DVD Review: Pilates Pregnancy

Distributed by BayView Entertainment (and available for purchase online at

Reviewed by Molly, Talk Birth

While I’ve maintained a yoga practice for over ten years, practiced yoga throughout all of my pregnancies, and I’m Certified Prenatal Fitness Educator (ICEA), I have no experience with Pilates. So, when the opportunity came up to review a prenatal Pilates DVD, I was happy for the opportunity to broaden my horizons! Pilates Pregnancy Workouts is a basic workout DVD that is both easy to follow (even for those unfamiliar with Pilates) and sufficiently challenging. I was surprised by how effectively strengthening the workouts were, while appearing on the surface to be very gentle and simple! While this is a prenatal program, there is no mention of the applicability of the exercises to labor or birth and only a tiny handful of references to the baby.

In addition to the gorgeous ocean setting, a highlight of the Pilates Pregnancy Workouts DVD are the manageable, short segments—you can choose a workout that is 6-10 minutes. We can almost always find time in the day for six minutes! You can also choose to watch the entire exercise series as one continuous practice of about an hour. Also handy is the option of voiceover narration or nature sounds for once you’re familiar with the program.

Some exercises from Pilates Pregnancy Workouts are familiar from yoga practice, but the overall style and form is different and it would be great to include both in one’s prenatal exercise program! This DVD is a worthwhile addition to the prenatal exercise resources of pregnant women as well as doulas, midwives, or childbirth educators.

Multimedia Review: Pregnancy Health Yoga

Multimedia Review: Pregnancy Health Yoga (book/DVD set)
by Tara Lee and Mary Atwood
ISBN: 978-1-84899-081-4

Yoga has played an important role in all of my pregnancies and births. I began practicing yoga daily in 2001 and it was only natural to continue that practice throughout my first pregnancy. I was surprised in realize in hindsight that I’d also used yoga throughout my first labor—spending a lot of time in a modified version of child’s pose and on hands and knees, and also in a supported version of downward facing dog. Later, as a birth educator, I discovered those same poses could be combined in a series of “birthing room yoga” poses. I loved the knowledge that my body had spontaneously used these poses during my own birth experience—it was an affirmation for me that deep birthing wisdom resides in our bodies and will emerge if we have the freedom around us to let it emerge, no books, classes, and “preparation” really necessary, just space, breath, and freedom of movement.

So, naturally I was very excited to receive a copy of the new book and DVD set Pregnancy Health Yoga: Your Essential Guide for Bump, Birth and Beyond. The book is particularly lovely, containing clear, colorful, ample photographs, not only of step-by-step pose instructions, but also close-up photos of flowers. Another special touch is a set of affirmations introducing each section. The affirmations are appropriate for pregnancy, labor, birth, and many can be applied into the rest of life as well (i.e. “Breathing deeply, I let go of tension with each exhalation”). The book and the DVD both do and excellent job connecting yoga to the birth process, something that I do not always find present in prenatal yoga resources (many of which seem to be simply designed as modifications to traditional yoga and completely ignore the connection between prenatal yoga practice and birthing itself). There are ample mentions of the baby and how your yoga practice benefits the baby as well as many integrated connections between the movement of your body and breath in yoga and in the dance of birth.

The included DVD is a restorative, simple, gentle yoga series of about 20 minutes. It includes a closing meditation and the content is basic and easy to follow. It helps pull together the information from the book into actual practice. The lines are clean, the narrator is pleasing, and the pregnant model is comfortable to follow. Many prenatal yoga DVDs include a large amount of modifications based on trimester being demonstrated by multiple models during the practice session, which I find distracting. This DVD is different in that all the poses are appropriate for all trimesters and when a very few modifications or adjustments are offered, they are smoothly incorporated into the flow of the existing pose, rather than being demonstrated by someone else.

My only critique of both the book and DVD is that they feel a bit choppy—the book primarily presents poses alone, rather than as a series of exercises, meaning the reader has to then create their own series of poses to practice from scratch, rather than having a prepared series of poses to practice routinely (there is a step-by-step photo exploration of a sun salutation that is an exception). The DVD helps provide an example series of poses though the manner in which the DVD is filmed contributes to a similar feel (i.e. rather than see the model move from one pose into another, the camera fades out and then back in on her already in the next position, so the sense of continuity between poses is impacted).

Pregnancy Health Yoga: Your Essential Guide for Bump, Birth and Beyond is a beautiful, helpful companion for pregnant women as well as for those who work with them. As well as chapters about breathwork and visualization, creating space, strength and stamina, and relaxation, the book includes a MR_110 useful section about working with common ailments and conditions (including backache, leg cramps, and symphysis pubis dysfunction), exercises specifically for labor and birth, and also section about getting back into shape postpartum.

