Group pre and postnatal fitness

Okay, so, a disclaimer first:  I’ve always loved aerobics classes.  It comes from having been a dancer for most of my life (I quit when I was around 26 or so).  I love following along with the choreography, I even love the stupid versions of bad Top 40 music (okay, with the exception of aerobicized versions of Celine Dion, to whom my sister and I like to refer as Sea Lion—she’s never good, even all jazzed up at 150 beats per minute).  I just love aerobics classes.  I love them enough that I was compelled to become a group fitness instructor myself back when my first child was about 18 months old.  (I admit I also liked the idea of getting a free gym membership as part of my teaching job, and the accountability of being an instructor—if you’re teaching the class, you kind of have to show up at the gym, no excuses.) 

Working out solo can be great:  there’s something awesome about plugging in the headphones, turning up your iPod, and zoning out while running or lifting weights.  But there’s something particularly inspiring about getting in a room with a group of other people, zoning in, feeding off each other’s energy, and moving together.  I found that group exercise was especially important for me when I was pregnant and caring for a newborn.

Ironically, considering my work now with Fit 4 Two, I didn’t exercise a lot during either of my pregnancies.  I had hyperemesis twice (lucky me!) so most of the time I was just happy to be able to get from my bedroom to the living room, or on a really good day to work and back, without falling over from nausea and exhaustion.  I certainly wasn’t able to keep up my pre-pregnancy exercise routines, which consisted before my first of going to the gym for aerobics and weights, and before my second of running 10k five or six times a week.  Of course that added insult to injury:  not only did I feel terribly sick and disappointed that my pregnancies were so crappy, I also felt shut in and isolated, unable to do the things I loved to do and cut off from people who might have had a clear sense of what I was going through. 

The one activity I was able to join in both cases was prenatal yoga, from early in the second trimester, when the worst of the vomiting had stopped, through to the end.  I only went once a week, but it was a godsend.  It didn’t get rid of my nausea, by any means, but it gave me a sense of calm about it, however temporary.  My usual Gumby-like flexibility plus all the relaxin flowing through my body made the stretching feel awesome, and in both cases I learned amazing visualization, breathing and vocalization techniques that were invaluable in labour.  (I can still hear my second teacher Lillian’s captivating Spanish-accented voice intoning with gently rolling Rs, “Relax your pink rrrrrrrrose!”) 

The other reason I went to prenatal yoga, and then again to postnatal yoga after my kids were born, was because it was a way to meet other pregnant women/moms.  In my first pregnancy, I was young (23) and knew pretty much no one else with kids.  In my second I was less young, but I still didn’t know many people with babies, and in fact we were relatively new in town so I didn’t know many people, period. 

Going to yoga classes was good for me physically and it was also good for me personally.  I didn’t make forever-friends in any of the classes, but I made connections that worked for me at the time, that reduced the sense of isolation that is common for women with new babies, and that gave me a network of people with whom I could commiserate about the ups and downs of pregnancy, birth and the early days of parenting.  Once a week, I got to check in with a group of women whose pregnancies and/or babies interested me, and who expressed both empathy and excitement about mine.  Those weekly 90-minute stretches were invaluable.

I look back at both my pregnancies and wish I’d been able to find more resources like the pre/postnatal yoga I did.  I wish I’d felt well enough to seek out information about other kinds of pre and postnatal fitness classes.  Again, I don’t imagine they would have cured my hyperemesis, but I suspect they might have made it easier to endure, as research has shown without a doubt that exercise can do wonders for relieving many of the discomforts of pregnancy. 

After my first baby was born, I resumed my pre-pregnancy activities quickly—I had an easy birth, and I went back to ballet class 13 days postpartum.  But it wasn’t always fun, and in fact it was downright stressful worrying about whether or not my baby needed to nurse while trying to get through the barre, or hoping that she’d be content in the childminding room at the gym long enough for me to do a full cardio routine.  With my second, and following a c-section, it took longer to get back into fitness, and when I did it tended to be a grim experience where I’d nurse, then race to layer on my winter running gear, bundle the baby into the stroller, and then hope hope hope that I could actually get out for the run before she needed to nurse again or have her diaper changed.  Not exactly baby- or mom-friendly! I restored my muscle tone and my cardiovascular capacity, but at what price?  (And let’s not even discuss the fact that running with the baby in the stroller so early totally ignored Safe Kids Canada’s guidelines for stroller safety.  Yikes.)

I remember wishing at the time that there was a better way, and I’m thrilled to say that thanks to discovering Fit 4 Two, I’ve found that there is.  I know this sounds like an infomercial, but I swear it is not—it’s more, to use an Oprah-ism, me sharing one of my own ‘a-ha!’ moments.  I found out about Fit 4 Two on the advice of a local doula and childbirth educator, who suggested it to me when I mentioned I was interested in combining my interests in childbirth education with my fitness and teaching background.  And as soon as I learned about the company’s values and approaches, I was hooked.  One thing that we stress is the idea of building relationships:  fitness is not just about exercise, it’s about increasing our health in multiple different ways, and that includes building networks of people who can offer friendship, guidance and support.

When I was student-teaching a Stroller Fitness class in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by how frequently during the power walking segments the women would fall into groups of two or three and start chatting about things they were experiencing with their babies.  Sometimes we had to remind them to focus on their walking, but sometimes we also let them be, knowing that the social benefit at that stage of life can have as much value as the physical benefit—knowing, in other words, that fitness is about a lot more than raising your heart rate or strengthening your muscles.  True fitness is holistic, encompassing many different aspects of a person’s life.  (Of course we also knew that it would only be a few more minutes before the chatting would end and we’d get them into another set of more focused activity—they’d paid for an exercise class, and they definitely got one!)

I’m excited to start teaching my own pre and postnatal fitness classes this fall.  I love group fitness, I love teaching, I’m kind of obsessed with all things birth-y, and I can’t wait to provide opportunities for women during a unique time in their lives to find comfort for themselves, to keep their bodies feeling as strong and healthy as possible, to develop the physical confidence and techniques that can lead to a more satisfying labour and birth and an easier postpartum recovery, and to link with other women.  I love the idea of teaching classes where women can get a great workout and, in the postpartum classes, still be able to be with their babies and tend to their needs.  (Big shout out to the women who nursed while doing plie squats at Stroller Bootcamp:  WOW!)  It’s no exaggeration to say that getting involved with Fit 4 Two is for me a real labour of love.  I can’t wait to get started.

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