Movement as Healing for Mothers
A few weeks ago I had the sincere pleasure of visiting Laura Wood of & She Moves, a unique studio in Toronto that blends the healing of yoga with the strength of pilates to create a system of MOVEMENT tailored just for new mothers. As the time to bear my second child draws near (less than 2 weeks away) my focus has been turning more and more inward to prepare my body. And, as I learned last time, recovery after a such a physical feat as childbirth takes longer than I had thought, both emotionally and physically. It's a wonderful time, but the intensity of it is akin to nothing else. I was curious to learn more about Laura's approach and learned some wonderful, simple excercises to both support my body during labour as well as afterward. In part one of this feature, we get to know Laura, her own journey through the maze of motherhood, and why she felt compelled to create her own system of movement as healing for mothers.
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF BECOMING A MOTHER LIKE?
My boys will be 3 and 6 in a few months and many days I feel as though I'm still transitioning into motherhood. It's an evolution, and there will always be new stages and challenges to which I will have to adapt. I mean, it’s totally different than those early days of motherhood—when everything is so fresh and so new and you question everything—I’m just better now at trusting myself and feeling more confident that I’ve been through challenges before and will get through these as well. I loved the early days of having babies, I have such fond memories of laying in bed snuggling and taking slow leisurely walks with the stroller. I would say a strength and courage that I wasn’t very familiar with presented itself, but I’m still very much working on my patience and letting go of control!
That first year after my second son was born was probably the hardest year of my life. There were a lot of changes and learning how to juggle two kids while deprived of sleep was really hard. I felt like I was barely staying afloat. But I had a great support system—I think that’s what helped me the most. Also being really honest with my friends and family was essential. Admitting that you feel challenged or that you fear failing are really hard feelings to admit to, but I think the more we share those big feelings the more comfortable with get with them and the easier it is to not to let those feelings dictate the way we ultimately feel about ourselves.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE THAT CAUSED YOU TO SEEK OUT PRE/POST-PARTUM YOGA AND PILATES?
I had already been teaching prenatal yoga for a few years before I became pregnant myself and there were two things that really fascinated me about pregnancy: One was the crazy and amazing changes that occur in a woman’s body during pregnancy, and the other was this intimate connection women had to the baby growing inside of them. But when I became pregnant there was this other side of it that was unkown to me: I was incredibly sick in the first 4 months of pregnancy and instead of being elated all the time I was actually quite miserable. And although I was super excited about becoming a mother I was also surprised by how greatly the physical changes I was experiencing affected me emotionally. Prenatal yoga became a time for me to slow down and try to ground myself as I moved through this intense physical experience. As I progressed through my first pregnancy, my yoga practice was a chance to cultivate awareness and trust.
It was much harder than I thought it would be to see my body change so much throughout pregnancy and after the birth of my first son I was eager to lose the weight that I put on. I had been very active throughout my pregnancy and so I gravitated toward a high intensity workout and found a postnatal bootcamp class. I was lucky enough that I had great teachers but even still looking back, I started a high intensity regiment way too early and did not allow for proper healing first. I just wasn’t educated about it at the time.
During my second pregnancy I started seeing a chiropractor for some back pain I was having around 27 weeks, and her treatments really helped. However the pain persisted quite a while after having my son (it was most likely the result of an inbalance or misalignment in my body). I continued to treat it with chiropractic care, but I also realized I needed to get to the root of the problem and work on re-strengthening or releasing the muscles that were the problem. I had since started teaching pilates and through that I gained a deeper awareness of the subtle movements in my body that yoga doesn’t always focus on. So I drew on both yoga and pilates through my second pregnancy to blend the physically supportive qualities of pilates with the more emotionally supportive aspect of yoga.
My second pregnancy had a slightly different focus, which was creating resiliency. Because of my pilates training I was much more educated on proper core strengthening during and after pregnancy. I became aware of pelvic floor health and saw a pelvic floor physiotherapist after the birth of my second son and began a long learning process—both for myself physically and professionally!