“Yoga can create space where there was compression, can make open what was closed and can make soft our hard and abrasive edges. The process of pregnancy itself opens and expands our hearts and our capacity to love.” –Pregnancy Health Yoga

Related articles:

Incorporating Prenatal Yoga into Childbirth Education Classes

Moon Salutation Yoga Series for Blessingway or Women’s Gathering

Birthing Room Yoga Handout

Centering for Birth

Birthing Affirmations

How Do Women Really Learn About Birth?

Book Review: Mindful Motherhood

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this product for review purposes.

Bits of the (Birth) Net

The following is a collection of the bits and pieces that caught my attention and then were shared via my Talk Birth Facebook page during the last two weeks.


From a good article by the National Association of Mothers’ Centers in Mother Support: When Words Get in the Way

Words, whether written or voiced, are so very fragile. They can be bent or twisted, even become unrecognizable from their initial intentions. They can have different cultural meanings, regional understandings, and generational perceptions.

There will always be the opportunity for miscommunication…

Such a good reminder. What you say and what people hear are often two different things. What you say and what you mean can be different. How your words are received and interpreted can be very important and intent in many ways doesn’t matter! Communication is transactional process. A two-way process. And, it is symbolic. Meaning can never be fully interpreted and understood completely.

This article also reminded me of one of my own older articles, Listening Well Enough, which came to mind because I’m finishing up with the training of two women. The essay describes my own experience when I was training as a breastfeeding counselor in 2005.


The topic of what to risk sharing online came up with friends recently and I enjoyed this article about answering the question of How Much Of Your Private Life Should You Keep Private On Your Blog?

Childbirth Education

Childbirth education is beginning too late in pregnancy; it needs to begin in the first trimester or even before women become pregnant…

The above is one of the concluding points from an interesting article from Birth Works International about supporting women without epidurals.

Good article from Lamaze about your breath and how it can help during pregnancy and birthing!

Virtual labor simulator!

Pushing Positions

Very interesting article on What is the Evidence for Pushing Positions?  Apparently there is more blood loss and second degree tears with upright pushing positions. Personally, I CANNOT imagine giving birth in a supine position. But, I’m also really, really, tired of tearing (tired enough that it is one of the factors in our decision not to have “just one more!” baby). For more thoughts about pushing, see previous post on Following Your Body’s Urges to Push…

And speaking of upright birth, Barbie homebirth photos! 🙂

Informed Consent

Valuable article addressing 10 Responses to Pressure to Consent (remember, it isn’t “informed consent” if you do not have the option of saying NO!)

Posts I’ve written about informed consent:

Prenatal Yoga

Online video prenatal yoga class: Prenatal Yoga – when you feel good, your baby feels good.

And my own prior posts on the subject:

Birthing Room Yoga Handout

Birth, this elegant, simple, yet intricate process has had unnecessary, complex, expensive technology superimposed onto it, creating a dangerous environment for birthing women.” -Alice Bailes

Loved this article on what really matters for midwives!


NEW STUDY: Epigenetics: Mother’s Nutrition — Before Pregnancy — May Alter Function of Her Children’s Genes. “As parents, we have to understand better that our responsibilities to our children are not only of a social, economical, or educational nature, but that our own biological status can contribute to the fate of our children, and this effect can be long-lasting,” said Mihai Niculescu, M.D., Ph.D., study author from Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in Chapel Hill, N.C.–Epigenetics: Mother’s Nutrition — Before Pregnancy — May Alter Function of Her Children’s Genes

After CAPPA this year, I wrote about epigenetics here: Epigentics, Breastfeeding + Diet, and Prenatal Stress

Call the Midwife

Fun! Ms. Magazine linked to one of my blog posts about midwifery in their post about the PBS show Call the Midwife!  And, after posting to the CfM Facebook page about how I didn’t get to watch the show myself because I have no TV channels, CfM fan Jackie clued me in that Call the Midwife is available online (no TV channels required!) Yay! 🙂

Older Posts of My Own

Birth Culture: “Birth is cultural, the way eating is cultural. We don’t just eat what our bodies need to sustain us. If we only did that, there would be no reason for birthday cake. Birthday cake is part of our food culture. The place you are giving birth in has a local culture as well. It also partakes of our national birth culture. Not everything doctors do regarding birth makes the birth faster or physically easier for you or the baby. Some things are just cultural.” -–Jan Mallack & Teresa Bailey

Creating Needle Felted Birth Art Sculptures: My first foray into birth art, before I fell in love with using polymer clay!

Centering for Birth: “Centering is a breath awareness strategy that I’ve adapted for use in birth classes based on the ten second centering process described in the short book Ten Zen Seconds…” Free handout available about centering for birth! (I was reminded of this post by Enjoy Birth!

Breastfeeding as an Ecofeminist Issue:“What happens when society and culture pollute the maternal nest? Is that mother and baby’s problem or is it a political and cultural issue that should be of top priority? Unfortunately, many politicians continue to focus on reproductive control of women, rather than on human and planetary health…”

During a week when I didn’t have time to craft delightful new blog posts, it was fun to have a post from a couple of months ago suddenly getting all kinds of hits and Facebook shares. Thanks, internet! ;-D (Around 150 shares on Facebook apparently. I ♥ Facebook!)

