prenatal yoga w/ mika oakes

pregnantyoga

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t pass at least 20 people walking down the street in yoga gear, carrying their mats. And let’s not even discuss my instagram feed, which is full of yogi’s in gorgeous poses or on retreats, pushing their physical selves in ways I only dream of. Did I also mention that at least 10 of my friends are yoga instructors? As is my sister-in-law. Let’s just say I am constantly reminded of how I should be practicing more since I know deep down the physical and mental health benefits are immeasurable, especially during this time! With that being said, I did kick off my pregnancy practicing with my friend and teacher, Mika Oakes, but it’s been tough to keep up with. The truth of the matter is that working on my feet all day styling with clients doesn’t leave me with much energy for exercise. I know. Excuses, excuses!

Either way, I think about my practice, or non-practice ALL THE TIME! Prenatal yoga has countless benefits for expecting women, and while I myself have not been the best student over the last 29 weeks, I’m sure there are plenty of you who are way more disciplined than me. That said, I sat down with Mika and picked her brain about why prenatal yoga is so good for us, and to discuss all of the health benefits for mama and babe. I wanted her to lay it all out, answer all of our lingering questions and ensure we are practicing safely! Mika is a certified prenatal yoga instructor who teaches privately in the NYC area, and holds regular scheduled classes at Kula Williamsburg, Pure and Greenhouse Holistic. Head over to Mika’s site to check out her current class schedule, and be sure to schedule your one-on-one session! You will not be disappointed!

prenatal yoga

YOUR SOUL STYLE: Why should I do prenatal yoga?

MIKA OAKES: Prenatal yoga is an amazing form of movement during pregnancy. It can feel like a gentler approach to staying active while pregnant, and also offers a sense of community when you are practicing alongside other pregnant mamas. It is also a great way for a woman to familiarize herself with breath work and breathing in general, as these are important tools that come in handy during labor and birth. 

YSS: What are some of the benefits of prenatal yoga?

Mika: It enhances strength and flexibility, promotes circulation and assists with neck and back pain that may occur due to extra weight gain. Prenatal yoga also helps quite a bit with breath and a woman’s relationship to her own breath. Breathing is one of the largest components to labor and birth.

YSS: If I’ve never done yoga before, can I start when pregnant?

Mika: Yes absolutely. For a woman that has never practiced yoga before pregnancy, it’s more important to stick to a prenatal practice (as opposed to taking a regular yoga class and modifying as one with an existing practice might do.) There are poses and breathing exercises that are contraindicated when pregnant, and every single pose offered in a prenatal class is not only okay to practice while pregnant, but also super beneficial. Prenatal yoga tends to move a bit slower, which is good for a beginner. One might also want to consult with their doctor before taking a yoga class having never practiced any form of yoga before.

YSS: Will it help me prepare for birth?

Mika: Yes! Breath for one and in most classes teachers will talk about releasing the pelvic floor, connecting with your baby and calming the mind. All useful during labor and birth. 

YSS: How often should I be practicing?

Mika: As often as you feel like practicing is how often you should practice!

prenatal yoga

YSS: Should I worry about hurting the baby?

Mika: Prenatal yoga is a safe environment for a pregnant woman to be practicing in. With that being said, it is also an intuitive practice. Even if a teacher is offering a pose that is safe to practice, if it doesn’t feel right in your body, then it probably isn’t. 

YSS: Can I practice all the way into my 9th month?

Mika: Yes!

YSS: What can’t I do in prenatal yoga that I can do in my regular practice?

Mika: Poses that are contraindicated when pregnant are; belly lying, deep twists, deep backbends, most abdominal/core work and any sort of breath retention. It is also recommended that after 21 weeks, savasana (final rest) is taken supported by bolsters or via side-lying instead of on the back. Poses that are subject to individual modification based on previous level of experience are; inversions, arm balances and jumping through transitions in sun salutations.

YSS: What are 3 common pregnancy related discomforts that you hear about in your practice?

Mika: Lower back pain and sciatica, neck pain and aching joints. 

YSS: What are the top 3 most beneficial poses to do regularly during pregnancy?

Mika: 1. Cat/cow are great poses as they help free up tightness in the pelvis and hips, and also help promote optimal fetal positioning. 2. Down dog is a great pose overall because it gets the whole body stretching at once. 3. Squatting is gravity’s best form of helping to open the pelvic floor, while simultaneously strengthening the legs. 

