Melanie Mackintosh - Teaching Prenatal Yoga
Melanie Mackintosh is a yoga teacher, co-owner of the Australian Yoga Academy and their Director of Education, where she manages AYA’s Advanced Diploma of Yoga Teacher training program. Melanie was one of Rane's teachers and mentors while he was doing his yoga teacher training and she specialises in pre and postnatal yoga, the topic of today's episode.
In this episode, we cover the core principals of prenatal yoga and it's benefits. We discuss some alternative viewpoints over different aspects of prenatal yoga which can make it a complex and sometimes confusing style to teach. We learn some strategies for working with a general class that may include pregnant women, so everyone feels safe and included. Rane shares the anxiety he sometimes feels when pregnant women come into his class, and we know he is not alone, so there is information in this episode that will help many teachers.
Finally, we discuss Mel's upcoming 50 Hour Advanced Pre/Post Natal Yoga Teacher Training at Australian Yoga Academy in Prahran, Melbourne, and who may benefit the most from it!
Mel's upcoming workshop: https://australianyogaacademy.com/special-events/workshops/
Music by Ghostsoul: https://ghostsoul.bandcamp.com
Yoga Life Satsang: https://www.janetlowndes.com.au/yoga-life-satsang
Click on a timecode to play from that time in the recording.0:40 Yoga Life Satsang
1:50 About todays episode
3:00 Mel’s background
3:55 How was Mel introduced to Yoga?
4:04 Did Mel have any key teachers in her yoga journey?
4:46 What drew Mel to yoga at the beginning?
6:02 What made Mel decide to start teaching yoga?
6:44 How did Melanie’s relationship with Australian Yoga Academy begin?
8:02 What was it like moving from teaching general yoga classes to training yoga teachers?
10:40 There are many contradictory points of view in prenatal yoga.
11:18 Was it through Mel’s pregnancy that she found a love for prenatal yoga?
13:30 Does Mel have any advice for teachers who might be feeling anxiety when a pregnant woman comes into their class?
16:46 Core principles of prenatal yoga
18:11 The correlation between stress levels and pain levels
20:55 The active birthing movement.
25:54 Break - Support us via Patreon!
27:10 Hip opening poses during pregnancy
30:53 Can too much core work during pregnancy be dangerous?
35:30 Squats during pregnancy
39:02 Inversions during pregnancy
41:57 Balancing the student’s autonomy against your responsibility as a teacher to keep them safe.
44:28 Pelvic floor and scope of practice
51:08 Strategies for general classes with pregnant students
53:07 What if you suspect a student is pregnant but are worried about offending them if you ask?
56:42 Mel’s favorite alternatives to savasana - especially ones that don’t include props
57:36 Mel’s pre and postnatal yoga teacher’s workshop
1:00:44 The core of Mel’s teaching
1:02:24 Outro - next week’s guest Jivana Heyman
Please email us to report any transcription errorsRane Bowen: Hello, my name is Rane and this is the Flow Artists’ Podcast. Every episode we interview inspiring movers, thinkers and teachers about how they find their flow, and much much more. We’re all about yoga, movement and meditation and all of that good, good stuff that we love to share with the world. I hope you’re having an absolutely wonderful day. I’m doing great and cannot wait to get this episode out to you.
Before I get into it though, I wanted to talk about some events I’ve been attending here in Melbourne lately and that is the Yoga life satsangs hosted by Janet Lowndes and Leigh Blashki – two amazing teachers who we’ve actually had on the podcast a while back. Now these are great gatherings where we’ve been delving into the philosophies and principles of yoga, and I’ve personally gotten a lot out of them. Now, Janet or Leigh haven’t asked me to talk about this on the podcast, I’ve just had such a good experience I wanted to share it with you, and the last couple have held some interesting discussions around cultural appropriation and the privilege we have as Westerners, and some other topics include being authentic as a teacher and really connecting with your students. Now, there’s still a few sessions left, I think there’s 3 left, so, if you want to come along I can leave a link for that in the show notes.
Now, I’m curious though, what do you think of cultural appropriation and yoga? And what do you think we as teachers, or even participants, can do about it? I’d love to hear from you. You can join the Flow Artists Podcast community on Facebook or comment on our website at podcast.flowartist.com. I really look forward to hearing from you.
Alright, so about our episode today. This episode features a recorded conversation between myself, co-host Jo Stewart and guest, Melanie Mackintosh.
Melanie Mackintosh is a yoga teacher and co-owner of Australian Yoga Academy. Mel was one of my teachers and mentors while I was doing my yoga teacher training there and she specialises in pre and post natal yoga, the topic of today’s episode. As you’ll hear in this episode, I still get a little bit of anxiety when a pregnant lady walks into one of my classes, but Mel has helped provide me with a lot of knowledge and strategies to help there. Also, Mel is running a 50-hour advanced pre and post natal yoga teacher training workshop from the 5 May at Australian Yoga Academy in Prahran, Melbourne. The last I checked, there are still a few spaces left, so I definitely recommend you go to australianyogaacademy.com to find out more, and I’ll leave a link for that in the show notes as well.
Alright, that is more than enough from me. Let’s get on to the conversation with Mel.
Rane Bowen: Alright, Melanie, thanks so much for being with us today, it’s so good to get the chance to speak with you. Perhaps you could just start by telling us a little bit about your background and where you grew up?
Melanie Mackintosh: Sure. Well thank you so much for having me, both of you. Ah, so I grew up in Gippsland in um in Victoria and moved to Melbourne after I had completed university and and been travelling around Europe and those sorts of things, and came to Melbourne in my early 20s and worked in corporate for, for quite a long time and, and that’s really where I, my love for yoga started to come to be. But before that I’d had no experience in it whatsoever, it was something that I was introduced to by a really good friend of mine.
Jo Stewart: Oh, so like discovering it as an adult to help you deal with stress from work?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah exactly. So it was one of those things that, I had a really niggly back injury as well so, which is not really an injury but just one of those niggly backs that I think you get from just sitting at desks all day and not really moving within your full range of motion, and my friend said to me, oh you should come to yoga, and it sounded great because the stress of corporate life can be really quite overwhelming as well.
Jo Stewart: Any key teachers that you’ve really, like helped you along your yoga journey?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah sure it was one of those funny things, I distinctly remember being in the Dymocks bookshop on Collins Street and I was, you know, swanning about in the health and wellbeing section and I came across BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga and I was captivated, absolutely captivated by what he had to say and how he moved his body and the things that he was able to do and, and then also, that was my, this was a little after I had started my yoga practice but then that was really my introduction to things like the eight limbs of yoga, so looking at it from a really holistic perspective, so before that I really had no idea about yamas and niyamas and where asanas sat in relation to pranayama and so on and forth.
