Considering yoga, pregnancy, birth and Morocco Part 1

Prenatal yoga, is it safe?

I have been thinking a lot about pregnancy and birth recently. No, I am not pregnant. The catalyst occurred yesterday when I posted a video of a yoga teacher doing some amazing – and very advanced – inversions with her belly which you can see here.

There was some concern as to the safety of her practice. Even some outright objection from friends who believe that she is putting her baby at grave risk. Every woman and pregnancy is different. As a general guideline, women should consult their bodies and physicians to maintain their health during pregnancy and to protect their babies. As a woman who has never had a baby and is not a doctor, I am in no way an expert on this issue. However, this discussion has brought up some very interesting questions regarding women, yoga, pregnancy, and medicine.

Expecting mothers who have an established yoga practice should continue their yoga practice. Women who would like to start Yoga during their pregnancy should keep in mind that as their bodies produce more blood and undergo significant hormone changes that can affect balance, they should use caution and wisdom. The good news is pregnancy and Yoga usually go great together!

Melinda Erickson, baby Nayara in her belly. Melinda is a Professora of Capoeira, a Yoga and AcroYoga teacher in Charlotte, NC.

Melinda Erickson, baby Nayara in her belly. Melinda is a Professora of Capoeira, a Yoga and AcroYoga teacher in Charlotte, NC.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Prenatal Yoga can:

  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth
  • Decrease lower back pain, nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath
  • Decrease the risk of preterm labor, pregnancy-induced hypertension and intrauterine growth restriction — a condition that slows a baby’s growth

General counter indications for Yoga practice during pregnancy include:

  • abdominal work, especially where you flex your spine against gravity (for example a sit up)
  • deep twists (however gentle twists are fine and most twists cab be modified)
  • deep forward folds that might restrict the blood flow to the uterus
  • extreme back bends unless you have this already in your practice
  • inversions – here I am referring to inversions that bring everything over your head, including your feet such as a hand stand. Down dog should be fine if you feel fine in it.  Most folks counsel against inversions during the first trimester, proceed with caution from then on if you have this in your practice already. Here is a great article about inversions during pregnancy.
  • dehydration – this is really not good for mommies to be, so be cautious with hot yoga and make sure you drink enough water always
  • pushing too hard – don’t over do it, be aware of what your body is telling you. Be aware also that a pregnant woman will have an increased amount of Relaxin hormones from the very beginning of her pregnancy that will make it even easier to move more deeply in stretches but also can cause injuries.

Most importantly, a woman should listen to her body, her baby and her physician to make the best choices during this special time.  Most physicians seem to think that it is important that women maintain their activities to support their bodies. Which is why I think if this Yoga teacher is at ease in her body while practicing, even in such an intense way, there is no reason not to. I don’t think she is harming her baby, and I don’t think she is harming herself.

If you are just, you know, a “normal person” who does yoga 😉 here are some links I really love for prenatal yoga:

Here is a really lovely mediation as well:

Bed rest

I have noticed many students coming to me here in Casablanca and telling me they or their friends have been kept on bed rest during their pregnancy. I respect the physicians opinion, but I find this to be a bit distressing.  Bed rest is rarely a  suggestion that I hear doctors make in my community in the USA. I am curious as to why doctors are suggesting their patients be in active when their bodies are transforming and need good circulation, respriation, stress relief, stamina and muscle tone to carry the baby to term.

The conditions doctors may treat with bed rest can be very severe and include:

  • Vaginal bleeding or problems with the placenta
  • An incompetent cervix — a condition in which the cervix is likely to open (dilate) prematurely
  • Contractions and other advanced signs or symptoms of preterm labor
  • A twin or multiple pregnancy
  • Signs, symptoms or test results indicating fetal growth problems

But there’s a problem. While bed rest is a common treatment, there’s no proof that it helps. It doesn’t seem to protect your health or your baby’s. In fact, bed rest has risks itself. Doctors still prescribe it, but more because of tradition than good evidence that it works” (WebMD).

What this all suggests to me is either a view that women are feeble and should do nothing because their bodies in general can’t handle the baby and perhaps the assumption that she won’t be laboring through a vaginal birth anyway so why maintain her health and the health of the baby? If the bed rest is needed, which I am skeptical about in case you didn’t notice, why is it that I hear about it being suggested in Casablanca frequently and basically only when the mother is carrying multiple babies in the USA? Perhaps I am not talking to the right people?

