In todays Spotlight is Steph Wall, a lovely and talented Yoga Teacher who specialises in Pregnancy yoga and Post-Natal yoga classes in Middlesbrough. She is also a massage therapist and reflexologist working from her home treatment room in Marton.
She was interviewed about her about her experiences with Yoga and Pregnancy / Mother & Baby Yoga. Read on to find out more and the classes she runs in and around Teesside.
1. Why were you drawn to Yoga initially? What made you interested in Pregnancy Yoga and Mother and Baby yoga?
I started practicing yoga by accident really, 20 years ago I went along to a class in a tiny church in Hull with a friend and didn’t really know what to expect. I became interested in Pregnancy Yoga and Mum and Baby yoga through my own experience having a dedicated yoga practice and throughout 3 pregnancies. I am passionate about sharing with others how yoga practices, however simple or complex can really empower women throughout all stages of pregnancy, birth and post natally.
I wasn’t even sure if I liked yoga at first, I was about 40 years younger than everyone else, it felt really slow and I found it really hard to slow down and stay still! Looking back it was exactly what I needed at the time. Despite being unsure that tiny seed was planted and I went to that little Hatha class with dedication for another 8 years. At that point I was truly hooked on my yoga path. My teacher Hilda Ormrod was in her late 80s when I started and she continued to teach until she was 91! She was and still is my inspiration. Hilda was one of the first women in England to train and teach yoga through the very early days of the British Wheel of Yoga.
2. How did you start to practice? What effect did it have on your life, both mentally and physically? When did you decide to practice and teach pregnancy yoga?
I didn’t really know of many other styles of Yoga at that point as it wasn’t as mainstream back then as it is today. I learnt to love the slowness of Hatha and also it continued to challenge me. Hilda always encouraged us to delve deeper into the philosophy underpinning the asana practice. At that point I became pregnant with my first daughter. I didn’t know that “pregnancy Yoga” was a “thing”! By that point I had a good understanding of the basics and instinctively adapted my hatha practice to what felt good. I was a full time teacher so didn’t have the same level of practice that I have now but I clearly remember how yoga suddenly seemed so important and magical during my pregnancy. I had a homebirth and the pranayama techniques I was familiar of in class (especially ujaii breath) became instinctive, I felt I could trust my inner wisdom and the birth was an amazing experience. I remember the midwives actually in shock that I had given birth! I knew then that it was all to do with Yoga but it still wasn’t quite clear to me how.
3. How did your mind and body change when you started a regular practice? Was anything a quick change, did anything take a long time? (Give examples if possible) did you feel any effects from pregnancy yoga?
I think when you start a regular practice changes definitely happen but you don’t always notice them as they can be subtle. The changes in my mind and body I found from my early practice were very different depending on the style of yoga. The years of Hilda’s classes gave me a solid grounding in breathing techniques, meditation, Yoga Nidra and Yoga Philosophy. It also began my meditation practise. I found it nearly impossible to lay down for Savasana but as the months and years went on it became my favourite part of the practice. I found that I was able to navigate through the highs and lows of life in an easier way. Yoga is like a friend that is always there for me and it allowed me to connect to that inner stillness. That’s what I needed and the challenge for me to connect to that. Later after I had my first baby I felt that I was looking for strength and for something else, a more physical practice. I found an amazing teacher with Anne-Marie Mainprize in Hull and that was really transformative both physically and mentally. I found that my body became so strong. I loved the repetition of the practice and could feel physical progress (as in strength and flexibility) quite quickly. Whether it was Ashtanga or Forrest Yoga I found that I moved from one goal asana to the next whether it was a head stand, then lotus, or forearm stand. There was always and is always somewhere to progress to. The strong postures, the flexibility and smashing those inversions were all very alluring but I soon realised and began to feel that it was the practice itself – not the elusive asanas that gives the benefits. As an example it took me 2 years of a stronger practice and 8 years in total before I could do some kind of headstand. It’s that mental dedication, focus and practice itself that matters not the actual headstand.
