Interview with Desi Bartlett
Desi Bartlett has been teaching health and wellness for over 20 years. Desi holds advanced certifications in Yoga, Personal Training, Pre & Post Natal Fitness and Group Fitness. She is also a continuing education provider through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the National Council for Personal Trainers. Her dedication to helping moms stay fit and healthy is reflected in her Prenatal Yoga DVD, as well as her writing for LA Yoga and Alicia Silverstone’s Kind Life website. Asana Journal interviewed her about her yoga journey.
My mother was a disciple of Goswami Kriyananda at the Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago in the 1970’s. Kriyanandaji gave me my first mantra at 6 years old, and I have been on the path ever since. I am grateful for his teachings and for his teachers as he was part of the lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda, who helped bring yoga to the West. I feel very blessed to have been introduced to pranayama and meditation as a young girl. For me, asana came later. I discovered asana and the physical practice in my 20’s.
The yoga teacher that has inspired me the most is Jane Fryer. Jane is someone who I met while attending one of her retreats. While I was only with her for a week in Costa Rica, her teachings and her way of being left an important mark. In addition to being a fantastic teacher of asana, a leader in the community, and all around fantastic human being, she was also a great example of vulnerability. She showed me that mistakes are simply a learning opportunity and that the pursuit of perfection is not only impossible, it is boring. Life is wild, messy, and beautiful.
I study the works of Yogananda and I love his words, “The only experience that is real, the only experience that brings happiness, is awareness of the presence of God.” I have felt the presence of the Divine Mother with me throughout my life, during moments of deep despair, and moments of great joy. Every time I look at my children, I am deeply aware of the miracle of this life. Every time I teach prenatal yoga or work with mothers and babies, I am surrounded by love and happiness. I think that one of the best ways to live a happy life is to simply remain grateful and to really appreciate the people that surround you.
I am a householder and a career woman. Finding balance in everything that I do requires tools and techniques. I begin each day with meditation and connect to my breath before I even open my eyes. Before I move into a full day of family responsibilities and work responsibilities, I take a moment to ask for guidance in my day and to stay receptive to the answers. If prayer is asking, then meditation for me is listening for the reply. Meditation, pranayama, and physical practice all help me to find balance. I have a very fast (vata) mind, and having regular practices and routines helps me to ground my energy and focus on what is important.
Prenatal Yoga can help body, mind, and spirit during pregnancy as well as labor and delivery. Safe pranayama techniques can help soothe the nervous system, as well as to oxygenate the blood. I invite pregnant goddesses in class to imagine that they are drinking in oxygen, prana, and light with each inhalation, and to imagine sharing that with their baby. Instead of eating for two, I often focus on breathing for two. The physical practice of asana can help women to avoid some of the normal aches and pains of pregnancy; specifically, yoga can help with posture and prevent lower back pain. Safe core exercises can help women to stand up tall like a queen and take pressure off of the lower back as well as avoiding rounding in the upper back.
Labor is an incredible, intense, life-altering experience which requires strength, calm, and flexibility, each of which can be cultivated through a regular yoga practice. Yoga and exercise, in general, is associated with shorter labor, less medical interventions, and has even been associated with increased physical health scores for babies.
The general rule of exercise for pregnant women is that if they were not participating in a particular activity before pregnancy, then pregnancy is not the time to start. If you were not practicing inversions before pregnancy, then pregnancy is not the time to start (with the exception of down dog). Studying with a competent teacher is incredibly important so that he/ she can guide you on how to modify the practice safely. With a skilled teacher, women can enjoy most forms of yoga. The one exception for me is hot yoga. I know that there are people who practiced hot yoga during their pregnancies who would disagree with me. Respectfully, I do not think that extremes in pregnancy are necessary, and it is incredibly important to make sure that the maternal core temperature never rises above 104 degrees for safety reasons.
It is important to educate yourself on what is safe in the practice and what is not. A few general guidelines include: no prone (on the belly work), no breath retention, no deep twisting, no deep abdominal work, and inversions should be discussed with your Doctor. If there is ever a time when your body says ‘no, this does not feel right,’ stop the movement immediately. The wisdom of the body speaks clearly. Stay receptive to the feedback from your body and honor your inner voice.
Generally, I think it is good to look at if you feel good; balanced, calm, and centered. If you leave yoga practice feeling stressed out, something is wrong. Sometimes this is simply a matter of finding the right teacher. I remember during my first pregnancy I felt like Goldilocks; one class was too easy (we did 3 poses total in 90 minutes), and another class was strong but the teacher never said the word “baby.” That was a large part of why I started teaching this format, I knew that there was a better way, a way that could empower women with strength while honoring the baby inside.
My small role in helping to create a better world is to help women enjoy peaceful, empowered pregnancies full of love. Imagine if we were all loved, honored, and supported from the time that we were in our mother’s tummies. In postnatal yoga we blow kisses to the babies and fill the room with the joy of mommy & me yoga. The bonding that I see between mothers and children when they are supported by a loving community is amazing. I often look around the room and wonder which one of the babies will be the next Ghandi or Martin Luther King. I like to think that starting this life in a loving way can help set up children for success, and that those children can lead our world to peace.
I have been practicing asana for over 20 years now, and I have seen very different approaches to yoga practice. Iyengar feels totally different to me than Vinyasa Flow. In theory the poses are the same, but one incorporates props, while the other might not call for any props. I understand the desire to have a specific name and identity for your work if it is philosophically different from others.
Yes. I am very pleased to work with manduka and can tell you that we are committed to the core values of yoga. The company is dedicated to sustainability and transparency in the production of mats, towels, props, and apparel. It is a joy to work with like minded individuals who understand the practice, the philosophy, and celebrate yoga.
I’m a huge fan of yoga and all that it can do for our bodies. Disease prevention, increased strength, increased sense of well being, improved posture, the list of benefits goes on and on. My great hope is that in 20 years we will see less pharmaceutical commercials with all of the scary side effects. and more promotion of mind/body practices and long lists of fantastic benefits.