Almost every pregnant woman I have spoken with tells me how, during their pregnancy more than any other time in their life, they are 100% focused on the health of their body. An innate connection women make during pregnancy is that their health directly correlates to the health of their unborn child. It is true, pregnancy is a very important time to focus on health, but not just your physical health, but your overall wellbeing.
For me, my second pregnancy felt more stressful on not only my physical body, but on my mental and emotional states as well. In order to feel I was taking control of my health during that time, I decided to attend some prenatal yoga classes. Mothers in my mamas group recommended prenatal yoga instructor Shana Celnicker-Chong. I had a rather speedy birth of my son, Azure, and I attribute much of that to the relief, breathwork, centering, and the alignment of my body from what I learned in her classes.
I thought it would be a good idea to encourage pregnant mothers to seek out the benefits of prenatal yoga, as I find it one of the most useful tools for self-care during pregnancy. I am by no means an expert, but Shana is. I decided to contact Shana about her thoughts on the benefits of prenatal yoga, as she is an excellent guide and leader for new mothers.
Shana has kindly taken the time to sit down and dig into her deep well of prenatal yoga knowledge to share with you how prenatal yoga can be a way to help you have a healthy pregnancy and labor, as well strengthen you as a woman and mother.
Interview with Prenatal Yoga Instructor Shana Celnicker-Chong
Dalene: Tell us a little bit about yourself…
Shana: My name is Shana Celnicker-Chong. I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband and two sons. I graduated from the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) in 2003 where I studied midwifery. I teach Prenatal and Postnatal yoga classes, a Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training program, and Mama Retreats. I also work as a doula and a childbirth educator.
Dalene: How long have you been practicing yoga?
Shana: I took my first yoga class in college in 1990.
Dalene: How long have you been a prenatal yoga instructor?
Shana: I have been teaching prenatal and postpartum Yoga since 2001. I trained with Colette Crawford at the Seattle Holistic Center.
Dalene: What lead you to become a prenatal yoga instructor?
Shana: I was a student at NCNM emphasizing my study in midwifery and women’s health. While I was apprenticing with a Midwife, I developed a strong yoga practice.
I saw how a yoga practice, including asana*, pranayama (breathwork), and meditation, could be so helpful to a pregnant, birthing or new mother.
Dalene: What are some of the key benefits of prenatal yoga for the mother and her baby?
Shana: There are many benefits to practicing yoga during pregnancy. It helps with common discomforts of pregnancy like back pain, heartburn, sleep difficulties, shortness of breath, etc. It helps with body alignment and awareness, both to help with physical discomforts of pregnancy and to help with optimal position of the baby for birth. Yoga helps build strength and stability as well as flexibility. It prepares the mom to calm and center the mind for birth and motherhood through the lessons of yoga, such as non-attachment, surrender, and discernment. It helps with bonding with the baby.
Dalene: Why do you feel prenatal yoga is important for pregnancy health?
Shana: The lovely thing about yoga is that it is different from other kinds of “exercise” in that yoga coordinates movement, breath and awareness. The pregnant mama’s whole being is being cared for on physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual levels.
Besides the physical benefits of yoga to strengthen and open the mother’s body to make her more comfortable and stronger, there is the physical benefit of aligning the mother’s body in order to help the baby be in an optimal position for childbirth. Yoga practice helps cultivate her ability to surrender and yield to tensions both physically and mentally in pregnancy and childbirth. Having a practice that quiets the mind also allows the mother a time to connect with her unborn baby.
Dalene: How often should a pregnant mother practice prenatal yoga?
Shana: I think an everyday yoga practice is best. Even 10 minutes of asana and meditation has huge benefits.
Dalene: Is prenatal yoga safe throughout pregnancy?
Shana: In general, yes, prenatal yoga is safe throughout pregnancy. But it will need to be modified differently at different times in a woman’s pregnancy depending on her body, her health, etc.
Some areas that are helpful to concentrate on are hip openers and strengtheners, shoulder openers, standing poses, balance poses, squats, and gentle spinal movements.
Dalene: What are some yoga poses pregnant women can do at home, for daily health and wellbeing?
Shana: This is such a hard question for the reasons above. But in general, for most mamas, she can do cat/cow sequence, downward facing dog, wide legged forward bend, bound angle pose, warrior 1 and warrior 2, side angle, tree pose, goddess pose, squats.
It is not a pose, but I highly encourage moms to practice breath awareness both sitting and in movement.
Dalene: Are there any cautions? Are there certain restrictions for pregnant mothers regarding yoga?
Shana: Yes, there some basic “don’ts” in prenatal yoga, but there are many that depend on who the mama is. For example: where she is in her pregnancy, does she already have a yoga practice, her health history, is she having any acute health issues?
In general mamas shouldn’t lie on their bellies, lie on their backs, move too quickly, do big backbends or deep twists, practice inversions at the end of their pregnancies, or the splits.
I would caution all mamas to find good pelvic alignment in all their poses and watch for overextending their ligaments and the connective tissue at the midline of their abdomen (linea alba).
Dalene: If a woman cannot find a prenatal yoga class in her area, what prenatal yoga DVD or at-home program do you recommend?
Shana: There are so many. Right now I am recommending a video by Gail Tully of Spinning Babies and Sarah Longacre of Blooma called Daily Essentials. It is a video that talks about how the position of the baby can affect how smooth a birth can be. They talk about simple movements and then have a yoga practice that brings those movements together.
I also like Hala Khouri’s Radiant Pregnancy video. It has 3 practices for all three trimesters.
I am a student of Katy Bowman at the Restorative Institute and I recommend her information on biomechanics of the body and alignment.
Dalene: Once the baby is born, what is a mother to do about continuing her yoga practice, what could her next steps be?
Shana: First, I recommend the mama let others care for her while she cares for her new baby. Breathing in awareness can help mama to be present to this time and her mama intuition as she learns how to mother her baby. Physically, when she feels ready she can work on sitting in neutral pelvis and spine so even as she sits and cares for her baby she is helping her pelvic floor and abdominal muscles become functional and strong again. Next, a gentle yoga practice with slow movements to open her chest, shoulders, hamstrings, use her deep transverse abdominal muscles and move her spine.
Dalene: Thank you so much, Shana, for taking the time to share a piece of your knowledge of the benefits of prenatal yoga and being a part of my motherhood journey!
More About Shana
“Birth is not only about making babies. It’s about making mothers; strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and believe in their inner strength.” ~ Babara Katz Rothman
During her prenatal yoga instructor training, Shana was taught the nuts and bolts of the special gifts of yoga for pregnant women, but also about the importance of empowering mothers. Anyone can teach poses, but as with any yoga class, it is what happens inside that matters most. Shana has been working as a doula and childbirth educator, and has taught yoga to hundreds of mamas in the Portland area. She also teaches a Yoga Alliance certificated Prenatal Teacher Training program at The Bhakitshop in Portland, OR. The birth of her sons and mothering them has given her her greatest lessons.
*Any various postures in yoga