My First Experience in a Yoga Studio…

The thing I hear the most from my clients at the studio, especially beginners, is how hard it was to step outside their comfort zone and enter the studio for the first time. Being immersed in yoga as deeply as I am I often forget what my first experience with a professional studio was like. I realized that not to long ago I was feeling the same way that all of my clients were feeling. In hopes to help a few more people introduce yoga to their life I’ve reflected upon my personal experiences and how I became comfortable in the studio. 

Until a year and a half ago the only experience that I had with yoga was doing home workout videos occasionally during busy sports seasons. I used yoga as a way to loosen up after a tough week of practices. It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Australia that I took the leap of faith and decided to try things I had always been curious about. I am a strong believer that everything in life happens for a reason to shape you in to the person you turn in to. If it wasn’t for these specific circumstances that I was in, I am not sure that I would be where I am in the yoga profession today. 

Throughout high school I played on a very competitive basketball team. We traveled, practiced and played in games practically 12 months out of the year. During my junior and senior year I suffered from Achilles tendentious in both of my feet, an overuse injury where your tendon has small micro tears. To this day any type of high impact exercise results in a giant lump of tissue forming on the back of my heal. This drastically changed the way I trained and stayed in shape. I switched to weight training with low impact cardio such as the bike or stair stepper a few times a week. This gave better results but never completely solved the issue. 

In July of 2017 I got on a plane, said goodbye to everyone I loved, and set off to study at the University of Wollongong, Australia for 6 months. This had been my absolute dream for years. Ever since I can remember I was obsessed with the idea of going to Australia and learning about their culture. To say that it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen is a complete understatement. It was, and still is, the best 6 months I have ever had in my life. I made a promise to myself that I would take full advantage of this opportunity to go outside of my comfort zone. I vowed to try new things when the opportunity presented itself, make my own needs a priority, and put 110% effort in to having the time of my life. After an exhilarating 4 days in Cairns I made my way down to Wollongong, New South Whales to my new home for the remainder of my trip. I lived in a small studio apartment that was set up like a hotel room(Bathroom, small closet, bed, and a desk). I shared a kitchen with everyone who lived on my floor. After settling in and unpacking I tried searching for things in the area to keep myself busy. I was looking to join a gym to stay in shape and pass some time when I wasn’t in class. Given that I had to walk everywhere meant that my options were pretty limited. The two gyms that were in walking distance were extremely expensive, I didn’t feel comfortable walking that far by myself at night time when I would be leaving to go home. Searching for other things to do I wandered across the street to the yoga studio to see what they had to offer. I had been staring at their sign from my window for the past week or so. This is single handedly one of the best decisions I could have made. 

Hearing all of their offers I decided to sign up for a one month trial. I was actually really excited to learn something new. I signed up for my first class and it wasn’t until about an hour before that I really got nervous. I had no idea what to expect. What if everyone had been going to yoga for years? What if I made a mistake and everyone looked at me or laughed? So my thoughts were racing through my head. I was afraid to make a fool of myself. I remember my first class like it was yesterday. I sat as far away from the instructor as I could and spent a good portion of the class looking around at others to make sure that they weren’t already looking at me. I was in my own head for the entire class self-doubting myself and my ability to complete the course. I didn’t go above and beyond the beginners level poses in fear that I may fail. During savasana I remember the instructor saying “think of one thing you did well today. Think of one thing you could use to improve on, and one thing that leaves you excited to try things again.” For those of you that have been to my class you will recognize this saying. I use it every so often to hopefully give people the same experience and feelings I had while hearing it. I got in my own head and was able to pinpoint something I was proud of. Something I needed or wanted to work on more, and most importantly it left me feeling excited for what was to come in the next class. 

If I were to try to explain to you the feeling that I had leaving class that night it would be near impossible. It was almost like an emotional high. A feeling of pure bliss with an undertone of pride for what I had just accomplished. If I could give this feeling to even just one person who decided to go out of their comfort zone and try yoga I would feel beyond accomplished as an instructor. The reason I do what I do every single day is for the people who come to class. To hopefully give others the gift that I received by taking a chance on myself and trying something new. The teachers I had while I were in Australia gave me a love for yoga so strong that I made it a profession and lifelong hobby and for that I am forever thankful.          

Yoga and Pilates During Pregnancy…

Let me first start this off by saying I am not a healthcare professional or personal trainer. I am speaking on my own personal experiences and still recommend consulting with your physician before starting a health or fitness regiment while pregnant. Generally speaking, everyone’s pregnancy is different with several variations of limitations that come along with it. I am hoping to help even just one person during their pregnancy by reflecting upon, and sharing, my own personal experiences. 

When I found out that I was pregnant I was scared what that meant for my business. Anytime you look up practicing yoga during pregnancy it puts so many limitations to your personal practice. Most articles and websites that I had read claimed that if you continued to practice poses that involved abdominal or spinal twists that it could prevent your embryo from properly attaching itself to the uterus which would result in all sorts of problems including miscarriage. This absolutely terrified me. The articles encouraged you to stay away from inversions and I wanted to know how much of this information was factual and proven through significant research. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to demonstrate enough of the poses and that the clients I had would become bored with the classes I was teaching. At the time my business was brand new and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to build the clientele that I needed in order to grow my business. I contemplated closing the studio down and going back to my previous career as an Early Childhood Education professional. Five months later, I could not be more thankful for my decision to keep the studio open and continue to follow my passion for teaching. 

