel, to connect with others, to find both strength and release mentally and physically. We also have fun in all our classes!

R: As someone who had a c-section, it meant a lot to me that I could enter the space and talk about this, and also be given specific techniques on how to get back my core strength whilst not being too hard on myself still recovering from surgery. Any tips for the c-section mums looking to get back into a yoga practice?

B: Many women have had a caesarean birth then want to know what they can do afterwards. All the practices in my mother and baby yoga classes are safe for women who have had a caesarean birth. We start with deep abdominal breathing and this in itself is very healing both emotionally and physically after a caesarean, then work progressively over time taking into account women’s individual rates of recovery which is very variable. I wouldn’t advise joining a regular yoga class too soon unless the teacher is specialised in postnatal recovery, for many women it’s at least 4 months after birth for some it may be later.

R: One of the hardest things I find as a new mum is carving out time for myself. Any tips on how women can schedule time for self-practice?

B: Rather than thinking that you need a big chunk of time to yourself just do a few minutes here and there, then access deeper rest whenever your baby is taken care of or asleep. Examples of simple practices for everyday life can be:

  • Whilst feeding in a comfortable position do a body scan then deepen breath such as counting in for 4 counting out for 4 then gradually lengthen exhale, say to 6 or 8.
  • Go into cat (all fours position) over your baby and do some simple cat stretches such as rolling cat. You can add in noises and strokes for your baby too to make it fun for both!
  • Use a relaxed hold for your baby and gently swing baby side to side as you walk tall and get a gentle twist for your spine.
  • If you have arrived home and your baby has fallen asleep in the car seat then give yourself a couple of minutes to unwind before your next step. Unbuckle the seatbelt and sit comfortably, place one hand on chest and one of abdomen to feel your breath, close your eyes if possible and take 8 full yogic breaths, breathing in from your abdomen to your chest and breathing out from chest to abdomen.

R: Any last words?

B: It’s never too late for you to start yoga. And never too early for your baby!

Photography: Yogaworks