4. When did you decide you wanted to facilitate and teach pregnancy and mother and baby yoga classes?
I qualified to teach yoga in 2015 and during that time I was about to embark on IVF. I instinctively moved away from a strong Forrest Yoga practice to much gentler and nourishing yoga to try to help my fertility. I was drawn to Uma-Dinsdmore Tuli’s work on Yoni Shakti. It’s the incredible approach to gain back the feminine power of yoga. That book really changed my practice and my life! I enrolled on her Pregnancy and Post-Natal training course in London and I’ve never looked back. The practices I learnt are not just for pregnancy but they empower women in all stages of life, helping women (and men) get back to their inner wisdom, to use that wisdom to nourish and bring back power and freedom. I really immersed myself in all the practices of this Yoni Shakti or “womb yoga” ( awakening the feminine life force “Shakti”). I started up a pregnancy yoga class and our IVF was a success and I was pregnant myself. I don’t think it’s a necessity to have experienced pregnancy to teach this form of yoga. However, personally I felt I could really relate to my students and adapt my classes through experience. When my little boy was born I felt so much more empowered and equipped with the knowledge of how to maintain a yoga practise in a safe way, I understood how to rebuild my core strength and how the body changes. I set up my first mum and baby yoga class when Dylan was 5 months old, it was a magical time as my mam brought him along to the class and we all practiced together!
5. What are the benefits, both mentally and physically, of practicing Yoga and meditation when pregnant?
Lots of my students come to pregnancy yoga without any other yoga experience. Doctors and midwives strongly recommend yoga now along with hypnobirthing techniques. There are so many reasons and benefits, the most popular reason women come to pregnancy Yoga is to be able to continue physical movement and gentle exercise knowing its safe. It can help prevent SPD (pelvic pain), It can reduce swelling, improve the lymphatic system, ease lower back ache and general pains and improve posture and strength. We also cover techniques to help with birth; such as learning how to release the pelvic floor and the chemistry of hormones. When women come to class however they find that yoga is so much more than just the physical benefits and has profound effects in unexpected ways! We practice relaxation and Yoga Nidra which is so important. It nourishes both the mum and baby in the womb, it helps balance hormones that constantly change and fluctuate. Most importantly it makes you feel good! Sound practices and mudras (hand gestures) are so magical and powerful during pregnancy. Working more on the energy body we can directly bond with the baby in the womb, a low hum is like giving our baby a little sonic massage. They love the vibrations, their heart rate lowers, stress hormone cortisol is reduced, babies also recognise these sounds after birth and feel soothed. I feel it’s important to share in my classes the scientific research that backs up all these ancient practices too.
6. How do people benefit from mother and baby yoga?
Everyone has such different experiences during pregnancy and Birth. When women come back to me for Post-Natal Yoga they share their stories. They are there to support each other to help navigate this constantly challenging but also beautiful time. I feel that’s the most important thing for the wellbeing of new mums. Whether they have had a C section, a traumatic birth or a natural birth (and all inbetween) we come together to work out what that particular group need at that time. We always work on strengthening the pelvic floor, gentle core work, easing out aches and pains in the shoulders and upper back common with nursing young babies. We learn yoga sequences and breathing techniques to nourish and gradually build up strength. I want the mums to feel looked after, cared for and safe for that small time so always have time for relaxation. The sessions are balanced so they are really beneficial for baby too! Babies love the sound practices, songs and rhymes and its lovely to see they recognize them! Mums learn postures that help babies development and also fun yoga that they can enjoy together and bond.
8. What would you recommend for people looking to practice Yoga and Meditation when pregnant & postpartum , but don’t know where to start?
For anyone interested in pregnancy yoga or even looking for a class with their baby I would always suggest asking other mams and friends. There are more and more classes out there now and it’s always good to go with a recommendation. It’s been especially hard during this last year with Covid as many classes are cancelled but on the flip side this has opened up a whole new world on online classes and groups! In some ways online classes may be more accessible for some women and you can connect with women and teachers from allover the county or even world which is pretty exciting! I recommend a teacher called Suzanne who is based in York who has put together an Online Pregnancy Yoga programme for anyone who may not be able to get to a class in person. I am affiliated with this course so feel free to contact me for more info on this. Also find her directly at www.formodernmothers.com
Vikki is amazing and an ex midwife who offers all kinds of services for fertility, pregnancy and hypnobirthing in the Stockton and Middlesbrough Area.
Janis Leach is a lovely teacher, currently teaching 1:1 zoom pregnancy yoga classes and is based in Redcar.
Most teachers offer trial classes before booking up a block of classes so its’ always worth trying a class first as its important to feel a connection with the teacher or group.
I personally love to teach face to face and I’m waiting patiently to be able to set up my groups again soon. I run a Pregnancy Yoga class on Saturday Mornings and Mum and Baby classes on Wednesday mornings.
– Thank you Steph! –
Thanks so much Steph, for taking the time to feature on our SpotLight for this week.
For more information on Steph and the services she offers, see below: