Healthy Pregnancy & Birth Essentials – Be Fit! Be Prepared!

Moving relieves stress.

Moving relieves stress.

Do you want a healthy pregnancy, labor, birth and early mothering experience?

This post is designed to provide basic information about achieving this goal. As with any life situation, there are things you can do to help achieve the best outcome of your pregnancy. Some things will be outside your control. Your baby will have blue eyes or brown hair or attached ear lobes depending on genetic factors. But many things are in your control. If you are fit and eat well you will help your baby’s development.

Circumstances can also play a role. For example, where you live can impact how much you walk or whether you are exposed to second-hand smoke. Sometimes you can change these things, but not always. We have put together just the basics, the things you CAN do to help yourself have a healthy pregnancy and birth!

  1. PRENATAL CARE – Repeated studies show that women who have regular health care started early in pregnancy have the best outcomes.
  2. AIR & FOOD – Your muscles need oxygen and blood sugar in order to achieve activities of daily living (ADL), fitness activities, labor, birth, and caring for a newborn. Muscles – including the uterus – need these two essentials in order to this work. Therefore you must do these things:
    • Breathe deeply to strengthen your breathing apparatus.
    • Eat in a way that is balanced (carbs, fats & proteins in every meal or snack) and colorful (fresh fruit & veggies) to train your body to
      Fresh fruit provides vitamins & minerals!!

      Fresh fruit provides vitamins & minerals!!

      produce an even supply of blood sugar and provide needed vitamins & minerals. You need 200 – 300 calories every 2 – 3 hours, depending on your size. Prenatal vitamins are your backup safety mechanism. Eat real food, not edible food-like products (example: potatoes, not potato chips).

    • Drink fluids (primarily water) and eat protein to maintain an adequate blood volume. Blood delivers oxygen and sugar to your muscles, placenta and baby. Pregnancy increases needed blood volume by about 40%. More if you exercise regularly.
    • You don’t need other items, especially things that are dangerous, like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Continue safe sex.
  3. PHYSICAL FITNESS – Pregnancy, labor, birth and parenting are ENDURANCE events. Strength, flexibility and mindfulness will help, but only if you have stamina to tolerate the stress to your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
    Aerobic Dancing improves stamina while having fun!

    Aerobic Dancing improves stamina while having fun!

    • Cardiovascular conditioning or aerobics is the cornerstone of fitness. Make sure to get 20 – 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity 3 or 4 days a week. Find a qualified prenatal aerobic fitness teacher. If you are more than 26 weeks pregnant, start very, very slowly.
    • Core, shoulders, hips, pelvic floor – these areas need adequate strength training and gentle flexibility for range of motion.
    • Relaxation practice has been shown to help reduce the active phase of labor.
    • Mindfulness can be a big help in birth if you have adequate endurance and are not in oxygen debt, out of blood sugar, dehydrated or too tired.
    • Find classes here: DTP Take-a-Class
  4. EDUCATION – Be sure these items are included in your childbirth education course:
    • Landmarks of labor & birth progress
    • Sensations at various points in labor
    • Physical skills that promote labor progress and help achieve a healthy birth

      Learn the benefits "skin-to-skin" after birth.

      Learn the benefits “skin-to-skin” after birth.

    • Pain Management techniques to help you deal with the intensity of birth
    • How to maintain oxygen and sugar supply in labor before going to the hospital and while in the hospital
    • Standard hospital procedures (so you can decide when to go to the hospital)
    • Complications that can lead to medical interventions, including surgery
  5. GET SUPPORT – Make sure you will have continuous support for your labor and birth
    • Spouses, partners, and female family members can be helpful if they accompany you to your Childbirth Education class and know how to help you during the process.
    • A Doula is a great option for support because they are trained to guide a mom and family through the birth process.
  6. POSTPARTUM ACTIVITY WITH BABY – This is a great way to get in shape after birth.
    • Early General Fitness in the first few weeks: walk with the baby in a stroller or carrier, work on kegels and suck in your belly.
    • After 4 – 8 weeks you will be ready to join a Mom-Baby fitness group!
Birth begins the bond or unique love between mother and child.

Birth begins the bond or unique love between mother and child.

