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Grow and Gather Meets...Nikki Hunter from Esk and Ivy

Happy New Year!

We hope you have had a wonderful Christmas and New Year, whether you are still growing your baby or have already met them. I love Christmas and thanks to my three year old, I'm nearly word perfect with his favourite festive book, The Polar Express. But the excitement and tinsel can be full on and the Christmas season is often exhausting. As we prepare to take down our trees and get back to 'normal' (whatever that means with a new baby or a growing bump) it seems like an important time to slow down. A chance once more to focus on our changing bodies. An opportunity to breathe. It might mean going for walks or a swim. Perhaps listening to hypnobirthing scripts or having a massage. Or attending a regular yoga class. And whilst I would recommend doing anything that releases oxytocin and allows you time for yourself, research would suggest that pregnancy/postpartum yoga is incredibly beneficial. A number of studies suggest it improves pregnancy symptoms, increases comfort in labour, shortens the duration of labour as well as decreasing levels of stress, anxiety and depression in pregnant and post-partum women. I also hear you can meet some pretty fun mums along the way too....

Welcome Nikki Hunter! Thank you for being part of the first post of 2022! Tell us a little more about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

Hi! I am Nikki; mummy, scientist & yogini. I also own Esk & Ivy which offers support to

parents and mums to be through yoga and mindfulness. I run Pregnancy and Mum and Baby yoga classes as well as yoga and mindfulness retreats. All our offerings focus on pairing movement with breath. I believe this is a powerful tool that can be used to support us at any time of life, but particularly when transitioning through challenging circumstances. While the breath is particularly good at helping to balance the nervous system, the movement we incorporate supports the changing body in pregnancy, as well as during the birth journey. Similarly in the postnatal period, the movement can help rebalance and strengthen the body as well ease muscles which may have tightened during pregnancy and whilst caring for a newborn.

Can you tell us a little more about your yoga journey?

I started to dabble with yoga in my mid 20s, as an avid runner I found it useful to balance

the effects running had on my body. However, I discovered its true benefits when I fell

pregnant with my daughter when I was 30. Running had always been my way to balance

stress but when I fell pregnant, due to a tough pregnancy, I had to hang up my trainers.

Yoga became a new way to find that balance. I found a release similar to running when pairing movement and breath, a moving meditation. However, it was following my daughter’s birth that yoga became my lifeline. Her birth was very challenging and unaware of it at the time, I was living with postnatal anxiety and PTSD. Mum and baby yoga and latterly Ashtanga Yoga kept me going during this tough time. The teachers who gave me a smile on a tough day, or a gentle and comforting hand, offered me a kindness which I was struggling to find for myself. I will be forever grateful for the supportive community yoga gave me then, and continues to offer me now, through my own teachers, peers and the amazing women

who now attend Esk and Ivy classes. I feel very blessed to have that in my life as I

continue my journey in motherhood and yoga now at the ripe old age of 38.

Did you always want to be a pregnancy and postnatal yoga instructor?

No! I was an Immunologist for over 15 years, managing labs and working in clinical trials.

Yoga and mindfulness were tools I used to manage work and family life while working in a

demanding industry. Originally, I had planned to teach a range of yoga classes and perhaps not be so specialised but the more I taught pregnancy and postnatal yoga and the more I saw the benefits that others were getting, it became obvious to me that this was where I was

supposed to be, helping mums prepare for birth and offering that supportive word or kind

smile to new mums. I feel so honoured to be a small part of these incredible women’s journeys; sharing in their pregnancy stories and watching their confidence grow as a mother. In many ways teaching pregnancy and postnatal yoga has been a healing process for me too. It has helped me come to terms with my daughter’s birth. I see now that I didn’t choose her birth, it chose us, maybe so that I could go on to do what I do now.

That sounds like such a powerful journey. So what are the benefits of yoga for pregnant and postnatal women?

