Pregnancy and birth takes a huge toll on the body, and everyone’s journey is completely different. Yoga and movement teacher Shelley McCarten explains how her interest in pregnancy health and exercise led to her becoming a yoga teacher, and helped her get her strength back after a tough labour.
F&R: Hi Shelley! Tell me about becoming a parent.
Shelley McCarten (SM): These first few years have been organised chaos. The first 12 weeks of Hazel’s life were completely different to what I expected. There was a bit of a grieving process for the life I once had, and I remember feeling guilty for thinking like that.
My labour was very long. I ended up having an emergency caesarean after planning for a natural, unmedicated labour. I felt like a bit of a failure and I had to process some of that. I mean, I’m a yoga teacher! Like, hello! Shouldn’t I have been able to birth my baby while hugging a tree?!
Four years on, I still love my time with my daughter, Hazel, but I do find it hard to stay present with two such different jobs – running my business and being a mother. It’s challenging.
F&R: What’s changed between that very vulnerable new parent stage and now?
SM: Things are always changing. You think you have one thing sorted and then something new comes up. At the beginning, Hazel didn’t sleep much and she initially was not putting on weight. Now, she’s starting to deal with social contexts; you can see her working out how to make friends, and her worry about not being accepted, things like that – which you don’t have to deal with while you’re in the phase of a boob and a baby, or a bottle and a baby!
In parenting we’re encouraged to enjoy the moment; those amazing magical times. But sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate them in the moment when you are sleep deprived or having a tough day. I find that I often look back at and enjoy those times with hindsight.
There’s actually a lot of pressure to be positive all the time in parenting. But, I believe that you don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to say “I’m finding this all out of control, I’m not doing well”. To me, feeling all the feels is an important and healthy way to live.
F&R: On your pregnancy yoga course, you congratulate people for taking time for themselves to go to class, particularly those who are already parents. How do you take time for yourself?
SM: I’m really not very good at it at all! Still trying to learn. It’s funny because the first thing to go was my yoga and movement practice. I ended up having to adapt the way I practice. In the early days when I didn’t have much time, I integrated small movements into my day, rather than setting aside half an hour or an hour in one go. Now that I have more time I can get a longer practice in, but I still do some of my movement and strengthening exercises at moments I can grab during the day, like while watching a film with my husband, for example.
Now Hazel’s in kindy, I feel like I’m coming out the other side and have more time for me. I’m finding that I can get back to past loves that made my heart soar a little more such as getting back into dancing and finding time to read fiction again!
F&R: And you’re fitting running your own business around Hazel, too. Do you feel like you have the flexibility you need because you’re your own boss?
SM: Yeah, definitely. There’s added pressures, though, as well – like motivation. When I’ve got the time, I’m keen to have some nice me-time – to have a coffee somewhere or go to a film. It’s definitely challenging to fit everything into less time. And in our society, we’re always busy busy busy and always in a rush. But my best times with Hazel are when I let go of all the things I need to do and just be in her time zone, enjoying the little moments. It’s hard to not think about the things that need to get done, but there’s a real balance and skill to just saying I can only do what I can do at this moment in time and that’s ok.
F&R: When did you start teaching yoga?
SM: I did my yoga teacher training in 2011 when I lived in London. The main reason I studied to become a yoga teacher was I was interested in health, exercise and movement during pregnancy. I was able to study with a wonderful yoga teacher in London called Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, whose speciality is in women’s health. I taught pregnancy yoga in London and in Wellington before I got pregnant.
After I gave birth I found I had to re-learn movements and update how I taught women that had core and pelvic floor issues due to pregnancy and labour. I started following women online who specialise in women’s health, like Katy Bowman, who’s all about natural movement, and Lauren Ohayon who created the Restore Your Core (RYC™) programme.
The RYC™ programme completely reframed the way I practice and teach. The method is subtle and nuanced, and the things I learnt about my body and how to engage my core correctly just really blew my mind. Lauren really broke down the whys and hows of the way we use our bodies. I decided to train to teach the method because I felt how much it helped my own body. I did the training in London last September, and I’m the first in New Zealand to teach this method.
After my daughter was born, I wanted to make sure I was teaching the postnatal stuff correctly. For example, navasana, or boat pose – where you hold your legs off the ground to make a ‘v’ shape – is a move often taught in postnatal classes. However, it might not be an optimal movement for some women, especially if they have abdominal separation (diastasis recti) or a prolapse. If you aren’t aware of things like intra-abdominal pressure or correct core engagement, you could do more harm than good. The major thing I’m doing is helping women re-learn what activating their core is actually about and finding those deep core muscles through breathing and core engagement. It’s about retraining the body to use those core muscles appropriately, and moving in a smarter way. What’s awesome about the body is it’s always on your side.
F&R: Last question: what advice would you give to new parents like me?
SM: One of the main quotes I use in my classes is ‘be courageous and be vulnerable’. There’s so much courage in saying ‘I’m not ok’ and ‘I feel vulnerable’. As a parent, you can go from moments of absolute joy to feelings of frustration or anger. It’s this massive rollercoaster. So I think it’s a really big thing to just know that it’s ok to not be ok, and to feel comfortable in voicing that to those around you.
Shelley’s teaching Restore Your Core, pregnancy courses and Yoga: Core + More classes in Wellington right now. Get more details at shelleymccarten.com