According to WebMD, risks of bed rest include:

  • Blood clots
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Family stress
  • Financial worries, especially if you have to stop working
  • Low birth-weight for your baby
  • Slower recovery after birth
  • Weakened bones and muscles

Most research I did showed websites that mostly give support for women on bed rest. The only two websites that commented on the practice that I could find were WebMD, as quoted above and the Mayo Clinic:

Bed rest isn’t a proven remedy for preventing pregnancy complications or preterm birth, and it’s being recommended less frequently. Still, bed rest is sometimes prescribed as a safeguard. Understand the complications that might make bed rest during pregnancy necessary and how to cope. – Mayo Clinic

If anyone has some light to shine on this issue, please feel free to respond. I am concerned and trying to understand. If it is true that bed rest is not a proven treatment and has such bad consequences, then why isn’t is obsolete, and why is it prevalent?

Please understand also, that I am writing from experience within two communities, not from a point of view of medical expertise.

Putting it all together

I am finding the dynamics of women who are active and want to remain active and healthy during their pregnancies, and doctors who cautiously put many women on bed rest interesting and a bit confusing. I think there must either be some grave conditions that are prevalent here that cause such a strict approach, or simply a contradiction in how pregnancy is viewed and how women’s bodies are viewed compared to the USA. Clearly the cultural differences are intense and dramatic. That is for another day, but this was not a difference I was aware of. Part two of this piece is already in the works. Thanks for reading.

Kayla Ankeny, SahajaSoma


Tales of a Yogini in the kitchen: Rainy Day Creamy Broccoli Soup

This soup is one of my favs because it is easily modified to what you have available in the fridge. It is also very creamy with the potato, chickpeas and milk. This soup is a favorite main dish in our home. I highly recommend using a hand blender for soups like this, it makes logistics of blending and clean up so much easier. I like to soak a bunch of beans or chick peas a the beginning of the week and then put them in the freezer for use. It saves so much prep time.

Most of the ingredients for Broccoli Soup

Most of the ingredients for Broccoli Soup


  • 6 cups broccoli florets (I use 1 head of Broccoli) chopped
  • 1 onion
  • 1 potato (peeled optional)
  • 1 cup soaked chickpeas
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets, chopped (optional)
  • Chicken or Vegetable Stock (if bought low sodium is better) or water and bouillion cube
  • Milk of choice – I use skim
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground garlic or 2 garlic cloves

Other fun spice additions – Can be added while blending to taste

  • nutmeg
  • herbes de provence
  • cayenne pepper


  1. If using water and bullion cube, boil a kettle of water while doing the rest of the prep.
  2. Put the olive oil in a soup pot and heat over medium flame. Chop the onion and put it in the pot to begin sautéing, stir occasionally.
  3. Clean and chop the potato. I sometimes skin the potato, sometimes not. Yukon gold potatoes are optimal, but not crucial. When the onion is translucent, add the potato and chickpeas to the pot, stirring occasionally.
  4. Clean the garlic. Clean and chop the broccoli and cauliflower. I use the stems too, This soup is actually a great way to use up broccoli stems that you don’t need for other recipes. Add the broccoli, garlic cloves and the cauliflower.
  5. Cover the veggies with liquids. I do half and half of the water and bullion or stock and milk. If using the water I like to start with the heated water and add the bullion cube then, but it doesn’t really matter. Stir.
  6. Season as you like. This time I used garlic powder and cumin with some fresh ground black pepper.
  7.  Simmer covered, stirring occasionally until the veggies are soft. If you want a thicker soup, uncover the pot.
  8. Turn off the heat, uncover and let the soup sit for a while (15 mins?) and then blend. I really like our hand held blender, it is really convenient.
  9. Your soup is ready to serve. Make any spice adjustments as you blend to get the spices nice and evenly distributed.

IMG_7226Serve and enjoy!

Kayla Ankeny, SahajaSoma

This Saturday! AcroYoga Jam in Casablanca


I am so excited and honored to host the first AcroYoga JAM in Casablanca, Morocco!!!!! The Jam is fully booked, but I can’t wait to share with you the outcome of our event! We are planning to hold the second Jam in November. More information on that to come. Here is the link to the event page. I want to extend a special thank you to Melinda Erickson and Nada Mehdi of Yogablanca as well as Jerome Famechon for making this event possible. Let’s continue to build the community through connection and play! The class will be in French primarily and also translated into English, hopefully in Arabic too soon. Click here for more information concerning AcroYoga! Wow this is the hyper link post of hyper link posts lol.