Ah I could write a book on this! To me, yoga in pregnancy helps to teach us to become

more present in the moment. This is a huge focus in my classes. So that when the time

comes, when baby is ready to make their entrance into the world, this way of being can

help to keep us calm(er) in labour. Placing the minds attention on the breath and movement of the body can help slow down or interject thought cycles, being with each contraction as it occurs, rather than worrying about the ones that came before or the ones that are yet to come, as we have no way of predicting how many more will follow. Practicing yoga throughout our pregnancy, particularly in the later stages, can help reduce stress hormone production, which can help promote oxytocin production in the lead up to birth. I think postnatally, community is the biggest benefit of a mum and baby yoga class. Being

with other mums going through a similar experience to you, knowing you are not alone.

Again, in these classes we use the breath to help ground us, letting go of anything that

isn’t serving us. We also use the breath in the rehabilitation of the core muscles too, the

breath really is that magical! Postnatal yoga, in my opinion, is one of the most effective

ways of rebuilding the body from the inside out.

However, my biggest passion is promoting the fact that all births are valid, and that for

most of us, our birth journey chooses us. I am a big advocate of this. I felt so much guilt

for birthing my baby abdominally. I carried it for years. No woman should have to bear that guilt. There can be a stigma that yoga is only for mums who birth or parent a particular way but that is not true. Yoga is for everyone, from every background, from all experiences. In our classes whatever your birth preferences are, however your birth journey mapped out, however you choose to parent your baby, you are welcome.

That is so very true! And yoga can be beneficial for all expectant mums and new parents. Regardless of what road you have taken. Do you think being a mum has shaped your practice?

Being a mum has changed my practice physically as I can’t do some of the things with my

body I used to be able to do but I am learning to be OK with that. I think that being a

mum has allowed me to be more patient in my practice, that things don’t just come over

night and that it takes time. I also believe that yoga and mindfulness have shaped how I am as a mum. It has taught me techniques to help bring us down from multiple tantrums, by simply returning to our breath. It has also taught me to be more patient, kind, open, accepting, non-judgemental and curious, all great skills to develop as a parent!

When would you recommend women start doing yoga when they are pregnant? And

when can women start practicing yoga postnatally?

This is really up to her and how she feels. If you already have a yoga practice there is no

harm in keeping that going in the first trimester, though you may want to slow down a bit. For those who are new to yoga or haven’t done it for a while, pregnancy is the perfect time to start or come back to it. My recommendation would be to wait until you have had your first scan before joining a class. Once you attend class, you are welcome to stay right up to your due date, most ladies do. I practiced until I was 41 weeks pregnant, and only

stopped as I couldn’t put shoes on anymore (K was born at 42 weeks).Postnatally, again see how you feel. Once you have had your postnatal check by the GP you can attend class although I would recommend waiting until 8 weeks if you lost a significant amount of blood or you required a few stitches. If your baby was born abdominally I’d give yourself at least 10-12 weeks. Reach out to your friendly yoga teacher they’d be happy to chat through any concerns with you.

Tell us a little more about your classes! Where are they and how can women contact you

for more information?

Yes! Come along, we would love to see you. All our classes prioritise community. They

are friendly, warm, welcoming and suitable for all levels! We have a catch up each

week in class to share our big milestones or have a general moan and you can share as

much or as little as you would like. All our classes have a class WhatsApp group which

you can choose to opt in to. Each class includes breathing exercises, supportive and

soothing movement (for baby too in our parent and baby classes), a relaxation (yes in baby

classes too!) and lots of giggles (generally based around the fact I do not know my left

from my right).

Currently we run weekly Pregnancy, Mum and Baby and Parent and Movers (for bigger

babies) classes in Leith and Dalkeith. Our yoga and mindfulness day retreats run once a

quarter either in Balerno or Leith, you can find out more on our website.

If you would like to drop me a message on Instagram or Facebook, I’d love to hear from

you (@eskandivy) or you can find out more about when our classes, retreats and

workshops are on at I would love to welcome you to the

mat soon.

Thank you so much Nikki! Your classes are indeed warm and welcoming and I loved attending them when I was pregnant with Noah. They gave me time for myself each week to relax and breathe as well as being non-judgmental and great fun. I would highly recommend Nikki's classes to anyone expecting a baby or for new parents. It also helps that Nikki is so friendly and kind - if you have any concerns or questions give her a shout!

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