On Parenting Books

Mama Birth: Sadly, Parenting Books CAN’T Actually Raise Your Child: Enjoyed this post! (But I recommend NOT reading the comments on the original article she links to about “detachment parenting.” I lost about 30 minutes of my life, felt my blood pressure rising, and only made it to page three!)

The revolution must have dancing; women know this.
The music will light our hearts with fire,
the stories will bathe our dreams in honey
and fill our bellies
with stars.
-Nina Simons via Rebecca A Wright, Doula

Incorporating Prenatal Yoga into Childbirth Education Classes

Incorporating Prenatal Yoga into Childbirth Education Classes

By Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, ICPFE

Note: This is a preprint of an article published in the International Journal of Childbirth Education, Volume 27, Number 2 (April 2012)

The essence of yoga can be distilled into four key elements: breath, feeling, listening to the body, and letting go of judgment and expectation (YogaFit, 2010). When considering the essence of yoga, it is easy to see what a natural complement it is to conscious, active preparation for a healthy birth. Most birth educators would agree that paying attention to her breath and to her feelings, listening to her body, and letting go of preconceived expectations of what birth will be like are perhaps the most crucial messages to convey to the pregnant woman and her partner. Additionally, experts widely agree that exercise during pregnancy has beneficial effects for the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems and is associated with physical and psychological well-being. There is also some evidence that recreational exercise may reduce the incidence of premature labor and low birthweight babies (Hyatt & Cram, 2003).

Anyone involved with educating adult learners (in any context) is likely to be familiar with the concept that people are most likely to retain information that they have actually practiced (versus reading about, hearing about or seeing demonstrated). I have found that incorporating a few simple yoga poses into each class session is a beautiful way of illustrating and applying many important elements of childbirth preparation. In approximately 10 minutes of movement, important points can be underscored without having to actually say anything or “lecture” to clients. The hope is that as we move together through a carefully chosen series of poses, subtle emotional development and trust in birth occurs—again, in a more effective manner than by the childbirth educator saying during class: “Trust birth!”

One rationale for incorporating yoga into prenatal classes is as follows: First, people often learn and retain information more effectively by actually doing something. Practicing the yoga poses together allows experiential practice of pelvic floor exercises, pelvic rocks, tailor-sitting, leg cramp alleviation, and back pain coping techniques, to name a few, instead of just hearing me talking!

Second, and most important, Yoga in prenatal classes emphasizes that birth happens in the body. As childbirth educators we spend a significant amount of time talking and sharing information, but birth does not only happen in the mind. Birth happens most profoundly in the body. Not only does birth happen in the woman’s body, but supporting and being with a woman in labor is also an intensely physical process, so it is important for partners to try the yoga series.

People today spend much of their time “living in their heads”, and many of us do not feel comfortable with, or at home in, our bodies. Practicing poses in class helps couples out of their heads and into their bodies and begins a process of feeling comfortable with moving and using their bodies in positive ways. This may help them develop the trust and confidence that will contribute to a smooth and peaceful birth process.

Each pose is followed with a birth affirmation such as, “the magic and mystery of birth delight and amaze me” (Miller, 2003). Positive affirmations help plant positive seeds of confidence and trust in the wisdom of women’s bodies and of the beauty of birth. These cognitive adjustments may also send a welcoming message to the woman’s body and baby as they both prepare for birth.

Opening classes with a series of poses is an effective way to “frame” the class. Class can be opened with a brief check-in period asking how people are feeling, about recent prenatal appointments, and any questions can be addressed. A transition from “regular time” into “class time” occurs with a brief series of simple poses. This routine helps people transition from their normal days into feeling ready and excited for birth class information.

Each pose was chosen because it has specific birth- or pregnancy-related benefits. Begin with healthy sitting—seated crossed legged or tailor-style on the floor with spine straight. Do some neck rolls and shoulder rotations to help release tension. Move into a brief series that includes knee-rocking, leg stretches, Divine Mother Pose, Star Pose, pelvic rock, standing squat, Palm Tree Pose, Half Moon Pose, Triangle Pose and seated Mountain Pose. There is an additional short series of “birthing room yoga” poses described with photographs that is available as a free handout here.

The series is closed with a very brief meditation or visualization exercise. The series of poses and the affirmations are kept the same each week for retention purposes, but the meditation is varied. A quick visualization or relaxation exercise (under two minutes) is often more effective and more readily welcomed by couples than the longer visualization exercises often used in classes (which can seem esoteric to some people). A mindfulness meditation that is effective is:

Inhale and repeat silently: “I exist in the here and now….”

Exhale and repeat silently: “The present moment is all I have to be with…”
Continue inhaling and exhaling as you silently and simply repeat: “Here and now…present moment.”