Jo Stewart: From the beginning you were really obviously drawn into the deeper layers of this practice, like more than the physical…
Melanie Mackintosh: Well I, probably no! <laughter> Like initially I think you know it was very much about what can I do with my body? And just that it made you feel good you know, when you speak to people all the time you say, why do you practice yoga? What keeps you coming back? Well, because it makes me feel great. One of my teacher trainees said yesterday, it makes me feel like magic!
Jo Stewart: Awww!
Melanie Mackintosh: And I thought that was really beautiful way of explaining it. So you know, without over-intellectualising things really, you just say, well it makes me feel good and that’s why I do it. So, and then out of that I think came my interest into, you know, those deeper layers.
Jo Stewart: And I guess that interest into why is this making me feel good more so than just exercise might.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, totally. Yeah, for sure. And I think one of the things is when you don’t do some of those things you realise, as in don’t do things like meditation and you don’t breathe properly, then you notice the ramifications for not doing. Does that make sense? And then you realise well that’s the, you know this is why I do this. Because it helps to keep me centred or it helps to keep me balanced or you know, more patient or whatever it might be.
Jo Stewart: Were those personal benefits the reason why you decided to start teaching or is there another story there?
Melanie Mackintosh: Oh, well that’s a good question. I think I’d been working in human resources and change management for a really long time, and I knew that it wasn’t, I felt like I was good at what I did but I just didn’t want to keep doing it, it wasn’t where I saw myself in 10 years or 15 years’ time, and I’d started to be involved with natural therapies as well, I’d decided to study to be a naturopath and I thought that would be a lovely pairing, yoga could go really well together. I didn’t finish those naturopathic studies but they’ve been invaluable for me, putting that together from a yoga perspective.
Rane Bowen: Obviously now you teach at Australian Yoga Academy and you’re actually a part owner there, so how did that relationship begin?
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm oh it was a wonderful relationship with Dominique and Anthony when I completed my teacher training there, like you did Rane, and through that process I identified early on and I think so did they, that they would like me to work with them, um which I did as soon as teacher training finished, and, so that was in, at the end of 2006 and so I was working teaching general yoga classes, and then in about 2008 I joined the lecturing team, so actually delivering the teacher training program and you know, that just grew and my involvement in AYA just became bigger and bigger and it was what I loved you know, you just do more and more, and so we just all felt that worked really well together, and so in about 2011 I think it was, I was invited to become part of the ownership team, so yeah, so it was a wonderful you know, building of relationships.
Rane Bowen: Nice. And, I know they sort of, they almost describe their teacher training as a yearlong interview process so it’s sort of interesting that you both came to that realisation that you wanted to work with each other. And I do wonder as well, what was the jump like moving from sort of teaching general yoga classes to moving to lecturing other teachers to be?
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm that’s a great question and a really interesting one and I think it just continues to evolve as well so I don’t think that’s actually stopped. And we learn so much from the people who come in to, to work with us from a teacher training perspective, so getting to know the students and getting to know their backgrounds and their stories and that’s continuously colouring how I deliver modules and we just have such a lovely time working together and, and learning from each other. But it can be a little challenging sometimes too perhaps when you don’t see, not eye to eye, but you don’t have consistent views, but that’s part of being human; it’s okay to disagree.
Rane Bowen: Yeah, absolutely.
Jo Stewart: And so do you mean like, with the other people who are teaching some of the other units or with the teacher trainees themselves?
Melanie Mackintosh: No.. I think, and when I say disagree it’s not really a disagreement, it’s more about…
Jo Stewart: It’s just a different point of view.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, we can see it from different points of view and our own experience again really colours how we, how we teach and where we come from, and that’s great because it’s really diverse and it’s a really respectful environment and sometimes there’ll be a situation you know, where as a lecturer I say, no we’re doing it this way because – here’s why – but then understanding that people bring their own experiences to the table as well.
Jo Stewart: And there’s definitely a lot of traditional yoga texts, like say Light on Yoga, where there’s some really firm opinions and there are lots of different points of view around alignment and even if there is the right alignment that will work for everyone, so I think it’s like a really powerful part of the learning process just to learn that there are lots of different points of view and there’s no one right thing that’s going to work for everyone.
Melanie Mackintosh: No it’s a really good point and ah my background was very much in the Iyengar space and you know, I think a lot of people would look at the Iyengar yoga tradition as being quite specific, very much from the alignment perspective, we use the props to do this, if you don’t achieve, let’s say the posture so it looks this way, we alter it or, so that it looks right, so I guess where I’ve come from over my teaching journey to where I am now is it’s, I’m not interested so much in how it looks as how does it feel? It’s gotta be about that felt sense, so that’s really where, from an evolution perspective – where I was to where I am now – and I’m sure in 10 years time that will be different as well, but, for me right at this point in time, it’s how does it feel?
Jo Stewart: And you would have another layer of this because I know pre natal yoga and post natal yoga is one of your specialities, and there’s even more contradictory points of view when it comes to pre natal practice and post natal practice and …
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm very much so, and … it’s really confusing, really confusing. It’s confusing for me, it’s confusing for the students, it’s confusing for when I’m teaching the teacher trainees and they pull out a, let’s say a traditional text and they say, but the text says that this is okay and we say, but how does it feel? And who was the target audience at that stage? Were they people who were perhaps practicing yoga every single day as opposed to the modern Western female who is sitting perhaps at a desk most of the time and coming into a class once a week, so that’s a really different story and people in those situations have different needs.
Jo Stewart: Was it through your own pregnancy that you discovered pre natal yoga and discovered your love for it?
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm completely! Before that I, people… you know the pre natal students would come into the class and I would think, oh god, please go away! <laughter> You know, I was so, I was so worried about you know, injuring them or being in a situation where I was putting themselves or the baby at harm and not knowing. So yes, through being pregnant myself and practicing, you know during my pregnancy, I gained a lot of confidence and then actually establishing a pre natal class at AYA and they’ve been running ever since 2010.
Rane Bowen: And I do feel that your pre natal teaching does come from a real, lived experience obviously, because I feel your take on it is very restorative and, as a man I guess I can only imagine the, the discomfort and, you know, other, I guess, I don’t know if I would call them problems but …
Jo Stewart: Challenges…
Rane Bowen: Challenges yes, that are associated with pregnancy, so yeah no it was really beneficial for me to have your perspective on that.
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm no it’s again a good question, and I think that as, having been through two pregnancies and delivering two babies, then of course I, you know I have a level of experience that I can bring to my teaching, but at the same time, even pregnancy to pregnancy, they’re so different, and person to person, they’re so different and so it’s great that I’ve got that experience there in the background but it doesn’t mean everything, and I’m really very aware of some, some lovely pre natal teachers who’ve never had children, you know, and even some fellas as well, you know, who are quite comfortable teaching pre natal students and so I don’t think it’s everything to have actually gone through that experience yourself.
Rane Bowen: I for one, I still feel a bit of anxiety when I see a pregnant lady come into my class. In one of my classes there is a young pregnant woman who, she just knows what to do, so I can actually <Mel: relax> not worry about her too much and just sort of give the occasional option if I feel like she needs it. But I was wondering if you’ve got any advice for people that might be feeling that anxiety when a pregnant person comes into their class?
