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Yoga Classes Help Moms-to-be and New Moms Balance Body, Mind and Spirit

March 18, 2014

Since she was a child, Fremont native Mona Heir has been fascinated with the movement of the human body. She was inspired by activities like creative movement and ballet. But, it was not until she went off to college that she found her true love - yoga, which she has practiced for more than 12 years. When Mona was pregnant with her 3-year-old daughter Elika, she found practicing yoga to be more important than ever.

"During my pregnancy, I had very little energy and began feeling excruciating pain in my back, to the point that I couldnÕt walk for several weeks," related Heir. "I tried pain medication but wanted a solution without medicine. So, I arranged for a yoga instructor to come to my house. After just a few sessions, I could feel the difference."

Today, Heir teaches yoga classes designed especially for new mothers and mothers-to-be through Washington Hospital's Maternal Child Health program. Classes are held at the Hospital's Maternal Child Education Center at 3639 Beacon Ave. in Fremont.

Prenatal classes promote flexibility, strength, improved posture and balance. The Postpartum Yoga classes help new moms return to fitness and relieve stress.

Prenatal Yoga classes are held on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 12 noon and on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Postpartum Yoga classes are on Saturdays from 12 noon to 1 p.m. For fees and more information, visit www.whhs.com/childbirth-classes or call (510) 818-5040

"I've received immense benefits from the practice of yoga, and I want to share these powerful gifts with others," Heir said.

Mind and body practice
Most of us associate yoga with a set of physical poses that have unusual names, like "downward-facing dog" or "warrior pose." The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes it as a mind and body practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy.

"Like other meditative movement practices used for health purposes, various styles of yoga typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation or relaxation," states the NIH on its Web site.

While she was pregnant and after the birth of her baby, Heir built a foundation in Kundalini yoga. This is said to be one of the more spiritual types of yoga, going beyond the physical performance of poses with an emphasis on breathing, meditation and gestures. Heir is a certified Kundalini yoga instructor and teaches it to her classes.

"The postures of Kundalini yoga enabled me get through the discomfort and anxiety I felt during pregnancy. It also helped me heal my back," she recalls. "I am very passionate about sharing it with other women, and IÕve had great feedback in my classes."

This style of yoga isn't just for women before and after birth, Heir pointed out. It is powerful for both men and women, addressing a variety of issues related to health and fitness, such as strengthening and stress reduction.

A positive experience
"I have witnessed a lot of healing and positive change in people's stress levels both as a student and a teacher of yoga," observed Heir. "Most people have such a wonderful feeling of well-being after practicing. It is a very positive experience."

That's why she was so excited when Washington Hospital asked her to teach prenatal and postpartum classes through their Maternal Child Health program.

"With my first-hand experience, both as an expectant mom and a teacher, I felt strongly that I could adapt my program to fit the needs of pregnant women," she added. "Practicing yoga during pregnancy is one of the greatest gifts a woman can give herself."

Benefits for moms
According to Heir, yoga has benefits that address many of the problems women experience during pregnancy. This includes muscle fatigue, swelling around the joints, low back pain and sciatica, indigestion and difficulty sleeping. The practice enables women to strengthen their pelvic floor in preparation for giving birth. Heir also believes it helps women prepare in ways that are beyond the physical.

"Yoga prepares you mentally and emotionally to give birth by helping you build your spirit and endurance," she explained. "I've seen women tap into a positive attitude that says, 'I can do it.'"

Heir has also experienced the physical and emotional healing yoga can help to bring women after giving birth.

"The birthing process can be so intense. Most women need to do a lot of healing, besides having a new baby to take care of," she observed. "In the Postpartum Yoga class, we address many of the specific concerns new moms have."

Among other things, the class helps women tone and strengthen their muscles, especially the abdomen, and also relieve joint pain and re-align the spine. The meditative aspect of the class makes a big difference as well.

"We breathe steadily for a full hour," she explained. "This helps us process our emotions, and we have nowhere else to go but relax."

As with the Prenatal Yoga class, an added benefit is the camaraderie that forms among class participants.

"We are all in about the same place in our lives, and it's a great way to talk about and share our experiences," observed Heir. "I feel so blessed, being able to lead these groups."

Learn more.
Washington Hospital's Maternal Child Education Center offers a range of classes and resources to fit the needs of pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as moms and dads looking for informative, fun ways to learn or sharpen their parenting skills. To get more information about classes, visit www.whhs.com/childbirth-classes or call (510) 818-5040. For more information about Washington Hospital, go to www.whhs.com.