Yoga can be intimidating - especially on social media with picture perfect complex headstands (extra likes if it’s on a beach) popping up on our Instagram feeds. At its essence, however, yoga isn’t meant to be complicated. And you don’t need to perfect a single arm handstand to enjoy its many benefits.

Yoga can benefit anyone -- which explains its modern resurgence. It also explains the evolution of more specific forms of yoga -- such as prenatal yoga, which research shows has benefits for both the mother and child.

We chat with Jayati Sehgal, yoga practitioner and founder of pre and postnatal wellness centre Zaazen, about the benefits of prenatal yoga and also her own practice.

Tell us about Zaazen Wellness. What inspired you to set up a wellness pre and post natal yoga centre, what are some of the services / classes you offer, and what's next?

Having grown up in a mother and child hospital started by my parents (Phoenix Hospital), I was constantly surrounded by, and interacting with pregnant women and new mothers. The idea of setting up something that could enable an energetic and stress free pregnancy was the major driving force behind Zaazen. I did a considerable amount of research to see what wellness and information driven services are available to women in Delhi and found that there is no one space that can provide emotional, mental, and physical support to expecting women – this is in essence, what we have tried to do.

A lot of young women nowadays are opting for C-Sections because they think it is the easier and less painful option. This is completely untrue, and unfortunately a lot of doctors will allow their clients to undergo a C-Section even if it is not required. At Zaazen we are completely in favour of natural birth, and all our classes are geared towards helping mums understand why it is important and also preparing their bodies to be able to give birth naturally. A C-Section should only be carried out in a situation where surgical intervention is absolutely necessary and should not be a pre-planned route by either the client or the doctor.

All women deserve to have access to information and services that will equip them to experience a happy and well informed pregnancy. We see ourselves as a resource center for wellness activities and information, presented in a creative and unique way.

We offer pre and post-natal yoga (taught by me), pre and post-natal fitness, baby care classes, childbirth preparation for couples, guided mediation for expecting mums, nutritional counselling, and we also have a spa where we offer a number of massages and therapies for both expecting and new moms.

We are adding on new services and classes almost every month – we have recently introduced a wellness program for women that looks at wellness from a holistic perspective - tailor making programs for our clients that look at diet, exercise, emotional and mental well-being. We have also recently taken Zaazen online! – in order to increase access and spread our message to a wider audience we have started offering classes online to people that live in other cities, or because of a rigorous work schedule find it difficult to attend classes at our studio.

How long have you been practicing yoga? Tell us about your own practice - how did you discover yoga, what led you to become a prenatal yoga instructor?

Yoga has been part of my routine for a number of years – as a dancer in school and college, it was an essential part of our warm ups and exercises. Post that I started pursuing yoga as a way to stay fit as well as combat issues that I faced like acute lower back pain (as a result of having a desk job after college). I started pursuing yoga very seriously in 2015 when I decided to do a yoga teacher training course and then went on to specialize in prenatal yoga.

After I started Zaazen, I began to see how yoga can quite literally change people’s lives and how much of a positive impact it can have both physically and mentally. I I decided to broaden my knowledge and understanding of this amazing philosophy and practice it by doing a teacher training course – and the rest was just a natural progression ?

What inspires you?

I am amazed and inspired every day by the expecting mothers that come for my prenatal classes. Most of these women work 5 days a week and have long hours at work. Pregnancy leads to a number of physical and emotional changes in the body and at times can be greatly challenging – seeing these women day after day, balancing their work and home schedules and still taking time out for class 4/5 times a week is absolutely amazing. Their dedication and determination for having the best possible birthing experience for themselves and their babies is wonderful and inspiring.

(Moms to be at Zaazen)

What are some of the key benefits of prenatal yoga for the mother and her baby?