Melanie Mackintosh: Mm yeah. Well it’s a really understandable feeling to have, like I said I felt the same way, and I think probably the first thing is to think, when you’re first speaking with that student, if they have any major concerns I would imagine, from a pregnancy perspective, I would imagine that they wouldn’t be in a general yoga class. I imagine that they would seek out a dedicated pre natal teacher. So we probably have to assume, and take from what they’re telling us, that if they’re feeling really good and things are going well and there’s no major concerns, then they’re a lot more robust than we actually think they are. So, you know, I used to say sometimes, I’m pregnant I’m not dying. So, it’s okay. Um but that, you know, coming from the perspective of being a yoga teacher and being presumably quite body aware, and that’s also an interesting point too, I think when you have students who are, who have been your students before they fall pregnant, that’s a very different story in comparison to the people who walk in the door for the first time at 25 weeks pregnant or 12 weeks pregnant, whenever, saying, hi – I’m pregnant, I’ve never met you before, my doctor said or this person said I should do some yoga. And so we probably have some more questions to ask that person.
Jo Stewart: And it is quite common that people, this will be their first yoga experience because once they get pregnant they want to start taking really good care of themselves or maybe they are starting to get some aches and pains, so I have definitely had many students who, it’s their first pregnancy and it’s their first yoga class, so everything is new.
Melanie Mackintosh: And it’s a big challenge because they’re not used to moving in those directions or, or creating those shapes with their body. Perhaps they haven’t, maybe they haven’t been doing very much exercise; maybe they have. And that can, the people who are quite physically active, a pre natal practice, especially as I teach it, as you said Rane, quite, from a restorative perspective can be a bit of a challenge for them because they think, well when are we gonna start moving? So, I guess one of my approaches to, to the students that I meet for the first time, when they’re joining us in practice for the first time, is to ask them, what do you want to get out of your practice, because that helps me to decide and to guide them. So, in certain, sometimes, occasionally, my recommendation for them is to go upstairs and do a different class. Because ah, you know, based on what they’re telling me they want, it might be that they don’t get that in pre natal. But they might change their mind as well, so the door’s always open for them to come back down into, into pre natal and to, and to blend the classes together, it doesn’t have to be an either or situation.
Jo Stewart: I think its really nice as well to begin your relationship with them, with giving them a bit of autonomy, because I’m sure when you are pregnant there’s so many people telling you what you should and what you shouldn’t do that it can get very overwhelming.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah it’s really emotive, yeah definitely. There seems to be a lot of pregnant women saying you know, what’s happened, I’m, suddenly I’ve become public property and everybody wants to touch me and everybody wants to tell me their stories and all of these sorts of things. And so yeah, it can be very overwhelming especially when you’ve, you know you’re going through it for the first time.
Jo Stewart: Are there some core principles of pre natal yoga that you really bring into every practice?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah with the way that I teach pre natal, and this will be different from teacher to teacher, so this is, I’m just coming at it from how I teach, but my biggest focus is really on working with the, the ladies to understand that they have the capacity to control and to drive their nervous system, and that’s primarily through the breath. So we will always will start with some breath awareness, whether that’s just relaxed abdominal breathing or whether that’s ujayi work or perhaps there’s a method of breathing where its almost like a sigh on the exhalation, so they make breath with sound, so it’s a soft ‘hah’ sound for example, that beautiful opening of the mouth and just letting the sound come out, with an elongated exhalation, so there’ll always be that side of, that side of things in the practice, and it’s important to me to explain to them that the reason that we’re doing this is because dysfunctional breathing will have a big impact on your nervous system, but the good news is is that you can identify that, so let’s work through what some of those signs might be, and you can identify that and then use your breath to bring things back into, you know, under control or to that equilibrium state that we’re looking for.
Jo Stewart: Mmm I saw this other study that there’s this really powerful correlation between your stress levels and your pain levels and even, like I’m sure it would be for birth as well, but even if there’s any kind of like, pelvic sensitivity going on, the women who reported the most pain were not necessarily the women who had the most damage, it was the people who were the most stressed, and that was a much bigger correlation than the actual MRI would show…
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah exactly, and there’s been a lot of studies to show the, to show that you know, to quite an extreme, very extreme for example, you know, there might be someone with a bulging disc in their neck, which you know, for all intents and purposes should be, that person should be experiencing, like a significant amount of pain, yet because how they’re managing their mind-body experience they’re not experiencing it to any, you know, where near the level that people would be expecting them to. So, similarly from a pre natal perspective going through the pregnancy, going through the birthing side of things, again our, our scientific studies that we’ve got available to us now are showing us and telling us that through a holistic yoga practice, things like perceived pain scores are lower, a lower back concerns, discomfort, leg and hip issues and so on and so forth is, the perception of their pain is greatly reduced.
Jo Stewart: And I guess as well, experiencing that in a yoga class would be a really good confidence building and experiential practice of bringing that awareness right up to the birth, so having that, its like a microcosm of how you can use your breath to manage the sensations in your body and kind of experience that mind-body connection, it would just be so powerful when you’re moving towards this really massive event.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, and sometimes I liken it to running a marathon and I explain, you know, we talk about the fact that you know, if I decided to run a marathon in October, I’m not going to decide in September to start training for it. I presumably would be doing a lot beforehand and preparing for the birth that you’re hoping to have and working towards, you know, needs for many of us, not everybody, but for many of us, it’s helpful if we start that preparation early. So that could be around understanding the role of the nervous system and how the breath intersects that, it could be about starting to cultivate states of santosha so that from a contentment perspective we, we start to be flexible between our two ears. Yeah? So, if the birth doesn’t go how I would like it to go, am I going to tie myself up in knots about that and think I’m a bad mother? These sorts of things. And then from a physical perspective, because there is a physical element obviously to the practice as well, and I’m a huge fan of the active birthing movement where, in the eighties a lady by the name of Janet Balaskas really introduced active birthing as a, as a direct countermeasure to the active controlled birthing situation that was happening at the time. So controlling birth down to 12 hours, there’s actually documentation to say, let’s control birth to 12 hours. It’s ridiculous!
Jo Stewart: Is this based on Doctor’s convenience?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah totally. It would be about things like, let’s make sure that we can be convenient for everybody. We can tell the mother, well between now and here, your baby will be born. And that doesn’t, life doesn’t work that way. So she was instrumental in sort of bringing and giving the power back, or empowering women that they were responsible and they were in charge of their birth and it wasn’t going to be something that was necessarily medicalised and driven by somebody else, and so, the active birthing movement really highlighted that certain positions, certain physical positions were so helpful to birthing. So, from a yoga perspective, a lot of those positions are emulated in yoga postures and somehow, sometimes it’s just about mobilisation and increasing range in, let’s say, ankles and knees and hips and so on and so forth to make birthing as easy as possible.
