Yoga, Mental Health and Pregnancy
I’ve had the privilege of sharing other people’s yoga stories, yet until now, I’ve failed to share my own.
My first introduction to yoga was as a teenager. After spending years as a child struggling to sleep, it was finding my mum’s old yoga book and reading through breathing techniques to help clear your mind and relax, that, finally, helped me to drift off to sleep. As I continued to read, I also began sun salutations in the morning. I was amazed at how simple stretches in a morning made me feel more motivated each day and gave me energy.
I’ve always enjoyed sport and art for two very simple reasons; 1) I’m always within the moment during those times, focused on what I‘m doing and rarely thinking about something else, 2) I’m not overthinking what’s to come, or replaying something that has already happened - I’ve often been told that I’m an over-thinker!
Yoga was then a slow burn for me, something I found myself doing here and there, before a surf at a surf camp, following along to a DVD, practising breathing techniques to help me sleep… Before, finally, I stepped into my very first yoga class and onto the yoga mat.
Slowing down a racing mind and enabling my body to relax has been incredibly beneficial for me. Well, who wouldn’t it be beneficial for?! When friends have said to me that they have become anxious, or are stressed, or at a breaking point of sorts, I’ve always invited them to a yoga class. I’ve tried a lot of variations of yoga; hot yoga, yin, ashtanga, vinyasa, yoga on a sup board. What I came to realise was that for me, the harder the posture, the more I had to concentrate on what I was doing, the better, as the more I cleared my mind.
Learning the crow pose, headstands and bird of paradise (I don’t think my legs will ever actually straighten) were some of the best poses for me to learn. Not only were they challenging (and still are challenging) they also made me smile and taught me to laugh at myself. Initially I was intimidated walking into a room full of yogis who all seemed to know exactly what they were doing, but when you really let go and focus on what you can do, it feels soooo good. I’ve always hated to publicly fail and have felt very self conscious when forced to learn something in public - like swimming - getting into a pool in Australia and learning to freestyle is very intimidating when it feels like all Aussies around you were just born in the water.
After a stressful day at work, sweating it out on the mat was the perfect end to an exhausting day. Learning to let go of all the day’s stress on the yoga mat is a big accomplishment for me. If you’ve not laid down for savasana at the end of a yoga session and felt all your emotions boil to the surface, finding yourself slightly teary, then perhaps you haven’t really learnt to let go.
It was through yoga that I discovered meditation and realised how beneficial that was for me. When I first listened to a reiki session with The Mediation podcast I could believe how quickly my body felt heavy and was astounded to realise that I had fallen asleep within a matter of minutes.
Over the last several years I was regularly doing yoga two to three times a week. Right now, however, I’m now at a very different point in my life. Heavily pregnant as I write this, I’ve struggled to keep up yoga. After getting through morning sickness (even a sit down side stretch made my gut wrench), and suffering from pelvic pain (meaning a lot of usual moves are a big no go), I’ve clung to meditation to help get me through the last several months. My anxiety has been through the roof and not being able to step on the mat to clear my mind in the same way that I once used to, has been rather difficult. Bump Pilates has definitely helped to get me back active and to reduce my pelvic pain has been my saving grace, and mindful podcasts have been my best friends in the evenings and for a quick power nap in the day.
Yoga has helped me sweat out hangovers, gotten me through relationship breakdowns, taken the edge off stressful jobs, calmed and cleared my mind when feeling upset and anxious, helped me start the day feeling refreshed, and taught me to sit in and embrace the moment, no matter what I’m feeling.
Throughout the years I’ve changed my relationship with yoga, but I never let it go. Stepping on the yoga mat and simply just lying on a yoga mat can do wonders for the mind, body and soul.
Here’s just a few of the yoga studios, videos, teachers and meditation podcasts that I love;
- Tracks To Relax
- Mindful in Minutes
- Ying Bean Beach Yoga
- Boho Beautiful
- Yoga With Arian - awesome online videos and classes
- Christian Ralston - when I used to live in Bondi I would always look forward to saturday morning classes
- In Balance - also does amazing massage
- Heart & Soul Yoga
- Body Mind Life
- Power Living
Pregnancy and Mental Health
Pregnant and feeling blue? I want to admit that I have struggled throughout my pregnancy. And it is ok not to be ok. Personally, I found it hard work to find where to get help, as in my initial assessment I ticked all the boxes on initial my mental health scorecard assessment with the midwives, to then never be asked again if I was ok. Knowing how much mental health has come into the limelight since covid and how easy it is to get help and free counselling sessions for your day to day mental health (I’ve had many friends referred to free services for non pregnancy related mental health with over 10 free bulk billing sessions), I was shocked how hard it was to gain help during pregnancy.
Sure, I was given the number of a private counselling service, but being that finances were one of my stresses I was reluctant to pay $80+ after medicare rebate for a 30 minute session, especially when the NSW government site states you should be entitled to 3 free sessions.
I was also shocked to hear one doctor advise against a mental health care plan, as it could “affect your insurance and health care cover costs, and is on your record”. Another doctor told me that they didn’t know of any bulk billing perinatal counsellors so couldn’t refer me. They then finally told me there was an opportunity to speak to someone at the hospital as part of the perinatal care, but that they didn’t hear many good things about the service and wouldn’t recommend it. When I spoke to the hospital reception at the maternity outpatient care they gave me a generic number to call… who were later surprised to learn from me that the hospital indeed had services for perinatal health.
I felt as though I had to jump through hoops just to get to speak to someone about how I was feeling. Finally, I did get to see someone under the perinatal health scheme at the hospital where I was to be delivering my child. And I can say that the support I’ve received so far has since been great. Just speaking to one impartial person about how I was feeling lifted the weight off my shoulders. And I now have access to people who I can chat to if I feel the need. This is a wonderful service, but it was disheartening to find it such a struggle to learn about the service. Light exercise, meditation and breathing techniques have helped me ‘survive’ this pregnancy.
If you too are struggling, my advice is to tell your midwife… I didn’t, which is my mistake, as I felt I was initially shuffled in and out to different midwives who assumed I was married, with a planned pregnancy and they just wanted to check my blood pressure as quickly as possible and move on to their next appointment and for whatever reason I couldn’t bring myself to say I’m not ok’ Some other great online sites; https://www.gidgetfoundation.org.au/ and https://raisingchildren.net.au/pregnancy.