A favorite resource for easily and smoothly incorporating yoga into classes is The Prenatal Yoga Deck by Olivia Miller, published by Chronicle Books in 2003. The poses listed above were selected from this deck. The deck contains 50 cards, so the educator can easily build a series for use in classes. Each pose card is accompanied by a lovely affirmation. The deck also includes six cards with simple meditations (the meditation above is adapted from one in the deck). The deck format, tidy box for holding the cards and sturdy card for each pose is an ideal format for transport to class as well as serving to provide subtle reminder cards as you lead couples through poses. Each card has a line drawing on the back illustrating the pose, so assessing whether you are doing the pose correctly is easy (sometimes just reading a description of the pose is more complicated than seeing it completed).

Occasionally the childbirth educator may get some eye-rolling or “weird, hippie exercise!” responses from pregnant couples. Regardless of how much or how little they appreciate the practice of yoga in classes, the poses used lay a physical foundation for a positive attitude toward birth and a sense of confidence as a birth-giving woman or supportive partner. Through the simple incorporation of yoga into birth classes, the expectant couple receives an irreplaceable, experiential grounding in the rhythm, focus, release, and conscious awareness so essential to the intensely embodied experience of birthing.

 Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, ICPFE is a certified birth educator, writer, and activist. She is a professor of Human Services, an LLL Leader, editor of the Friends of Missouri Midwives newsletter, and a doctoral student at Ocean Seminary College. She has two wonderful sons and a toddler daughter and she blogs about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at Talk Birth (

Suggested Resources for Birth Educators
The Prenatal Yoga Deck: 50 Poses and Meditations, Olivia H. Miller, ChronicleBooks, (2003)
YogaFit: PreNatal DVD, YogaFit (2009)
Yoga for Your Pregnancy DVD (2004)

All available via

All photos of the author, January 2011, 37 weeks. (c) Karen Orozco, Portraits & Paws Photography


Hyatt, G.& Cram, C. (2003). Prenatal & postnatal exercise design. DSW Fitness, Tuscon Arizona (training manual for the ICEA Certified Prenatal Fitness Educator Program)

Miller, O. (2003). The prenatal yoga deck: 50 poses and meditations. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.

Remer, M. (2007). Incorporating prenatal yoga into childbirth educationclasses. Midwifery Today, 4(84), 66.

Talk Birth. (2011). Retrieved from

YogaFit PreNatal/PostpartumSpecialty Program Manual. (2006). YogaFit Training Systems Worldwide, Inc. ,

Talk Less, Learn More: Evolving as an Educator

Since late 2006, I have written at the top of each of my teaching outlines: “Talk less, listen more.” This simple reminder has  fundamental importance and has completely revolutionized how I structure and guide my childbirth classes. During each series that I teach, I realize how listening to the women and giving them a space in which to share, is one of the most important things I can offer. Though I studied principles of adult learning and designing effective curricula during my certification program, I started out my childbirth education journey with a lecture and information-heavy approach I’ve since heard called, “opening their heads and dumping information in.” As I continue to teach, I’m continually discovering ways to talk less, but hopefully, impart more, creating a guiding philosophy of “talk less, [they] learn more” for myself as I plan and implement my classes.

Real birth preparation

After my first year of teaching, I realized that couples that sign up for my classes are not really looking for pregnancy and prenatal care information, but for real birth preparation. They are there because the women want to learn, “Can I do this?” and “How will I do this?” and the men are asking, “How I can help her do this?” It feels almost insulting to meet this quest for inner knowing with a discussion about the benefits of prenatal vitamins. I had to confront the fact that some of the things I was teaching seemed irrelevant, redundant, or obvious.

It became clear to me that I had to tackle the slightly embarrassing reality that I was following a model of prenatal education that was not in line with the true needs of the women in my community. I teach independent, natural childbirth classes privately in people’s homes. Maybe with a different population, my original approach would be more successful or I would take a different approach altogether. Also, just as students have different learning styles educators naturally have preferred methods. I have an information-heavy personal style that spilled into my teaching. I continue to wrestle with this tendency and struggle to rein in the information overload approach I gravitate towards.


As I made my discoveries, I began to drastically cut my talk time (lecture) and focus on action instead. Though it felt nearly sacrilegious to do so, I trimmed many things out of my outlines that were about nutrition, prenatal testing and so forth, because many of the women I work with have already read a great deal and don’t need to hear it again from me. I’ve come to see I really need to skip a great deal of the “book learning” and get them actually moving and practicing and using skills. Then, the “book learning” naturally arises during the course of the class, either via questions or via me needing to explain why something is useful or helpful during pregnancy or in labor.