Also, happy Islamic New Year! Hope you folks in Casa enjoyed your day off, you deserve it.

Kayla Ankeny, SahajaSoma

Tales of a Yogini in the kitchen: Mixed Marriage Butternut Couscous



We had some leftovers last time I made this recipe. AND I had just found some organic butternut squash. If you haven’t lived in the developing world (even in a large city in the developing world) finding something like organic butternut squash is kind of awesome. So, I took the leftovers of the lentils and the couscous from this recipe, mixed it together and used it to fill the butternut squash. What is kind of cool about this is that couscous is often served with pumpkin, the flavors really do go well together.

Mixed Marriage Butternut Couscous


  • 1 butternut squash
  • leftover filling (can be augmented with other yummy things if you wish, more salsa or whatever.)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • cinnamon (any spices you want)
  • water
  • chopped cilantro (optional)
  • chopped feta (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Wash, and cut the squash in half top to bottom. Hollow out  the insides. You can season the squash anyway you like. I also like to put some olive oil on the flesh of the squash with cinnamon and salt and pepper.
  3. Place squash, cut sides down, in a 9×13 baking dish. Pour water into dish around squash halves.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour until tender.
  5. Turn the squash right side up and fill with the leftover lentil and couscous mixture.
  6. Place back in the oven and let bake for another half hour.
  7. Garnish with feta and cilantro.

Bes7a! Enjoy! Bon appetit!

Kayla Ankeny, SahajaSoma

Tales of a Yogini in the kitchen: Lentil and Chickpea Couscous

12064303_771094533497_652323457_nLentil and Chickpea Coucous 

Moroccan Couscous takes a lot of time to make. First of all, it is steamed over the veggies and meat, and loosened with water and oil by hand a few times over. The result is a light and fluffy meal with really rich meat and veggies to go with it. Couscous here is not a side dish, it is a main dish. I was asked once in a Moroccan restaurant in the USA if I wanted rice or couscous with my Tagine. These are completely separate dishes in my experience. My Moroccan hubby requests this dish. I found the basis of the recipe on Yoga Journal by an editor. I have made a few additions and tweaks to make it closer to what I have experienced of Moroccan tradition and taste. I love this recipe because it is tasty, filling, Vegetarian and SUPER healthy. My hubby doesn’t like the mint on it, but I do. I highly recommend pairing this with Moroccan mint tea.

This dish isn’t served in a glass tea cup, I just did that in the pict to show the layers.


  • 1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 3/4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided OR 1 smen bullion cube in 2 ¾ cups water.*
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1 cup whole-wheat couscous
  • 1 12-oz. jar chunky medium salsa or picante sauce
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1  tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large carrot, diced (about 1/2 cup) – also good with other veggies
  • 1 15.5-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained or 1 cup soaked and cooked chickpeas, boiled until just tender…on the harder side of cooked.
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh mint (optional)

*I have no idea if this is available in outside of Morocco. Smen is rancid butter and is often put in couscous dishes. It tastes a little cheesey. If you don’t use that you could maybe try sprinkling nutritional yeast over the couscous and lentils with the mint when you serve it. Also, I made this recipe today with zucchini and a mild radish added to the carrots and onion and it was quite good. Play with it and enjoy!


  1. Bring lentils and 6 cups water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered 15 minutes, or until lentils are just tender.
  2. Bring 1 1/4 cups broth (or water with the smen) and raisins to a boil. Stir in couscous, cover, and remove from heat.
  3. Place salsa, cilantro, tomato paste and cumin, ginger, turmeric, paprika, and cinnamon in food processor, and purée until smooth.
  4. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrot, and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 to 6 minutes, or until slightly browned, stirring frequently. Add salsa mixture, remaining 1 1/2 cups broth and chickpeas. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Drain lentils and add to chickpea sauce. Thin with additional broth if sauce is too thick.
  6. Place couscous in 6 bowls and top with sauce. Place mint in a bowl on the side and serve.

Kayla Ankeny, SahajaSoma