After meeting with my OB/GYN and discussing my profession I addressed my concerns about continuing to be so active throughout my pregnancy. She asked me what I had done exercise wise before getting pregnant and I explained to her that I had been doing pilates and yoga for the last year. She reassured me that I could continue to do the same activities that I did prior to becoming pregnant as long as it didn’t cause any discomfort or pain. The only thing she advised me not to do was push myself harder than I was used to. Pregnancy is not a time to loose weight, it is a time meant for maintaining what you have already achieved. 

Leaving my appointment I felt relieved that I had not shut down the studio and continued to fight for my dream of running and operating a successful business. Knowing how I felt before talking to my healthcare provider I had the idea of reflecting upon my personal experiences to help relieve some of the stress other expectant mothers might be feeling about doing yoga and pilates. There is so much information out there that is inaccurate and cause women so much stress about activities that are proven to aid in the birthing process. I thought it would be a great idea to bring some positive light to the topic. We have enough to be stressed out about already as expectant mothers!

A few benefits that I have learned along the way is that hip opening poses and stretches can help your labor progress faster. These stretches prepare your hips for the vast changes they will have to go through during labor. Breathing techniques are a huge contributor to a smooth labor, giving you the ability to stay calm and in control. Yoga is constantly aligning your breath to movements, bringing attention to lengthening your inhales and exhales. Becoming aware of your natural breath, and using your exhales to push deeper in to a pose are fantastic strategies to push through those painful contractions. Mindfulness and meditation mimic that of the hypno-birthing technique and helps you escape the painful reality of giving birth. This may be different for everyone, but who wouldn’t want to make their natural labor less painful? 

At the moment I am six months pregnant and happy to report that I have participated in 12-18 hours of yoga and pilates every single week since I found out I was pregnant. There were days that my energy was low that I took it easy, but by listening to my body and giving it extra rest when I needed it has helped me continue to participate in the activities that I love. As my belly continues to grow I modify certain postures that require you to lay on your stomach, and I do what I can to keep moving throughout the class. I have personally found that the benefits to continuing to exercise vastly outnumber the negative outcomes. I do get more sore than I did pre-pregnancy, yes I do get winded more easily, yes it is hard to get your center of balance back, but this is all temporary and does not hold a candle to the benefits I am receiving. Pilates has helped keep more core strong which will be very helpful during delivery. I am constantly working on muscles that support my core to aid in my balance being a bit off. Yoga has helped me relive stress and stretching out areas of tension all over my bodies. 

There is no doubt that the benefits of yoga are never-ending, but I never realised how much easier it would make my pregnancy. Don’t get me wrong I had my days where I did nothing but lay on the couch and nap just like everyone else, but getting up and focusing on my breathing and giving myself some much needed me time has led to a happier and healthier pregnancy in general. In the everyday hustle and bustle and life you forget to take a moment to think about what exactly you want. Not speaking for anyone but myself here but I often times get lost taking care of others and putting their best interests before my own. I would much rather use the spare hour I have during the day to prep Jonathan’s lunches for the week or put away some of our clutter that builds up over time then to ever think of what I would rather be doing for myself. Yoga allows me to push all of that to the side for just an hour at a time and really focus on what I need mentally. During this pregnancy I have been particularly stressed about the risks of miscarriage. Knowing fully that they are out of your hands and happen naturally it still scares me and causes me to stress out. Jon often jokes around that if stressing yourself out was a full-time job I would be amazing at it. Stress is such a common link to many delays after birth, and trying not to stress out almost makes the problem worse. I always take the little time I have during meditation to check on myself mentally and figure out what I need to work on to be more relaxed outside of the studio. I always leave feeling lighter at the end of the night. 

As far as pilates goes, listen to your body. If you are tired that day then obviously take it easy. If you are sore for a few days make sure to take the time for your body to recover. Your body is going through so many changes over the course of nine months and you have to be mindful of that. It is okay to slow down and take a step back. It is said that regular exercise throughout pregnancy is meant to make your labor and getting back in shape postpartum much easier. I for one rely on my physical fitness as an income so this is something that was very important to me. I am not looking to be perfect after having a baby, I know that it still takes a long time to get back to your pre-pregnancy body, but I want to remain to feel fit and strong. Continuing to be able to participate in my fitness classes and feel good about myself and what I can physically accomplish. Appearance will slowly come over time. I have set a few guidelines for myself personally. Again I have to emphasize that I am only speaking on personal experience and still think you should consult a physical before making these decisions for yourself. I try and keep my heart rate under 160 beats per minute(I notice extreme fatigue at anything higher), I try and keep my body temperature from rising to quickly. When I am to hot my hands normally get swollen so I will start to take it easy after that, and lastly just listening to how my body feels that day. If I have more energy I put more in to my workout and vice versa.