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Prenatal Practice: Anusara Yoga

Yoga instructor Mary Barnes wears many hats – mom of two, yoga teacher, teacher trainer, and long-time New York City resident. However, for the many pregnant women who spend their pregnancy in her popular Anusara-focused yoga classes around the city, she is also known as a strong advocate for moms-to-be, a gentle encourager, and constant cheerleader.

Barnes began teaching prenatal yoga well before it became a ubiquitous part of the NYC pregnancy experience. In 1992, while pregnant with her first son, Barnes recognized a growing demand from pregnant women to explore yoga during what is often an interesting and challenging season of a woman’s life.

Now more than two decades later, Barnes teaches prenatal, postnatal, and mommy & me yoga classes at luxe studios like Pure Yoga, community centers like the JCC, and public spaces like the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy. She even teaches prenatal and postpartum teacher training workshops for instructors looking to work with expectant moms.

Here she shares her thoughts on yoga’s benefits before, during and after pregnancy.

Tell us about what yoga can offer a woman during and after her pregnancy.

My intention is to teach students how to balance the “hard” and the “soft” in order to become stronger and more resilient, both on and off the yoga mat. This balance is so helpful for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and as they begin their journey of motherhood. In prenatal yoga, we practice deep inner awareness in order to observe the physical changes of pregnancy. We also focus on mindfulness of our breath, including soft, low sounds to lengthen the breath and relax the body; and physical postures to increase strength and flexibility while also bringing comfort. This results in a class that feels good for pregnant women and ultimately can help a woman ride through the sensations of childbirth without feeling frightened. Practicing yoga during pregnancy can also increase a woman’s pain threshold by allowing her to consciously call on her body’s “relaxation response” while avoiding the fight-or-flight response that often arises in a stressful situation.

What makes prenatal yoga unique?

Prenatal yoga includes basic modifications to accommodate the growing baby. This often means no poses on the abdomen after the first trimester (or earlier if it feels uncomfortable); no deep spinal twists, as these can cut off circulation to the internal organs; and no deep backbends or abdominal crunches, which can cause a diastasis recti (separated abdominal muscle). We also do any inversions on the wall for support and for a shorter period of time and in the last half of pregnancy, we limit the time spent on the back which can hinder the return of blood from a woman’s lower body back up to the baby. Being pregnant and becoming a mother requires strength, so prenatal classes can be strong and invigorating, provided they are balanced by restorative poses at the end of class. Classes often include poses and breathing techniques that can be helpful during childbirth as well as exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor and transverse abdominals.

What is the most common challenge women wrestle with post-delivery and how can yoga help?

Many women struggle with breastfeeding in the early days or weeks after giving birth and yoga breathing can help mothers stay calm during this challenging time. Physically, many women have weakened pelvic floor and abdominal muscles so starting with pelvic floor and transverse abdominal muscle exercises as soon as possible can help women regain their strength in these areas. Here’s a simple exercise to try: engage the Kegel muscles while drawing your navel back to the spine and hold both sets of muscles for 10 seconds, building up to 20 and then 30 seconds. Make sure you don’t hold your breath!

What is your favorite yoga pose for women in the early post-partum weeks?

Back discomfort is a common complaint from new moms. Here’s a great restorative pose to do when your baby takes a nap: Fold a blanket in half and then in half again. Roll it up tightly. Place the blanket roll on the floor and lie down length-wise, so that your buttocks, spine and head are on the blanket. Place your legs into any position that is comfortable. Close your eyes and breathe, as your back muscles melt onto either side of the rolled blanket.

What has teaching women during and after their pregnancies taught you?

I find such joy teaching pregnant women and new mothers because, although it may be a time when women feel vulnerable, it’s such an empowering season of life. I love being able to share the wisdom that I’ve learned over the years from my own experience and from the experiences of hundreds of other women I’ve had in classes. Raising kids can be exhausting, so it’s important for women (and dads!) to remember to take something back for themselves every day so that they don’t become depleted. This can be as simple moment as pausing to focus on your breath while you’re feeding the baby or dropping in to a yoga class to bond with other parents.

Images courtesy of Pure Yoga.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

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