Counting down to your yoga training – then you find out that you’re pregnant.

All of that yoga practice truly pays off when you find yourself contorting to pee on a stick with minimum spillage.

Then all you can do is breathe in, breathe out, and wait the two interminable minutes to learn if you’re about to begin Seventh Series.

Pregnant yogi Annie Seymour Mahalaya Nepal (2).JPG

Finding out you’re pregnant can be a moment of exquisite joy. But for many, even if we planned it, the reality is a whole lot more real than we’d anticipated…

We’re sometimes asked for advice by students booked on yoga teacher training courses (TTCs) who subsequently become pregnant. How many find themselves in this boat, I wondered? Maybe just enough to share some thoughts for anyone feeling anxious right now…

Both Annie (me) and Lizzie have assisted TTCs while pregnant (at 2,3, 6 and 7 months). Let us share what we’ve learned.

First of all: congratulations!!

Pregnancy is an extraordinary journey that shifts something deeply inside us. But if it comes at a challenging time, then know that you are not alone: no-one ever has nine months just to be pregnant so we all find ourselves in a dilemma of some sort. 

As for whether it'll be good to do a TTC while pregnant, let’s take a look at some things to consider.

Pregnant yoga teacher Annie Seymour Mahalaya Nepal.jpg

1. Discuss it honestly with your doctor and the teacher.

The advisability of attending the TTC will very much depend on how your pregnancy progresses, your foundation of physical practice, and your state of mind: are you in a strong, contented place overall to manage the emotional upheaval of a TTC on top of the upheaval of pregnancy?

You are best placed to judge this, but your doctor will advise you based on experience of supporting many pregnancies, and the teacher will advise based on the specific course (and they need to know. Sharing your news and concerns will not affect your eligibility to participate on any quality course).

2. The changes ahead may outpace your speed of adapting: be guided by your trimester.

For me, participating in a TTC while six months pregnant was a beautiful experience. I had not expected that to be the case.

First trimester can be grisly however. In mine I could barely practice for two months and never thought I would be "me" again. It is the riskiest phase of your pregnancy, and for many women is exhausting and frankly a bit miserable. If your TTC falls in your first trimester, postpone it if at all possible.

Second Trimester is the golden phase. You will be more tired and uncomfortable than many of the other students, but no longer is your baby simply taking your energy: she is also hers sharing with you. I hadn’t thought of this before, and cherished radiating with our “double energy”, feeling gloriously abundant.

I began to really bond with my bump. In the morning chants I'd sing to her. The meditations were a time to return to my instincts and deeper truths. The asana helped me to connect positively with my changing body and kept away the pregnancy pains. Over brunch I'd sit in the sunshine and journal the journey. And the strong community around me made me feel protected and spiritually tribal.

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Early third trimester can be similar. Participating in a TTC module in my pregnancy weeks 29-30 was a sanctuary and joy. We host our TTCs in a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayan foothills, and retreating there for practice, teaching and supporting the students was profoundly calming and nourishing. This was such a gift at a time of so much change in my life.  

If your TTC falls in late third however, discuss cancellation with your teacher. It is time to be close to where you want to deliver, and to be ready for any early namastes with your baby.

Even for nomadic mommas like me who are comfortable to take things to the last minute, the annoying truth is that by late pregnancy your brain has restructured (the infamous “preg-head”), causing lapses in attention and memory and significant – though not permanent – declines in cognitive skill. Apart from how tired you will be, and how uncomfortable and risky it can be to do several hours of strong asana each day, this is not a good time for an intensive study of anatomy, philosophy and Sanskrit. If your TTC is more of meditative and self-reflective however, such as a Kundalini Level 2 course, it can be an extraordinary tool to support the changes you’re experiencing.

Note: Flying long haul to get to your course should be fine if you take the right precautions (compression socks, aisle seat, plenty of water) and your doctor has approved it. Just check your dates for your return flight: many airlines won't let you fly beyond 28 weeks for long haul.

