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Reflections after a quarter century of teaching perinatal yoga

Retirement approaches and it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on over 25 years of teaching perinatal yoga. My first career was as a midwife and then a midwife teacher.  Teaching a new generation of midwives had many rewards but I missed being ‘with woman’ (the meaning of midwife).   Inspired and encouraged by a pregnancy yoga teacher (a rare commodity then!), I underwent yoga teacher training purely with a view to teaching pregnancy yoga.  There were no perinatal yoga training courses in the late 1980s so I embarked on teaching using my combined yoga and midwifery knowledge plus lots of intuition, gradually adapting traditional yoga to suit the pregnant and postnatal women.  It was certainly a voyage of discovery- exciting but I felt very much on my own and was delighted to attend one of Francoise’s early antenatal and postnatal short courses (part of the YBT Yoga Therapy course).  It was inspirational to meet Francoise, learn her unique approach to perinatal yoga and to join the Birthlight family.

I was initially the only pregnancy and postnatal yoga teacher in my area and the demand for classes soared. The local hospital invited me to set up Active Birth courses.  This enabled me to offer courses solely for third trimester mums and their partners that included yoga and other labour tools. I also ran workshops on normal labour as part of midwives’ CPD-a chance to spread the word about yoga amongst health professionals.

I have enjoyed many aspects of being a Birthlight teacher.  These include the team teaching I have done with Eryl Holt, who I was fortunate enough to meet on the YBT yoga therapy course.  We ran Birthlight training courses throughout Ireland where we enjoyed not only the teaching but also the Irish ‘craic’! We have led workshops and perinatal refresher courses for various yoga training bodies. Making 3 Little Gems Yoga DVDs on pregnancy, labour and postnatal yoga with Eryl was a terrifying experience for me but proved to be a fascinating insight into an unknown world.  I even found myself enjoying aspects of the filming!  Our strong feeling that there was a need for simple yoga practice DVDs suitable for all was borne out by their huge success in the UK and abroad.

The most rewarding aspect for me has been teaching weekly classes. I have met many pregnant and postnatal women and their babies.  They have taught me so much - and continue to do so. Many women feel very vulnerable at this time - often terrified about birth, lacking the support of the extended family nearby and then shocked by the reality of life with a new baby. It is a joy to be able to offer simple yoga tools and a safe, non-judgemental  haven in which they can be honest and gain support.  Long term friendships are made through the classes. It feels special that women often feel able to confide in me, sensing that nothing shocks me - perhaps one of the advantages of my age and white hair!! Many have stayed in touch, returned for as many as 6 pregnancies and some have joined my general yoga classes.  This reinforces that, as perinatal yoga teachers, we have the privilege of being with women at a very important time in their lives.

Thank you Francoise and Birthlight for all that you do to enhance women’s experience during the time around giving birth via the perinatal yoga training that you offer. How the organisation has blossomed from its small beginnings!

Marion Symes