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Welcome to my blog

 

This blog is for sharing interesting information about yoga, pregnancy, birth, parenting and anything else I think you might be interested in!

 

I will also post related local events here.

By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, May 16 2017 09:20PM

In my Pregnancy Yoga classes, I am always talking about the importance of MOVEMENT during labour, and of using positions that use GRAVITY to aid dilation and the baby’s descent. However, there’s another important factor in the equation: BALANCE in the mother’s body.


You may have heard of wanting the baby to be in the Optimal Foetal Position (OFP) ahead of the birth; with the baby’s head down, bottom up by the ribs, chin tucked in, and with the baby’s spine away from the mother’s back. There are positions that the expectant mum can rest in to encourage OFP, but if there is an imbalance in the mum’s body with all the positions in the world the unborn baby may not be able to get into that position ready for the birth.


The imbalance can be caused by asymmetry in the pelvis caused by postural habits, like carrying a bag always on one side, or tight muscles within the pelvis such as the deep core psoas muscle. This can make it difficult for the baby to turn into an easier position ready for birth.


I would thoroughly recommend going to see a chiropractor as an MOT for the mother’s body at the beginning of the third trimester, before the baby starts to really put on weight, in order to support balance (or before, if you have pelvic pain, sciatica or heartburn). Locally I recommend Anne Loader, http://www.aclchiropractic.co.uk/ or Kelly at Dynamic Family Chiropractic http://www.dfchiropractic.com/. However, there are things that the expectant mum can do at home that will also encourage balance in her uterus.


Five things that a pregnant woman can do to promote balance in her womb to maximise her baby moving into the Optimal Foetal Position ready for birth:

1) Sit upright or leaning forward – minimise slouching – to stop muscles tightening;

2) Walk barefoot whenever you can (and tiptoe);

3) Keep symmetry in your body when sitting – avoid crossed legs;

4) Use pillows between your knees AND ankles at night;

5) Release tight muscles



[In this photo, you would be in a slouching position with your pelvis tipping back. What you want is to have the front joint (where the grey represents the pubis symphsis) tipped forwards and touching your chair, and the inverted V of the sitting bones on the chair seat. Hopefully you don't have screws like that holding your pelvis together!]


In more detail….

1) Sit upright or leaning forward – minimise slouching!

Most people think of the pelvis like a bowl, but actually the ‘bowl’ is tipped forwards and underneath are the sitting bones. Not just in pregnancy, but in life, it is better for your spine and the muscles at the front and back of your body if you are sitting on the sitting bones (obviously because that’s why they’re called that!) rather than tipping off the back of them. Otherwise some of the deep core muscles, such as the psoas, can tighten from the change in posture and in turn that affects the space that your baby has in utero, but also to move over the pelvic brim during birth.


Try sitting…

* on an exercise / birth ball (make sure your hips are higher than your knees to get the correct position) or leaning onto the ball while watching TV,

* kneeling (you can put cushions between your feet and underneath your bottom so that it is comfortable)

* rocking on a rocking chair (the action backwards and forwards is really beneficial for your pelvic muscles)

* sit on the floor – this will mean that you change position often, rather than get stuck in a slump on the sofa!


The ‘torch test’ can tell you if the position is supportive: imagine a torch shining straight out of your navel. If the light is pointing up towards the ceiling, you are slouching. If the light is shining straight ahead or towards the floor, you are in a good position.


You might have come across these positions in relation to Optimal Foetal Position, but I want the expectant mamas to think also about the effect on their bodies of good posture.


2) Walk barefoot whenever you can (and tiptoe!)

When you’re at home kick off your shoes and walk around barefoot. What happens in your feet directly affects your hips and pelvis (and upwards!) Most shoes have a heel and with any thickness of heel, you are tipped forwards from your natural axis. This can be even more problematic once a woman moves into the third trimester and there is more weight being carried by her skeleton (and all to the front). The combination of being tipped forwards and extra weight is a common cause of back ache during pregnancy.