A carefully planned and executed exercise routine is essential during pregnancy (provided that your doctor feels you are strong and well enough to exercise). The right kind of exercises will ensure that you stay fit, and above all - strengthen a range of muscle groups, such as the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, that play a big role during labour and birth. Prenatal yoga has number of benefits for both the mother and baby. First and foremost – prenatal yoga greatly increases the expecting mother’s chances of a natural birth. Post-delivery recovery with a natural birth is very quick and the new mother can be back up on her feet almost immediately (recovery post C-Sec is a much longer process and the body takes much longer to heal since it has gone through extensive surgery). Other benefits of prenatal yoga are improved sleep and less fatigue, release of endorphins which helps against stress and anxiety, increase in strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth, developing breathing patterns and techniques that help immensely at the time of labour. Prenatal yoga is extremely important – especially now, because most people have very sedentary lives, and as a result their bodies become stiff and rigid – with prenatal yoga we try to bring about flexibility and strength in the body which is important for a normal delivery (and recovery post delivery).

Prenatal yoga looks at both physical as well as mental fitness. Physical factors include - optimising weight gain, stamina, strength, flexibility (all of which depend on consistent and appropriate exercise as well as a good diet. Attention to diet and exercise will ensure that all the parameters required for a normal delivery are maintained such as good haemoglobin, blood sugar levels, liver and kidney functions, and blood pressure.

Mental fitness comes from having a positive attitude, calming the mind by doing breathing exercises, guided meditation, and having confidence in one’s own body and instincts. All pregnant mums should understand that pregnancy is not an illness that needs to be treated, but a natural state of being that should be embraced and celebrated.

How does prenatal yoga differ from regular yoga? Are there certain restrictions for pregnant mothers wrt yoga, any poses they should avoid for instance?

A lot of the yoga poses seen in traditional hatha yoga practice make up what we teach in a prenatal class. However certain asanas and postures are modified to make them suitable and comfortable for a pregnant woman’s body. Prenatal yoga must only be practiced under the supervision of a certified prenatal instructor so that he or she is able to guide you appropriately through the course of your pregnancy. Any injuries at this time could be extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

Prenatal yoga varies with each trimester. Certain exercises may be there from start to finish, but a lot of exercises are modified as your body and its requirements keep changing through the course of your pregnancy.

Inversions such as headstands, handstands should be avoided during pregnancy (unless you have been practicing these very regularly even prior to pregnancy) as during pregnancy your center of gravity changes which could lead to issues with steadiness and balance in these poses.

Prenatal yoga has shown some incredible results. The main idea behind prenatal yoga is to strengthen and develop the body to give birth naturally and to enable every expectant mother to experience a healthy, happy, and energetic pregnancy. We look at preparing both the body and mind for pregnancy and childbirth. Labour positions and breath-work are also taught.

(A class in session at Zaazen)

What if a mommy-to-be's never tried yoga before? When is the best time to start prenatal yoga?

You can start prenatal yoga as soon as you conceive! However, most people choose to wait 12 weeks before they start as one needs to be very careful in the first 3 months. Although as long as you are doing the right exercises suited to that time – it is perfectly safe and even recommended to start ASAP (provided your doctor has given you the go ahead).

It doesn’t matter if you have never done yoga before, for first time practitioners we start at a very basic level and then gradually build up as your strength and stamina increases. We have seen that many women who have never done yoga before, and only started during pregnancy, have gone on to practice it even after pregnancy and make it a part of their routine!

What's your favourite yoga pose?

This keep changing depending on what I am feeling motivated or inspired by! Presently I am finding Prasarita Paddotasana to be something that is really helping me relax and enjoy my practice

What's the most rewarding part of being a prenatal yoga teacher / running a prenatal yoga and wellness studio?

Being able to be a part of so many amazing birthing journeys, and being able to provide them with the physical and emotional support they need to have the birthing experience that they truly want for themselves and their babies.

You can find Zaazen at:

Phoenix Hospital, E60-62, Hans Raj Gupta Marg, Block E, Greater Kailash I, New Delhi M: 098110 24233