An Interview with Lolly Stirk: Pregnancy Yoga Legend

Prenatal Wisdom

Lolly Stirk is a legendary Pregnancy and Postnatal Yoga teacher, an early advocate of the Active Birth Movement, and founder of Yogabirth, a pregnancy, and postnatal yoga teacher training organization. She currently teaches in Notting Hill, and at Triyoga in Chelsea.

Lolly is such a warm, open person. I had had the great luck of doing her birth preparation course 15 years ago before my son was born. Before the interview even began she insisted that I send a photograph of myself so she could remember me, and amazingly she did. Halfway through the interview, she stopped to ask me about how my births had gone and was genuinely interested, as well as pleased for me that they had been positive experiences.

This proved to me (if it needed proving) that her commitment and passion for supporting pregnant and post-natal mothers is absolutely at the root of all she does. Read on for my interview with her…

Poppy: It’s such a pleasure to be talking to you, and I’m amazed that you remember me!

Lolly: It’s getting to the point where I need a name and a photograph, but I do always seem to remember people.

Poppy: What initially drew you to yoga?

Lolly: I arrived in London from South Africa in 1969, at the age of 19 and I wanted to get into all the excitement of that time – The Beatles, the hint of the East and an interest in Eastern philosophy and yoga was part of that.

In fact, I initially resisted yoga as I was more into the glamorous side of the 60s, as well as the restaurant business, and I set up a vegetarian restaurant called Wheat – of course now that name would be hopeless – it would have to be gluten-free wheat! But I found that yoga kept drawing me back.

Poppy: You and your husband John Stirk are both yoga teachers. Have you ever been competitive? How does that work?

Lolly: We really inspire each other. I’d already started doing yoga before we met. He was in business and had a terrible back. I kept saying he needed to do yoga, but like most men he resisted. However, eventually, he was in such pain, and I showed him just Trikonasana and I won’t say it immediately cured his back, but he suddenly got the connection between mind and body.

He’s a Sagittarius and is very single-minded and from that point on he totally committed to yoga. He became an osteopath as well and brought in all of that knowledge. Eventually, his backache completely cleared up too, which was wonderful.

Occasionally he goes on about yoga too much even for me, as he’s writing a new book about it at the moment. But we balance things out with the odd argument, as well as the odd glass of wine, for even more balance!

Poppy: What’s your yoga background?

Lolly: Both John and I were grounded in Iyengar yoga, but we both took it further. Iyengar yoga really wasn’t perfect for pregnancy, it was very masculine, very ordered and used to shake me to my shoes. Meeting Vanda Scaravelli and going out to Italy to have lessons with her was the background to then softening it up and bringing in the breath and working with gravity much more.  I still appreciate the training that Iyengar yoga gave me, but it was far too square for such round bodies.

Poppy: How important do you think specialist pregnancy yoga teacher training is?

Lolly: I think it’s absolutely VITAL! Pregnancy and postnatal yoga is such a different thing. At Yogabirth the course is two years, and most of our students start out as already qualified yoga teachers or have a history of bodywork behind them.

We take that long because we feel it’s important to give pregnant women the full package, not just the yoga, but a chance to ask questions, share their fears and anxieties, gain courage and trust in their bodies and finally, build communities to have the best chance of a positive birth experience.

Poppy: You’ve been teaching pregnancy and postnatal yoga for over 35 years now. Have you noticed any change in the women that you teach?

Lolly: Yes. I think recently, women have started to lose touch with their bodies. I’ve noticed in the last five years that women are so stiff – I know it’s computers. They sit at the computer for hours, breathing very shallowly, their eyes are fixed, their neck is fixed, everything’s fixed and it’s exceptionally damaging for pregnancy. I have to say that people come into my evening class looking green, and by the end of the class they’re looking beautiful and that’s through oxygenation, through movement, and through letting go.

Poppy: How has your pregnancy yoga teaching evolved over the years?

Lolly: I know that I’m dealing with young women, I’m 70 now, so I have to keep up with what’s happening to them. I can’t sit there like an old relic going ‘you’re all doing it wrong, why don’t you come off your computers’. I have to give encouragement and help them, rather than saying I can’t help you unless you do this and that, such as two hours of yoga practice every day, which is impractical for most people. I also keep learning – five years ago I became a hypnobirther.  It was brilliant because it was along the lines of yoga anyway, but more about the words and focusing on the mind.

I also strongly recommend the book Give Birth Like a Feminist. It’s absolutely brilliant, the author, Milli Hill, includes studies and up-to-date stats and info which shows how the system of giving birth is set up for failure. I’m so pleased you had a positive time, but gosh so many women don’t have a positive time and you say I helped you which is so brilliant because that’s what my classes are about – it’s to show women that they have got options.

Poppy: How can pregnancy yoga help with Postnatal Depression?

Lolly: An awful lot of what gives women Postnatal Depression is just going through the system because as much as hospitals really do try (and it’s amazing what effort is put in) it’s just an exceptionally difficult thing. Women in labour are in such a state of heightened awareness and when things go wrong and people are unkind, not necessarily on purpose but because they’re too busy to give you the attention that you need, it goes deep and really affects the hormone balance.  Sadly, a lot of women who go through labour are traumatised. That trauma, if not addressed, can lead to Postnatal Depression.

Ways that we try to help alleviate Postnatal Depression are meeting up in the yoga class, giving them a connection to their body, and trust in their body.  It also helps to bring other back women to talk about labour and birth, and not just women who’ve squatted and pushed their baby out in the water pool, but somebody who’s had difficulty, managed to get through, needed a ventuse, but can say ‘I’m OK, I’ve healed up and everything’s going well’.

Poppy: What would you like your legacy to be?

Lolly: I would like my legacy to be taking the fear out of childbirth through the work that we do. I truly believe that the way new mums feel around the time their babies are born is incredibly influential on how those babies come out.  The way that babies are born really will make a difference to this world.

Also, as Gandhi said:

The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members

– I think the way we treat pregnant women and the way we are around birth and postnatally, if that could be improved and made kinder and wonderful, I would love that to be my legacy.

Thank you to Lolly for talking to us. If you’re interested in doing a Pregnancy Yoga Training course, look no further than our detailed course. And to take part in Lolly’s next Pregnancy yoga and hypnobirthing workshop, click on this link.

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