Introducing Hersha Chellaram, inspiring speaker at our Healthy Matters Maternity + Baby event and Integral Yoga ambassador and teacher trainer. Hersha has an extensive background in yoga with roots stemming back to her childhood. Having been a certified Integral Yoga instructor for over 16 years, Hersha leads a long list of inspirational initiatives and training programs.
Hersha offers 200-hour, 500-hour, prenatal and children’s yoga training programs, her programs often going beyond the physical practice of yoga to include more internal, meditative, and mindfulness practices. Her prenatal yoga training program educates women and yoga teachers about individualizing yoga’s approach to be inclusive and adaptive to accommodate women of all abilities, health conditions, and pregnancy risks. Post-natal recovery, emotional health, and trauma sensitivity are also pillars of her training allowing yoga to be safely applied to women in difficult circumstances.
Hersha is also an “Accessible Yoga” ambassador and trainer, “Kidding Around Yoga trainer”, and practitioner of “Yoga for the Special Child” and is dedicated to helping adults and children with different abilities and health conditions. Founder of the YAMA Foundation a unique non-profit organization, Hersha aims to make yoga, art, and meditation accessible to all people including those with special needs, disabilities, and chronic illness.
Hersha gives us an inside perspective on the different aspects of pre-natal and post-natal yoga and how it can support women throughout their maternity journey.
How do you use Integral Yoga within the pre-natal and post-natal phases of pregnancy? What are the pillars, focus points, and the main tools that you teach?
The goal of Integral Yoga is simple: to have an easeful body, a peaceful mind and a useful life. These three pillars apply to anyone — pregnant women, new mothers, beginners, seniors, and even people with special needs. Yoga from this perspective ensures a holistic approach to self-care that isn’t simply about doing a set sequence of yoga postures. The practice comes in many forms both on and off the mat, emphasizing redirecting attention back to the body, the breath, and the mind constantly.
Integral Yoga teaches yoga in six key areas: (1) physical practice which includes diet and lifestyle, (2) taking responsibility for your actions and their consequences; (3) mindfulness and meditation; (4) self-analysis; (5) cultivating core values and community building; and (6) adopting a growth mindset.
These tools have helped me through some challenging times during my pregnancies and in my life in general. They can be practiced any time by anyone in whatever form works.
What are the physical health benefits of yoga before, during, and after pregnancy?
Based on the six key areas of Integral Yoga, a person can develop physical strength without becoming rigid, while increasing the range of motion without destabilizing the joints. Physical benefits include:
- Increasing stability and ideal mobility of the joints
- Developing stamina and strength in the body to carry extra weight
- Preventing and correcting bad posture and tension in the body due to any stress
- Empowering a woman to have the physical strength for labour and beyond
- Relieving tension and pain associated with the common discomforts of pregnancy
During the postnatal period, the physical practice of yoga is designed to rehabilitate the body, correcting posture and retraining muscles that have been out of use for a while. This yoga must be specialized to acknowledge any surgery, complication or physical shifts that have taken place. For example, I had extreme abdominal separation after childbirth and had to avoid deep backbends, twists and certain core strengtheners in my postnatal practice in order to close the gap in my transverse abdomini.
What are the emotional and mental health benefits of yoga before, during, and after pregnancy?
A key component of yoga practice before, during and after pregnancy is to manage and balance out energy levels. If a woman can prevent or avoid states of hunger or exhaustion and allow herself the time to relax, this will bring mental and emotional stability. While going to a yoga class definitely helps, a woman must consider adopting lifestyle changes as well.
Some helpful coping mechanisms and tools are as follows:
- Body scanning to track energy levels and take actions aligned with physical needs
- Use specific breathing techniques to help induce relaxation or increase energy
- Guided relaxation which helps aid the body’s digestive, immune and circulatory systems, and reduce stress levels
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation consistently to develop self-awareness and tap into natural instincts and emotions
- Adopting a diet that is healthy, tasty and close to nature
- Building a supportive community and releasing attachments to unhealthy environments or situations
- Cultivating the right attitude and acceptance for the unknown experience of labour and early parenthood
Can yoga help with milk production, how so?
The early days with a newborn baby can be extremely challenging for a new mother. The shift in hormones, lack of sleep and general worry that goes along with looking after an infant can cause stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline to flood her body. These hormones can interrupt the drastic shift in hormones that enable milk production — progesterone and oestrogen levels drop suddenly before the milk-producing hormones of prolactin and oxytocin can kick in.
The internal practices of yoga come in handy for helping a woman manage her stress levels. Witnessing her physical, energetic and emotional states provides her with clues on what she needs. Breathing practices, gentle stretches, positive affirmations, supportive community and an attitude of non-judgement all contribute to lowering stress in the body.
“When the tears flow, the milk flows.” This was an old wives tale that I heard when I was living in Spain just before giving birth to my daughter. I kept this at the back of my mind as I entered the first week of parenthood, using mindfulness to stay aware of my physical, emotional and mental states. Two days after coming home from the hospital, I remember crying in the shower for no reason; a real outburst of sobbing that went on for a good amount of time. Shortly after, my milk came in full force. These internal practices allowed me to trust my body’s natural processes and not hold in the tears or judge myself for feeling crazy. This is how yoga helped me with milk production.
How can yoga prepare and facilitate childbirth and how can yoga improve childbirth recovery?
The earlier on a woman can start a prenatal yoga program, the better equipped her body and mind is to facilitate childbirth. Teachers who have gone through my Accessible Yoga Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training know exactly which tools to share to help a woman prepare her body and mind for labour. For example, if a woman practices a certain breathing technique on a regular basis for many months, I’m confident she will remember to use that tool during labour. If a woman dabbles in the practice, it’s highly likely that she will forget all about it once labour pains kick in.
Similarly with postnatal yoga. If a woman has practiced body scanning, mindfulness of energy and mood, it’s likely she will be empowered to address her physical and emotional needs rather than judging herself and remaining in isolation, especially with postnatal depression. A woman is better prepared to get the help she needs.
Can you share with us an example of how you would approach a risky pregnancy with yoga? What are some of the circumstances you prepare your students for?
In an Accessible Prenatal Yoga class, women can practice in a chair alongside women who practice on a mat. Women are encouraged to check in with their physical body and energy levels and follow the inner guidance without feeling judged or inferior. Just this first step helps a woman to cultivate her intuition in powerful ways.
I also like to discuss high risk pregnancies, potential health problems and importantly postnatal depression in my classes right away — not to scare women, but to educate and inform them. If a woman has knowledge, she can make better choices about her health and wellbeing. A high risk pregnancy is one with an increased chance of a health problem. This means that in some cases it might be necessary to stop going to a yoga class altogether. However, there are still many practices of yoga that a woman can do on bed rest.
Here is where the subtle and internal practices of yoga are so important to include in a classroom setting in every single class, highlighting that they can be used on bedrest, after a c-section, if a woman is feeling alone and overwhelmed, and so on. So many people shy away from teaching these crucial components or only allocate the last two minutes of a class to relaxation that women do not even know that they have so many tools to call upon.
I’m about to launch an online course for pregnant women so they can learn more about this side of Prenatal Yoga. It includes physical practices in a chair and on bedrest, breathing techniques, meditation and mindfulness techniques, as well as how to prepare for labour, early parenthood, and postnatal rehabilitation. I decided to create this online because it makes it accessible to women who cannot attend a regular class for whatever reason.
- To learn more about Hersha Chellaram’s online yoga classes for pregnant women, click here
- Healthy Matters readers receive an exclusive 25% discount when using code HEALTHYPREGNANCY
- Expiration date: 31 December 2018