3. Learn about what is and isn't safe as a pregnant practitioner.

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Go well informed so you can intelligently modify your practices. Practice with awareness and without ego, and your body will guide you: there will come a time when you know you can't be on your belly any longer, savasana on your back will stop feeling good, twisting will cease to be an option as you grow, you'll be too breathless for khumbakas, etc. Take notes of what you experience – your pregnancy will teach you to become a better teacher.

If you have any complications in your pregnancy or fall into a “risk” group, discuss doing any asana at all with your doctor.

4. Maintain your practice as best you can before the course.

Lizzie Hacker pregnancy yoga Mahalaya Nepal.jpeg

This is good advice anyway for your pregnancy, but you need your stamina and strength so you can get enough out of the practices to learn to teach: your prime role at the TTC.

The days are long, packed from dawn until night, and you need to be able to stay present. This won’t be easy as you become more tired, uncomfortable and less mobile as your bump grows, so maintain the foundation beforehand.

5. Take care of the practicalities.

Make sure you have clothes that will fit as you grow throughout the month.

Check beforehand to be sure the kitchen makes every meal balanced and nourishing. Bring your prenatal vitamins, including extra calcium, plus nuts for pre-practice protein, prunes to keep you regular, and any treats you might crave. If meals are served as a buffet, pace yourself so you don't get heartburn.

Ask the yoga centre where the nearest good clinic is. With us, it is an hour away, so you need your doctor's approval that you are not a high-risk pregnancy.

Go to bed early –  you need more rest to help your baby thrive, even if you want to stay up and be part of the evening community discussions. Discover the joy of being in sync with your circadian rhythms.

6. Know that you'll have a harder physical/emotional time than most students

Be ready to accept this and to adapt your practice with humility and responsibility.

I missed my partner more than I ever have for example, and he missed me – us. Discuss coping strategies together in advance.

7. All pregnancies require a bit of life-reorganisation, so you’re not alone.

Your options and the people they affect are often more flexible than you’d thought. It can sometimes feel like life has shrunk in terms of your choices, your finances, your freedoms. But the growth, empowerment, opportunities and self-discovery that you'll experience on the journey is unparalleled – your world is about to expand in a way that redefines your experience of this life.

8. Most of all, know that having a pregnant lady on the TTC is a privilege for us all.

Your presence contributes a great deal - bringing out the best in the student community as a loving, supportive group, and giving other students a chance to learn about modifications. And you give strength and confidence to others, "demystifying" teaching pregnant students which can be a fear for a lot of new teachers.


Have YOU experienced yoga training while pregnant?

Share your experiences with us so we can update this as a resource for nervous new mums!

And for our pregnant students: if you get the all-clear from yourself, your doctor, the teacher and your family, then consider yourself a very welcome member of a TTC community!

Annie and Lizzie will next offer their 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training course in Nepal in September 2019. Enquire now for availability.

Where to buy specialist ingredients in Kathmandu?

When we ran our Nourish & Flourish retreat, I had one rule for our chef Nic: the participants must be able to replicate the demonstrated dishes here in Kathmandu.

Not easy, when we don’t have ovens. Or electricity for large parts of the day. Or when the queue for cooking gas is nine days long.  Or when the border is embargoed, minimising import of ingredients. Or where the local meal of dal bhat is Champion (fairly sensibly too, from a nutrition perspective) and diverse tastes are still pretty niche so there is low demand for specialist ingredients. Or when the quality of the ingredients can be so dubious that even the milk packaging tells you to boil before consumption to reduce the nasties that the manufacturing leaves in. Oof…

But we did it! And when we did, the participants asked us where they could get all these goodies. So here it is. Where else do you know? What else are you looking for? Tell us and we’ll keep this list growing!

Almond flour – blitz a bag of almonds in a decent blender. Voilà: almond flour! That’s literally all it is.