Jo Stewart: Because, I’ve read this in multiple places, lying down is a terrible position to give birth in for a woman…
Melanie Mackintosh: Awful!
Jo Stewart: And it’s only for the medical team’s convenience that that was ever a thing.
Melanie Mackintosh: Exactly! So if you look at, often I’ll say, let’s look at what happens in the natural world, let’s look at what’s happening in third world countries or where birthing is not medicalised. Which woman in her right mind would give birth on her back? Now having said that, I have come across a couple of women who said that that was what was comfortable for them, so if that was comfortable for them that’s fine, that’s their birthing experience, but for the most part, when you lay on your back your tailbone curls up and under, it closes off the pelvic outlet, so baby almost has to go uphill before they can come out. This is not helpful, this is you know, we’re not using gravity to our advantage, we’re not able to move as much, and then aside from all of that, what’s happening to blood flow to the baby and to the uterus? So there’s a reduced rate of blood flow both to the placenta and to the foetus – not helpful.
Jo Stewart: Well yeah, that’s one of the contraindications for pre natal yoga, don’t lie on your back for too long.
Melanie Mackintosh: No, exactly. So you know, we know that if someone was pregnant and they ended up in emergency for whatever reason, and they needed to be treated on their back, they would they would raise the right hip up to reduce that vena cava compression. So, that happens. You’re going, sometimes that does happen. And occasionally you will have somebody even in a very advanced pregnant state say to you, I feel really comfortable on my back and I don’t, I’m not experiencing any of those signs of discomfort that you’re talking about. Um, dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing, those sorts of things. So, on the one hand you have to say to yourself well, maybe that’s perfect for that person, and it can be a lot to do with where the baby is positioned, and they move all the time, and so I might say to somebody in that respect, well that’s okay for you right now but just make sure that you check next time you come to be on your back, because baby might move and may, your experiences might be different.
Jo Stewart: I’ve had people come to my class who’ve said, like, I go to sleep on my side but I wake up on my back like, could I be hurting my baby?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah it’s really normal, people they can get a little panicked like, oh no! but you know what, I really think that if there was an issue your body would send you a really direct physiological sign to move. Yeah, there’s, that’s a little contentious, there’s some, some people who say that maybe blood occlusion is happening even if the mother doesn’t feel it. Instinctively, I just can’t see that happening. That’s my instinctive, not scientific opinion. <laughter> But yeah so I’ve had similar situations where people have gone, oh no! I’m on my back when I wake up! You know, am I damaging my baby? So…
Jo Stewart: And also the reduced blood supply, it’s to the mother, not the baby, right? Like it’s to the mother’s brain…
Melanie Mackintosh: Well it’s to both, yes.
Jo Stewart: It is both, because they’re so connected…
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah it’s both, so the blood flow is being restricted to the mother’s cardiovascular system and if the mother’s cardiovascular system is impacted then clearly the baby’s will be as you know, the delivery of oxygen to the baby is going to be impacted as well, so it’s probably not a great idea, let’s say from 20 weeks onward or if you feel it beforehand. And a lot of people feel, not even on their back, they might be slumped in an armchair or a, like a deckchair or something along those lines, or they’re in a comfy chair at home or even sitting on a plane, something along those lines, and they’ll start to feel a little odd and that’s just a prompt: let’s move, you need to make more space.
Rane Bowen: Hello! Rane here, just popping back in to talk about our Patreon page. Yes! Patreon! Patreon is a way where you can support our podcast from as little as $1. Just $1. Higher tiers get great benefits, such as shout outs on the podcast. This week, I’d like to thank Janet Lowndes for joining the party. Thank you so much Janet. Some of our supporters also get access to extra content and speaking of which, we filmed a short bonus video with Mel and that will go up on our Patreon page in about a week or so. And last week, I put up a short video with Emma Kenna talking about how she navigates the perilous seas of social media. So go and check that one out.
We were able to transcribe our recent episode with Amy Wheeler thanks to our Patreon supporters and we are incredibly grateful. We should have enough funds for another episode soon, and we’ll put that up for a vote: which episode should we transcribe? Now if you’d like to learn more, just go to patreon/flowartistspodcast and I’ll leave a link in our show notes.
Alright, let’s get back to our conversation with Mel.
Jo Stewart: And so I guess that’s bought us to the first one of those difference of opinions/different points of views that there are so many of as to what’s helpful and what’s not helpful in pre natal yoga. Um I’d love to ask your point of your view on another one, because it’s a real opposite sides of the coin in terms of what’s recommended. Some yoga styles are all about hip opening postures, creating space to prepare for the birth, and other styles are all about cultivating stability and strength in those muscles and not doing any of those wide, leg open forward bends. What’s your point of view?
Melanie Mackintosh: Well I think it depends. You know, it’s a really a… it depends on what’s going on for the mother. So I don’t, my overarching comment on that is I don’t think we need to do.. have an over presentation within any of those practices that is all about just hip opening. There’s no need to overdo the hip opening. The body’s going to be producing a good amount of relaxin, the hormone which will help to soften those joints and ligaments to make the passage of the baby a little bit more easier, more freer, it allows the bones to move and those sorts of things. And so, where I feel cautious about that is that lot of people who come in, a lot of mothers who’ve been practicing for a long time who maybe are already quite flexible, they don’t need any more flexibility. That is destabilising. And that might contribute to things like pubic symphysis pain, pelvic instability or sacroiliac joint dysfunction. They don’t need any more movement. It is actually helpful for them to contain and to develop some strength in and around those areas. And one of the biggest things that we can do in our standing postures for example, ah like Virabhadrasana 2 or Vira 1, is to make sure that the glutes are really active. Yeah, so keep those glutes really ‘on’ and firing so that the lower body is supported. The muscles in and around those pelvic joints are really kept stable.
Jo Stewart: I find if I do pilates as well and glutes are something that I really love to work on with my pre natal clients because all of the strong abdominal work is not really going to be helpful for them any more. But they still want to feel strong and powerful and active as they move through their pregnancy, and also if they’re starting to feel a bit of lower back pain as their shape changes and their balance changes, the glutes are such a useful area to work on to help with all of those things.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah totally, totally agree. And also the drawing of the belly and the baby, in. Sometimes I talk in general, not so much in general class, but in dedicated pre natal class about feeling almost like you’ve got your arms around your baby and you’re drawing your baby in towards your spine, so you’re reducing that sway back effect. Because, as we know, the spine shifts and changes its ah presentation throughout the pregnancy, and part of that’s just about balancing out the weight of the baby that’s pulling you forward: tends to tilt the pelvis forward, the bottom sticks out behind us. So we, you know, need to sort of contain that in and draw, we’re not really containing, like drawing in belly muscles, like, you know, particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy they’re sort of a bit uddiyana bandha, what’s that, can’t find that anymore! But that feeling of just drawing in and being contained is helpful.
