My life falls into two time periods, “BC” (Before Children) and “AC” (After Children). BC, I spent a number of years living the life of a busy singleton in Central London.
During this time, which was prior to the start of my teaching career, I worked full-time as a nanny for an American expat family.
Although I was contracted for eight hours a day, I had numerous opportunities for earning overtime. Consequently, I had what I considered a significant disposable income, even after meeting the cost of living in London, which in 2004 was the second most expensive city in the world.
My schedule, although busy with work and social engagements, was flexible enough that I could always find time for self-care. This included immersing myself in a variety of fitness regimes.
One year I joined a gym and worked out three times per week with a personal trainer. “Terrence the Trainer” swiftly whipped me into shape with a regime of cardio, weights and boxing moves.
I was so determined to meet the goals he set that I never missed a workout. I followed his plan even when I went on vacation or was travelling for work! I kept this up until my personal circumstances changed and I needed to find a more affordable fitness routine.
That’s when I decided to give British Military Fitness (BMF) a whirl. Not for the faint hearted, BMF consisted of a 60-minute outdoor bootcamp which took place rain or shine. Given the propensity for rain in the UK, especially in the winter months, I spent a lot of time running through puddles and eking out pushups in two inches of mud at various parks across London.
Around this same time, I also decided it would be a good idea to save money on transportation costs. Consequently, I started riding my bike to work, making the twenty-mile round trip commute from East to West London daily – rain or shine – during rush hour traffic.
The journey required me to navigate three roundabouts and saw me sharing bus and bike lanes with the iconic red double-decker buses, delivery drivers on mopeds, other cyclists, and wayward pedestrians.
After several near misses and an actual collision with a Royal Mail delivery van, I decided to swap my bike for a yoga mat. I signed up for a six week Iyengar Yoga course at a studio near my flat – that is the British equivalent of an apartment for all of you non-Anglophiles.
Twice a week I dutifully slung my favorite yoga mat over my shoulder and walked to the center. I would then spend the next ninety minutes bending and twisting my body into positions and angles that seemed almost unnatural at the start, despite the
use of props such as yoga blocks and straps.
By the end of the six weeks, however, my balance, coordination, and flexibility had improved. Slipping into downward dog, tree and triangle and other beginner poses occurred with growing ease.
I felt more in tune with my body and mind and opted to sign up for a rolling membership. I continued to attend classes until I moved across the river from East to South East London. Commuting to yoga class was not an option, so I began to search for a new studio that offered Iyengar Yoga classes.
When my search proved futile, I decided to try my hand at Bikram Yoga, or hot yoga. I initially signed up using a Groupon code – 30 days for £30 – and spent the next twenty consecutive days sweating through various poses with other yogis in a room heated to 105℉.
Yes, you heard it right! I managed twenty days before my flatmate at the time pointed out that it was OK to give my body a little break every now and then.
After the initial pass expired, I continued to attend Bikram yoga sessions twice weekly, balancing out my trips to the yoga studio with a renewed passion for jogging. I kept this particular fitness routine up until I met my husband-to-be and moved again.
We wound up in a gorgeous flat in the Royal Herbert Pavilions, a renovated military hospital that boasted a residents-only pool, sauna, and gym. There was even a private pub! Time for a new fitness regime!
It seemed as if we had hit the jackpot. I would hit the gym three times per week, as soon as I got home from work, and supplement cardio and weights with regular visits to the pool and sauna. There would be no excuses!
Navigating the night bus or splurging for expensive late-night taxis home would be a thing of the past. We could simply pop down to the pub and then back home again after the last orders.
As it turns out, I never really got to enjoy two out of the four, as I became pregnant about a month after we moved in!
I managed a few lackluster trips to the gym before morning sickness and tiredness hit me like a ton of bricks around week six. Over the next six or seven weeks my exercise routine consisted of walks; walks from my flat to the bus stop, walks from the bus stop to work, and of course frequent walks to the loo both at home and at work.
As I entered the second trimester, the pesky first trimester symptoms became less intense. By week twenty, the daily nausea and extreme fatigue had dissipated and I felt up to integrating exercise back into my routine.
The Mayo Clinic, as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists note that one of the best ways to counter the physical and emotional toll of pregnancy is to engage in moderate aerobic activity a few times per week. It is worth noting, the importance of speaking with your healthcare professional prior to resuming or continuing with exercise routines during any stage of pregnancy.
With the blessing of my midwife, I investigated some pregnancy-friendly exercise options that were offered by the local leisure center and a nearby yoga studio. The offerings included a low impact prenatal aqua aerobics class and a gentle pregnancy yoga class. Bikram yoga was no longer a suitable option due to the risk of hyperthermia.
