I wrote a while back about the important role prenatal yoga was playing in my pregnancy. At the time, I hadn’t yet attempted to modify a regular yoga class to accommodate my growing body, but once I did, I found that my practice had changed a lot already — for the better. And I don’t mean that I suddenly found myself filled with a zen blissfulness or a newfound strength as I followed the class from child’s pose into downward dog and into triangle and warrior II. I mean that all of a sudden, I was in a yoga class where I couldn’t do stuff. I couldn’t even try to do some of the poses I loved and was used to doing really well. Shoulder stand, boat, cobra, and bow pose (among a lot of others) were no longer an option for me, and there I sat, watching everyone’s toes reach for the ceiling, waiting for them to come back to my level.

It was really frustrating, and I was not very zen or particularly blissful.

But as it turns out, this was actually probably the best thing that could have happened for my yoga practice. After all, yoga is not just a physical discipline, it’s a spiritual one as well, which means it encompasses far more than just the asana piece. And for me, it took being literally unable to access certain poses to start to understand that — but that is not to say it’s been easy.

For as long as I have practiced yoga (on and off for a number of years, with a regular, consistent practice for almost two years now) I have been That Person who tries to push to the uppermost limit of a pose. The weirdest binds, the toughest variations, the most energetic chaturangas. In fact, the reason I hesitated for so long to move my practice from my living room to the studio at the gym was because of my pride (they would all be better than me!). I was (and am) no advanced yogi, but my focus was all on the physical. I really wasn’t engaging with the rest of yoga — mind, breath, and spirit.

I’m going to have to find another picture to illustrate “prenatal yoga” so I don’t have to keep using this one.

Thankfully, I got pregnant and found myself too rotund to be able to get my hands all the way under my feet in a forward fold. Because these limitations have only increased with time, I have had no choice but to fall back on often taking the “easiest” variation of each pose, needing lots of props (the horror!), or even just sitting and focusing on my breath rather than taking a particular pose. It’s taken a lot of patience with myself to stop seeing these modifications as weaknesses, and in that process I have come to understand yoga at a much deeper level. The point isn’t whether or not I’m dripping sweat onto my mat or trembling in dolphin pose — in short, how much stronger I’m getting and how many calories I’m burning. Rather, it’s about centering myself, focusing my breath, and learning how to find strength and peace at the very edge of sensation, and as I’m both grieving the loss of my mom and preparing myself to welcome a new baby, this is exactly the focus I need to have.

My pregnancy has changed my yoga practice in ways I never saw coming. It has dismantled some long-held beliefs about myself and my pride in my abilities, but in its place I’ve found a lot more peace — and strength of a different sort. And since it’s impossible to contain yoga to the mat, these changes are evident to me all throughout the rest of my life too. The next challenge will be postpartum yoga, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

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