Jo Stewart: Yeah I actually use the cue like gently hugging your baby in.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, similar.
Jo: And that actually brings me to another thing to be cautious of with a pre natal practice, because I have read that too much focus on abdominal work, even in the early phases can contribute to rectus diastasis because those muscles are more tight so that area is not as flexible.
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm yeah, there’s no correlation between how tight your abs are, whether you’ve got a six pack or not before you fall pregnant, there’s no correlation between that and whether your rectus abdominis will separate during pregnancy. The statistics are about 70% of pregnant women experience some level of separation, and it’s really normal, it’s not harmful to them, it’s not harmful to the baby. Occasionally I have come across someone who has said they actually felt that occurring, generally through a backbend. Now I remember even myself when I was in ah, postures like up cat, down cat, just on all fours, just inhale looking up towards the sky, arching my back, that during the latter stages of the pregnancy I could really feel that shearing. So rectus abdominis, it attaches at sternum and also at the pubic bone so as you start, as baby starts to grow and the uterus expands, then that in itself is a stress if you like, on those belly muscles, and when we go through quite, especially gravity-assisted backbends, so where belly’s being pulled towards the ground, when we’re on, let’s say in chatturanga for a long periods of time, those sorts of things, they can, and also twists, so really, I mean, know that we, twists are one thing that we obviously, closed belly twists, we take out of the equation quite early on, but twists can contribute to that separation as well. So, it’s not to say that you can’t do any backbend in pregnancy, but it probably needs to be pulled back. Sometimes a lot of women like that, just from a chest opening perspective, they are able to open the chest, throw the collarbones back and feel quite expansive across the front of the chest because breasts start to get quite large and heavy, and they start to feel like they’re being pulled forward. So that can be nice, so we just approach it slowly.
Jo Stewart: That’s so interesting actually because when I’ve done pre natal pilates training, they were saying that that curl up flection action is actually the action that separates rectus abdominis, so I guess it’s just too much movement in any direction and feeling like you’re pulling on those muscles as you move.
Melanie Mackintosh: That’s right, so when we think about a sit up position, for example, which we might experience from yoga in postures like navasana boat pose for example, and it’s a really clear, when you look at somebody who’s pregnant, it’s really clear when, if they were on their back, knees bent, soles of the feet onto the floor, and they do like a little mini sit up, and you can see if the belly is tenting or doming, it’s an indicator that the abdominal muscles have started to separate and the organs underneath are starting to be pushed forward, almost like a hernia, you know, in a way. So yeah, so I think, two things are there: the expanding of uterus and the growing of the belly encourages the separation and then the sit up type positions can exacerbate it even more.
Jo Stewart: And obviously we probably wouldn’t be giving these positions to people as exercises in class, but it’s also a position that you might use to get up when you’ve been lying down, so even if it’s not an actual posture, it’s the transitions as well that are important.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, yeah so a lot of what I go through in pre natal is a little bit about day-to-day activities that will support where they’re at in their pregnancy and exactly, that’s a really key one, coming up from, let’s say if they’ve been in bed and they’re on their back, that they don’t jack knife forward to sit up, that they roll over onto their side, is something that I go through in pre natal when they’re coming out of savasana for example, or that they roll to their side any time they’ve been on their back, they roll to the side and use their hands and their knees to press them up. Other day-to-day movements which might contribute to issues that they’re experiencing in pregnancy could be, particularly in the areas of the SIJs, the sacroiliac joints, that’s a really common area to feel discomfort, so I might sort of talk to them about, well how do you squat down on the floor, let’s instead of it being a parallel foot squat, let’s stagger the squat. One foot forward, one foot back, and then this helps to keep pelvic floor stable especially when they come up. So not too much low squatting in, let’s say, a yogic squat. Don’t need to do that. Be careful as you come up. Be careful how you get into and out of the car. So, pretend you’re a royal, pop your bottom in, then swing your legs in together <laughter> and getting out, same thing! Knees together, swing the legs out. These things will just help to contain some of those tricky areas.
Jo Stewart: And squats were something I was going to ask you about as well because often that would be people’s first go to thought if they’re like, right I want to strengthen my glutes. How do you feel about squats in a pre natal practice?
Melanie Mackintosh: Well, yeah, to start off with when you’re in a squat, the glutes are stretching, they’re not contracting so, you know, it’s the standing up where we get the contraction happening. And there is a, a school of thought which says, particularly if it’s a parallel foot squat, you stand up, it’s difficult to maintain pelvic floor awareness as you do that, so, you’re carrying a significant extra amount of weight and then you’re going to ask, maybe a muscular skeletal framework that is not as stable as what it has been in the past because relaxin has really started to impact the skeleton, but you’re going to ask an unstable skeleton to support a big weight as it’s bearing weight, and none of that is a good idea. So squats I think can be good if they’re supported. I don’t have any issue, I think they can be really helpful, particularly about increasing that mobilisation in hips and in knees and ankles if that might be a good position for them to explore during birthing. Yeah, so not a lot of us are happy squatting down on the floor if that’s not been part of our regular, day-to-day movement. So, they can be good, I’m happy to do it but I like for it to be supported.
Jo Stewart: I think it’s great as well if, maybe that’s the position that a woman does want to give birth in, to bring in some movements that can activate those muscles in a less complex way, and a way that doesn’t necessarily involve as much full body balance and so many other things happening.
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm yeah. And I think also too that having really significant preconceived ideas about, this is how I’m going to give birth, I’m going to give birth squatting, well, that might happen, and it may well, but during the course of the labour you’re probably going to move quite a lot. Most women that at least I’ve spoken to, and my own experiences as well, is you don’t tend to stay in one spot. Moving actually feels pretty good you know, when you’re going through, when you’re going through labour for a number of different reasons. But yeah you might give squatting but you might only be there in interim periods. Maybe?
Jo Stewart: Not going to squat it out for like 23 hours! <laughter>
Melanie Mackintosh: No, I would be very impressed! Very very impressed. <laughter> But then also too, you have a look at Janet Balaskas’ book, Active Birth, has got some, little bit scary 1970s photos in there, <laughter> but you have a look at the women who have given birth in those particular photos in a squatting state, and they’re generally being supported by somebody. They’re generally, someone’s standing, one or two people are standing behind them, sort of hooking their arms underneath the woman’s arm so that they can really relax and let go. And so that can be lovely. But you know, that’s, there’s a constant ability to, and this is why, another one of the things that I really try to focus on in my pre natal classes is, you know, let’s find positions that make you feel good, let’s move from all fours to, let’s say an extended child’s pose, to a squat or a half squat. A half squat’s actually really quite nice where one leg’s bent back behind you, almost like in a half virassana and the other knee’s pointing up to the sky. That can be a really nice, supported position, and just as nice for, you know, opening through the pelvic outlet area.