After investing in a maternity swimsuit, I took the plunge and tried out the aqua aerobics class at the leisure center. Unfortunately, I found that the cold pool temperatures and the cacophony of echoing voices on the pool deck left me feeling frozen and frazzled.
Consequently, I hung up my swimsuit, dusted off my yoga mat, and headed down to the yoga studio instead. The quiet music that wafted through the open doors instantly soothed my mind. As I listened to the instructor to speak about the benefits of prenatal yoga, I knew I had made the right decision for me.
One of the first pieces of knowledge the instructor shared was that yoga was known to lower the risk of preterm labor. Although my pregnancy had been progressing normally, I automatically fell into the high-risk or geriatric category because I was over thirty-five. I was all for introducing gentle exercise again, especially if it would reduce the likelihood of possible complications as my pregnancy progressed.
The instructor also mentioned that as our bodies acclimated to the various yoga poses or asanas we would notice increased strength, flexibility, and endurance. I was initially worried that my body would not respond positively to being thrust back into a routine of physical exercise.
As it turns out, my fears were unfounded. It only took a few classes to jog the memory of my mom-to-be muscles. Poses that involved deep abdominal bends including boat and bow pose and deep twists such as revolved triangle and revolved side angle pose were avoided as they place undue pressure on the abdomen and compress the belly.
Instead, the instructor integrated a series of standing poses such as extended triangle and side angle and warrior I and II into the routine. In addition to strengthening the legs and pelvic floor muscles, standing poses also improve blood circulation in the legs and prevent muscle cramps.
I was still unable to reach my feet to tie laces or fasten the buckles of my shoes without assistance from my husband. However, I noticed an improvement in my overall flexibility and did not feel as winded as I moved through my day-to-day routine at work and at home.
Balance poses such as tree and eagle are also acceptable choices as they help to strengthen the leg muscles and improve the body’s overall coordination. Because the body’s center of gravity is constantly shifting during pregnancy, these one-legged poses should be undertaken near a wall.
My lower back had become increasingly prone to aches and pains in the second trimester as my bump increased in size. This was particularly aggravating at night time as I attempted to sleep! When completed in tandem, poses on all fours such as cat and cow were helpful in alleviating the tension in the neck and discomfort in the lower back.
As my pregnancy progressed, poses that opened the hips and prepared the body for the momentous task of delivery were also encouraged. In addition to stretching and lengthening the groin muscles, bound angle pose and wide-angle seated forward bend can also alleviate the pressure on the lower back that is caused by the extra weight being carried in the pelvic area. Goddess pose is also considered a safe option and is especially helpful in preparing the body for labor.
Although I was over morning sickness at this stage of my pregnancy, I still occasionally felt nauseous from time to time. Regular attendance at yoga not only helped to alleviate this feeling, but it also diminished constipation that had plagued me throughout the first and second trimester. I no longer felt the need to binge on the crackers, ginger ale, and ginger lozenges that were stashed in every corner of my home and workplace!
Between my mini-me-to-be tap dancing at all hours of the night, my husband’s snores, and my aching back, I was already feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. Knowing that I would lose enough sleep once the baby arrived, I was keen to bank all the sleep I could get while pregnant. I slept more soundly on the days I attended yoga. As I incorporated gentle yoga poses into my daily routine at home, these nights of solid sleep grew in number.
I also found it easier to regulate my emotions by incorporating some of the breathing and meditation exercises that the instructor included in each session during corpse pose. When undertaking corpse pose, I was instructed to lie on my left side – never the right – and use a bolster to support my growing belly as needed.
Normally, a corpse pose takes place in a supine position. However, pregnant women are advised to avoid, or heavily modify supine poses, after the first trimester as they can lead to the obstruction of the inferior vena cava – the large vein that carries blood away from the lower body and into the heart.
Despite the modification, I was ecstatic. I could now actually watch commercials and listen to songs on the radio without crying! My husband was probably most grateful for this positive change in my mindset. A simple mistake such as him forgetting to put his plate in the dishwasher no longer sent me into a toddler-style tantrum!
As it turned out, these breathing and meditation techniques were even more invaluable six months later when the time came for my daughter to make her entrance into the world.
Although my waters broke on my due date, it would be three long nights and four days until I eventually gave birth! The stress and uncertainty that accompanied my extended labor and delivery was made more tolerable as I practiced the deep breathing techniques I had learned.
Although I had visions of giving birth in the Goddess pose, the placement of an epidural late on day three of my labor foiled those plans. Nonetheless, I credit yoga with getting me through my extended labor and delivery and the aftermath of being in a recovery ward with seven other women.