DTP Guest Blog – Renee Crichlow: REAC Fitness

In Part 4 of our continuing series on DTP’s offspring, meet Renee Crichlow, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer from Barbados, whose REAC Fitness business includes Mum-me 2 B Fitness Series (prenatal), After Baby Fitness Series  (postnatal) and 6 week Jumpstart Body Transformation Program (general female population). group

Renee (left) leads her moms-to-be in a well-rounded program that includes some cool moves in her aerobic dancing section!

The adventures of one of her students is featured in a recent series of articles in Barbados Today.

DTP:  When did you begin working with DTP?

Renee: I started studying in March 2012 and I completed the practicum in May 2012.

DTP:  Describe the focus or mission of your work.

Renee: I am a women’s fitness specialist, targeting all stages of a woman’s life cycle from adolescent, child bearing years, prenatal, postnatal to menopause. I design various exercise programmes to help women get into shape. As a trainer, friend and coach, I am committed to guiding, motivating and educating women to exceed their fitness goals and to permanently adopt healthy lifestyles.

feathered exerciseDTP: What do you most enjoy about your work?

Renee: The good feeling associated with knowing that I am helping women to positively change their lives through exercise.

DTP: What is the most important or interesting thing you have learned from working with moms, moms-to-be, or other women clients?

Renee: I have learned that we are connected and not separate from each other. Sharing our challenges and triumphs Jannelleenable each of us to grow and have a sense of belonging like a sisterhood. The baby and pregnancy stories always amaze me and I learn a lot considering I don’t have children of my own.  I am also fascinated by the fact that as the pregnant mummies bellies grow, they are still moving with lots of energy and I feed off of that energy.  I just love working with pregnant ladies and mothers.

DTP: What are your future plans for your program?

Renee: Starting in May, I will be adding an informational workshop to cover various topics and an outdoor stroller class.

DTP: What is the feedback you have had about your program?

Renee: They really enjoy the class and interaction with each other. Please see the testimonials below:

LatoyaSquatsLatoya Greaves, Patient of Dr. Thomas

I’m Latoya and I’ve been participating in the class for the past 4 months. It is very exciting, energizing and fun. During the work out, we participate in various stretches, breathing techniques, and even a little zumba session. I never thought exercising during pregnancy could be so much fun. The exercises are simple to do, so anyone who is pregnant and still wants to look well toned, loves to dance or just want to learn to what to expect during labour and what techniques can be used to help, this is the class for you. I can guarantee you, that after one workout with Renee, u will feel sexier than ever. Try it and you’ll see. I’ve already spoken to her regarding post-natal classes, that’s how excited I am.

Janalee Harris – Patient of Dr. Tracy Archer

Being part of the Mum-me 2 B Fitness Series is incredible! Whilst at the doctor, I was introduced to Renee and decided to join the program and never once regretted it. The exercises are wonderful, they help expecting mummies stay in shape, one thing I thought, was pregnant women had to take it easy and exercise very slow; that I realized was not true especially with the aerobics session.

We do various exercises: strengthening, breathing, relaxation, stretching, cardiovascular… when combined helps you stay in great shape. I feel healthy and overall better about myself and thank God for the opportunity to be able to exercise during pregnancy. I would encourage any woman who is pregnant to join the class, it’s a wonderful experience! A great program to follow when expecting and I am sure benefits will be achieved and goals will be reached in order to maintain a good weight throughout pregnancy

Toni Moore – Patient of  Dr. James Boyce

I joined the Mum-me 2 B class in my 20th week of pregnancy. I have found them to be very useful; not only in preparing me mentally and physically for welcoming my baby into this world but also in informing me of safe exercises that I can do on my own. Renee is very professional and makes the time to check-in on her preggers outside of class times: diet, doctor’s visits etc. I would recommend it to anyone; I would further recommend that you commence the classes earlier.

Contact info: Renee Crichlow (246) 242-2850,

DTP Guest Blog – Erika Boom: Belly-n-Kicks™

Erika Boom is the founder and president of the Belly-n-Kicks™ (B-n-K™) program, based in Miami FL. She is an ACE certified personal trainer as well as a DTP® certified pre/postnatal fitness trainer. Erika – an accomplished athlete – has been actively involved in the fitness industry helping hundreds of women for more than 10 years. Recently, Erika became a mother, gaining first-hand experience with her own B-n-K™ program!

