7 Teaching in practice: Well Woman classes

Fundamental is the welcome extended to the women in Well Woman Yoga. At Birthlight we welcome the whole woman, not just someone defined by their condition or diagnosis, as when a woman feels accepted this opens the door to change and healing.

A great wealth of experience can also be offered by combining women of different ages, at different stages in their reproductive life and tapping into the communal wisdom that can be shared during these classes. When possible to meet in circles, these private and safe spaces create a haven for healing and prevention. Enabling sessions for specific groups or individuals (for example Yoga for fertility, menopause etc) are also beneficial and will be discussed in more detail during the module-specific training.

Well Woman Yoga sessions start with opening stretches and as participants gain strength and familiarity with the sequences as they move to more energetic and fun routines. A focus on breathing is the hallmark of Well Woman Yoga in all its aspects. Relaxation is very important in all groups.

Timings Well Woman Yoga can be practiced at any time of day for a few short minutes or for a full session of an hour or more. Some postoperative women prefer a morning session as they may be tired in the evenings, others will respond to evening classes before bedtime if options are available.

The following principles apply to all Well Woman classes, and require specific qualities from the teacher.

In relation to the quality of teaching or therapeutic interventions:

•             ‘Do no harm’: if in doubt, take out a practice

•             Show respect for intimacy and privacy of women with your body language as well as your words. Avoid intrusive approaches and favour discrete and supportive ones

•             Ensure confidentiality among women’s groups

•             Consistently promote women’s confidence in their bodies’ ability to heal. Convey to women who come to you for Well Woman Yoga that you are helping them to remember what they already know deep inside themselves and to honour the value of their intuition.

‘Seeing bodies’ Learning to ‘see bodies’ is a long experiential learning. There are basic guidelines for getting started:

•            Start from physical observations, avoiding ‘staring’ at the person in front of you. Your ‘take’ must not be perceived in order not to cause discomfort to the person in front of you. (it’s the opposite of a ‘clinical gaze’ that reduces people to pathologies).

•            Structural symmetry of the body (look at hips-shoulders rectangle, weight bearing predominant on one side)

•            Grounding: is this person standing well on her feet?

•            Pelvic energy

•            Lower jaw and head bearing that reveal general attitudes to life

Use these observations to develop an overall sense of the way in which this person inhabits her body: ease or unease, tension or relaxed attitude, always drawing provisional impressions. The most difficult situations are (commonly) when women show ease that hides tension, confidence that hides doubt and even despair. We are not dealing with patients or even clients, but with persons who have come to us so that we walk a bit of their life journey with them, sharing yoga.

In relation to the contents of your teaching or therapeutic interventions

•             Intensity of movement must be closely monitored and stretching limited to avoid hyperextension, particularly when women are known to suffer from pelvic or sciatic pain

•             Exercises that put strain on the lower back should be avoided

•             Movements should be slow and steady with relaxed stretches

•             Intense stretches in the supine and prone positions are best avoided

•             In groups in which women are known to suffer from tumours and cysts, avoid deep twists

•             Pelvic floor exercises with breathing should be regularly incorporated

•             Relaxation must be included in all sessions

Medical conditions Although Yoga is now a recommended activity for women at all stages of the reproductive cycle, it is important that all women who wish to attend WellWoman Yoga classes or individual sessions should have medical permission from their doctor before attending Well Woman Yoga sessions.

All participants must complete a medical form before attending classes. Advise them to consult their medical practitioner if they have any concerns about their health Women with viral infections or those with bleeding other than normal menstruation need to receive particular individual attention in group situations. The effects of Yoga Relaxation on women suffering from mental illness need to be carefully monitored from session to session.

Taking and documenting case-histories At Birthlight we value respect and privacy of persons above all else :

•             Medical forms are kept to a minimum format (see appendix)

•             We work with what women disclose in a first short interview beyond what they have written in their medical forms

•             Case-histories are developed progressively as women disclose further information about themselves. Therefore it is not a closed preliminary procedure, but an evolving process that enriches interaction for both client and practitioner in an example of case history developing over time – we need to be attentive to keep therapeutic boundaries in order to protect both women talking to us and ourselves from overwhelming emotions, maintaining a professional therapeutic space.

Active listening  When women disclose information about their histories, the yoga therapist’s mode of receptivity comes under ‘active listening’:

 •            Neutral attitude but conveyed from the heart: non-judgemental, unconditional support is offered

•             Shutting off one’s personal issues (with the intent to address them later on if needed)

•             Reassuring the person who has opened herself to us that this is safe and fine, either verbally or non-verbally

•             Accepting lies or distortions of the truth as steps in the healing process