YSS: What would be your number 1 rule of prenatal yoga?

Mika: Pregnancy is such an amazing time in a woman’s life. Like anything she does while pregnant, the most important aspect of prenatal yoga is to listen to your body and honor what it needs. That goes for exercise, food, sleep, etc. Your body knows whats best for you and your baby. 

photos via herehere, here 

living yoga: by mika oakes

IMG_1854

The constant challenges of life are always encouraging us to practice and refine our technique.  Whether it be through tangible action, becoming a master of your craft, tolerance for discomfort or the life-changing experience of entering motherhood, we are all students on this journey and need to remain open in order to stretch and grow.  Aristotle said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”.  

Contributor to Your Soul Style, Mika Oakes shares her perspective with us today on practice, the discipline of the mind and body experience, and getting comfortable in the discomfort.

I hope you have a weekend filled with love, life and soul  xx jenny

Living Yoga by Mika Oakes

Have you ever looked up the word practice in the dictionary?  When you hear it, you certainly think you know what it means, but what does it really mean in the broader sense of our lives?  Does practice make perfect? We’ve heard that phrase since childhood, when our parents used it to encourage our various interests.  We come to learn though, as we grow into adulthood, perfection rarely if ever exists, and that it’s the imperfections in life that become our best teachers.

I practice yoga on a regular basis: it’s both a large part of my personal life and career.  I don’t DO yoga, I don’t TAKE yoga, but I PRACTICE yoga.  As a practitioner, I (along with my colleagues, friends, and clients) am constantly striving to better myself, be it through the vehicle of the physical body, or a greater awareness of self.  I know full well I will never be finished in this endeavor – it will always remain a work in progress, and I am okay with that.

Life in and of itself is essentially always a practice.  Not everybody views it as such, but there is always learning that can be done.  If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you may have heard a teacher state “the work of this practice isn’t only about what you do on your mat, but what you take off your mat and into the world.”  That statement suggests that the mindful behavior you exhibit in your physical body while sweating it out in a yoga class, can be exhibited in mindful behavior through your daily life.  It’s a choice.  It means being aware of your actions and trying to better them on a daily basis.  It’s about showing up and pushing yourself to stay committed and focused even when sometimes it feels hard.

One of the remarkable things about the practice of yoga is that few other fields make such a strong acknowledgment of our eternal positions as students.  Even the most achieved figures in the yoga world refer to their work as a practice, and therefore remain continuous students.  It’s a field that keeps people humble, honest and raw for the most part, and the attitude isn’t that of completion, but constant personal growth and evolution.

The textbook definition of practice is “the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.” It also means “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.”  So that’s just it – you are repeating exercises or behaviors to continue growing.  It’s fluid and ever-changing.  One of the reasons why I am so drawn to yoga as a practice is because it’s not something that you get perfect at, and it’s certainly not something that becomes easier over time.  With consistency, there are physical and emotional elements that change as the body opens.

I think perhaps I am so presently aware of my current status as a student in life is because of the recent birth of my son this past October. As a new mom, people have said that with each month, “things get easier”.  But in my opinion, they don’t get easier, they just change.  The same can be said of yoga.  Never before have I had a job that requires so much humility, patience and acceptance of change.  It takes these practices to a whole new level.

We all personally desire to feel a sense of accomplishment in our lives, whether on a personal or professional plane. Sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge that our lives are constantly evolving, and therefore in a state of practice.  Most importantly however, is our inner need to keep pushing ourselves, exploring our individual potential, no matter how difficult. When we stop practicing, that’s when we begin to stagnate, questioning why we do the things we do in the first place.

Mika Oakes is a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance, licensed massage therapist in New York State and certified in prenatal for both.  She is certified with the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), and is a proud member of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).  For more information, visit her website here.

spotlight: mika oakes

mika oakes

Mika Oakes is the contagious type and attracts the likes of all those that come her way.  Beautiful both inside and out, she is magnetic and has that special something that we don’t often see and very rarely can define.  We met while both studying abroad in London fifteen years ago, and have been the best of friends since.  I couldn’t wait to feature her in a spotlight post since she demonstrates much of what this movement is about.  Stylish, soulful and authentic, Mika lives the philosophy.