DTP: Describe the focus or mission of your work.

Erika: Belly-n-Kicks ™ (“B-n-K™”) is an individualized exercise training program for pregnant and postpartum women. It incorporates elements of strength training, isometrics, core work, and stretching.

DTP: What do you most enjoy about your work?

Erika: What I most enjoy about my work is that we are empowering women in the most vulnerable point in their life. I also love the fact that the health benefits of exercise are multiplied by two.

DTP: What is the most important thing you have learned from working with moms and moms-to-be?

Erika: Our bodies are perfect machines and we are strong human beings capable of multitasking. I started doing a bulletin to nominate some “femmes extraordinaire,” and I could fit in ALL of my clients!

DTP: What is your future outlook for your program?

Erika: I am in the process of writing and reviewing the B-n-K™ Training Manual. I am also moving in the direction of franchising the B-n-K™ Methodology.

What clients say about this program:

“Belly-n-Kicks™ was recommended by my OBGYN while I was pregnant with twins. I kept my weight gain under control and I bounced back in shape fast. My twins will turn three this year, and I am in amazing shape and leaner than I have ever been before.” – L.L.

“Working out with Belly-n-kicks™ during my pregnancy kept me feeling strong, healthy and energized all the way to the end. Erika’s knowledge and guidance was very important in having a healthy pregnancy. She focused on a safe exercise routine that promoted endurance for the birth process and overall fitness. My recovery after birth was extremely fast. I wouldn’t go through a pregnancy without her!” – C. S.

The 51% Factor: Pregnancy, Power & Health

Recently I came across this posting and thought it worth posting again. On one hand I see signs of continuing progress, and on another hand it seems to me there are fundamentalist influences popping up everywhere (including among U.S. evangelists) that threaten women’s right to reproductive freedom and health. There is no end to the need to be vigilant.

In the U.S. and most of the developed world, approximately 51% of the population is female. Most females give birth at some point in their lives, although, in any year, only about 2% of the population gives birth.

No one living on earth got here any other way than gestation, so there ought to be some power attached to being part of that 51%. Historically, it might be said that the power has been merely for survival…the good breeders survived long enough to produce heirs and those who lived on knew where the roots and fruit grew.

Only women can make more people with their bodies.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Women make people
  • Women’s health and fitness before pregnancy affects whether the pregnancy is healthy
  • Women’s health and fitness during pregnancy affects her lifetime health and that of her offspring
  • Maternal survival is important to offspring well-being
  • Maternal health and fitness affects maternal adaptation and thereby offspring well-being

Thus, is it not a sanguine notion that the health and survival of women is critical to the health of everyone? After all, the health of nations is associated with this slight majority of females, and the wealth of nations is associated with its health.

The good news is that people working from this understanding are making some headway around the globe. Recently, the World Health Organization noted that maternal death among pregnant and birthing women world-wide has been dramatically reduced from the 1980’s to recently. This is very good news!

Here is the interesting footnote:  Maternal death in the U.S. has risen 42% in the same period. While the absolute numbers remain small, this is a disturbing picture. What could be causing this?

Time will tell if we can figure it out and fix it. I venture to suggest some directions for consideration:

  • The elevated cesarean birth rate with its sequellae of cardiovascular and immune system disorders
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndromes
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

Why am I hopeful, then? I see among our current educated generation of new moms and moms-to-be a willingness to exert their influence – as breeders – over the health care scene. They want less technological birth. They want support. They want more information. They want to be healthy. These are wonderful things. I salute these young women…they also make my job easier in the process.

In addition, I see among young health care practitioners an understanding of the value of these things. Among practitioners working in public health clinics there is a sense of desperation on the one hand that the poor and indigent have no capacity or will to take care of themselves. On the other hand, the first step is always education and there are a lot of people working on this issue.

Which brings me to the closing point:  How do we bring more resources and intelligence to helping women be healthy, prepare for pregnancy, have healthy babies, reduce pregnancy complications, and improve infant and maternal death rates? I, for one, will keep blogging on this issue. You, I hope, will vote for people who understand this issue. The political power and will is in our hands.

51% of us are women…some day 51% of us can set priorities

Pregnany & Parenting Coaching

Looking through incoming emails, tweets, fb notifications and e-newsletters that inhabit my inbox more and more, I noticed something interesting:  Lifestyle Coaches for people entering the pregnancy and parenting pathway. After some investigation, I found a plethora (many, many) web business/sites that offer services on everything from getting pregnant to getting your kid into college.

There are sites by enduring public health organizations that cover the range of conception, pregnancy, birth and early parenting issues – such sites as those by the Mayo Clinic, the March of Dimes, and WebMD – starting with how to get pregnant. You can also find business sites for these range of topics – such as The Bump and BabyCenter.

In addition, there are individualized sites that cover coaching for one or more parts of the process. Sites specialize in getting pregnant, being pregnant, giving birth, caring for a newborn, finding childcare, finding early childhood education, how to talk to toddlers, what to do with children of all ages, how to get them ready for school, how to encourage them in school and so on. Some specialize in a combination of two or more of these topics. Some started out specializing in one topic and are moving along as the owners or writers evolve in their lives.

I realize that this is an outgrowth of the “mommy bloggers.” Many computer literate women found blogging a way to deal with the life-changing event of having a child. For some, the internet became a means of making a living while staying home. Realizing that there was a large audience in this realm, the mommy entrepreneurs evolved…and, not all of them are mommies.

We are beginning to see the next generation:  pregnancy and parenting life coaches – individuals who may or may not have professional backgrounds in one of these areas, but are learning to turn their own experiences into businesses that help – or purport to help – others along this part of life’s path. Where does the impetus for this come from? Is it just that the internet makes a new business model possible? What else might be happening here?

For some time, I have thought that young persons entering parenthood these days are at a distinct disadvantage. Bearing and raising children is not easy or cheap. It requires a network of support and advice that used to be present in the extended family. But, we leave home and are much more mobile these days. We may live in Texas, but our baby’s grandparents live in Oregon or Brazil or Turkey. I asked my own exercise, childbirth education, and parenting clients about this. I found that many were in the classes precisely because they felt they had no firsthand experience or knowledge about what it was like to hold, feed or change a baby, let alone be prepared for birth and the sleep deprivation that followed. I also found mommy bloggers and entrepreneurs who found the impetus for their new work sprang from these issues in their own lives.

So, over the next series of blogs, I will be writing about some of these sites and services…both the professional organizations and the new mom entrepreneurs who have turned a difficult life transition into a way of simultaneously helping others while putting food on their tables. It looks to be an interesting journey and I hope you will follow along! I will get the next blog up in a few days, as soon as I am in the next location with internet access. My office is temporarily in the hurricane blackout zone of CT, but they promise me service soon. The first topic:  How to get pregnant!

Postpartum Exercise: Creating Your 3rd Body

Recently, while talking with some moms in our postpartum exercise class, DTP’s Mom-Baby Fitness™ program, I realized it has been a while since I have addressed the notion of what we call “the 3rd body.” This stems from the idea that before you are pregnant, you live in your 1st body; then, while pregnant, you live in your 2nd body. After giving birth, many women feel their options are to try to get their first body back or live in what they are left with after birth. We suggest another way:  create your 3rd body.

We discovered this 3rd body in working with women to gain the fitness necessary to have a healthy recovery and enjoy motherhood. What we found was that women were often becoming more fit than they had been before pregnancy, with less body fat and more muscle, yet their clothes did not fit the same.  Sometimes the flaring of the ribs and/or hip bones made for a larger waist – despite less fat!

Many clients also feel a new, deeper sense of their core developed. In fact, over time they realized they actually liked this body better in some ways! After all, they came into the world with the pre-pregnancy body, but this body they actually created out of the profound experience of the physical self that pregnancy and birth provide. It extended the empowerment of birth into motherhood.

Extending this metaphor even further, of course, leads to the 4th and 5th bodies, if you have another child. Eventually, there are more bodies as women go through perimenopause, menopause, post menopause, and what I like to call the phenomenal wisdom stage. Each body represents a new opportunity to become someone strong and profound.

I figure I am to body #8 now, and in each stage I have found something incredible that I could not have at other stages. Long ago I gave up looking for my past bodies. Each one has been brilliant in some way, but in the end it had to be left behind if I was to enjoy life’s path to the fullest.