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU FEEL THE DESIRE TO BRANCH OUT AND START YOUR OWN PROGRAM? WHAT DID THE JOURNEY/LEARNING EXPERIENCE LOOK LIKE?
I was going to go back to work part time at a great studio when my son was just turning one. For some reason I was really hesitant to move forward with it and I was having a lot of anxiety about making it work with childcare and balancing family life with work. I decided not to go back and had thought about starting my own thing but still wasn’t confident enough to do it. I spent months taking courses and doing research into how best to help prepare women’s bodies for the birthing process and to most effectively help with the postpartum healing process. I came across some amazing teachers that are really trying to help educate people that how their bodies work is much more important than how it looks (Katy Bowman, Jill Miller, Bellies Inc., Spinning Babies), as well as how to work toward a pain free pregnancy, and dispelling the myths around what we assume to be normal side effects of pregnancy such as incontinence, weak abdominal muscles, back pain, and weakened pelvic floor muscles.
One of the most freeing concepts that I took away from this learning experience was the idea of MOVEMENT. I was hesistant to develop my own approach because I was concerned about what other teachers would think. Would they think I was “pure” enough from a yogic perspective. Would they take it seriously? But when I started to think more about MOVEMENT versus yoga or pilates as a system things started to make a lot more sense to me. I wanted to try and help people move and feel better! So why not use yoga and pilates as a tool for that? The result has been a system that effectively strengthens the core while simultaneously preparing, nurturing, and healing women's bodies.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN OBJECTIVES OF & SHE MOVES?
Creating a non-judgemental and authentic atmosphere is key! Pregnancy and motherhood, especially when you’re a new mom, can be a time of feeling very anxious and insecure. You have a lot of doubt about the choices you’re making (midwife vs. OB, natural childbirth vs. epidural, co-sleeping vs. crib, breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding), and I try to provide evidence-based information for women to help educate them and then let them make their own decisions.
I created & She Moves because I felt there was a bit of a gap in what was being offered to pregnant women and new mothers in terms of physical practices and education about how their bodies ideally function at this time of their lives. In terms of the physical practice I didn’t feel like there was anything out there that was offering the nurturing and introspective aspect that yoga provides, but also focusing on alignment and creating support in the body during a time when women’s bodies undergo tremendous changes and are under a lot of strain. I want to offer women a practice that supports them both physically and emotionally as the two aspects are so intricately connected.
Creating opportunities for women to connect with each other as well as themselves is also a main focus. Yoga is great for self-exploration and an amazing tool to deepen your self-awareness. In my classes we do this through breathwork and mindful movement. I believe that through a deeper awareness and connection to their body, women will become more engaged in their own well being and ultimately feel more confident. I provide women with a movement practice that they can draw on in their daily lives, implementing certain exercises or poses when their bodies feel a certain way. They begin to recognize what feels good in their own bodies and realize how empowering it is when you can help yourself to feel better.
HOW DO YOU PRACTICE SELF-CARE?
The idea of self-care has really shifted for me in the past couple of years. I used to primarily think of it as taking time to relax, maybe get a massage, go to a yoga class. It was generally something that I did. But now I really see self-care as more mental and emotional. The things that really help me feel grounded and centered are journaling and a practice that was recommended to me by a life coach I worked with. It’s called a Success Journal and it’s simply that: writing down any successes from the day, big or small. It’s amazing to look back through the book and see pages and pages of things that make you feel good! I also love walking, especially in nature. I feel so inspired when I’m walking and my body feels great too. It truly does feel like movement that feeds and fuels me, which is one of the core messages of & She Moves. Massages are still great, don't get me wrong! But they don’t happen as regularly so I now look for tools that I can use on a daily basis that can help me feel full of life and more balanced and grounded.
