Prenatal Yoga at Heaven Meets Earth
Cordelia Herman and Marisa Fujinaka
Prenatal Yoga and Meditation is one of the signature classes at Heaven Meets Earth, a yoga studio and center for conscious living in Evanston. Led by Marisa Fujinaka and Cordelia Herman, the class offers women in all stages of pregnancy an opportunity to strengthen, lengthen, relieve tension and prepare their minds and bodies for labor and delivery. “Prenatal yoga is a unique opportunity for women to connect with other expectant mothers and do something that’s honoring themselves and their baby,” says Fujinaka.
“Pregnancy is a time when the body is going through major transformations. Yoga helps women connect the obvious physical changes with the sometimes more subtle emotional and mental ones. It’s a way to recognize and honor what the entire mind, body and spirit is going through and find support during that journey,” notes Fujinaka. The classes blend asanas, or physical poses, with prana, or breath work, and meditation. This combination helps calm the nervous system and relieves tension in the lower back, hips, chest, neck and shoulders. Many of the poses are geared toward strengthening the core, legs and arms to help with lifting and bending after the baby is born.
Although many women that come to the prenatal class already have an established practice of their own, the studio is seeing more doctors recommending it to their patients as part of a holistic care plan and an alternative to more strenuous exercise. “While it’s important for expectant mothers to stay active, yoga is a great gentle alternative to something like running, especially if it’s a high-risk pregnancy. We work to help improve circulation and posture, increase flexibility, reduce stress, build strength in the pelvic floor and teach breathing techniques that can be used during the actual birthing process,” explains Fujinaka.
The classes are set up to allow and encourage women to make modifications and adjustments, and adapt the practice to meet their needs. “Depending on what stage of pregnancy they are in and what’s right for their body on any given day, students might want to take it easy or push themselves a little more. We use props like bolsters, chairs, pillows, blocks and blankets to help women be as comfortable as possible throughout the class. If the baby is putting pressure on the ribs, we’ll find a position or a stretch that helps to open up space and make the mother more comfortable,” advises Fujinaka.
One of Fujinaka’s favorite sequences for pregnant women is a simple cat-cow stretch, which helps ease tension in the back while also strengthening the core. “When preformed slowly, the mother is able to really pay attention to what’s going on in her body, how things are moving and where she needs to make changes,” she says. It can be performed on hands and knees, in a seated position on the floor or in a chair. She also likes poses that strengthen the kegel muscles of the pelvic floor, which helps in the delivery process.
Another invaluable element of prenatal yoga is for women to connect with others going through a similar life change. Heaven Meets Earth was founded by Lisa Faremouth Weber in 2006 to be a platform for innovation and entrepreneurship in yoga, wellness and the healing arts, and fosters a strong sense of community.
“The studio is a safe place for women who may be feeling anxious, vulnerable or disconnected,” says Fujinaka. She encourages women to grow with their yoga practice after the baby is born to maintain the social, emotional and physical connections. “Our society isn’t really set up to support women after a pregnancy. They’re expected to go back to work, manage the household and take care of their families, all while their bodies are trying to heal from childbirth. Their hormone levels are rapidly changing, and they may be experiencing postpartum depression or an identity crisis. Continuing to go to class and connect with other women in a supportive community can help women ease the transition after pregnancy,” says Fujinaka.
Fujinaka ends each class with students placing one hand on their hearts and one hand on the baby, and breathing into both spaces. “It’s a physical reminder of the connection between themselves, their baby and this journey. Every birth and pregnancy is a miracle. I want to help women discover that yoga is more than just a class you go to once a week, it’s a lifestyle they can maintain when they leave the studio,” she says. “It’s the intention of practicing mindfulness and self-care, while also taking time for fun.”
Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. Connect at CarrieJacksonWrites.com.