Breathe, stay calm, don't roll your eyes

I'm sure pregnancy yoga works wonders - if you're not a cynical teacher, Jo Brighouse writes

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Last night, I went to pregnancy yoga. It's like normal yoga, only everyone looks like a whale and no one tries to stand on their head. In fact, such are the varieties of ailments between us at this late stage of pregnancy that two of the women were advised to avoid the moves and just sit on a beanbag and breathe, which made me wonder why they didn't save the pound;7 and stay at home to do their breathing in front of the television.

However, it's a nice room, they give us lots of pink cushions and time to moan about our bad backs and heartburn, and the teacher is lovely. A former classroom teacher of much younger students, she now works for herself, running classes for pregnant women and mothers and babies, all with the words "yoga" or "nurture" in the title. She tells me that she adores her job and misses nothing about school life, least of all the endless planning and marking. Occasionally, I find myself wondering if I might find a similar way out, but then I remember that she's a genuinely caring, enthusiastic baby lover, whereas I'm a cynical teacher who finds talk about nappies and sleep patterns interminably boring and who can't help sniggering when health visitors use the term "nipple avoidance".

But, for two hours, I'm happy to enter her world and attempt to be "at one with the bump", working on breathing exercises that will carry me through childbirth on a wave of calm submission to the pain and with no need at all to swear blindly at my husband, blaming him for everything from the Second World War onwards while simultaneously offering my worldly goods to anyone who will give me an epidural.

In fact, when the yoga teacher offered me a leaflet for a course entitled "Nurturing couples - how to work together for a natural birth", I even managed to take it without rolling my eyes. Reading down, I found out that the workshop would "help you and your partner discover a range of birthing and birthing support positions that will assist and calm you during childbirth". I didn't have the heart to tell her that my husband's ideal birthing support position is in the pub handing out cigars, so I promised that I would mention the course to him.

At the end of the yoga sessions comes the relaxation bit. You get to lie on the floor under a blanket, while the teacher dims the lights and reads out calming words over a soundtrack of chanting monks. It's really quite nice and lots of the women virtually fall asleep. But, because I'm a teacher, this is never going to be possible for me. I can be drifting off on a wave of calm, obediently allowing myself to feel "centred to the Earth", when I remember that I still haven't filled out the special educational needs group's timetable, which reminds me that I told Jack's mum at parents' evening that I would send home a handwriting book and I still haven't, which in turn reminds me that I confiscated Shannon's glittery gel pen last week, put it on my desk, promptly lost it, and she's been asking for it back ever since. I feel all the calming goodness of the relaxation session wash away as I drive home to complete the special needs timetable and find new worksheets for tomorrow's mathematics lessons, as today's were way too difficult.

The yoga teacher suggested that we draw up a written plan for the birth. Suggestions involving scented candles, beanbags and relaxation music were bandied about. Some of the women talked about teaching their partners different massage techniques to help them "ride the waves of pain". I don't think I'm going to bother with any of that. My birthing plan is going to include the phrase "Drugs - just say yes" and an instruction that my husband is to calmly and slowly repeat these sentences for the duration: "You don't have lesson observation tomorrow. You don't have tests to mark. You don't have any planning to do." If that doesn't work, we can always fall back on the breathing.

Jo Brighouse is a teacher at a school for children aged 4-11 in the Midlands, England.

Photo credit: Getty

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