In addition, the relaxin hormone (that circulates during pregnancy to prepare your pelvis for some minor movement during the birth) affects other joints too. This means that your feet and the arches can flatten. You might then think that therefore you need more support, such as raised arches in your shoes. However, you want your feet to spread properly as you walk to support how your body has evolved to move. (See https://nutritiousmovement.com/about/ for fantastic information on this.)


Simply by coming up on to tiptoes in a balance you can help to keep your feet moving optimally and give your feet a stretch. In the Pregnancy Yoga classes (www.tessayoga.co.uk), we do a number of different exercises to keep the feet healthy and release tension in the feet. This in turn helps the cervix to dilate during the first stage of labour. As Uma Dinsmore-Tuli says: “the feet are the wings of the pelvis”; that is, healthy feet = healthy womb.


I thoroughly recommend Barefoot Shoes that do not have a heel, but provide a protective layer without any restriction to the foot’s natural movement (https://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk). They also do children’s shoes.


3) Keep symmetry in your body when sitting – avoid crossed legs!

Many people have heard that crossing your legs can cause varicose veins, but here I am concerned with balance in the pregnant woman’s body. By crossing one leg over the other, you create a twist in your pelvis and this creates tension or a slight twist in the lower uterus. I believe this asymmetry and accompanying tightness can sometimes be sufficient to cause an obstacle to a baby descending during the birth or the ‘failure to progress’ that can lead to a cascade of intervention.


In the Pregnancy Yoga classes, we do sit cross-legged on the floor for some of the movements, but we change which leg is in front half-way through. As individuals, we have a tendency to always cross the legs with one in front or the other every time, and this can lead to imbalance over time (just as sitting on a seat with legs crossed at the knees or ankles can). Becoming conscious of these habits is very helpful.


(Conversely, asymmetry during labour can be very helpful. For example, from kneeling if you step one foot forward into a lunge this creates asymmetry. Or stepping out of a birth pool creates asymmetry. This can create more space through the pelvic girdle. (To imagine how, picture a bottle half filled with water – if the bottle is tipped over to 45 degrees the surface area increases.) This can allow a baby to tuck a chin under or move a hand out of the way, thus decreasing the surface area of the baby to move through.



4) Use pillows between your knees AND ankles at night

Another way to maintain balance in the expectant mother’s body is to keep the knees and ankles the same distance apart as the hips. It is important to remember that the hip sockets are at the front of the pelvis, rather than the sides. Using pillows or cushions between the knees and ankles prevents the leg hanging down and pulling on the hips, which creates a twist in the pelvic floor and hip joints. This may also help with uncomfortable hips at night and pelvic pain, whether in the sacroiliac joints or pubic symphysis.


5) Release tight muscles

If someone knows or suspects that they may have tight muscles in the torso and through the pelvis to the femur (thigh bone), there are exercises/ positions to release them. For example, I know when my right psoas muscle is tight because the hip sounds as if it is clicking when I lower my right leg and it is straight. By doing a psoas-releasing exercise for a couple of minutes this noise will disappear for me.


Psoas release


Up to 30 weeks (or earlier if it is uncomfortable): the woman can lie on her back with her knees bent. Then she places cushions under her hips to lift them up from the floor slightly and support them (two cushions or pillows should be sufficient, or two yoga blocks). Then she extends one leg out so that it is straight with the heel on the ground and relaxed (i.e. the foot can turn out) for two minutes. Then she bends that knee up and straightens the other leg for another two minutes. Afterwards, with both knees bent, she pushes into her feet to pull the cushions out of the way, and rests for another two minutes on the ground.


30 weeks and over: the woman can sit on the front edge of a sofa and lean back onto a pile of cushions / her elbows. She stretches one leg out straight and relaxes it for two minutes. Then she changes to stretch the other leg out straight for two minutes. Then she sits upright on the sitting bones and rests for a further two minutes with the knees bent and feet on the floor.


Forward-leaning inversion – for balancing uterine ligaments


Suitable throughout pregnancy, except during nausea or heartburn.


Start on hands and knees. Drop down on to the forearms with the elbows under the shoulders. Pad the knees if necessary to be comfortable. Relax the head. Take three slow breaths here (if you know golden thread breath this is a great position to practice it in – see here for a description www.tessayoga.co.uk/pregnancy-resources).


