Downward dog for expecting moms

| 18 Jan 2018 | 11:40

In a dimly lit room, six pregnant women folded themselves into a downward-facing dog pose. With hands and feet planted on the purple yoga mat, the women formed bridges with their bodies, hips rose upward and swollen bellies hung below.
At the front of the pre-natal yoga class stood instructor Neelu Shruti, 33, a petite woman from Hyderabad, India. As her soft voice instructed the class to move into a reverse warrior pose, Shruti radiated equanimity.

Shruti learned about maintaining her calm composure at an early age. A student at Rishi Valley, an alternative boarding school founded by philosopher J. Krishnamurti, Shruti recalls her exposure to yoga through a curriculum valuing “no-competition among children” and classes “among the trees.”

From her small high school northeast of Bangalore, Shruti traveled to Texas to pursue a degree in architecture at the University of Texas at Austin in 2003. In 2007, she moved to New York City to work in the architecture field.

Shruti continued to practice and teach yoga on the side as a prenatal yoga instructor, a certification which took her about 285 hours to complete. Among other titles and certifications, she is a fully trained doula, certified breast-feeding counselor and midwifery assistant.

“I noticed that most of the time when you think about being pregnant, you think about sitting back and eating for two,” she explained, recounting the first prenatal yoga class she observed during her training. “But what motivated me was seeing pregnant women actually be active and sweat and how integrated that is to birth.”

After realizing the disparity between prenatal yoga studios and convenient class times for women with jobs, Shruti mustered up the courage to pursue her passion, leave her desk job, and create Love Child in the West Village in 2015.

Tom O’Keefe, 32, watched his wife’s vision become a successful business. “She’s created both a physical and emotional space for people to experience birth differently,” he said. “She’s giving space, vocabulary and support so that people no longer feel ‘other’ or marginal.”

A collective space, Love Child provides services for both expecting and new parents, hosting everything from the prenatal yoga classes to acupuncture to new- parent circles.

“I’d always think somehow, somebody, somewhere delivers your baby. We need to consider the fact that the woman is the person giving birth,” Shruti said. “She needs to be ready for that physical, emotional, and mental challenge.”

Amy Konen, 40, a Love Child client, believes Shruti and her classes prepared her for the birth of her son, Dino. “I have no doubt that the work [Neelu] did at Love Child helped me stay strong and calm throughout a 34-hour labor,” she said. “I knew exactly what muscles to engage for pushing because of Neelu’s guidance in class.”

But it’s the friendly, open, and empowering space that continues to bring Shruti’s clients back ... often with a plus-one. “Neelu has created a wonderful community,” said Konen. “I have made friends, and so has Dino.”

Mhyra Oneglia, the mother of a 16-month old, recalled a time during her pregnancy where she was shocked at how unhelpful and unsupportive her doctor was after she expressed some discomfort. “Neelu asked me questions and actually listened!” she exclaimed. “Neelu definitely fills a wonderful void for women that’s lacking in the medical world and helps turn what can be an overwhelming time into a time where women can feel empowered and positive.”

Empowerment is exactly what Shruti hopes her clients will take away from her classes. “In the reproductive spectrum, women aren’t really being supported in their choices,” she said. “Birth is another one of those choices where a lot of women find they aren’t being supported in the choices they want, so this is another way of empowering them to do that.”

As for Shruti’s own future, she remains unsure about becoming a mother. “It’s tough because I see exactly what it takes to have a kid,” she said. “There is not the support system that there should be for parents, in any way, shape, or form.”

But for now, Shruti is content creating a support system for others, one downward-facing dog at a time.