When Yoga Practice Hurts

abstract watercolor illustration of a woman doing a yoga pose in a yellow field
Image created via Midjourney

I managed to escape the house and go to yoga on Sunday. A full 90 minutes in 105-degree heat.

It was a busy morning at the studio. Overcast days often mean yogis run inside to the hot room. A woman had her mat very close to mine, someone I recognized as an experienced practitioner.

Bikram yoga is known for rigidity in the postures. Beginning with "Concentrate, meditate, breathe in..." the dialogue narrates the sequence: toes and heels touching, arms outstretched, release the index fingers, etc etc. Within a few moments, I noticed the other practitioner was varying the posture. The instructions were, repeatedly, "feet together" and yet she stood with her feet hip-distance apart.

Given her experience, I began to wonder if she had a medical issue — maybe an injured hip, or other joint pain — that explained her stance. Then the instructor said "Feet together, unless you have a baby in your belly!" with a smile in the practitioner's direction.

I started. Only one other time have I ever seen a pregnant person in the hot room. The extreme heat would likely make most expectant mothers nervous. Even hot baths are discouraged in pregnancy, let alone extreme hot yoga. Based on her size, I guessed she was maybe only 8 weeks.

We continued through the series and I tried not to let myself be distracted.  But she was right next to me and modifying almost every posture. While the rest of the room moved in unison, she made her adjustments, based on some placards I noticed sitting next to her. No deep twisting, nothing that put pressure on her abdomen, no lying on her back.

I tried, so hard, to focus only on myself. But staring at her figure in the mirror next to mine, or seeing her out of the corner of my eye and we continued to move from posture to posture meant a constant reminder of her pregnancy.

As we moved into standing-bow pose (dandayamana-dhanurasana), I thought "I can do this." It's a pose that I am capable of holding if I'm focused enough. I thought it was my challenge: to ignore the pregnancy next to me, and stay in posture. Right leg up, and I didn't fall out of the posture. Left leg up, and I lost my balance. Right leg up again, lost my balance again. Left leg and I concentrated, remaining in posture until the end.

As we reached the first savasana, halfway through class, and transitioned to the floor series, the pregnant practitioner removed her tank top, to continue only in her sports bra. Lots of women do this, myself included. But now I had to try even harder to look away. Many times, when we are on the floor, we are told, "Look to the right," and I couldn't. It would have meant staring directly at her. I tried to keep my face staring at the floor or angled to look at the ceiling.

When I was pregnant with Nelle, I had been taking a yoga sculpt class. Early Friday mornings and there were usually only a handful of yogis in each class. The instructor regularly helped me with modifications and I continued up through thirteen weeks, only stopping because Theo started kindergarten and my morning schedule changed. I started prenatal yoga and signed up for eight weeks of classes to see if I liked it. I only made it to the first six before losing her.

I remembered the last time I saw a pregnant person, after losing Iris. I marveled at her acceptance of the risk in doing such an exercise. Or her assumption that nothing could go wrong. Or her deep trust that her baby will be somehow safe and protected.

To this day, even after a normal, healthy rainbow baby, I am bitter when I see other women sail through pregnancy, unperturbed. How fortunate that they have innocence. I envy that. Because pregnancy, for me, will always be a contradiction of joy and fear.

As soon as class ended, I picked up my mat and moved quickly from the room. Threw my sweaty things into my bag and rushed to the door. I didn't want the possibility of seeing the pregnant practitioner in the lobby. The instructor called out, "Good to see you!" as I reached the door, but I mumbled my response as I exited the building.

Back in the Hot Room
It felt good to return to my yoga practice.
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