Rane Bowen: What about inversions, because I know I’ve seen a picture of the lovely Dominique Salerno in a headstand whilst a few months pregnant, so I assume that she is absolutely fine to do that?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, and I too enjoyed headstand during my pregnancies as well, but I think it, that is a really a depends, it really depends, it depends on where you are at in your practice so, if somebody came in to me who had never done yoga before then this is not the time to start practicing headstand of course. But if you’ve got a really, if you’ve got a really developed practice already and you’re really mind-body aware and you can get into, you can get into things safely and supported as well. Occasionally I have very experienced yoga teachers or yoga practitioners coming in to a general class and they still want to do some practices like, you know, quite extreme inversions and depends on who they are or depends on whether I’m comfortable with that, and I would generally prefer them to be, either me spotting them or having them closer to a wall. But that’s, that’s the extreme side of things. So it can work, but if I was giving advice to a yoga teacher trainee, I would say that it’s probably best to avoid those sorts of things in your classes, just from a risk perspective. It’s just, it’s a little risky. What a pregnant woman does in her own time is her own business and if she’s working with a teacher that’s really happy for her to do those things and knows that she has a really strong level of mind-body awareness then it might be okay. But then we look at things like, well, where is she at in her pregnancy, and if baby is, if she’s quite far along in her pregnancy and baby is engaged, then tipping yourself upside down, not a great idea. Yeah coz you’re moving in the opposite direction. Baby’s head, head-down and engaged – let’s leave baby there. So being in inversions from that perspective for, you know, whatever the inversion might be, even downward facing dog for long periods, is not necessarily fantastic because they’re already where they should be. Yeah. On the flipside, if baby’s in breech, being upside-down is maybe helpful. Yeah so we find, maybe find, you know, not necessarily headstand but other ways of bringing somebody into that forward presentation which might help baby do a bit of a backflip.
Jo Stewart: And so this definitely an area of using your words mindfully, how would you express it if you had someone in your class, and maybe you were teaching a range of people, like not just pre natal, and you gave a few options and one of them was a pre natal option and then say the other one was something like a forearm balance or a headstand, and the pregnant member of the class wanted to do the other option, which you did not feel was safe for them, how do you balance giving them that personal autonomy – its their body, it’s their practice – with expressing, it’s my class, I’m responsible for your safety, I don’t think you should do this pose?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah I think that’s a really important point, and it’s going to depend a little bit again on the student, and this is my feeling on the matter, the student and my relationship with that student. So again, if I feel like they have a good level of self awareness and they don’t have any issues around things like.. that their blood pressure is good because that would be another issue – blood pressure can be quite elevated during pregnancy - so if that was the case then you know going into an inversion, in addition to the stuff that we’ve just spoken about, would also be an unwise thing to do. So, if I felt like they were, everything physiologically and emotionally was right for them, then okay, as long as I was there to support them, then I might be okay with it. But if I had any reservations whatsoever, then I would say to them, I’m really uncomfortable with you doing that, can you please stop? Occasionally, and this does happen, occasionally people will just go along their merry way and do whatever they like, so that’s tough. That’s a really tough position to be put in as a teacher.
Jo Stewart: And sometimes people will just say, well my doctor told me I could do this.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah. Yeah and so I guess you know, from that perspective if you feel really really strongly about it, then, it has happened to me in the past, not very often I have to say, but it has happened once or twice where I’ve said, I’m really uncomfortable with you doing that, I’ve asked you to, perhaps let’s take a different option, one that I feel that is safer for you and for the baby, and if you’re not going to be respectful of my job as a teacher, then maybe this isn’t the class for you. And I think, within our rights to say that, for anybody who has a special need. So if somebody has a back injury or a, you know, a knee injury or whatever the case may be and they insist on doing, you know, padmasana, lotus pose, I’m like well, it’s perhaps not a good idea if you’ve got a knee injury. Does it feel good? That’s the other question. So that’s the other side of it, you know, working with pre natal clients, is to say well, do you feel okay? And if they say they feel okay and I don’t think it’s a danger to them, maybe I would recommend them not to do it, but if I don’t think it’s a danger, then I would say, right, we’re well informed. You’re telling me your doctor’s telling you it’s okay. You’re telling me you feel comfortable, so, my recommendation would not be to do it, but you’re telling me it’s okay.
Rane Bowen: I guess you’ve, you’ve sort of done your due diligence as a teacher.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah.
Jo Stewart: I have another question about, I guess it’s a little bit of a scope of practice and a little bit of a different points of view. This one’s around pelvic floor. Some schools of thought are that are that a normal yoga teacher who hasn’t done extra training, even talking about pelvic floor is out of their scope of practice. And that’s actually not my own point of view, I talk about it all the time, but I know of many people who have done too much pelvic floor strengthening and not enough focusing on relaxing through the pelvic floor, who have had problems during their birth because they’ve only trained those muscles to engage and not to relax. What is your point of view of working with pelvic floor in pregnancy, and I guess your point of view of yoga teachers teaching about pelvic floor?
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm yeah. Well, I think that there’s a big difference between pelvic floor and mula bandha. They’re totally different things so and traditional mula bandha with breath retention, particularly the retention side of things is, it’s inappropriate for a lot of, let’s say your once a week yoga student. Just not there yet. And that’s okay, that’s where they at. And also, for a lot of, you know, for pre natal, you know that breath retention side of things is not helpful either. Too much intra-abdominal pressure increases blood pressure, so on and so forth. But pelvic floor is good, in my opinion, to work with because that’s a toning of those pelvic floor muscles and being really familiar with those, so going back to the point I made about if you were training for a marathon you would be working on these sorts of things, its handy to have established a really good connection to pelvic floor prior to pregnancy, during pregnancy, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t still be able to be accessing those in late pregnancy, and that’s going to be really helpful for once baby’s here, even if baby’s been born via a c-section, they still need to do some degree of pelvic floor, let’s say, re-toning. Yeah? So even if there’s been no damage to pelvic floor during the birthing process itself, there still does need to be a concerted effort there to just re-exercise, re-strengthen that area.
But your point about the yoga teachers for example, and I see this also in pilates teachers and gymnasts and ballet dancers, where they’re so used to containing pelvic floor - the ashtanga yogis, yoginis are a really key in this area and this - I have not read anything scientific on this, I don’t have any scientific studies to go on this, it’s a lot more anecdotal, but those women who have very strong practices where core strengthening and pelvic floor tone is almost in that hypertonic state, then they do need to learn to let it go coz just like any other muscle, that muscle, those muscles of pelvic floor need to be able to move both ways.
Jo Stewart: Yeah you wouldn’t walk around with like your bicep flexed all the time.
