Of ashtanga, pregnancy and letting go

That afternoon as I rolled out my mat, for the first time in two years of my ashtanga practice I placed a water bottle next to me. Make sure you stay well hydrated. No jump backs or deep twisting. Take it easy with extra breaths if you need to. By the time I reached trikonasana, I looked at my husband doing his practice right next to me.

Wow. I’m so gonna miss all those twists. 

The magic of life lies in and between the tiniest moments. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, BOOM, the Universe makes sure the wind starts blowing the other direction. And this is where that beautiful, yet so abstract art of ‘letting go’ comes in.

Letting go is the hardest of all asanas.

I’m now 4 months and 2 weeks pregnant. So far and in such a short time, our little bundle of love has already managed to teach me a few life lessons. Along with everything beautiful and exciting about this new chapter in our lives, pregnancy has turned out to be the biggest yoga yet since I learned my first sun salutation. The beginning of my journey to motherhood has really shed some layers of my old identity and made space for tons of new values and attitudes. My practice has changed, my routine has changed, everything has changed.

The first lesson struck me on the very same day we came to know about the pregnancy. The lesson and the yoga of letting go.

On June 5th, that second red line appearing strong and clear, that moment when we found out we were embarking on the journey of parenthood, it not only hit me with a mix of strong emotions but with a monumental amount of questions at once regarding the daily yoga practice which had become the base and guide for my whole lifestyle. How do I practice now? Which asanas should I do, which ones not? Can I drink coffee, what do I eat? Can I even practice at all?

Finding out that I was three weeks pregnant, I realised that nature, and my body, was creating a new life inside my belly. My body was going to go through a lot of changes as it was turning into a home for our baby to grow and develop in. My yoga practice was not about me anymore. Now I was doing yoga together with the baby and this really changed the whole set of asanas and the attitude towards the practice.

Since that very day I began to seek information and guidance on ashtanga yoga and pregnancy. While gathering answers from various sources, in the end it all came down for me to understand that much like the practice itself, every woman is individual and every pregnancy a very personal journey.

I had been practicing ashtanga regularly for more than two years before my pregnancy so my body has been accustomed to the rhythm and lifestyle that comes with the practice. For me it feels natural to maintain the practice through the pregnancy and return to it as well after delivery. These past 4 months expecting our little one I feel like I have developed a more deeper sense of awareness within my body and thus have been following my inner voice on the yoga mat together with guidelines and tips form experienced teachers. I also found an excellent book called Yoga Sadhana for Mothers that has turned out to be a great guide so far.

The whole system and method of Ashtanga has a lot of benefits during pregnancy, but the most important thing is to listen to your own body and instincts, what works and feels good for you, what doesn’t. Reading articles from women practicing ashtanga while pregnant, I found out that some women were comfortable doing headstands as well as various other asanas, some felt like they wanted to avoid many. Many emphasised the importance of shifting the focus of the practice from the purifying and cleansing manner towards a more healing and nurturing approach in order to accommodate the growing life inside while the body also prepares for the delivery. It makes a lot of sense that during pregnancy you should not push the practice too hard, have any extreme adjustments or add any new challenging asanas.

My practice before pregnancy had been quite intense and learning to lower the level of this intensity was the hardest thing to adjust to. I gave up all the deep twists, jump backs and throughs. I softened the practice so my body wouldn’t heat up as it used to. I restrained myself from pushing too hard and began to take extra breaths and even small breaks in between to really just let go of all my previous desires to deepen the asana.

“Men are stronger than women physically, but women are more talented yogis. Through the various stages of life, yoga practice naturally changes it’s form and becomes much more than just an asana. Being a woman. mother and householder with important responsibilities, our energy is redirected at times and our yoga practice gives us the courage to embrace change. The constant which always remains, is the clarity and balance that the ashtanga yoga practice gives. The years of practice become a framework for how we live our lives each and every day.” –Saraswati Jois

As selfish as it sounds, it was hard to say good-bye to my old practice. And it was not just the asanas I was letting go of, it was the old me, my life as I knew it, our life as Anniina and Vivian, it was all changing and things were all upside down and sideways up all of a sudden. But then in the middle of it all, I just knew it was time for something new. It was time to trust the magic of beginnings.

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