Inclusion and Justice in Pregnancy Yoga

A version of this blog post was published a few years ago (back with Yoga Quota) — it’s been on my mind recently and I’ve been wanting to return to it, update and expand it. This summer I’m moving into my fourth facilitation journey with this course, and it is a program which is feeling more urgent, powerful and important than ever.

Here are a couple of key takeaways that I’ve gathered from my time leading this course so far:

  • This course has given me a felt experience of the axiom ‘knowledge is power’ — I have seen trainees flourish, nurture and negotiate their relationships to their bodies, their students’ bodies, and beyond. Where are the spaces in our lives to dive deeply into the anatomy and experience of the pelvis, reproductive organs and cycles? Knowledge allows us to move from fear to freedom.
  • This course shifts your relationship to your practice and teaching. I’ve heard this over and over from graduates and it thrills me to my core. There is real opportunity for pregnancy yoga to be a radically feminist, anti-capitalist, non-hiearachical practice which celebrates community, collaboration, strength and softness.
There is so much work for us to do in dismantling the patriarchal, paternalistic, oppressive, racist, classist and ableist narratives that swirl and percolate around experiences of pregnancy, birth and parenthood. 

Pregnancy is a time of profound change: it can be both exciting and scary, challenging and joyful. During pregnancy, students may be feeling unsure of their changing bodies. Often, they will feel very different from one day to the next. 

Throughout this perhaps unsettled and thrilling time, Pregnancy Yoga can provide a steady practice and space for self-care and exploration that evolves with students as pregnancy progresses. Sharing practices that are empowering, grounding and gleeful with my students continues to be an amazing experience. I have simply adored creating space for my students to thrive and flourish. 

I brought this into our training: I designed our Pregnancy & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training to educate and empower our trainees. To give them the tools, principles and inspiration to share yoga that is inclusive, approachable and compelling. 

This extends beyond our trainees to our students and community. An empowered and educated person is someone who has choice, and who can begin to dismantle fear and ignorance.  

Pregnancy is an anatomical experience. And an experience that for so long has been used to marginalise, oppress and discriminate.

While equality for women has come some way, even in Western liberal democracies sexual and reproductive rights remain restricted. Education and cultural conditioning around sexual health, pregnancy and early parenthood can be disempowering, uninclusive, and in some cases, dangerous. 

Further, the narratives and representations we are largely presented with in society portray pregnancy as strictly the experience of women. This excludes the experiences of people who do not identify as women: gender-queer, non-binary and trans-people. Pregnancy is an experience of people who have uteruses. These people may identify as women, and they also may not.

I was shocked by the lack of inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in media, books and resources related to pregnancy: why were the partners always men? why were the pregnant people always women? where was the pregnancy book for people who identify as gender non-binary? or trans? or are a single parent?

This is even before we take into consideration the intersections with other factors like race, wealth, disability, health, immigration status, trauma, etc. 

McLeish and Redshaw offer a devastating selection of examples from qualitative research:

“mothers from BAME and migrant communities have reported poor communication, lack of respect for cultural needs, poor management of female genital mutilation and prejudiced staff attitudes. Young mothers have felt disempowered and misunderstood. Some mothers with learning disabilities have experienced poor communication, inaccessible information, and awareness, and discriminatory attitudes. Disadvantaged mothers and their babies are also at increased risk of poor physical and mental health outcomes, specifically if mothers are poor, migrants, from BAME communities, single, or young. (Page 2, Full Article)

Further, in the UK (compiled by Dr Anita Mitra ):

  • Black women are 5 times more like to die in pregnancy than white women
  • Black women have a higher risk of miscarriage with both spontaneous and IVF pregnancy
  • There are significantly high rates non-attendance in cervical screening for BAME communities 

It was crucial to me not craft a training that was not only trans & queer positive, but also confronted the issues of multiple disadvantage and how they effect pregnancy. This course holds space to have difficult conversations, to ask awkwards questions, seek support, and be vulnerable. 

I don’t have all the answers on how we overcome these challenges, violences and injustices. I know that I’m deeply committed to educating myself, and ensuring that my trainings meaningfully engage with these issues and ideas. I know I want to raise up the voices and work of BAME, LGBTQ+ and marginalised teachers and thinkers in this field. 

Here are the actions I’m committing to:
  • Opening scholarship applications for our Summer Online Pregnancy Yoga Training for LGBTQ+ and BAME communities. There will be 2 spots available *fully-subsidised* – stay tuned for application details and deadlines.
  • Compiling a resource list of useful books, podcasts and articles on inclusion and justice within pregnancy yoga, and sharing this with our community.
  • Updating with new research and content the social justice and cultural awareness sections of our pregnancy training

To get you started, I’d recommend reading the McLeish & Redshaw article, following @gynaegeek and @mixing.up.motherhood on Instagram, and reading these two reports on Trans Pregnancy and Making Better Births a Reality.

If you have any resources, ideas, or questions, I’d love to hear from you. 

With love, 

Harriet

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