It's no secret that yoga tones the body, calms the mind and may even lead to enlightenment.
But did you know that yoga actually alleviates pain in pregnant women and helps facilitate the birthing process?
"Yoga isn't just the stretching," explains Elizabeth Sumption, a yoga practitioner for more than eight years and teacher of the new prenatal yoga series at Yogalife on top of Queen Anne. "It is so much more than that. Yoga is finding your true self."
And what better time to do that than when you're pregnant?
This afternoon there are yoga mats on the floor, Tibetan chants in the air and a roomful of women with that special "glow" and a bump on their belly. It is the second day of prenatal yoga classes at the facility above Orrapin restaurant, and the mothers-to-be are preparing to stretch.
Sumption, who trained with Seattle-based prenatal yoga expert Collette Crawford, guides the women in an emotional and physical check-in. She works to create a sense of community for pregnant women taking yoga, and currently teaches yoga to women on bed rest at the University of Washington Medical Center as well as prenatal classes to women in all stages of pregnancy. Her classes at Yogalife focus on pelvic strengthening, improving flexibility, developing strength, breath and relaxation.
"Those are the physical benefits that you get from practice," says Sumption, a poster child for yoga with vibrant eyes and a joyful presence. "They are a given."
Physical benefits aside, Sumption works to take prenatal yoga one step farther. She points out that the nine-month pregnancy period is an ideal time for mothers-to-be to reconnect with themselves and the little beings growing inside of them.
"When you come to yoga, you are going to find out what is right for you," she says. "Because you can hear your own guide."
Heather Menaut Dit Lourtas, six months pregnant, enrolled in Yogalife's new prenatal series to help maintain the lifestyle she had before pregnancy. She wanted to stay active but didn't want to do anything that might jeopardize the baby.
"I wanted the professional advice," Heather says, explaining why she signed up for the classes. "I also wanted to meet other mums. I am from England and I don't have any pregnant friends here."
A redhead with a thick British accent, Heather points out that as soon as a woman gets pregnant she is inundated with all kinds of advice from other moms. Although she says she appreciates the advice, she finds it more rewarding to talk to women who are going through the pregnancy this moment.
"The mums who already have their kids don't empathize with you the same way," she says laughing. "They don't remember the pain like a woman who is pregnant now - the fact that your boobs are killin.' It is all a bit of a fuzz for them."
Heather takes on the voice of a mother whose baby has already arrived. "Oh, look at Johnny," she says, still laughing. "Oh, isn't he cute?"
She explains that a mother who has already had her child "has got her little dream in front of her." Such women forget the emotional side of pregnancy - the "nitty-gritty" - how one day you can be really happy and the next day utterly miserable.
"Being pregnant can make you feel quite vulnerable," Heather explains. "You are out of control. Every morning you look in the mirror and you think, 'Oh my gawd, what is that and where did it come from?'"
According to Sumption, one of the crucial benefits of prenatal yoga is that it calms you down.
"The more calm your mind is," she says, "the more you can hear what is truly in your heart."
A calm mind may also help with the "killin' boobs" and the oh-my-gawd moments in front of the mirror. In 2000, University of California at Irvine published a study indicating that stress during the first three months of a pregnancy can lead to earlier births and lower birth weights of newborns.
Another plus of Yogalife's prenatal series is that the classes provide an opportunity for pregnant women to spend time alone with themselves and other pregnant women.
"I wasn't expecting to come out as satisfied as I did," Heather says about her first yoga class. "That session was just pure, 100-percent time for me - it wasn't for my husband or family. I can't remember the last time I did something like that that was just for me."
Sumption explains that pregnancy is a time when many women transition from thinking about themselves to thinking about their family.
"Coming to prenatal yoga offers an opportunity for women to stretch, strengthen and also raise their consciousness," she says.
Jessica Schmidt, a 29-year-old mother-to-be who recently started the prenatal series, agrees. "I have always liked that yoga makes you more conscious of your body and your posture," she says. "My body has really been aching more than usual, and I am looking forward to stretching and strengthening my muscles."
Many of the women taking classes from Sumption also report how much they appreciate her vast knowledge of prenatal care, birthing options and yoga poses that accommodate a pregnant body.
During her first prenatal yoga class, Heather found herself in uncomfortable poses. "Suddenly, Elizabeth would appear," she recalls, "place a bolster here and a pillow there, and instantly I was comfortable. It was reassuring to know that she knew exactly what she was doing. I was quite impressed with how technical Elizabeth was."
Sabrina Rinderle, co-owner of Queen Anne Dispatch and another mother-to-be, says she appreciates the workout that yoga offers. "I am always amazed at how strenuous yoga really is," she says. "You are not in a gym or lifting weights, but it is strenuous.
"I slept really well the night after my first prenatal yoga class," Rinderle adds.
Prenatal classes are offered in eight-class or 16-class commitments. You may start your session at any time but must complete your classes within nine weeks.
For more information, visit www.yogalife.com.
Ritzy Ryciak is a freelance writer living in Queen Anne. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.