IMPORTANT: Then sit kneeling for another three breaths. (Leaning forwards creates space and length, and the resting is where the balancing can take affect.) Cushions or 2/3 yoga blocks can be put between the feet and under the bottom if it is uncomfortable to sit directly on the heels when kneeling.


For other useful releases, visit http://spinningbabies.com/learn-more/techniques/


With this information I certainly do not want to give pregnant women something else to worry about, but I hope it will help them and their supporters an inkling of how important it is to prepare the mum’s body for the birth rather than only focus on the baby’s position.


Happy positioning!


Tessa x



By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, Jan 11 2017 01:59PM



I teach Pregnancy Yoga and the number of my clients that are induced is much higher than I would like. When I open an email with a birth story from a new mum and she writes “then I was induced”, my heart sinks because it often ends in a caesarean.1 Don’t misunderstand me; there are times when I am so grateful that we live in a place where women have access to that life-saving surgery. However, when I read their birthing stories, which are often very detailed, I can see that there is a grey area where if they had been given a little more time before being induced, or being augmented where contractions were weak, given consistent care so they felt in familiar hands or had a doula that could provide an underlying confidence in natural birth, the outcome may have been different. I sometimes feel that the system is failing pregnant women in this respect and I want to talk about two things that women who are planning to conceive can do to increase their confidence in making a decision around induction.



As a pregnancy yoga teacher I am very careful about what I say regarding whether to be induced or not. Some women who have told me their stories felt pressurised to be induced and talk about being emotionally bullied by health professionals. There is talk about putting the baby at risk of dying. It is a very strong woman who with that having been said out loud by their care-giver can say that they still want to wait and not be induced. Usually they will have done a lot of reading beforehand and are well versed in statistics, physiology and other things that make them resolute as long as their baby appears happy and healthy in utero. If you are a woman that did not know that induction can lead to a cascade of intervention you might not have thought to read up about it. Or you may just be so desperate to meet your baby, you ask to be induced earlier than recommended, perhaps having a sweep on your 40 week appointment. Given that due dates are an approximation, we can easily do something that will give us confidence about when our baby is likely to be ready to trigger labour.



Prevalence of induction

First, a bit of context. The 2014 NICE guidelines state that information to women at the 38 week appointment should cover the possibility of induction between 41+0 and 42+0 weeks.2 The Maternity Statistics for England for the year ending 2014, reported an induction rate of 25.0%, which is part of an upward trend.3 Locally, an ‘uncomplicated singleton’, that is, a healthy single baby, would be induced at 40+12 (rather than 42 weeks) and that has led to the number of inductions increasing to 15.5% in 2014-15. This is lower than the national average, but this does not include the women who were augmented for weak contractions, which account for another 13.4%. Of those induced (rather than augmented), 21.8% were induced within 7 days of the estimated date of delivery (EDD), 33.4% after 41 to 42 weeks and 9.3% at 42 weeks, and 53.9% of those induced were nulliparous (first babies). There were only two that went ‘significantly over’ the 42 weeks, with one being a typo with 50 weeks being recorded! These figures show you how importantly a hospital will take your ESTIMATED date of delivery (but also how mistakes are made).


A meeting organized by the World Health Organization on Appropriate Technology for Birth, held in Brazil in 1985, recommended that “No geographic region should have rates of induced labour over 10%”.4 Obviously we are well over that figure in England, but practices around the world show that lower rates are possible. Ina May Gaskin has delivered thousands of babies at ‘The Farm’ in Southern Tennessee with a spontaneous birth rate of 94.5%.5 This is compared to 60.3% of spontaneous births at my local hospital (which included the augmented deliveries, which The Farm’s data does not).1 Some practices within the UK have other thoughts, like the now-closed Albany Midwifery Practice, whose co-founder states: ‘some mothers with pregnancies of 42 weeks or longer need reassurance that they are neither crazy nor irresponsible for resisting induction when all signs are good’.4 I had a mother in my class who personally gestates for 43.5 weeks, so did her mother and grandmother: that is normal for her family.

My story of going overdue

With my first daughter, Zara, I was booked in for an induction at 42 weeks at my 40 week appointment. The 42 weeks arrived and I went into the hospital with my husband for the appointment. Zara was fine and it was suggested that I be given a pessary to start induction. I said that I would rather wait since she appeared very happy there and fortunately I wasn’t given a talk about risking my baby’s life. The maternity department was very busy that day and the midwife had to keep leaving to assist with births. Five times she came back and offered me the pessary and five times I reminded her that I didn’t want it thank you very much. On the fifth time, she suggested a sweep and I agreed, something that in retrospect I would refuse if I was in that situation again. I agreed that I would return for monitoring each day. I was happy that I had done my reading and had a supportive partner with me at the hospital. Fortunately I went into labour that night and she was born at 11am the next day. Our decision was based on two things: one, the fact that the monitoring said my baby was fine (I instinctively knew that to be the case) and, two, that I knew precisely when she had been conceived and that my EDD was wrong. She wasn’t an IVF baby, but I had been charting my cycle ahead of conceiving and knew when I had become pregnant by a sustained rise in basal temperature. That information gave me so much confidence.



I had read Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (www.tcoyf.com) and was charting my basal temperature, cervical mucus (or juices as I prefer a non-clinical sounding term), and recording when we made love. I found this process of charting exciting and it made me appreciate the intricacies of my body. The charting helps you understand when you are ovulating and make the most of your fertile phase (or conversely to avoid it if you are not wanting to become pregnant). You can tell when you are pregnant because instead of the temperature going down again, it remains elevated and signals buying the pregnancy test. Just imagine how having this piece of information of the day of conception can give you ammunition in the face of induction! When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I not only knew again the precise date of her conception, but also the length of gestation with my first baby. Before my first baby, my cycle was usually 32 days long and so the EDD would have always have been a bit out, notwithstanding sperm sometimes taking a couple of days to reach their target! Imagine how if my daughters have children, they could know not only the date of conception for their baby, but how long they were in utero before a spontaneous delivery. Generation on generation, we will know what has happened in our family: that is, what is normal for us.


Developing menstrual awareness

Since having Zara, I came across Alexandra Pope and her incredible work on menstruality. In her workbook, Women’s Quest, she focuses more on the emotional journey of the menstrual cycle than the physical signs. With Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, she has set up the Red School Online that enables a woman to reflect deeply on her menstrual cycle and the wisdom inherent in it. I intimately know my menstrual cycle and chart my emotions, physical signs and dreams day by day. It has given me a deep trust in my body and I am aware when I have not taken enough rest or paced myself kindly. I know that every four or five months I will have a longer cycle of 36 days and so I don’t worry about it; I’m happy to wait. I dream that more and more women will come to see their cycle not as a nuisance, but as a highly-tuned well-being sensor. And that their bodies are amazing.



If women trust that their bodies are amazing that would make my work as a Pregnancy Yoga teacher much easier! Sometimes I feel as if I am asking women to make a giant leap from distrusting their bodies that for so long they were worried about becoming pregnant through their teens, twenties, (thirties), that leaked menstrual blood at inconvenient times, or that they took pills to regulate the bleeding or to get rid of it totally, to feeling that their (pregnant) body was incredible and natural birth was possible. I do see that giant leap happening in class because pregnancy is a time of openness and the upcoming birth is a big motivator, but how much easier it would be if women were supported to already appreciate the awesomeness of their bodies. The transformation of pregnancy would be just the proof. This knowledge may result, not an induction where control of birth is given over to the hospital, but in allowing time to birth at the woman and her baby’s own pace. How empowering would that be?



For those women who experienced a challenging birth, you might find support from meeting with your Consultant Midwife to understand what happened, meeting with a Talking Therapies counsellor (postnatal women are prioritised), giving feedback through the local Maternity Forum anonymously or otherwise, seeking support through online groups or keep on talking it through with friends (but please not pregnant ones!) I hope though that you might approach your cycle, when it returns after the birth, with a new perspective. I feel that cycle awareness can provide a lot of healing and help us prepare for future children, and down the line, a smoother menopause.