When I first met Mika, she was completing her degree in Fashion Merchandising.  The creative type, with both an appreciation for art and expression, this career path naturally made sense.  She worked in the industry for the larger part of her twenties, but mid-way through recognized a deep desire to be in a holistic and organic environment.  As an an old soul that aggressively practices mindfulness, spiritual growth and wellness, she was compelled to align more closely with her natural way of life.  Corporate America went against the grain and connecting with people daily on an emotional and energetic level became a major focus.  Mika decided to enroll in the Swedish Institute for Massage Therapy in NYC and while simultaneously keeping her day job, obtained her certification.  Conquering the fear of completely changing paths in her late twenties, she had the confidence and courage to pursue her dream.  Mika started her practice in massage therapy and eventually hung her (professional) fashion hat to begin living her passion full time.  She has since become a certified Yoga teacher as well, completing over 500 hours in training.  Deeply committed to the craft, her goal for students is to build a strong and steady physical and mental foundation, while challenging a practice that teaches you that the only one to contend with is yourself.  She knows from experience that this is where the real hurdles lie.  Mika uses her knowledge from the area of massage to encourage the refinement of balance, flexibility and core strength.  When on the mat in her class, there is always a lesson to be learned – be it via your mind, body or soul.

Mika has found the perfect balance of work and life, which for her are essentially one in the same.  She has embraced the uncertainties of life with grace, poise, courage and strength and inspires others professionally and personally with the wisdom gained from her introspective experiences.  Her biggest accomplishment happened this past October, when her and husband Ryan welcomed their son Jonah Mason Oakes into the world.  She is glowing particularly brighter these days.  As a brand new mom, she continues to welcome each new day with a lesson to be learned, a challenge to be conquered and emotional growth to be had.  She is the epitome of soul style.  Here’s what she had to say about hers…
DSC_0467

Mika, what is your soul style?

Most importantly, I have to feel like myself in what I’m wearing.  By nature I’m a casual person, as I teach yoga and am a massage therapist.  I am generally in something comfy that can also translate into an acceptable downtown dinner or everyday outfit.  Although I am drawn to some of the trends out there, and definitely try to stay on top of what’s in style, I create my own version of what that is or seek out something similar in the archives of my closet.

How do you describe your style?

I am my own version of bold but modest, understated but edgy, tailored but urban.  I work hard to cultivate the right pieces in my wardrobe so that I can grab anything and have it work on some fashion level on a day to day basis.  I don’t like to spend a long time getting ready, but I do like to look like I’ve got my act together.  There are only certain times that I really put a lot into what I’m wearing – and while feeling stylish is important to me, it’s not enough to sacrifice too much of my comfort.  I need to feel comfortable in my own skin despite what others (including my husband!) have to say. 

What does your style say about you?

It says that I’m easy going, approachable and culturally aware.  I like to look good but don’t take myself too seriously. 

DSC_0514

Where do you draw inspiration from?  Do you have a style icon?

I have always loved Kate Moss for her classic yet edgy look.  Her style is effortless because she is beautiful and it doesn’t take much for people to notice that.  I also love Sienna Miller. Her style is kind of the best of all things: funky and laid back but also glamorous and sexy.

Did your style evolve over time or has it stayed consistent?

There’s some level of consistency to my style through the years.  When I studied fashion merchandising for a semester abroad in London, I was surrounded by European fashion and felt inspired and lit up regularly.  I feel it was then that I really came into myself and grasped what my own personal style meant to me.  I found the happy medium between the “boho hippie” and “urban chic” which is still more or less my style today.

Do you have any style challenges?  

I have a harder time dressing for fancier occasions.  When I have to dress up, most of the time I am drawn to the neutral tones – black, grey or white and will add red lipstick or maybe a heel to dress it up.   I think there are two pieces to this equation, one being that I don’t want to draw too much attention to myself in anything too risque, and two, I genuinely feel more comfortable and relatable when I am dressed down.

DSC_0445

Do you have a favorite fashion/style moment?

My wedding day.  Everything about that day and what I was wearing and how I felt was perfect.  

And your worst? 

Definitely when I entered the “hippie” phase freshmen year of college.  While I pulled it off decently, the patchwork pants, flowered headbands and oversize vintage tees were definitely in a realm of their own.  

Must have item in your wardrobe?

I rarely wear high heels, but I do love a pair of black booties with or without a heel.

DSC_0483

Mika is a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance, licensed massage therapist in New York State and certified in prenatal for both.  She is certified with the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), and is a proud member of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).  For more information, check out her website here.

Come join the movement!  I want to hear from you!  To be featured on Your Soul Style, e-mail me directly at yoursoulstyle@gmail.com.