I totally restructured and rearranged my class outlines to include a whole class about the mind-body connection and psychological preparation for birth. This class took the place of a previous class about birth planning. I was finding that many people already had a birth plan written and/or the birth plan information naturally comes up during the course of the six weeks without my needing to spend an excessive amount of lecture time on it. I tell them that I have the information, ask if you want it! I also dedicated a whole class to labor support with plenty of time to practice hands-on support techniques. In addition, I created a brand new class called “Active Birth” that involves lots of moving and positioning as well as many helpful ways to use a hospital bed without lying down. Informed consent, consumerism, and birth planning naturally arise as topics during this class, rather than being separately scheduled topics.

Information overload

Many pregnant women have information overload. They are faced with more information than they know what to do with. They are bombarded by it. What they really need is “knowing.” They need to know: “What skills do I possess or can learn that will help me greet my birth with anticipation and confidence? What are my tools? My resources? Can I just let it happen?” As an educator I ask myself, “What will help them feel confident? Feel ready? Trust their bodies and their capacities?”

I want people in my classes to learn material that is dynamic, active, exploratory, self-illuminating, supportive, positive, enriching, and affirming. I created a vision statement and asked myself where my classes stood in relationship to my vision. The answer was, “not as close as I want them to!” My vision statement for my classes is: to focus on celebration, exploration, motivation, education, inspiration, validation, initiation, and dedication.

I know I’m hitting the mark when couples comment, “Oh, this makes so much sense! I see how this works!” Or, “This was a really good illustration of what you were just talking about.” In this way, class participants readily reinforce (or modify) my own presentation style and I learn from series to series what to change, continue using, discard, or alter.

“Talk less…” teaching tips

I have many ideas of ways to “talk less” in birth classes, here are a few:

  • Media portrayals of birth—show two contrasting clips, such as a birth from a popular TV show (I often show Rachel’s birth from the show Friends) paired with an empowering birth from a film like Birth as We Know It and then have students discuss the two.
  • Use “The Ice Cube Minute” exercise from Family-Centered Education: The Process of Teaching Birth. In this exercise, couples hold an ice-cube in one hand for one minute and see what coping measures spontaneously arise for them. I do this exercise fairly early in my class series, before we’ve done a lot of formal talking about coping measures. It is very empowering for couples to discover what tools and resources come from within as they try the ice-cube minute.
  • To illustrate the potency of the mind-body contraction, practice two pretend contractions while holding ice. One contraction has an accompanying “stressful” paragraph read with it (“your body fills with tension…it hurts! Oh no!”) and the second contraction has a soothing paragraph read with it (“you greet the wave….it is YOUR power….”). This illustrates the fear-tension-pain cycle viscerally.
  • Use a five minutes series of birthing room yoga poses to begin the class—birth happens in our bodies, not our heads. Practicing the poses opens space to simultaneously discuss and practice: squatting, pelvic rocks, optimal fetal positioning ideas, healthy sitting, pelvic floor exercises, leg cramp prevention, back pain alleviation, and more.
  • Role playing cards—talk through various scenarios. I’ve found that couples are more receptive to talking through the cards than actually getting into a role and playing it through.
  • Values clarification exercise–participants cut out values from a list and arrange them in a grid to help them figure out if they are in alignment with each other and with their caregivers.
  • Leg stretch exercise to explore the use of vocalizations and other coping mechanisms during labor.
  • Ask plenty of open-ended questions that stimulate discussion and ideas, “what have you heard about XYZ?” or “what is your experience with…?”

Evolutionary spiral of a childbirth educator

After I had already done all of this self-inquiry and curriculum modification, I discovered Trish Booth’s concept of “The Evolutionary Spiral of a Childbirth Educator.” I quickly recognized myself and my experiences along the loops of the spiral. In the Early Stage of the spiral, educators are focused on “content and presenting the information.” This perfectly matches where I was when I started out with my “open heads and dump information in” approach. The Intermediate Stage is focused on the “group as a whole” and also “emphasizes learning rather than teaching.” Though I tend to teach one-to-one private classes and not groups, this seems to clearly be the stage I was in when I looked at my vision and realized that I needed to talk less so people would learn more. In the Advanced Stage, the educator “understands the meaning of the childbearing experience” and the focus is on the “individual learners.” This feels like the stage to which my teaching has spiraled. Further along the spiral is the Master Stage in which the educator “integrates the first three stages and moves gracefully between them” with a focus on “cognitive, emotional, and spiritual needs of the group as well as the individual learners” (Booth, 1995).

Perhaps my insights are old news to experienced educators, but they have made a profound difference in the quality of my classes. I’m sure as I continue to teach, I will continue to deepen and refine my approach and will continue to blossom as an effective educator.

Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE is a certified birth educator, writer, and activist who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is the editor of the Friends of Missouri Midwives newsletter, a breastfeeding counselor, a professor of human services, and doctoral student in women’s spirituality. She blogs about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at

Modified from an article originally published in the International Journal of Childbirth Education, December 2008.


Booth, Trish. Family-Centered Education: The Process of Teaching Birth, ICEA, 1995.