Gifts of menstrual awareness for pregnancy and birth

By practising menstrual awareness we become experts on our own well-being, and thus can make more informed decisions when it comes to the well-being of our unborn babies too and trusting our instincts about our embodied experience. We realise through connecting with other women who are cycle aware that there is a diversity in the length of our cycles and we experience them differently (and similarly pregnancies last different lengths). Through charting our cycles before becoming pregnant, we have more accurate information on the date of conception rather than an estimate based on every woman’s cycle being the same length. This knowledge is personal power in the face of institutional policies and constraints.



Want to get started? Find a Red Tent near you ( I host the Caversham, Berkshire one) or visit the Red School Online. I am planning to run menstrual awareness workshops for couples so please get in touch if you are interested at www.tessayoga.co.uk (or for workshops for pregnancy yoga teachers/ doulas or mother blessings or FREE resources for pregnancy/postnatal women).



1 At my local hospital, the Royal Berkshire Hospital, if a nulliparous woman is induced she has a 33% chance of that leading to a caesarean. Source: Siddall, J. Maternity Services Report 2014-5; Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading.

2See here for a summary of the guidelines: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg70/chapter/1-Guidance

3The NHS Maternity Statistics, England: 2013-14 can be found on the Health and Social Care Information Centre website at http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB16725

4Wagner, M. Pursuing the Birth Machine: The search for appropriate birth technology. Camperdown, NSW, Australia: ACE Graphics, 1994.

5Gaskin, IM (2003) Ina May Gaskin’s guide to childbirth. Bantom Books: New York.

6Reed, B. (2016) Birth in Focus: Stories and photos to inform, educate and inspire. Pinter & Martin; London.












By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, Dec 21 2016 11:01AM

I created these as a substitute to mince pies, but there are delicious in their own right. As some of you may know, I'm currently dairy-, gluten- and refined sugar-free (but that's a story for another blog). They have the unctiousness of a great mince pie, but are lighter and healthier.


You'll need:

1 tea cup of raisings

1 tea cup of apricots (I like the unsulphured ones - hence the dark colour)

1 tea cup of pitted dates

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

2 teaspoons of ground ginger

1 heaped tablespoon of coconut oil (if solid, otherwise 1 and a half in liquid)

2 heaped tablespoons of ground almonds


This will make 15 walnut-sized balls.




Here's how to make them...

Put the dried fruit in a blender and blend until the pieces are evenly small. (Alternatively you can chop them, but make sure the pieces are small enough that they'll stick together.)


Melt the coconut oil in a bain marie (I put a cereal bowl over a small saucepan of boiling water and heat on a low heat until almost all the solid coconut oil is liquid, then switch off the heat. Directly heating the coconut oil will damage its healthy properties.)



Being careful not to burn your fingers, pour the liquid coconut oil into the dried fruit. Add the spices (and adjust according to taste). Mix well


Scoop out the mixture to make a walnut sized ball. Squish together and roll in your palms until you know it won't fall apart. You will get oily hands, but coconut oil is a good moisturiser so it's all fine. Then roll in the ground almonds for the 'pastry' of your mince pie.




Put in a container. When all the balls are finished, but the container in the fridge for 20 mins. Lick all the lovely stuff off your fingers. Keep in the fridge when not scoffing.


Enjoy!




By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, Oct 31 2016 10:48AM

First things first: Many congratulations to Claire and James on the arrival of their gorgeous baby Tom!



Claire and James attended my birth preparation workshop a few months ago and I remember thinking at the time that they would make an amazing team during the birth. In her own words:


"It's fair to say that the birth of my son was the exact opposite of our birth 'plan'! I knew it was wishful thinking that I would be in the Midwife Led Unit in a pool, drug free, just breathing the baby out, but I was optimistic all the same. 