Apple Cider Vinegar – for good, genuine, no-additive stuff: the Farmers’ Mart in Jamsikhel on the chowk near Soma Café. It’s not always there, but leave your name and number to let them know you’re looking.

Avocadoes – when in season, widely available. When out of season, you may be able to find them at farmers markets, the Farmers’ Mart or the greengrocers at the back of the Pulchowk Saleways. Too hard to eat? Put in a brown paper bag or wrap in newspaper – this is essential. Then leave in the sun. Depending on the fruit, this needs to be for about five days, so plan ahead…

Chickpea flour – widely available, but it turned out that many folks (including us, until we had to figure it out…) don’t know that it is most commonly called Besan flour. Look out also for the names Gram flour, or occasionally channa flour. Great gluten-free power-flour, pale yellow in colour.

Coconut milk – For the fresh stuff, with no additives, that tastes amazing? A fabulous lady called Raissa makes this, along with almond milk, and if she can will deliver it to a place near you. Let me know if you’d like her number. She sells at La Sherpa farmers’ market.

Coconut oil – the Sri Aurobindo Ashram makes this and sells it at farmers’ markets in the city. We found it at La Sherpa farmers’ market.

Dates – bags of Saudi dates used to be widely available. With the current border embargo though, these are at the back of the queue of essential imports. We tried to rehydrate the dried ones but they looked like a cocktail sausage and tasted like something bad had happened. But then we found a surprise stash of the good ones at the greengrocer at the back of Saleways in Pulchowk. Hurrah!!

Flax seeds (linseed) – look for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram stall at farmers’ markets (we found them at La Sherpa farmers’ market). Also often available at the Farmers’ Mart in Jhamsikhel, on the chowk near Soma Café.

Kale – Not always available, but if you’re determined to find it then your chances will go up at the farmers’ markets (La Sherpa certainly had it last time we were there) and the Farmers’ Mart in Jhamsikhel.

Maple syrup substitute – I know our Canadian friends will deny that anything is a substitute, but for those of us with standards low enough to accept an alternative, then use the Chiuri honey: those cute glass pots with the red top. Use this instead of the scary “Maple Syrup Flavour” sauce from the supermarkets. The honey can be found at the farmers’ markets, but I also see it in the Farmers’ Mart and Wisdom Books, both in Jhamsikhel.

Miso – behind the Saleways in Maharajganj opposite the US Embassy is a Japanese mini-mart that sells all kinds of Japanese goodies, including Miso. Also the grocery store by the ATMs on Restaurant Road in Jhamsikhel: a goldmine for this and all sorts of imported goodies.

Pumpkin seeds – I’ve only ever found them at the Farmers’ Mart in Jhamsikhel.

Quinoa – local quinoa (the only kind you can ethically eat): the Farmers’ Mart in Jhamsikhel. It’s not always there, but leave your name and number to let them know you’re looking.

Rice paper – for summer rolls: Bhatbhateni (in the Patan store, they’re in the cake-baking section. Obviously).

Spirulina – cultivated by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, who have stalls at the farmers’ markets (we found them atLa Sherpa).

Sweet potato – out of season it’s really hard to find, but we found some beauties at the small greengrocers attached to Saleways (carpark side) on Pulchowk. This store is also where we found dates, celery (broaden your ideas of what celery is though…), rocket, chard.

Sushi ingredients – behind the Saleways in Maharajganj opposite the US Embassy is a Japanese mini-martthat sells all kinds of Japanese goodies.

Tahini – available at OR2K in Thamel. Also at La Sherpa farmers’ market. Or make your own: blitz a cup or so of sesame seeds in a food processor (it’s nice to toast them first, but not essential), add a glug of oil once they’re crumbly, blitz again, bit more oil if needed – repeat until you have tahini.

Unsweetened cocoa powder – Saleways in Maharajganj opposite the US Embassy. We found it on an end-aisle near the back of the store, in a range of different richness of cocoa.

