In a whirlwind of do's and don'ts for pregnant women, the anxiety surrounding pregnancy and birth combined can become overwhelming for many.

That's why certified yoga teacher Tami Galbreath aims to provide a space of calm for pregnant mothers in her prenatal yoga class at Align Yoga Studio in Kankakee, the only yoga studio locally that offers a prenatal class.

A yoga practicer for 10 years and teacher for a year and a half, Galbreath's interest in helping mothers began about a year ago. One of Galbreath's close friends suffered anxiety during her pregnancy surrounding the upcoming birth of her fourth child.

"Her anxiety level was incredible, so she asked me if I would be in the room with her when she gave birth," Galbreath said.

Acting as an uncertified doula of sorts, Galbreath supported her friend in delivery and kept her calm and focused using meditation techniques she had learned through yoga.

"It was truly the greatest experience of my entire life, other than giving birth to my own child and my marriage," she said. "I thought, there's got to be other women like her that just need to chill and relax, and that's how my interest in [prenatal yoga] started."

Shortly after, Galbreath attended training for teaching prenatal yoga, where she learned the ideal poses and techniques for the different trimesters of pregnancy, prenatal yoga do's and don'ts and the importance yoga can have in a healthy pregnancy.

"[Yoga] is a form of exercise," Galbreath said, "and in these classes, we can work on poses that can help you build strength in your hips, which obviously, you're going to need when you're pushing baby out."

The class also aims to build strength in the arms and legs, and incorporates Pilates and Kegel exercises into the workout, as well. Class sizes are about 10, so Galbreath can give full attention to the students.

"I did yoga before I was pregnant and had to stop because a lot of instructors weren't comfortable with it," said Heidi Ehrhardt, of Kankakee, one of the students in the class. "My favorite part of the class is the modifications [Galbreath] has done to the poses. It's just the right amount of stretching and it doesn't overwhelm you."

Lori Blum, of Elwood, began the prenatal yoga classes with her second pregnancy. "I didn't use prenatal yoga for my first baby, but really wish I had," she said. "Pregnancy can be really stressful.

"It's mostly the idea of trying to stay grounded," Blum added. "You can get carried away with anxiety [during labor], and it helps you to be mindful instead of getting overwhelmed. I didn't let the anxiety take over this time."

'MY BABY IS HAPPY AND HEALTHY'

Physical strength is just one aspect of prenatal yoga, though. "After or before [birth], it's nice to be able to go to a safe space in your head, with meditation," Galbreath said.

Galbreath focuses a great deal on relaxation in her class. "When you're in a class here, I set you up with props and you're chilling out just listening to my voice. I'm talking to you about the baby and you're bonding with the baby. …

"I teach this class way differently than I teach other classes; I'll have you hold your belly and I'll pick a mantra, like 'My baby is happy and healthy,' and I'll just repeat it."

Galbreath pulls mantras from a book she was gifted when she was pregnant with her baby about 20 years ago called "Meditations for Mothers."

Many of the women in Galbreath's prenatal class are yoga beginners. Galbreath reminds beginners to always tell their instructor if they are pregnant, not lie on their bellies and seek out a yoga teacher that is certified in prenatal yoga. "Listen to your body," she added, "If you don't feel comfortable doing a pose, don't do it."

Classes previously have been held as irregular workshops, but will begin weekly from 10 to 11 a.m. May 20, at Align Yoga Studio, 255 S Schuyler Ave., Kankakee. Classes range from $15 to $20 each, depending on the length of the class. Galbreath also is available for private classes and to work with mothers postpartum upon request.

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