Gentle exercise is an important part of a healthy pregnancy, especially in the later months when you’re preparing for birth. Here we chat to Noosa-based yoga instructor, yoga therapist and matrescence educator, Janine Berger about the benefits of adopting a prenatal & postnatal practice while pregnant.  

Writer: Rebecca Walker, The Conscious Wordsmith

You specialise in prenatal & postnatal yoga + yoga therapy. What are some of the potential health benefits of practising prenatal yoga during pregnancy?

Prenatal yoga has many different benefits, from purely physical to more subtle spiritual ones. In general, prenatal yoga strengthens the muscles that are important for a healthy pregnancy and birth. It also builds stamina while improving flexibility and balance. 

Another  very important aspect is the breath. Yoga helps to maintain a good breathing pattern which is compromised during later stages of pregnancy. Furthermore, prenatal yoga teaches you useful breathing techniques for labour.

Mentally, pregnancy can be quite an overwhelming time and yoga assists in lowering stress levels. It promotes mindfulness – in fact the entire yoga practice is a mindfulness practice. Meditation and relaxation postures are a great way to wind down when feeling worried or overwhelmed. I also teach beautiful meditation and visualisation techniques to prepare for labour.

During some of these practices my students connect to something greater than themselves. They might experience a greater connection to the growing life in them. The last point I would like to mention is the social component of joining a prenatal course. The coming together is called Sangha in yoga and is one of the most important aspects. Pregnant ladies and their bodies are going through profound changes, and it is important to share feelings, worries and experiences. 

You also run a regular perinatal yoga therapy programme. Tell us about this course. Who is it designed for and what does it entail?

The Prenatal Yoga Therapy Course is a 5-week group course with an initial Yoga Therapy Consultation with me. I create personalised yoga therapy programs for each student that they take home and practice at home, but also during the group sessions. It is specifically designed for pregnant ladies who suffer from pain (back pain, pelvic girdle pain etc.) and other discomforts due to pregnancy. This also includes women with general fear or anxiety around childbirth or motherhood in general. 

The Postnatal Yoga Therapy Course is also a 5-week course with an initial consultation, but after bub is born and when the woman feels ready to start some gentle exercises. During the consultation we discuss the birth and goals that would like to be achieved in the postpartum period. She then receives a unique program to be practiced at home and later on in the group sessions.

Along with yoga classes, you offer ‘Matrescence Circles’. What are these and what would a new mama gain from joining these sessions?

The Matrescence Circles focus on supporting the new mum in her role as a mother. Matrescence describes the fundamental change and transition a woman goes through when she becomes a mother. This is often overlooked and I wanted to create something for mums where they feel acknowledged and heard. We discuss, journal, reflect and share our experiences, challenges and highs & lows in a supportive and non-judgemental environment. Women gain a new understanding about their role, but also their life. I usually organise a guest speaker for one of these sessions as well. This is for any mother with a young child.

You also teach meditation. How can meditation support women during pregnancy & labour?

Meditation and visualisations are an effective and important aspect of prenatal yoga. They help to reduce stress, calm the nervous system and connect the mother to their unborn baby. Leading up to labour, certain meditations and visualisations work on letting go of involuntary tension and support the ability to relax fully which is crucial if the mother aims for an unassisted and unmedicated birth.

Certain meditations use the breath as their main technique. By focussing on the breath, the woman in labour stays calmer and more focussed which will help with managing labour pain. One other point I would like to mention is that a lot of the strategies that I teach help women to clear their heads of unwanted thoughts and they also help them to fall asleep more easily. Almost all techniques can be successfully used during the postnatal period as well.

Why do you think it’s important for new mothers to find a supportive tribe?

Motherhood is a substantial shift in a woman’s life. Their world all of a sudden changes and other priorities crystalise. Women need support in their new role and traditionally this was being catered for by their community and family. Nowadays, families live far apart and mothers do not have that support network to fall back on anymore.

A non-judgemental tribe of other women can somewhat replace this network. New mothers need a place to share, cry and being heard. Ideally this tribe also sets up an internal baby-sitting roster where each mum can then have a bit of free time while one or two other mums look after her baby. We all know we can not do it alone, we need other people, other mums so that we do not burn out.

Do you have any favourite pregnancy & birth books that you recommend?

Birth and Pregnancy:
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: The wisdom and science of gentle choices in pregnancy, birth and parenting” by Sarah J. Buckley
Mindful Hypnobirthing” by Sophie Fletcher

Your Self-Confident Baby: How to encourage your child’s natural abilities – fom the very start” by Magda Gerber
Parenting from the inside out” by Daniel J Siegel

Finding the Magic in Mommyhood: How to create the illusion of sanity amid raging hormones, sleep deprivation, and diaper rash” by Sara Sadik
Born to Breastfeed: The first six weeks and beyond” by Rowana Gray
The Discontented Little Baby Book” by Dr Pamela Douglas

What advice do you give to new mothers who are nervous about birth and the transition into motherhood?

I try to give advice only sparingly as I find new mothers are bombarded with advice from friends, family and even strangers. When they express that they are nervous about birth, I remind them that it IS only one day in their life and that they are doing everything they can to prepare their body, mind and soul by doing one of my courses and accessing other information and possibly completing other courses elsewhere.

When asked about the transition to motherhood, I am honest, and I share that a major shift is about to happen. They need to know, and I feel like I have not been told this in a kind and compassionate way. I also recommend that they prepare a postpartum plan where they write down all the support services that they may need to access, especially in the early days. Days can feel like weeks with a newborn, and so lonely. I also recommend writing some affirmations and post them all around the house for the new mum to see throughout the day and be reminded that this too shall pass.

You are a mama yourself. How do you balance your work & mama worlds?

I am a mama of an almost two-year-old girl with another baby on the way. I personally stayed home for the first 13 months and only taught a couple of yoga classes and courses when my partner wasn’t working himself. We do not have any family nearby, so I rely on his support a lot. I found once my girl was a little bit older it was easier to get my work done while still spending a lot of time with her. Daycare was a good choice for us. I love spending time with her and taking her to different activities, like swimming or playgroups, but I also value the time I have to myself and even work. For me, it was very important to have a life outside the mama life. I needed contact with other adults and not talk about babies all the time.

The advice that I can give is, think about what you can do in the perimeters that you have. It might not mean that you can return to work in the capacity that you were in pre children, but it can give you a starting point. I have also witnessed some other mums who have not returned to work at all and embrace the stay at home mum lifestyle, while others have created a little online business. One point to stress is that do not feel guilty for whatever choice you are making.

What is your favourite thing about working with pregnant women and new mothers?

My favourite thing while working with pregnant women and new mothers is that I am their guide for a short amount of time in their own journey. I feel so much compassion for pregnant women and maybe even more for new mothers. I have been there, and I can share my own experiences. I hope that something I tell them helps them along their way. It is a wonderful experience to watch a pregnant woman reach full term and come out the other side as a new mother.

For more information about Janine’s yoga classes, visit her site at https://www.yoga-tlc.com/