And here’s the list in PDF in to print out to keep with your recipe books: Where to buy specialist ingredients in Kathmandu

Things we’re still looking for

Do you know anyone selling:

  • Psyllium husks
  • Chia seeds
  • Sunflower seeds. I found them once in Bhatbhateni but they tasted dusty and slightly sinister. Have you found any good ones?

What your teacher is REALLY thinking at the end of class

Published in elephant journal, 31 July 2105

I left work on a stormy Tuesday night last week, going home in tears.

It happened quite a lot in my previous career—the pressure and politics and disappointment became too much and I’d collapse tearfully into an after-work yoga class and hope for answers.

Sometimes I’d notice my teacher looking at me with an unreadable expression and didn’t quite know what that look meant.

Now I do.

Last Tuesday however there was no salvation in the studio, no funny look from the teacher. Because now the studio is my workplace and I’m the teacher. Salvation was not required.

I was weepy because as I closed up after class, I found a simple anonymous note on reception thanking me for the teaching. Normally I’m more collected (I’m British after all) but this came at the end of a tough day and made my heart open up like a sunflower. I am still trying to get used to living a life where so much kindness is present. So much goodness, love and thoughtfulness.

Sometimes you tell me at the end of class how much you needed it.

How much better you feel.

The true response would be to throw my arms around you and tell you how much I needed it too—how much better you’ve made me feel. Not just that evening but by collectively and cumulatively and constantly helping me become a better version of myself through this shared experience.

But we live in polite society, so I smile and say I’m glad. But you deserve more.

You deserve to know that teaching is not our gift to you. It is your gift to us.

When I thank you at the end of class, you think it’s just the natural way to close the session, some words I spill out as part of the routine.

But when I say thank you, what I truly am saying is this:

You are such an important part of the journey I too am going through. For helping me to recognise more clearly who I want to be and what I need to work on to get there. For feeling like a family to me.

I want to tell you that I love it when you come into the studio. Out of all the things you could do with your sparse free time, I deeply respect you for using it in this practice to become a kinder and nicer person for others. Because the world needs more people like you.

Sometimes you come in and apologise that you’re feeling stiff or tired—an apology! As though I would feel anything but an extraordinary privilege that you came. Maybe you will gain more range of motion and feel more free and light in yourself. Maybe you won’t, but you’ll start to recognise the loveliness of who you are and never again introduce yourself with an apology.

Either way, I am thrilled you had the courage to come. Thank you for trusting me and seeing what we can do together.

Sometimes when I adjust you I can feel how much stress you are holding and it aches my heart. I try to match your breath, convey to you that you are in a space where you are safe and not alone and hope that a little bit of that tension softens. But it’s not one-way. When you trust me to be part of your personal space, you let me grow from that connection too. Touch is one of the most compassionate and comforting forms of communication. It is no wonder that yoga teachers are often so happy.

You give us far more than you realise.

Sometimes, over regular sessions, I see a transition in you as you begin to shed the physical aims of the practice and open up to what more it can be. I notice a mindfulness settle in, an acceptance of yourself—a meditative calm as you begin to connect with who you really are. To be in your presence in those moments is a profound inspiration and some of the ways my own path has developed has been influenced by seeing you on yours.

Finally, sometimes I realise I am looking at you the way my teacher used to look at me.

What does it mean, that look? It isn’t pity when you are down, because I know that what you are going through will pass. Although I am sorry you are experiencing it today. It isn’t judgement of what you think are your weaknesses, because it is your strength and goodness and your wholeness in all its human complexity that shines through.

It isn’t sympathy, because you are in a better place than you think—you know what you need to do to heal and grow and you are doing it. It may take time and there may be rocks on the path, but you are doing what you need to do. That look is so difficult to define because it combines many things: pride, gratitude, admiration and a sense of protection but with a trust in you to flourish. A joy in sharing this practice with you and inspiration in what you are teaching to me. It is recognition of what we have in common and a celebration of the diversity we bring.

So when I thank you, I am not just closing the class. I am thanking you for bringing these gifts, this form of love, into my life.