Rachael Coopes is an actor, former star of McLeod’s Daughters, a presenter on Play School and a well-schooled yogini. Th young mum reveals to The Carousel the how prenatal yoga helped her and changed her approach to motherhood
Did you practice yoga prior to becoming pregnant?
I had a very dedicated yoga practice before I was pregnant. I would practice yoga and
meditation two hours a day, pretty much every day. Of course one of the jobs of our kids is to humble us and teach us the true meaning of so many things- in this case for me he taught me what the real yoga was. Which had nothing to do with whether I could do headstand for five minutes or not.
Do you believe yoga played a part in helping you to conceive?
I believe I was extremely healthy at the time, and very in touch with the rhythms of my body. So it certainly would have helped my chances at a physical and energetic level, yes.
How frequently did you practice during your pregnancy?
The first trimester I was so unwell, my practice was very inconsistent. There were weeks I hardly got to the mat at all. From the second trimester on, I was back to my almost daily practice.
Were there any contraindications to pregnancy and yoga?
There are many contraindications. Yoga is so incredibly powerful at preparing women for the mammoth transitions they move through in pregnancy, labour, birth and most importantly, beyond. But the body is changing rapidly, and so too must the practice. Your health practitioner needs to “ok” you for the specific style of yoga you wish to practice. A heated or strong vinyasa class will not be appropriate for some women, especially if they haven’t practiced yoga before.
SO many women discover yoga through pregnancy and it becomes a love affair for life. But those students need a specific prenatal class, or at the minimum a teacher who understands all the contraindications and modifications you can take. I honestly believe every pregnant woman can benefit from yoga, but as every pregnancy and woman is different, not everyone can do every pose and every style of yoga.
For example, pregnant women who have been given bed rest can still practice – but the focus would be on some of the meditation and breath practices. Where there favourite postures that eased any aches and pains associated with pregnancy and if so, which ones were there?
What Were Your favourite postures that eased any aches and pains associated with pregnancy?
Cat/cow stretch always felt amazing right through- getting into the spine and the
shoulders. I love some of the stronger poses too, like uttkatasana (chair pose) against the wall, which strengthen the legs and mind, and teach using the breath.
Do you believe your yoga practice helped make labour more endurable and easier?
Without a doubt. There is no way the experience would have been the same without my body being stronger in areas I knew I’d need it and focused on, my mind being given tools to deal with intense sensations, and most importantly the gift of breath. I had so many tools I’d practiced for years and they were in my body. In addition, the ability to be a warrior and surrender at the same time, which the mat has taught so well, was my greatest asset.
Do you believe it also helped make your baby’s entry to the world calmer and more peaceful?
I think it made the whole process more easeful for everyone involved. Including my son.
Do you believe that it helped you regain fitness and strength post baby?
I ended up having an emergency Caesar so I was so grateful to my practice for giving me strong legs and arms, so the recovery (although very hard with a newborn at home), was reasonably fast and my lower back didn’t suffer. I went super slow in the rebuild of the body, (which is crucial, slow slow slow), but being able to move in a nourishing way in the comfort of my own home and just breathe once I was more mobile definitely sped up my recovery.
Some of the postnatal practices that aren’t physical were actually my lifeline in those early days. Yoga nidra, a guided meditation, is a half hour practice that gives you the same experience as two hours of
sleep. You feel calm and nourished after. It was the only way I ever got rest as my son had reflux, so didn’t sleep for the first eighteen months of his life. I don’t know if I would have survived the postnatal haze without Yoga Nidra.
Why would you recommend yoga to all mums to be, women trying to conceive and mums who have had their babies but are looking to her back into shape?
At a physical level, yoga practices are very powerful at preparing and balancing the body. The body changes so rapidly in pregnancy and birth, and in postnatal we then have to do all these weird movements, picking up the baby, feeding, changing, and so on. Yoga is the best way to counter and support all of those physical changes. I honestly believe the yoga begins when we are pregnant.
The tools I had practiced so diligently so diligently for decades only made sense once I found
myself on the battlefield of parenthood. For me, yoga arms us with everything we need
physically, emotionally and mentally to thrive on the battlefield instead of just surviving. We needto be physically and mentally stronger than we ever imagined, and at the same time- surrender. That is the great parenthood dance that yoga helps us master.
About Rachael Coopes
Rachael Coopes is the head facilitator of the Pre & Post Natal Yoga Teacher Training at Body, Mind, Life in Sydney. Our 50hr course takes a deep dive into the art of Pre-Natal Yoga to get you started on your Pre-Natal Yoga teaching journey, or take you deeper into your own practice.