Melanie Mackintosh: All the time, no – exactly,
Rane Bowen: I do… no no I don’t <laughter>
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah it is, it’s a really important one so, I don’t know that there’s a specific point in the pregnancy, I generally start to have a little bit of a one-one-one discussion with my pre natal ladies in the latter stages of third trimester, so maybe around that sort of 34-35 week mark, to just say to them, just notice: can you move pelvic floor in the opposite direction? Do this with an empty bladder – always handy – empty bladder, maybe do it when you’re sitting on the toilet, but just feel like you can move those pelvic floor muscles forward and back. With the yoga teachers, especially the ashtanga yoga community, ballet dancers, gymnasts, those sorts of things, I might talk to them about that a little bit earlier in the, within their pregnancy, because again I think that there’s just a, over-tightening and it can, again this is all anecdotal that I’ve come across, but it may not mean that it’s a really easy delivery.
Jo Stewart: Well yeah, if those muscles are just really tight and you’re trying to squeeze a baby out of there, like, that doesn’t sound like it’s going to be easy! <laughter>
Melanie Mackintosh: No <laughter> no and we need to, you know, when, when we’ve never done something before as well, you know most of us are, and even if you have given birth before, the second birth can be very different, and subsequent births will be very different as well and, when we haven’t done something before we can, you don’t have a lot of information to go back on, yeah? So we adopt our fall back state, and that fall back state might be to tighten because that’s what we’re used to doing.
Jo Stewart: And I think that’s almost a unconscious response to tighten everywhere when you’re in a time of, in an extreme time
Melanie Mackintosh: Totally! When you’re, make no mistake about it, giving birth is stressful and it can be, levels of anxiety around that and when you’re actually in the birthing state you know, we talk about that being actually quite a sympathetic nervous system position to be in, for good reason, so…
Jo Stewart: Yeah if you’ve got to stay awake for like 23 hours or something!
Melanie Mackintosh: <laughter> yeah you want sort of, you know, a lot of hormones circulating around keeping you alert, but it’s going to be helpful to then understand let’s say, that when I breathe out through my mouth and I make a long soft ‘hah’ sound, even if that’s quite a loud ‘hah’ sound, that’s fine, or if it’s a vowel sound, they tend to be the ones that we naturally adopt, even if you haven’t done any training in those areas if you’re, um a lot of women will just make that low vowel sound through an open mouth, and there’s a very strong correlation between a relaxed throat, a relaxed jaw and a relaxed pelvic floor.
Rane Bowen: Interesting.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, so if we have those two things together, which is why, you know, we practice that soft ‘hah’ sound through the, um then as we’re working through, this is what I do in my pre natal, I start to talk with the ladies about, think about when contractions are peaking, and contractions is a bit of a misnomer really because contractions are indicating the belly muscles, the uterine muscles contracting inward, but what’s happening is that the cervix is opening, and so I ask them to try and think about you opening of the cervix, opening of the mouth, softness in the throat and those two things coming together during, as contractions are peaking.
Rane Bowen: I teach general classes and I was just wondering, have you got any general strategies for, say you were running a class in a gym and a pregnant person that you’ve never met before walks in 5 minutes after the class has started, have you got any general strategies for working with that person and also I guess keeping the class at a reasonable level of challenge for everyone else in the class?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah well, just like if somebody else walked in the door with a back injury for example, you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t adjust the entire practice just for that one person and nor would you do that for, you know, your pre natal student either so that’s a, that’s a massive question really Rane <laughter> because it’s one of those, that’s the tricky thing that all of us yoga teachers face when we’re teaching a multi-levelled, general class situation where we’ve got lots of different, varying levels of experience and injuries or concerns and those sorts of things, and so my overarching comment around that is that I want people to practice in a way that makes them feel good. If they’re doing something which I think is a danger to them, or in this case a danger to the baby, then I’ll make an adjustment. If I can I will definitely, you know depends on where you know, when they’ve joined the class but, if I can I will definitely be asking them about any injuries, any concerns, anything relating to their pregnancy that I need to know about. Ah and sometimes they’ll have something that was there before the pregnancy, it could be a back injury or a knee issue or whatever the case may be, so we need to know a little bit about that too, so quickly getting some of that information, is there anything that your doctor has told you not to do or your treating medical practitioner or whoever else is supporting you, has told you not to do? So if I get, where are you at in your pregnancy? So if I’m 12 weeks as opposed to you know, 25 weeks my comfort level in working with that person’s going to be different. First trimester? The most delicate time. So, even though they may not be showing, unless they tell me I may not even know that they’re pregnant, and some women don’t even, you know that happens as well, and I have teacher trainees get themselves a little tied up in knots, but oh what if they don’t tell me? Like well you can’t do anything if they don’t tell you. Yeah so, once they tell you then you can be responsible.
Jo Stewart: So I’ve got a related question, which is an awkward situation: what if you think someone in your class might be pregnant, but you don’t want to ask them?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah that happens. And you know, particularly you know, yoga communities you know, we start to get to know each other really well and you might hear whisperings of this, that or you know, whatever the case may be
Jo Stewart: Or just someone walks in and they’ve got bit of a loose top on and they look a little bit round.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah breasts are a lot, yeah their breasts a bigger, that’s a really key one. I guess just like any other student and in every single class that we teach, it’s a good idea to do a check in with the group, either individually when they’re checking in at reception or with the group as you, close to the beginning of the practice just to say, just remember if there’s stuff that has changed for you that I need to know about, give me a little wave and I’ll come over and have a quiet chat with you. So I often ask that question when perhaps they’re in child’s pose or extended child’s pose – heads down, everybody’s eyes are you know, toward the floor so there’s not a lot of looking around, so if somebody does have something to say - pregnancy, not related, it doesn’t matter - they can just pop their hand up, and most other people would never know that they’ve flagged.
Jo Stewart: I must say as well, this is more something I’ve done in a pilates practice where there’s so much abdominal work, I will even say, now if anyone was pregnant or had a neck injury you wouldn’t do this variation, here’s another option for you, or you know, I’d kinda just throw that pre natal contraindication in there with the other health issues I’m talking about and then do a quick little scan around the room and see if they’ve gone for the pre natal option or not.
Melanie Mackintosh: And yeah you know, it can be, that’s a good way of approaching it too, and the other way that you can do it is that a lot of the pre natal options are very similar to, for example if somebody has had abdominal surgery or they’ve got something going on in their belly. Maybe they’ve had a gastrointestinal upset or, or they’ve got a digestive system concern like colitis or IBS or something along those lines, or even high blood pressure, so a lot of those pre natal modifications and suggestions are the same, so you might suspect that somebody is pregnant but you could pop it together in a bit of a collective fashion you know, so for those of you who have got any abdominal issues going on, anything going on in your abdominal area, if you’re a bit sensitive there or for those of you who’ve told me that your blood pressure’s a little high, here’s the things that we’re going to do differently, you know, here’s, option 1 is to do this, option 2 is to do that, and so yeah, it means that if someone is taking that open belly twist instead of a closed belly twist they’re not, big red lights over their head saying, hey everybody I’m pregnant, because they might not be ready to tell us yet.
