By Katie Doolittle
During the weekly prenatal yoga class at the Yoga Loft, expectant mothers recline on their yoga mats, leaning against miniature towers of bolsters and blankets. Sunlight streams through the studio’s many windows, reflecting off the painted brick walls and laminate hardwood floors. The overall atmosphere is beautiful, serene, and positive.
Instructor Kristen Rubis conducts the lesson with genuine warmth and expertise. She greets the first-time participants and helps them set up all the materials they will need for class. She then opens the session with an opportunity for sharing, asking, “What’s something positive you’ve experienced with your pregnancy this week?” Everyone listens attentively to each woman’s story.
As the class progresses to physical exercise, Rubis demonstrates each yoga pose and explains how many of the poses can be modified to offer greater support or challenge, depending on each individual’s need. She reviews breathing patterns in a soothing tone and reminds everyone to “trust your body and your baby.” Many participants leave looking relaxed and rejuvenated. Some stay behind to receive individual assistance. Rubis stays late to show one woman specific stretches to alleviate ankle swelling, and points another towards an experienced acupuncturist who can help with her pelvic pain.
Anyone can benefit from practicing yoga. Rubis explains that yoga “creates a positive relationship with your body” and promotes “an overall sense of well-being” while helping to “calm your nervous system.” Of course, pregnancy puts specific demands or strains on a woman’s body; prenatal yoga is a healthy and proactive way to meet those demands. For instance, Rubis frequently leads expectant mothers through stretches that “help prepare the mind and body for labor and birth.”
Another benefit to taking prenatal yoga classes with Rubis: she’s got deep community roots and a wealth of knowledge concerning Olympia-area pre-natal and post-labor support. She can recommend a whole host of local resources, and even provides some of those services herself. Beyond yoga instruction, Rubis has been fully trained and credentialed in the areas of maternity massage and doula services.
Most people are familiar with massage therapy, but doula services are less well understood. A doula is a professional, experienced woman who can assist with multiple aspects of pregnancy, labor, and/or post-partum care. Services available depend upon each individual doula’s background and her current client’s specific needs.
“A doula can help support a woman through educating her, acknowledging her experience, and letting her know that she’s on track,” says Rubis. A doula, Rubis explains, “validates a mother’s experience and acts as a positive force for her. It can be very powerful having another woman experienced in the birthing process at your side.” On a practical level, birth doulas often help expectant parents create and realize their birth plans. Attending the actual labor, doulas can facilitate communication between all parties involved. Emotionally, a doula can help alleviate the negativity that sometimes overshadows a pregnancy or birthing experience. They often include a postnatal visit to meet with their clients, who may “need to talk about the birthing experience.”
After birth, some families choose to hire a postpartum doula. This is where Rubis currently focuses her doula services, and she defines the postpartum period broadly. “Some women want a doula right away. Others might not need someone until their partner goes back to work—or perhaps if they themselves go back to work.” A postpartum doula can assist with basic household tasks: grocery shopping, meal prep, or even light housecleaning. Rubis describes herself as often feeling full of energy, ready to check tasks off a new mother’s to-do list. But, she says, it’s important to remember that a woman often just needs someone to sit and listen attentively to her. A doula can help evaluate a woman’s postpartum physical, emotional, and mental health. As necessary, they can connect women with additional support services.
Many doulas, including Rubis, view pregnancy and birth as a sacred, natural experience that should be honored and celebrated rather than feared. “This is a rite of passage and a beautiful experience,” Rubis says. Her ongoing purpose is to “educate, inspire, and empower women to believe in themselves and believe in birth.”
For anyone interested in learning more about doulas, Rubis recommends meeting several in person. “Doulas are present for one of the most intimate experiences of your life. Make sure you have a heart connection,” she advises. The Birth House (located on 2120 Pacific Avenue SE in Olympia) hosts a “Meet the Doula Night” from 6:00pm-8:00pm on the first Friday of every other month. Contact The Birth House at 360.459.7222 for the next scheduled meeting or a tour.
Another local resource for pregnancy wellness—with a wealth of information regarding doulas—is Around the Circle Midwifery.
The Yoga Loft is located at 219 Legion Way SW in downtown Olympia. Their full class schedule, including meeting times for the prenatal class, can be found on their website.
For more information on Kristen Rubis, visit her website.