Moon Salutation Yoga Series for Blessingway or Women’s Gathering

At my blessingway with my second son, my mom led us through a moon salutation together outside and then we all entered the blessingway space via a “birth arch” made with the women’s arms (think London Bridge only all in a row making a channel of arms to pass through). This weekend, we had a women’s retreat with the theme of the sacred body and I found this moon salutation from the book She Who Changes for us to do together—seemed fitting that with a theme of the body, we should actually use our bodies! (In addition to the moon salutation below, I also have a handout with a birthing room yoga series available.)

Moon Salutation
I stand tall, heart open to the world, body full and present in all of its beauty.

(c) Karen Orozco, Portraits & Paws (Molly at 37 weeks)

(standing with arms in prayer position)

I open my arms wide to bring all of life into my being.

(opening arms and tracing the circle of the moon)

My arms form a temple above me, sheltering and protecting me.

I know that I am on holy ground.

(arms completing the circle extended with palms touching above the head)

Yielding now, softening, my body takes the shape of the crescent moon.

I see visions of women, young and old, helping and loving each other.

(bending to the side with arms still above the head and palms touching)

Rising up and bending to the other side, I know that my softness is my strength. I am tested, but not broken.

(bending to the other side)

Up again, I feel the sweet stillness, always present within me.

(arms above head, palms still touching)

I step wide now into a squat. Mother Earth’s ferocious powers rise up through my strong legs, hips and back. As woman, I give birth to all that is, caring for and protecting life.

(arms bent in priestess pose, legs bent and open in birth pose)

Straightening arms and legs, I am a star. I am the universe. Planets and galaxies whirl within me. I radiate in all directions.

(legs straight and spread widely apart, arms straight out to the sides)

Supple and yielding, I stretch to the side. I open my arms and look up, opening to love and compassion.

I reach, yearning and striving, and yet rest, accepting fully.

(triangle pose)

Turning to pyramid pose, I become quiet. Head to knee, I sense the inner workings of my own being.

(typical runners’ stretch)

Lunging, I stretch long and feel the glorious length of my body.

As I look up, the moon shines on my path.

(lunge pose)

Turning now, I touch the earth, hands on the blessed Mother, strong and steady.

Gratefully and tenderly, I bow my head.

(turning and bending to touch the earth)

Coming into a squat, I am connected with all animal and plant life. My body open and close to the earth, I know my body’s ability to give birth, to love, to work, to pray. I resolve to hold all of these activities as sacred.

(full squat)


The Moon Salutation continues with the poses repeated in reverse order to form a complete circle and cycle of the moon with the whole body. The combination of words and yoga movement creates connections between the body and the mind, enabling the meaning of the words to come into the body. The full meaning of the Moon Salutation can be appreciated only in the doing. It celebrates the female body and the earth body, affirming that the female body is sacred, an image of the body of Goddess. It names the connection between women and the moon, positively affirming cycles of change, in contrast to classical theological traditions. In the Moon Salutation, women’s changing bodies and the process of giving birth become images of the divine creativity of the Goddess. The Moon Salutation celebrates strength as supple and yielding, yet ferocious in the protection of life. These are images of strength as power with, not power over. In the Moon Salutation, the female body is not perceived negatively as it is in traditions associating femininity with the “weaker” light of the moon. Still, it might be asked: Does the Moon Salutation limit women to the body or the traditional roles associated with it? I do not find this to be so. In the Moon Salutation the female body is an image of all the creative powers in the universe. It can expand to include planets and galaxies. The female body is celebrated not only for its capacity to give birth, but also for its ability to love, to work, and to pray.

From: Carol P. Christ. She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World, Kindle Edition.

Seated Mountain Pose

I have a special affinity for pregnant seated mountain pose images. My logo and the polymer birth goddess sculptures I make are both in that yoga pose. So, during my recent maternity photo session, I wanted to include seated mountain pose as one of the pictures 🙂






Speaking of yoga poses, one of my favorite pictures from the session is of my friend/doula/colleague and I in a Two Moons partner yoga pose. Our alignment isn’t the best of the best (primarily because we had to both fit in the picture!)

Practical Ways to Enhance Knowledge for Birth

Related to my previous posts about information vs. knowledge, I want to share a couple of ideas from an article I wrote some time ago for the International Journal of Childbirth Education. Obviously, I don’t have all the answers, but these are some of my ideas/tips about transferring information into knowledge that will be meaningful to parents when their birthing time comes:

  • Use “The Ice Cube Minute” exercise from Family-Centered Education: The Process of Teaching Birth. In this exercise, couples hold an ice cube in one hand for one minute and see what coping measures spontaneously arise for them. I do this exercise fairly early in my class series, before we’ve done a lot of formal talking about coping measures. It is very empowering for couples to discover what tools and resources come from within as they try the ice cube minute.
  • To illustrate the potency of the mind-body contraction, practice two pretend contractions while holding ice. One contraction has an accompanying “stressful” paragraph read with it (“your body fills with tension…it hurts! Oh no!”) and the second contraction has a soothing paragraph read with it (“you greet the wave….it is YOUR power….”). This illustrates the fear-tension-pain cycle viscerally.
  • Use a five minutes series of birthing room yoga poses to begin the class—birth happens in our bodies, not our heads. Practicing the poses opens space to simultaneously discuss and practice: squatting, pelvic rocks, optimal fetal positioning ideas, healthy sitting, pelvic floor exercises, leg cramp prevention, back pain alleviation, and more.
  • Role playing cards-—talk through various scenarios. I’ve found that couples are more receptive to talking through the cards than actually getting into a role and playing it through. The activity that seems to work best for actual role play is the labor simulation series available on the Transition to Parenthood site.
  • Values clarification exercise—participants cut out values from a list and arrange them in a grid to help them figure out if they are in alignment with each other and with their caregivers.
  • Leg stretch exercise to explore the use of vocalizations and other coping mechanisms during labor.
  • Ask plenty of open ended questions that stimulate discussion and ideas, “what have you heard about XYZ?” or “what is your experience with…?”
  • Use birth art processes to “switch” parents from linear, logical, left-brain thinking into the right-brain mode they will also enter in “laborland.”
  • Media portrayals of birth—show two contrasting clips, such as a birth from a popular TV show (I often show Rachel’s birth from the show Friends) paired with an empowering birth from a film like Birth as We Know It and then have students discuss the two. Sometimes this more clearly brings into focus the influence of our culture on birth practices than a simple discussion does. Since I originally wrote this, the film Laboring Under an Illusion was released which does exactly this—contrast media portrayals of birth with how birth can be. It is a great resource for birth classes.

In classes, I also incorporate the idea of mother-baby symbiosis through:

  • The use of affirmations—“my baby and my body work in harmony to make birthing easier.”
  • A discussion of cardinal movements with an emphasis on how the baby moves to help itself navigate the pelvis (thus, helping you have a smoother birth).
  • Visualization exercises that encourage “seeing” and connecting with the baby while in the womb.
  • Belly Mapping” to get a sense of the baby as a person positioned in the uterus. Talking about what baby is like in the womb—when does it kick more, when is it quiet, does it like music, poke you back with you touch it, etc.
  • Impressing upon participants that it is not selfish to want both a good birth and a healthy baby (I actively challenge statements about, “well, in the end, all that matters is that the baby is healthy”). Laboring women have a basic right to humane care, which supports both a happy, satisfied mother and a healthy baby. I use examples during class to show how these are intertwined—for example, a stressed, unhappy, unsupported, tense mother may have a baby with heart decels and accompanying distress.

I try to build a sense of confidence through:

  • Opening each class with a brief series of “birthing room yoga” poses to help couples become comfortable using their bodies and moving from “head space” into “body space.” Birth is a physical process and I am convinced that it is vital to include physical movement during every class to bring that message home. Additionally, the poses I teach can all be used while in labor (thus, building confidence in coping “tools” for labor).
  • Emphasizing active birth—freedom of movement through labor helps baby rotate and descend and helps mother feel more comfortable.
  • Encouraging active birth on all levels: First, the physical level–being active during the actual physical process of birth. Second, the mental level–mentally engaged with labor. Third, a cultural level—a perspective that sees women as active birthgivers, not victims of birth. Birth is something women do, as opposed to something that “gets” them.
  • Giving couples plenty of time for hands on practice of labor support and coping measures. I have a personal motto for classes of, “talk less, learn more.” Practicing support tools in class helps them develop a sense of confidence in having a well-stocked toolbox for labor, instead of being a victim of pain.

How Do Women Really Learn About Birth?

April 2015 123“I usually claim that pregnant women should not read books about pregnancy and birth. Their time is too precious. They should, rather, watch the moon and sing to their baby in the womb.” –Michel Odent

Related to a previous post about the difference between information and knowledge, I have been pondering how women really learn about birth. Where does birth knowledge they can really use when they need it come from? Is it from birth classes, reading, or from other sources? Though I teach birth classes and believe that childbirth education has important value, I continue to return to thought that what women truly need to give birth does not come from (traditional) classes and it doesn’t come from books either.

Ever since I posted the above quote from Michel Odent on my Facebook page, I have been reflecting back to my pregnancy with my own first baby. Personally, I love books–-of all sorts-–and reading is the top way for me to learn about anything. I think some of the best preparation I did before having my first baby was to read and I always give a recommended reading list to my clients. And, while I “hear” the sentiment in the quote and honor it, my personal opinion is that in our current birth culture it is nearly impossible to go into birth just planning to “go with the flow” and let labor unfold without expectation (if you are birthing in the hospital that is—because the hospital is FULL of expectations and those will often run right over your flow).

