A while ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a two-hour workshop with yoga instructor, meditation guide, and energy healer Hillary Pike and musician Darren Austin Hall. The experience was profound for a number of reasons, but most notable was the fact that I wasn't at home negotiating the bedtime routines of my two little girls. I was out with a friend on a Sunday evening, enjoying peace and quiet in the most relaxing of circumstances. It was pure bliss! When I got home that evening, I felt more appreciation for my husband—who had stayed home to oversee baths, bottles, books, and bedtime—and more love for my girls, who were sleeping peacefully. I was breathing a little easier that night. Feeling less tired and less stressed. It was a really great way to begin the week.
This was the reminder I needed. Five months into baby Fiona's life, I needed to re-claim "me time" in the form of activities that would force me to relax, unwind, and take care of myself. The past few months had been all about my baby, and my toddler, and my work. It was time to get back in touch with my own inner peace with yoga.
Hillary happens to be my youngest brother's girlfriend. She's really sweet, has an extremely calming presence, and is an excellent yoga instructor. She spent two months in the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh, India where she became a 300-hour certified Hatha Yoga Instructor.
As I begin to re-embrace "Me time" I thought I'd share an interview I conducted with Hillary. Perhaps she'll inspire you, whether you're pregnant, taking care of a new baby, or just busy with life and family, to give yourself the gift of inner peace.
I was a huge fan of prenatal yoga during both of my pregnancies. For those who don't know, what are the benefits of doing yoga while you're pregnant?
The benefits of yoga during pregnancy are vast; science has now proven how much the first nine months in utero affects the rest of your life. Prenatal yoga helps you to prepare your mind, body and spirit for childbirth and motherhood. Prenatal yoga practice is a great way to take time to nurture yourself and connect with your baby. It builds strength, balance, teaches you to breathe, relives anxiety and helps you bond with your baby.
Beyond stretching and keeping your body in good shape, why else might someone who is pregnant want to practice yoga?
Physically, prenatal yoga practice provides relief to back pressure created by the extra strain on the abdomen. Stretching and strengthening allows the pelvic opening to release which prepares the body for birth. Prenatal yoga focuses on toning the pelvic floor which creates more controlled birthing experiences and promotes faster postnatal healing.
Is it important to stay mentally calm and grounded during pregnancy? Why?
Yes! Your baby is developing within you and you want to create a calm and loving space for the baby. This is a sacred time of self-care and nurturing for you and your baby.
When Fiona was six weeks old I enrolled in a mom and baby yoga class. What are the benefits for mom and baby?
One of the main benefits of postnatal yoga or mommy and me yoga is getting mommy out of the house! It is a great way to meet and bond with other new mothers. It is also a way to bond with your baby in a loving and supportive environment. The baby will love the positive energy and mom will be able to re-strengthen her abdomen and pelvic floor.
I know a lot of people love yoga for exercise, but what's the value in a more gentle, relaxed, and meditative practice?
Many have heard of the idea that your thoughts create your reality. Yet, what can be even more important that your thoughts are your emotions. Thoughts are electric and emotions are magnetic. That means your emotions are really creating your reality. The more time we spend in the sympathetic nervous system (in a stress response) the more we are attracting or magnetizing stressful experiences into our lives. We want to spend more time in the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga strengthens the parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the “fight or flight” response that is triggered when we're under stress. Spending more time in the parasympathetic nervous system allows your mind and body to rejuvenate so you can let go and trust the universal flow. There are so many profound benefits of meditation and deep relaxation. Yoga teaches you to rest on command which is helpful as your sleep schedule changes with a new baby. Also, when you are relaxed it is easier for your baby (or children) to relax.
Parenthood can be stressful, what are your tips for achieving inner calm despite the outward chaos that sometimes surrounds new moms?
Breathe! Remember the breath and how powerful it truly is. When the life experience surrounding you feels overwhelming take six deep breathes. Inhale and expand the navel. Exhale and the navel glides back. Close your eyes and remember that you are the being-ness behind the experience. After the first six breaths, go back and take six more. Then, take the time to do what makes you feel good, centered, and balanced. Life can be stressful but it is your outlook on life that has the biggest effect on how you handle stress. Keep up with your yoga practice, it is said that yoga is the effort you put in to be effortless in life.
Outside of the studio, what can moms do to practice yoga or meditation on their own?
I love watching/listening to videos on YouTube, like Eckhart Tolle. Even if you only have 10 minutes you can play a short meditation and lay on your bed and completely relax. To keep up with your yoga practice you can bring your yoga mat out in the living room and while you are watching and playing with the baby you can do stretches and breathing exercises. You may not be able to practice for long periods of time but the little amounts of time add up! Be gentle with yourself and do the best you can. The last thing you ever want to do is make yourself feel guilty. Accept the life changes with self-love and keep a yoga mat around!
I went to an energy healer a few times when I was pregnant with both girls. I loved the experience! How can energy healing / light work help new moms or expecting parents? Can energy work help improve the quality of a pregnancy? Can it help mom and baby connect before baby is born?
I think this quote helps to answer that question. “When a mother is pregnant, the kind of soul she can accept depends on her mental attitude. And then there is another beauty that within the realm of your belly, which is your pregnancy, you can totally transform the soul. The soul is pure and has nothing to do, but the subtle body carries the karma of the previous life. A mother can totally purify the subtle body of the new child.” —Yogi Bhajan
Pregnancy is a truly sacred time and everything the mom does during this time as far as meditation and spiritual work, I do believe that the baby also receives the benefits. This is a way to bond the spirit of the mother and the baby before the baby is out in the physical world. During pregnancy mom and baby are one; embrace this sacred unity by deepening your spiritual practice.