For most of his existence, 26-year-old Malcolm Govier couldn’t find a yoga program he enjoyed. As a self-identifying Highly Inflexible Person, some of the more intense regimens on the market left him pouring with sweat and gridlocked in a borderline rigor mortis. (Have you ever committed to a strict downward dog and feared that your back may never straighten up again?) Malcolm possessed no toxic macho dismissiveness of yoga — he doesn’t think Adriene Mishler makes videos “for girls” or whatever — but there didn’t seem to be any accessible options for a rigid newbie with a masculine frame.
But that all changed one fateful afternoon, during his wife’s first pregnancy, when he caught her contorting along to some soft, pacifying prenatal yoga. Malcolm’s curiosity was piqued, so he sidled up beside her and gave it a shot. “A lot of the prenatal yoga worked for me because you can’t put too much pressure on parts of your hips or your abdomen. And the tightest part of my body is really in my hips,” he tells me. “It just worked for me.”
This quickly became a routine for Malcolm and his partner. Alongside all the other stuff that new parents do together — preparing the nursery, consuming all the swaddling literature, stocking the labor bag with supplies — they also made sure to regularly hit the mat for calisthenics and a couple of deep, centering breaths. Over time, Malcolm found himself doing prenatal yoga by himself, regardless of if his wife wanted to participate.
The instructors who teach prenatal classes tend to repeat little koans designed to strengthen the spiritual kinship a pregnant person has with their unborn child: “Hug your baby, feel your baby, radiate strength through your womb.” Malcolm, obviously, wasn’t sprouting new life in his gut; he was a man in his mid-20s simulating the unwieldy range of motion of his wife’s third trimester. The humor wasn’t lost in their household. “My wife would walk by and laugh at me, but eventually, I was able to tune out the prenatal stuff,” he says. “It became not even funny anymore, I was just doing it for real.”
The Mayo Clinic notes that prenatal yoga can improve sleep habits, reduce nausea and strengthen the muscles necessary for childbirth. That makes it a worthy alternative to, say, hot yoga, or the hellish Gumby-like anamorphosis practiced in the nether realm of YouTube workouts, as pregnant people simply shouldn’t be torturing themselves while they’re expecting. (For the record, the Mayo Clinic doesn’t recommend anyone with child to lie on their belly or to arch their back into deep, concave bending poses.)
So, it’s a little bit funny that the yoga-industrial complex dreamt up a suite of exercises designed for a highly specialized demographic — those within the nine-month pregnancy cycle — when such approachable, non-punishing calisthenics has a colossal, gender-neutral demand. If prenatal yoga was equipped with a more generic name, perhaps these dads would participate without ever suspecting that they were intruding on an exclusive ritual. To me, that’s the greatest miscalculation in the YouTube fitness hegemony — there are legions of rickety men who are entirely capable of being brought to their knees by a regimen designed for pregnant femmes.
“I remember my wife reassuring me in the workout, saying like, ‘You look great! You don’t look ridiculous!’” says Evan Porter, another dad who fell under the prenatal yoga spell and writes the parenting blog Dad Fixes Everything. “It was nice to do something like that together. That said, it was harder than I expected it to be. Prenatal yoga is seen as silly and easy, and that’s not really the case.”
Evan, unlike Malcolm, was the one who first suggested prenatal yoga to his wife. She was ensorceled by that devilish mid-period pregnancy gloom — unhappy with her headspace, the changes to her body and the exhaustion of hauling an unborn kid around everywhere. Yoga was beneficial on a purely corporeal level — it’s always nice to get a sweat in, especially when you feel like shit — but for Evan, it was also a way to express a certain solidarity with his partner.
Husbands often feel totally adrift during a pregnancy, he explains. No matter how much you aspire to be a model Good Guy, it’s impossible to fully empathize with your wife on her 12th consecutive day of feeling bloated and debilitated in the middle of an interminable trimester. Cis men unfortunately didn’t evolve a seahorse-like ability to siphon off the load, which renders us functionally useless. The best you can do, continues Evan, is to be present in any dorky way you can. For him, that meant pretending that he was pregnant too, on a yoga mat in their living room.
“You can’t help much if you’re a man. You’re not experiencing the pregnancy the same way. So the prenatal yoga was a cool bonding experience for us,” he says. “Guys can still drink. Their body isn’t changing. You can still do all the things you used to do. So you have to make an effort to be more involved. There’s not many options for that, but yoga is one of them.”
That same point is echoed by Selena Rodriguez, who is currently seven months into her first pregnancy. When her husband does prenatal yoga with her, she says, it makes her feel like they’re each doing “everything we can for our baby.” In fact, the yoga makes her feel more connected in their imminent future than any of the other preparations they’re making. It’s great fun to pick out baby clothes and mobile charms, but often, all Rodriguez wants to do is sit down with her husband, think about their daughter and breathe.
“We worked out together before I was pregnant, but the prenatal yoga feels more intimate and personal. It’s like we’re already raising our baby together. It just makes me feel more prepared and ready than any other changes we’ve made in our lives,” she says. “It’s a time to really sit and get in tune with our own bodies for the sake of our little girl.”