When I was pregnant the first time and approaching my first birth, I was hungry for birth information and keenly felt the mystery and unknowableness of the challenge I was about to face. I described it as feeling like I was preparing for the biggest test of my life, but without knowing what the test was. So, how did I learn what I needed to know about giving birth? AND, perhaps most importantly, what had I learned before birth that actually spoke to me while in labor? What did I use and how did I learn about that? Obviously, women are different and have different learning styles and each birth is different, but reflecting on these questions, several things arise as most helpful for me in real preparation:

  • Other women’s experiences—these were frequently what floated through my head during labor and were what I drew on for information and guidance, not “technical” childbirth books, but the stories and opinions and reflections I had read in birth stories and from the participants of the newsgroup
  • Birth art—I created a series of needle felted birth goddess sculptures during my pregnancy that had a “message” for me (that what I needed to give birth—that wild, intuitive knowledge—was already inside me).
  • And yes, reading (and to some extent, classes). I didn’t necessarily use or remember things that I’d read (other than other women’s “voices” through birth stories), but reading definitely helped me prepare—so, while I was not necessarily conscious of book or class-knowledge when I was actually in labor, I was informed by it, yes. During all my reading what I really wanted to to figure out and know was, how am I going to do this? This is the same question that most women who come to my classes have (and my answer is really, “you just will”). The books that were of most value to me were Birthing from Within and An Easier Childbirth. These were the books that had “right brain” lessons to share, even though it was the “left brain” books that I “studied” harder.
  • Yoga—I spontaneously adopted poses used in prenatal yoga during my first labor without even knowing it was “prenatal yoga.” It was an example of how the knowledge already existed inside my body and spontaneously arose when given the space to do so. I also used yoga poses during my other births—not consciously (“I think I’ll try child’s pose now”), but spontaneously and instinct-driven.
  • My blessingway experience/memories—particularly the chant Woman Am I, which I hummed over and over again during my first labor.
  • Voice—talking to myself (inside my head or our loud), verbally coaching myself.
  • My husband—his presence just there with me. I felt like we were one person. This isn’t something I feel like you can “train” for. It too was naturally arising and just pure.
  • Holding a fused glass touchstone and having my favorite pillow (in my third labor, it was holding my goddess of Willendorf pendant).

For me, it all came down to FREEDOM and space for me—I was not in an institutional setting, I was in my own “nest” and that was very key for letting my own body’s wisdom unfold and find expression.


A powerful pre-birth lesson in my body’s wisdom actually came from an assassin bug (of all things!). Assassin bugs have very potent, poisonous bites (and in some countries carry hideous diseases). During my first pregnancy I was bitten multiple times in the night by one of them. I had bites on my face (lip) as well as in a row on my arm. The bites caused swelling, ongoing stabbing pain, and joint aching (as well as intense palm-of-hand and sole-of-feet itching when they first occurred). I turned this into a practice experience for myself in coping with labor—figuring that, like labor, this was something uncomfortable and out of my control, but that would eventually pass and that my body would take care of without my needed to actively do anything about it. The stabbing pain was also intermittent (like a pulse), so I thought that was good practice too. I practicing “softening” around the sensations and “being” with the discomfort. I reminded myself that my body knew what to do and that it would heal itself. And, guess what? It did. Each day as the bites healed, I would marvel, “look how much my body knows! Look what it can do without me even knowing what or how it is doing.” Of course, it took several days of stabbing and aching pain for this process to occur, whereas my first labor involved only 5 hours of intense sensation as well as several preceding hours of totally manageable sensation and my subsequent labors only involved 2 hours each of fairly intense sensation. This experience in watching my body take care of itself using its own inherent wisdom was a potent (and unexpected) lesson for me in approaching my first birth.

Book Review: Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year

Book Review: Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year
By Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D.
New Harbinger, 2009
ISBN 978-061531935-3
200 pages, softcover, $16.95

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

Written for pregnant women and for mothers embroiled in the intense rite of passage that is baby’s first year, Mindful Motherhood is a practical and simple guide to the practice of mindfulness during everyday life. “Mindfulness is moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of your present-moment experience…so that you can be connected to your baby even in times of distress, be less overwhelmed by distressing emotions and less caught up in negative thought patterns, and enjoy the simple pleasures that suffuse each day of being a mom.”

The book is composed of many small chapters each containing a 5-10 minute exercise readily incorporated into daily life with a baby. It also includes a line-drawing illustrated “mindful motherhood yoga series” of gentle, basic poses, which are an excellent prelude to meditation.

Mindful Motherhood is rooted in attentiveness to needs of the child, present moment awareness—whether comfortable or uncomfortable—and radical self-compassion. “Mindful motherhood, above all, is a way of approaching your experiences during pregnancy and early motherhood with gentleness and friendliness.” The author models this gentle and friendly approach throughout the accessible, supportive, and important guide. What a lovely gift for a woman approaching new motherhood, or for any mother seeking to explore present-moment awareness in everyday life!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.