Living in the moment does require knowing where you are in time, space and energy. So, discard your past bodies with delight and move on. Use your energy to create yourself in the present.

It’s a process and you won’t fully live in your next body until you own the toll of the last one. A postpartum mom may experience hair loss, bigger feet, a mal-aligned spine, constant thirst if she is breastfeeding, exhaustion and a jelly belly. But, all these things will pass with time, if you eat right and exercise regularly. Oh, and you can bring the baby, who will have a blast meeting other babies!!

Sex, Pregnancy, Birth Control, Viagra & War

For some time, the connections among these things have been stewing in my mind. Hoping to avoid an outright rant, I put off writing until my amygdala was calmed down sufficiently to make my key points briefly and reasonably. Global events and U.S. politics motivates me to write this blog now.

Item #1: Sex

For whatever reasons (God’s grand design, nature’s instinct for survival, your favorite theory inserted here…) sex has immediate rewards if done properly. Both men and women experience orgasm, which affects pleasure centers in the brain and encourages us to do it again.

Women’s orgasm is less tangible that men’s. It’s also more controlled in cultures where men’s pleasure is valued over women’s. In fact, in some settings – those that allow female mutilation – it is prevented as a means of controlling women and preventing infidelity or even sex for any reason other than the male’s pleasure or impregnation. Western religious and political cults are slightly more civilized in that rather than cutting women, they merely frighten them into submission.

Keep these thoughts in mind, for when we get to the end of this discussion (war), we will bring the ideas full circle and return to this point.

Item #2: Pregnancy

It’s easy to make the connection between sex and pregnancy. Unless, of course, something has prevented you from hooking up these phenomena conceptually, like being too young to understand or being prevented from figuring it out by others with social or political motives.

What makes pregnancy of interest here is that it can make even the strongest women vulnerable. Two people using one body (or three, if the male thinks the woman’s body belongs to him) places big demands on the woman’s body and depletes her physiologic resources. Even in a setting where food and shelter are abundant, it puts her internal organs under stress.

It is in the best interest of cultures to support and provide a safe environment for pregnant women. And, most importantly, to allow a woman to make decisions about when and with whom she will bear a child. Yet, we do so rarely.

Item #3: Birth Control

The great leap forward for women in the 20th Century is clearly the advancement in birth control. For the first time, by mid-Century, women could reliably prevent unwanted pregnancy before it happened. It was the 1960s (!!!) when women were finally able to gain legal control to obtain their own birth control in the U.S.

Yet, clearly, preventing pregnancy is preferable to aborting an unwanted pregnancy, which until the 20th Century really was the only reliable way to prevent carrying DNA that a woman did not wish to carry.

Why would a woman not want to carry certain DNA? To answer this, we have to look at men’s biological make-up. To oversimplify, but make a point:  When there were very few people on earth, it was understandable that the males who could impregnate many women were able to develop loyal clans. Follow this out through the centuries and you get genetically homogeneous civilizations. When conquering, rape was an important part of the process because it enabled this genetic loyalty.

The method by which women could level the playing field was abortion. The combination of maternal/fetal mortality and abortion worked to provide some balance in the civilizing forces at work as the population grew.

Item #4: Viagra

I love this:  Most insurance will pay for medications that improve erectile dysfunction, but many will not pay for birth control. There is a glut of propositions for laws prohibiting women from protecting themselves…and seven billion people later, we really do need to protect ourselves at least until we can get some colonies in space underway.

So, by now you have read enough to see the incredible irony of this situation. Despite a need to limit populations growth, there is currently such a beating-of-the-chests attitude clobbering world events, one which includes the notion of ownership of women’s bodies by men. You can get free Viagra, but the same people using the Viagra are telling women they can’t protect themselves!!

Item #5: War

This leads us to the final item…war. Right now, war is everywhere. Thanks to people who shall remain unnamed here, the notion that if you don’t like someone, it is okay to go to their country and kill them and/or takeover their way of life, has led to this “okay-ness” of waging war. Unfortunately, this bully pulpit has infiltrated civilization, which – until recently – was making pretty good progress on commonality of human existence and the need for peaceful solutions.

So, what do we see? A return to the “ethics” of war, including rape and control of women’s bodies (go back to item #1). It is interesting to me that in the U.S. there is a growing awareness among young, childbearing women that there are a lot of unnatural processes going on in birth. I am duly impressed by the extent to which young women have pressed the discussion of whether or not the way in which we birth as a nation produces the best outcomes for baby and mother.

We don’t need as much abortion as we used to. We have much more effective ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Our teenagers are finally getting the message in some demographics that prevention is best. If we continue as a warring nation, will we threaten this progress? This worries me. I hope we can steer our culture in a more productive direction. Women’s bodies should not be a battleground.

Healthy Moms Having Healthy Babies – the Challenge in 2011

Welcome to 2011! We want to take this opportunity to say, once again, that our main goal here is to provide credible, evidence-based information on how to prepare for a healthy pregnancy and birth, recover quickly and begin your mothering experience in good health. Why? Because that is what you can do to help get your baby off to a healthy start in life.

Helping women be healthy during the childbearing period is our primary goal. Not everything is within your control, especially genetic factors. But your baby’s life is determined – in part – by your behavior before pregnancy, during pregnancy, during birth and in the early mothering stages. More and more, we are coming to understand that the environment within the uterus is largely affected by the mother’s behavior (exercise, nutrition, stress, breastfeeding and avoidance of risky behaviors such as smoking) and environmental exposures (toxins in chemicals, the air we breathe and food products).

We are recommitting to making up-to-date and well-documented information available through this blog. Now and then you will get a rant, but for the most part, we want to help people have terrific experiences during the childbearing period. Of course, since we are part of Dancing Thru Pregnancy and its Total Pregnancy Fitness and Mom-Baby Fitness programs, you will hear a lot about being fit before, during and after pregnancy BECAUSE fitness has more benefits for mom and baby than any other single factor!

Here are some of the well-documented findings about being fit during the childbearing period:

  • assists in healthy implantation and improves placental function
  • reduces the risk or severity of gestational diabetes
  • reduces the risk of preeclampsia
  • reduces the risk of prematurity and low birth weight
  • reduces the risk for childhood obesity
  • may reduce the risk of surgical (cesarean) birth
  • improves long term maternal heart health
  • reduces the risk of postpartum depression
  • increases the likelihood that a woman will be fit in mid life

You can find references for these findings on this blog, on our website ( or through the American College of Sports Medicine and other organizations listed in our blogroll.

Our secondary goal is adding to the effort to assure Safe Motherhood around the globe. We do this, in part, by supporting the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and helping sponsor projects that improve mother’s lives locally. We are also committed to spreading the word that improving the lives of women and children involves a reality change…namely that helping women plan their families, have healthy pregnancies and give birth in safety are more important human goals than wars and violence.

Please join us this year in this important endeavor.

Thank you.

Ann Cowlin, founder/director,, twitter@anncowlin

Breastfeeding Research Demonstrates More Baby Protections

We have long known that vaginal birth and breastfeeding are key factors in the development of a healthy immune system in infants. Passing through the vagina exposes the baby to an array of bacteria that help stimulate its unchallenged immune system. Breast-fed babies receive anti-bodies, proteins and other molecules that protect it from infection and teach the immune system to defend the infant.

Breastfeeding is key for long-term health.

Recent research at UC Davis has shown that a strain of the bifido bacteria – acquired from the mother – thrives on complex sugars (largely lactose) that were previously thought to be indigestible. The bacterium coats the lining of the immature digestive tract and protects it from noxious bacteria.

This combination of interactions affects the composition of bacteria in the infant gut as it matures. Another example of how evolution has “invented” the perfect nutrition for infants, this research contributes to the notion that evolution has selected for many genes that serve normal birth and breastfeeding by protecting the newborn. Intervening with the normal progression of birth and breastfeeding – while occasionally necessary – interrupts these beneficial adaptations and contributes to allergies and autoimmune disorders.

You can read more about this research in the NYTimes Science section. Our Twitter feed (on the Right side of this blog) will take you to the link for this article. It’s worth the trip!!

Beyond Yoga

Beyond Yoga

I love Yoga. But…Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, Fast Yoga, Pilates-Yoga, Fresh Yoga, Baby Yoga and even Prenatal Yoga…not so much. I find these phenomena strange.