Jo Stewart: I also teach at quite a few workplaces, and so sometimes people have told me before they’ve told the rest of their workmates.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, that’s a big one.
Jo Stewart: So for those people I say to them at the start of the class, look if I say I’m going to give a gentle option, that is also the pre natal option, that’s for you. <laughter>
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah that would be really tricky. I haven’t taught in a corporate environment for a long time but they’re sharing information with you as a, as a health provider because they feel that it’s important, and then you have to be sensitive with that information. So that’s just like, when you’re gathering information from a, you know, current students or new students as they’re booking in at reception they’re, you want to be sensitive to them and not, you over there in the red tracksuit pants who’s pregnant… this is totally inappropriate. But yeah, so having that little like, here’s our cue, these are our signals, so they know that you’re being, that you’re looking after them.
Jo Stewart: I do have one question that comes up all the time, because it’s the one pose we pretty much do every yoga practice, and that’s savasana. What are your favourite pre natal savasana alternatives? And do you have any that don’t involve props, for those workplace classes?
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm oh that’s a good one. I think probably the easiest, non-propped savasana alternative is on the side. Now everyone talks about being on the left side in pregnancy, but sometimes depending on where baby is positioned, being on left, like let’s say for example their head’s right up underneath your ribs on the left-hand side and then you lay to that side, that could feel really uncomfortable. You’re not going to turn blue and explode if you lay on the right. It’s fine. So, be on the right. So that’s easiest. That’s the easiest option. The other easiest option, particularly if you don’t have a lot of props is just to sit against a wall. Sit upright against a wall or even just sit upright into a meditative position, that’s fine too.
Rane Bowen: Mmm a young lady in my class, she sits herself up against the wall every, every class so, yup, got that one covered! <laughs>
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm yeah.
Rane Bowen: I do know you’ve got your pre and post natal workshop coming up, would you like to talk about that?
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, oh that’s lovely, thank you. So we’ve been really focused at AYA in terms of putting together programs that are really focused on continuing professional development for our already established teaching community, so, I think, you know foundation level teacher training there’s lots and lots and lots of that available, but once you are already qualified then, you know, if you have a special interest, where do you go to and what do you do and who do you work with? So I’ve been thinking for a long time about putting together a dedicated pre and post natal advanced training together and so I have finally done that, and it’s recognised through Yoga Alliance, so it’s a 50 hour program so it’s 6 full days and it’s going to be you know, something that really covers you know, every.. all aspects of pre and post natal.
Rane Bowen: Is that aimed more at people who want to specialise in pre and post natal yoga or do you think anyone who’s interested in, in sort of developing their teaching will want to come to that?
Melanie Mackintosh: Mmm I suspect that it will be the former, that it’ll, it would be something that would attract the people who really have a, an interest in working with women, mostly in that pre natal capacity but I’m getting a lot of interest in the dedicated post natal space which is, which is quite interesting um because I think that’s really an area that we, most people ignore. We just assume that once baby’s here everything’s back to normal, and that’s not necessarily the case. So, I suspect it’s going to be mostly people who are looking for pre natal but it’s anyone who’s teaching, teaching students, and most of us teach our pre natal students within a general class setting. So I hope it’s going to be valuable for them too.
Rane Bowen: I’m sure it is and I’ve been to ah some of your pre natal workshops in the past and they’ve been very helpful for me and I guess alleviating that anxiety I do feel when a young pregnant woman comes into my class. So yeah, I can definitely recommend it.
Melanie Mackintosh: Mm oh thank you.
Jo Stewart: I must say as well, the options that I’ve learnt in pre natal trainings have really been helpful for other health issues, like, things like vertigo or high blood pressure, like you already have these options in mind, so even if it’s not an area that you want to specialise in, it’s a really great way of just building your, like, toolbox of different, alternative poses no matter what people have going on.
Melanie Mackintosh: Yeah, I think that’s a key challenge for, for us as yoga teachers especially when we are working in general class situations and you have so many levels and so many issues that people are dealing with so, you know, just being, what’s the word, it’s almost like practicing coming up with alternatives pretty quickly, coz sometimes you really have to think on the spot as you both would know, ah and especially when someone, halfway through the class says, oh I forgot to tell you about my sore back, knee, whatever the case, like okay, alright, let’s find, or that I’m 15 weeks pregnant, okay, right let’s do this instead. So yeah, it can be really helpful just to have those different options in our toolkit.
Rane Bowen: I guess to close things off, if you could distil everything you’ve learnt and everything you teach, and this can be about pre and post natal yoga or anything in general really, if you could distil everything you’ve learnt or teach down to one core lesson, what do you think that thing would be?
Melanie Mackintosh: Oh it’s such a good question, it’s such a hard one to answer! <laughter> I think the biggest thing that has changed for me over the course of my teaching, so when I said earlier that my background was very much from an Iyengar space, and as I said, they tend to be quite, quite rigid and quite specific and so on and so forth, and lately my, my teaching has moved to that felt sense, to understanding and going at, coming at our practice and coming at our teaching about, how does it feel? And I read some beautiful quotes by Desikachar actually, so Krishnamacharya’s son, Desikachar who, who said, and he was quoting his father as well, and he basically said that we have to remember yoga’s for the self, it’s not about me as the teacher, it’s not about the group of 30 or 20 or however many people are in your class, it’s about that particular one person and so, that’s really where I feel our power and benefit and the beauty of being, the privilege that we have in working with students is that it’s all about them, and their experience, and, and we’re just merely a guide.
Rane Bowen: Beautiful!
Jo Stewart: Oh thank you so much, that was lovely.
Rane Bowen: Well, thank you so much. We had to skip a few questions coz we’re out of time <laughter> we could clearly have spoken for much longer, so thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge with us, it’s been great, thank you.
Melanie Mackintosh: I very much appreciate being here, thank you.
Jo Stewart: Oh, thank you.
Rane Bowen: Alright, and that was our episode with Mel. I hope you got a lot out of it, I know I did and again, if you’d like to know more, you can find out about Mel’s workshop in our show notes at podcast.flowartists.com, so head on over.
On a side note, Jo runs a baby’s welcome class at our studio, Garden of Yoga on Wednesday morning. Now it’s not a ‘mums and bubs’ yoga class, but babies are welcome and we’ve been witnessing some extreme cuteness at the studio, so why not join the cuteness, we’d love to see you there.
So, big news! Our next episode is episode number 50. Yes, our 50th full-length episode and we have a great guest, Jivana Heyman. Jivana is a US–based yoga teacher, yoga therapist, creator of the accessible yoga conferences all over the world, and author of the forthcoming book, Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body. Accessibility of yoga is a subject that is really important to Jo and myself, so we think that Jivana is the best possible guest for our very special 50th episode.
Alright, so as usual, our theme song is Baby Robots by Ghost Soul and is used with permission. Get his music from ghostsoul.bandcamp.com.
Thank you so so much for listening, we really appreciate it. Arohanui, big big love.