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Tribute to Chris Johnson on her retirement

Birthlight Chelmsford wishing Chris a happy retirement - our guiding light in Birthlight will be missed, but we wish her good luck on her new adventures. — with Jan Phelps, Kate Renfrew Sadd, Liz Raffell, Chris Johnston, Gemma Sinclair and Michelle McGeorge.


Christine Johnston has been a real pioneer. In 1998 she found her way to a baby yoga workshop I held on the fourth floor of the Great Ormond Street Homeopathic Hospital where the Yoga Biomedical Trust was based. It was a very hot Summer day and I went to get a paddling pool for the babies to cool down. The mobile babies had a lot of fun, the whole place was a happy mess and Chris said she would put her name down for the first training courses in Baby Swimming and Baby Yoga, which she did!

Chris is practical, someone who makes things happen and inspires others. She is very modest, but to the Birthlight aquatic teachers who have followed her lead in Chelmsford and set up very professional baby swim schools, she has been a dynamo, a kind and fun mentor and someone who was always open to new ideas for creating community.  Chris has just turned 70 and keeps fit and busy as ever. This is what she writes for the newsletter. Happy next decade, dear Chris!

I am now running two U3A craft groups each month and making cards which are sold in a local hotel and my hairdresser with all profits for our local hospice.

(Writing about Aquanatal Yoga) Takes me back to such great times.

Soon after I retired as a midwife I started running baby yoga and baby swimming classes. I loved these classes but was missing my regular contact with pregnant mums that I had had when running aquanatal exercise classes as a midwife. I attended the Birthlight Aquanatal Yoga course at Riddlesworth Hall* with a colleague to gain more knowledge of yoga and how this could be used in the water for the benefits of pregnant mums. Later on, the NHS stopped the funding for the local midwives to continue running their  classes. The mums were very disappointed so we, encouraged by the mums, restarted the classes as antenatal yoga classes. We introduced many movements, based on yoga, while still keeping them warm enough with faster fun elements and moving about more in the water.

Aquanatal  yoga classes during pregnancy  (and also after childbirth) are so beneficial for many reasons. In the water, stretching, breathing and relaxation can be achieved more effectively than on land. Aches and pains are reduced and mobility increased. Breathing techniques are taught, increasing lung capacity and expanding breathing sideways. Self-esteem is improved with panic breathing and hyperventilation being avoided, thereby enabling mums to be better prepared for labour. Relaxed breathing enables mums to become aware of their bodies and more able to recognise the difference between tension and relaxation and to be able to 'let go' more easily. It gives them time to focus on their babies as they share the experience of floating together in warm water. Meeting up each week with other pregnant mums is often the highlight of their week. Making new friends reduces feelings of isolation as they support each other in the future. These are just some of the many important benefits of Aquanatal Yoga.

Here are two of the many comments we received:
1. I can highly recommend these classes, not just for the sociable aspect with meeting new friends, but also for the breathing exercises and preparation for childbirth.
2. I found the course informative and fun. The breathing techniques were extremely useful. After a previous Caesarean Section I had a normal delivery this time using only breathing techniques, remaining mobile and with a little bit of nitrous oxide/oxygen.
I keep up with the Birthlight team in Chelmsford. They have all done so well.

* Our first training course in Aquanatal Yoga in the UK in 2002. In December 2018 we will offer our first training course in Well Woman Aqua Yoga in Italy, a residential course like the first Aquanatal Yoga training that Chris attended, but more comfortable than the dormitories of the Riddlesworth Hall school.  Looking back, I salute Chris for immersing herself in this course without prejudice and seeing the worth of Aqua Yoga for pregnancy, birth and beyond, in support of maternity care from within the community. Looking to the future, there is a crying need for the aquatic support of women to supplement medical care, particularly after surgery. Aquafitness classes have their benefits but Aqua Yoga, with its breathing techniques, relaxation in water and adapted floating yoga poses, has a holistic dimension extending to multiple challenges in women’s life cycle. Keep up with the wider Birthlight team also, Chris. You have offered Well Woman Aqua Yoga to so many pregnant ladies ahead of our forthcoming course. Thank you for your inspiration.

Françoise Freedman
Birthlight Founder & Director