WHAT ARE YOUR MOST REWARDING ASPECTS OF BEING A MOTHER? WHAT ARE THE MOST CHALLENGING AND HOW ARE YOU OVERCOMING THEM?
I love watching my boys learn new things. As a parent there’s nothing more exciting than watching your children do something for the first time! My son just learned to ride his bike and I was unbelievably excited and proud of him! It’s just amazing to see them exploring and discovering the world around them and using their imaginations. It’s so rewarding to witness their hunger for learning and exploring—it also melts my heart and gives me hope that I’m doing an okay job as a mother when I overhear the two of them saying 'I love you' to each other.
What is really amazing about becoming a mother is the strength that you had no idea you possessed. Giving birth to my sons were two of the most amazing experiences of my life. There was such a raw energy and it really fueled me through the first little while after birth. Just knowing that I gave birth to my children was really empowering: if I could do that, I could do anything for them!
There’s been a lot of challenges however I’d honestly say most of them were my own personal issues. They were around me managing my expectations or needing to slow down and not be in such a rush all the time. For sure learning to let go of control is one of the first lessons I learned. And again, it’s something that I’m constantly working on! I’m really conscious of not letting my own stuff get in the way. If I’m feeling stressed about work I notice I’m much more impatient and irritable. I don’t listen to them as well. I’m distracted. I'm determined not to let these things affect how I interact with my family. Meditation, journaling, and having a great support system are crucial for helping me stay present and focused on what’s actually the issue. I got this amazing tool from Pema Chodron, a wonderful, inspiring Buddist monk, who teaches about creating space for your negative emotions. So instead of breathing and trying to let the negative feeling dissipate, imagine creating space in your body for that emotion. It feels so great for me. It helps me get to the root of it, the real reason I’m frustrated or annoyed. This is a super easy, quick tool to draw on.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR MOST HELPFUL RESOURCES?
I was working as a doula before I became a mother and was exposed to some amazing resources that helped prepare me for pregnancy and child birth. I would highly recommend Ina May's Guide to Childbirth to any pregnant woman—it is full of hippie birth stories from the 1970s but they really show what birth can look like. The stories were really empowering to me: if these women could give birth in the back of a camper van driving through the mountains then I could do it too! The Birthing from Within childbirth method was also really influential for me as well both as a doula, teacher, and a mother.
Personally, reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown was life changing! Brene talks about vulnerability in ways that I had never heard before. She talks about the strength in being vulnerable, a.k.a. put yourself out there, and that taking risks is an essential part of creativity and growth. That we need to be okay with the idea of failing! As a mother it’s so easy to judge, shame, and blame yourself when you feel like you’re failing. It’s very easy for me to fall into blame mode. But failing is actually a necessary part of growth and it’s not even failing! It’s just learning. I know it sounds super cliché but for me this changed the way I felt about myself, it shifted my mindset to looking for solutions, ways to grow, and to try something new. On a personal level, as a mother, it was a game changer and it propelled me toward starting & She Moves.
HOW CAN READERS CONNECT WITH YOU?
Instagram is my current favorite way to connect with people. You can find me at @andshemoves. I’m working on my own blog right now which will be up on my website and I’ll also be writing for Baby and Me Fitness in the next couple of months as well. I run weekly classes out of a beautiful studio (samastudio.ca) in Toronto's Roncesvalles neighbourhood and offer personal sessions in home as well. I also host monthly special events for women.
LEARN MORE: andshemoves.com
CONTRIBUTORS & CREDITS:
LAUREN KOLYN, Photography: Lauren is a lifestyle and editorial photographer based in Montréal and Toronto, Canada. With a documentary approach to her photography, Lauren is a visual storyteller with a unique ability to capture the essence of the moment. Drawing much of her artistic inspiration from the natural environment, Lauren's photographic work explores the modest yet powerful beauty of her surroundings. She is also currently part of the Pure Green editorial team. View her work, follow her on Instagram.