Downward Dog + Baby: Meet Sarah Vandekerckhove, NYC’s Prenatal Yoga Teacher

When you meet Sarah you are struck by her composure, a sense of being super present while chatting with her and her smile. Sarah left the corporate world to focus on building her yoga practice and assemble a community for mother’s to be like she had while pregnant with her now toddler son! You can find Sarah teaching classes, leading retreats and helping others achieve balance in their lives. 

1. After a career in the corporate world, having a baby and moving to and from Chicago you are now focusing on your yoga career and more specifically prenatal yoga. What led you to yoga and specifically prenatal yoga? 

I’ve always been an athlete. I played all sorts of sports growing up and loved the outdoors, competition and exercise. I was introduced to yoga while I was playing on my college field hockey team. Our coach was… alternative in her approach 🙂 and would lead us through yoga sequences at the beginning of field hockey practice as a way to help us switch gears from the intellectual, cerebral world of college academics to the physical, strategic, quick-decision-making necessary to be successful on the field (and in the real world). So, I’ve always relied on yoga to bring me back down to earth and keep me thinking practically and methodically. Whether it was calming down after a stressful day at work, gearing up for a big presentation or meeting, or confronting the anxieties and challenges of various significant life choices, yoga has been critical in helping me keep perspective and stay grounded. There is a yoga saying: “yoga is the stilling of chatter in your mind.” Whether it’s through the physical movement of the poses in a yoga class or simply breathing and paying attention to how you’re feeling, that awareness is the purpose of yoga.

I’ve dealt with a lot of anxiety in my adult life, and when I found out I was pregnant, it became my biggest priority to mitigate that as best I could.

Pregnancy is a time of major (and sometimes difficult) transition – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I actually went through my yoga teaching training during my second trimester of pregnanc. Yoga enabled me to get comfortable in my new and changing body: t reminded me that I was still very physically capable and it encouraged mental toughness (an essential skill to have in labor). 

2. Can you tell me more about the difference of prenatal yoga vs. normal yoga? 

I would say that the biggest difference between prenatal/postnatal yoga and other yoga is the sense of community. Pregnancy and new motherhood can feel isolating or lonely at times, especially if you don’t have close friends going through it with you. When you walk into a pre- or postnatal class, you are reminded that there are a lot of other women going through the same life transition, even if your specific experiences are vastly different. Pregnancy and new motherhood can also make you feel out of control: there are so many changes taking place, big and small, day-to-day and month-to-month; and yoga is an awesome way to regain that competence and strength mentally and physically. 

3. How do you hope to change the way yoga is approached in NYC? 

In one word, accessibility. Yoga has been so transformative for me, and I know others have found it to be beneficial to varying degrees – everything from feeling more productive at work to sleeping better to having more patience. My hope is that I can do some small part to make the practice more accessible to others. I make it my goal when I teach to lower the barriers to entry to yoga. In class, I focus on using straightforward language about what I’m instructing you to do with your body and I demonstrate almost all of the poses I teach. Similarly, with private lessons, I focus on bringing common sense to yoga: I teach to the personal goals (physical, mental, emotional) of my students, and it is important to me that the lessons are affordable and enjoyable. 

4. You’re kicking off retreats, what sort of retreats will you be hosting and what should we expect? 

I am still in the very early stages of strategizing about the retreats I will lead, but they will be consistent with my yoga philosophy: accessible logistically, physically and mentally and focused on building community. I hope to run both NYC-based day retreats and weekend retreats upstate as early as this fall. For more info, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter at sarahvyoga.com.

5. As a mom do you have any tips for balancing your growing business and your family? 

Self-reflection and self-care as often as possible. With regard to self-care, new moms do not often have the luxury of paying much attention to themselves, whether it’s finding time to rest, exercise, read, or simply have a good, sit-down meal. So it is important to me to take every moment I have to spare (and there are very few of them) to recharge. Many of us also do not give ourselves enough credit for how much we do. It is difficult to put into words – let alone, quantify – just how hard and complicated parenthood can be. And so, I think it is immensely important parents give themselves credit for just making it through the day sometimes. Some of the best advice I received, prior to being pregnant, was: “shower and get outside every day, no matter what it takes.” It was both eye-opening for me in that it shed light on just how rough the beginning of motherhood could be and very practical in that it gave me two goals to accomplish each day to feel like I was successfully navigating my new life.

The self-reflection part, for me, came in more and more as my son has gotten older and as we have established a routine (thank god for naps!!). I began to have a little more time to myself and took those opportunities to think about my personal goals. Namely, what else do I want for myself? It is a conversation I have with myself all the time. Everything else is so much harder to do now that I’m a mom, and so there are near constant judgement calls about how much time and energy I invest in my personal goals and self-care and what impact they might have on my role as a mother. It is a very challenging balancing act, and, I think, the best thing you can do is be honest with yourself about what you need. People who take good care of themselves have more of themselves to offer in support of others.

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