Teaching Yoga for Pregnancy

Every week I go to my pregnancy Yoga classes the odd one out… the only one who is not, has never been, and never will be pregnant. Don’t be stupid, how could a man teach Yoga for Pregnancy?!

I must confess that was my mind’s reaction to a strange urge that arose in me a few years ago, telling me that I should do some specialist training and conduct Yoga for Pregnancy classes. So I let it go, and thought no more about it, dismissing the idea again and again until a few months later, with it still harping on at me I reckoned I should do something about it. So I looked at all the options available. The approach that seemed best to me was that of the Birthlight organisation, founded by Francoise Freedman, an approach whose development fascinated me (more later).

So I checked their schedule, and sent a query about the only course I could fit in over the next year with my busy yoga class schedule. They quietened my silly fears - yes, a man could teach Yoga for Pregnancy. Alas there was no space in that course, so I couldn’t do it… until a few days later a student (also a man) dropped out of the course and I had a space!

Learning Yoga during pregnancy

Why would anyone want to take up learning Yoga during pregnancy? I mean, aren’t the utterly amazing yet often difficult transformations that this time brings enough of a challenge in themselves. Well, I think that if Yoga is specifically adapted to the needs of pregnant women, which means a little more than just a few modifications in the middle of a general class, it has some pretty amazing benefits to offer mums-to-be without adding to their already-full plate. In simple, I feel that for many women Prenatal Yoga gives them an accessible way to enjoy the various stages of your pregnancy to the full, helping them connect with their your baby as he or she grows, and preparing for their birthing experience.

One focus of my Yoga for Pregnancy classes is on improving the students’ health, both physical and mental-emotional, exploring ways to relieve many of the common discomforts of pregnancy (such as back, pelvic and hip pain, fluid retention, varicose veins and suchlike). I also try to help each student prepare their body for childbirth, keeping a level of strength that will help them endure through the birthing process. But pregnancy is not a time for tightening up, in fact it is a time for opening out many areas, especially the abdomen and pelvic floor - but I loved Francoise’s explanation that we are not trying to stretch these areas, we try to develop Elasticity! So every mum can open out their body to help the baby’s passage into the world, and then afterwards (through Post-Natal yoga) we can snap it back to its former glory (or better)!

Birth preparation is another aspect, which I deal with by devoting two full classes every 8 weeks or so. This is where students learn movement, breathing and relaxation techniques that will enhance their birthing experience.

I was fascinated to find out how Francoise developed her approach - as a social anthropologist in the Amazon, studying how women there gave birth with no chance of medical intervention, and how they did so without the same problems we have in the medical West. She observed their ways of birthing lightly and, as a Yoga teacher, realised there were corresponding Yoga techniques that women could practice in order to make their experience of the transition into motherhood more enjoyable. This seems totally unique to me in all the approaches to Yoga for Pregnancy - it has come not from experimenting with Yoga techniques on pregnant women, but from letting pregnant women who have found ways to birth well show the ways it can be done.

So, armed with a whole lot of knowledge from Francoise and of course my experience as a Yoga teacher, I set off into the wonderful world of women and started my first class as I worked on my Birthlight coursework.

Easing Discomfort

I must confess that to begin with I found teaching Antenatal Yoga quite uncomfortable. Not because of anything to do with the classes, I remember my first class so fondly, we had a great time. But in all my classes I only ever teach from my own experience, and here I was, never having been pregnant, not even possessing “the right equipment”! So I had to rely on the experiences of Francoise, to trust in her judgement as a teacher until such times as I had my own experiences and feedback.

Slowly though, I began to gain more and more confidence in what I was doing. Students would tell me how positive the experience was, how the feeling of community in my classes made them not feel so alone, as many pregnant women have little contact with others in the same situation. From the information they got in class, they would tell me how they felt more confident in telling the midwife how THEY wanted THEIR birth to go, rather than be told how it was going to happen - and usually the midwives were more than happy to have someone taking such an active role in their birth experience.

In class each week we begin by chatting about how things are going, and the would tell me what they did to alleviate cramps or back-ache at 3am. We laughed at stories of finding relief through the simple postures I suggested , finding some relief but often at the cost of a bemused partner waking to find them lying on the floor do Yoga at such an ungodly hour. And I realised how maybe these practices didn’t always make the discomforts go away forever, but at least they eased off enough for the students to get some much-needed sleep.

And when the first students came back after giving birth, their reports were all the same - although they found use for differing techniques, Yoga gave each of them something to help them through, to make their experience more positive.

I finally realised why I had wanted to do this so much - because Yoga at this time in life really could help!


I did also notice that some of the practices didn’t work as well for some students. In fact, some of the practices, often quite puzzlingly, simply didn’t work at all . But this merely confirmed what I already know - that every student I have is individual in every sense. So if something doesn’t work for one student, just because it works for another ten doesn’t mean the student is doing something wrong!

It’s just not right for her, and you need to be able to explore and find something that will work for each individual. This is where a therapeutic background in Yoga is invaluable, as you already have the insight and framework for developing and evolving new solutions depending on each person’s individualities.

And this was again confirmed at the end of my Birthlight training - when I saw how Francoise continues to evolve her teachings, finding better ways to deal with the same situations, never ceasing to grow and learn more. I am so thankful to have been guided by her approach, and for her support and encouragement to explore this area myself, develop my own teachings and find ways to help students where there seem to be none.

More Than This

Of course, Yoga for Pregnancy is much more than this. As well as the movement practices and the breathing, we have relaxation and sound practices, we try out birthing positions and find ways to involve your birthing partner in the whole process.

Most of all though, we have fun - because any Yoga class that doesn’t feature a smile and a laugh isn’t really yoga at all!

Written by Scott Rennie

Scott Rennie is a Yoga Teacher and Therapist working in the Glasgow and Ayrshire areas (and anywhere else he is asked). He teaches from the Krishnamacharya tradition (or the tradition Formerly Known As Viniyoga, TFKAV if you want to be like Prince ;-), which flows from the underlying principle that every person is different and that Yoga should be adapted to the individual’s needs (not the other way around).

He is a direct student of Kausthub Desikachar, and can be contacted through his website at exploreyoga.co.uk. Scott holds the Birthlight Diploma for Perinatal Yoga and has been running specialist Yoga for pregnancy classes for over 2 years.