It didn't help that I had convinced myself the baby would be early (it was suggested by a midwife that if your mother's first born was early, yours would be too, not true!) I had convinced myself he would come at 38 weeks so every day that went past, I got a bit more anxious. I was trying to keep my anxiety under control by listening to a hypnobirthing track daily, having acupuncture, trying every old wives induction trick under the sun (not dancing naked under a full moon tho, sadly no full moon). Failing that, I used my hypno track and yoga breathing to convince myself that the baby knew when the time was right to arrive.


Turns out, he didn't know after all and was quite happy prolonging the pregnancy! At 12 days overdue I started the formal eviction process. It started with 2 propesses, which are pretty unpleasant but I remembered my breathing and tried to imagine a higher place. Then we had the rather unpleasant news that we had to stay in overnight and my waters would be broken the next day. I met this news the only way I knew how, uncontrollably sobbing at the 'medicalisation' of my birth plan. The realisation that it wasn't going to go as planned was a big shock to me, but once I accepted it, I found lots of positives in the situation. The main one being, after 42 weeks of being pregnant, I would actually have a baby in my arms!! 


The next day, I was confronted by the delivery suite and some very jolly midwives who'd obviously seen my look of horror as my eyes set upon the 'throne' and all the machines and wires attached to it. [Photo of Claire after adjusting the room to suit her and reconnecting with calm.]



As luck would have it, the room could be configured to be low lit and we could have our music playing, also it was a new monitoring system which meant I didn't have to be strapped down [to a monitor]. This was fab because once my contractions came thick and fast I couldn't sit down. I did a lot of swaying holding on to my husband (the pose where you kind of trap them!!) that helped steady my breathing and ride the pain out. I tried visualising mountains and sea caves but what worked for me was thinking about climbing stairs or a ladder. I imagined myself on a city break climbing a tower somewhere, thinking about the beautiful view when I got to the top. [Photo from dreamstime.com]

My  husband and I made a little den out of the screen on the operating table and we talked about meeting our baby and all the things we would do together as a family. About 5 minutes later, out popped our son, once they'd checked him over he was placed on my chest for immediate skin to skin. it was totally worth the wait!


Although it was nothing like it was planned, I wouldn't change it for the world. It was the best birth for us on the day. 


The yoga breathing and techniques from the workshop were a great support and great for building our confidence for birth."


(See www.tessayoga.co.uk/birth-preparation-workshops and/ or www.brilliantbirthworkshops.com for January 2017 onwards).


Often you hear "well as long as the baby is healthy, it's ok", but it is so important how the parents feel about the birth too. Whether you plan to have another child and will need to labour again, or not, it is important to find the positive about the birth of your baby. There are lots of wonderful practitioners that I can recommend if you need some help to do that, such as Louise Carter, Hypnotherapist based in Emmer Green surgery, or Sam Upcroft, of Nesting Mums, in Wallingford. Or other modalities that I can recommend to you.


I would love to hear your comments below if you had a caesarean birth and your positive experience.


Thanks so much to Claire and James for letting me share their story.







By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, Jul 22 2016 04:01PM

As some of you will know, I love going to bellydancing lessons and it's all thanks to Helen and her bellydancing academy. From watching the other women in class and at the shows, and reflecting on my own experience, bellydancing seems to be fantastic for body confidence and getting in touch with your feminine side. It seems to me that yoga and bellydancing complement each other perfectly so we got together so I could ask her some questions about exactly these things...




Helen has been a professional bellydance instructor, mentor and performer and blogger since 2005 when she founded the Santa Maria Bellydance Academy. Since then she has helped hundreds of women feel confident about themselves by bringing bellydance into their weekly routine. For information on how to join classes at her school, go to www.helenbellydance.com. Why not get started right away in the comfort of your own home? For your free online beginner class with Helen plus regular tips and tutorials click here.


Tessa has been teaching yoga for 15 years and specialises in Pregnancy Yoga, Mother & Baby Yoga and Yoga for Women - basically yoga for every stage of a woman's life! She also hosts the Caversham Red Tent - a women's social circle where we talk about all the things you really want to know about. She is also starting a new Dancing for Birth class in September for pregnant women to stay active while expecting, receive practical antenatal education and most of all have fun! Visit www.tessayoga.co.uk to find out more. For regular class updates and free resources, click here.


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