Why? Well, 40 years ago – when I first learned Yoga – it was a privilege. A person came to Yoga in the search for a meaningful life path. It was a blend of the spiritual and the physical, and it required a commitment to what was revealed within the practice. Before being allowed to take my first class, I had to demonstrate that I already practiced meditation. It was not exercise per se.

It was not adaptable like it is today. Depending on the teacher, you learned an ancient system – Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, or Kundalini. Those were the major methods that have Hindu roots, and those who practiced these art forms knew what they were doing. The teachers themselves had worked on their craft for decades. Today, I know only a few teachers who have a profound grasp of each of these methods.

Why is Yoga so popular?

Is there something within the work itself – even in the diluted forms, hybrid versions and the celebrity/competitive studios – that allows it to thrive in the self-centered, free-wheeling, branding-crazy marketplace of the early 21st century developed world?

I find the answer to this in a strange place:  Zen practice, Bhuddism. One of my favorite notions is from Suzuki’s text Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. “When you feel disagreeable, it is best to sit.” This is an element of nin – constancy – or being present in the moment. Not patience, which requires a rejection of impatience and therefore cannot accept the present as it is. When you sit – just sit period, that’s it – all that is real is the moment. This is at the heart of all spiritual experience.

I’m not an expert in Yoga. I don’t teach Yoga, although I have integrated Yoga-based skills into my work. I have practiced Hatha and Vinyasa over the years enough to learn how certain skills are treated…belly breathing, slow deep breathing, maintaining position and listening to the wisdom of the body, and isometric strengthening in preparation for more expansive shapes or motions. Long ago, I integrated these skills from my Yoga experience into my teaching style because these skills are effective for the populations with which I work. But, I do not teach Yoga.

Can Research Help Us?

Researchers find Yoga a nightmare. There is so much variance now in the practice that findings from any one study cannot be transferred to the general population. One of the most revealing experimental-design studies found that none of the claims of Yoga improving metabolism could be demonstrated. When asked why they thought this outcome had occurred, the teachers who were used in the study said they thought the participants in the study were not fit enough to do Yoga!

One of the most successful Yoga teachers in my area, and one of my favorites, has for decades used a bicycle for her primary mode of transportation. She credits her longevity and success to Yoga. I attribute it to bicycling. Dr. Cooper is right…fitness (which means aerobic fitness) is the biggest bang for the buck. Unless you are fit, it is hard to execute some of the more subtle demands of many exercise regimens.

Some Yoga teachers will say that you can make Yoga aerobic or that some forms are aerobic. OK, then it’s aerobics, not Yoga. Whenever I see “aerobic Yoga” it reminds me of aerobic dancing. It’s helpful to remember that Yoga developed in a time and place where survival was dependent upon fitness. People didn’t need to do more aerobics to find enlightenment. They needed reflection and to be present in the moment.

So, I insist on aerobic fitness as the first goal of a fitness regimen. In the pre/postnatal field, this is the only consistently demonstrated factor in improved outcomes. As a birth preparation there are Yoga-based factors that will help in labor and birth IF THE WOMAN IS FIT ENOUGH. It is the fact that some Yoga-based skills help fit people find nin that is my justification for continuing to use them in conjunction with aerobics and special pre/postnatal preparation and recovery exercises.

But, there are cautions. Not all Yoga assanas (positions) are safe for pregnancy. Down-dog, in particular, scares me because of incidents reported in obstetrical literature in the 1980s and 1990s that indicate such a position is implicated in fatal embolisms. Some shapes are just not doable and others become less comfortable over time. The ones that work have been identified since the 1940s and 1950s and integrated into birth preparation courses.

What’s Next?

All exercise components –

  • Mind/Body
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Aerobic or Cardiovascular Fitness

– are necessary for a balanced fitness routine. Too much emphasis on any one factor often results in injury. Aerobics is where the greatest health benefits reside. Recent research has demonstrated that it is physical “fitness” (which we can measure) as opposed to just spending time in physical activity (which can be a wide range of intensities) that is responsible for improved health outcomes. Strength and flexibility training need to be purposive. There are things we don’t need to do unless we are going to play pro football or dance Swan Lake! Mind/Body skills help us recover and prepare.

I for one will be glad when we get beyond yoga and back to cross training!