top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Duprey

Bodywork, Yoga, and Ayurveda Through the Childbearing Year with Monica Seligmann | Newark Prenatal Massage and Yoga

Updated: Feb 22

Monica Seligmann of Newark Prenatal Yoga and Massage gives a prenatal massage to a pregnant woman at her studio.

With my last two pregnancies I commited to a dedicated 5am YouTube prenatal yoga practice. Every morning regardless of how my body felt or the challenges of the morning-- whether my hips were creaky, my living room was icy cold, or I knew that I needed to squeeze in a shower before work-- I laid out my mat to move my bodywith mindfulness and love. This ritual became my lifeline as a busy, working mother-- a precious time to connect with the baby growing within me and to nurture my own well-being.

As far as YouTube videos go, I particularly liked the follow-along, week-by week series by Harlow's Earth, this pool-side kundalini routine by Laura Dutta, and the trimester specific videos put out by Brett Larkin. Mine was a solitary practice. Although yoga was hugely beneficial for bonding with my baby and preparing my mind, body, and spirit for childbirth, what I didn't know I was lacking from my solo practice was a sense of community and connection with other pregnant women that you can find in group class settings.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending one of Monica Seligmann's combined Prenatal/Postpartum yoga classes at Newark Prenatal Massage and Yoga. In this intimate studio space, women from various stages of pregnancy and postpartum came together, forming bonds that extended beyond the weekly classes. They shared contact information, arranged coffee meetups, meal trains from after babies arrived, and planned playdates for their children. Monica's classes serve not only as a place for physical practice but also as a space that fosters connections over the shared journey of motherhood. She expertly holds the space for this community to blossom, recognizing the importance of support and camaraderie during the childbearing year.

In addition to yoga offerings, Monica is a skilled bodyworker who specializes in perinatal massage. She even offers in-home postpartum massage after you have had your baby but before you are ready to leave the house. If you are pregnant and that isn't on your baby registry, I would put that on right now!

Without further adiue, I would love to introduce you to Monica!

Monica Seligmann massages a pregnant woman's back in Newark Delaware

Let’s start with introductions, could you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

I am Monica Seligmann. I am a perinatal yoga teacher, perinatal massage therapist, and mother. I provide women in their birthing year with embodiment services like yoga and massage to help them ease the stress and pains that come with this stage of life and get in touch with their bodies.

What inspired you to become a massage therapist and yoga instructor? Could you share a bit about your journey and passion for working with women during the prenatal and postpartum period?

I was first introduced to yoga when my dad passed away when I was 20. The grief was terrible and I remember thinking, "I just want to do something that makes me feel ok again," so I did a Brand New Beginners program at the Newark Empowered Yoga Studio at the time. It was the only thing that talked about the mind and how to manage thoughts feelings and sensations. I became a yoga teacher a couple of years after that because it completely changed my life and how I relate to life.   

During the yoga teacher training, the anatomy aspect always fascinated me and I understood it easily. So when I was living in Virginia Beach and I drove past an incredible looking massage school right on the ocean front, it all made sense. I didn't seek massage, massage found me. My dad was a PT and I grew up in a home where my mom had a massage table just because she liked "giving rubs", so it was a natural progression in my career. So I toured the school and my intuitive soul affirmed it was right. It all made sense to go that route and I'm glad I did. My passion for this bodywork specifically for prenatal and postpartum came because I became pregnant during massage school. I attended prenatal yoga and I was getting 3 massages a week during my pregnancy. It was a dream and to have my baby receive that was even better.

My birth was very empowering. I owe it to my 9 year yoga practice at the time as well as massage. The yoga taught me autonomy and embodiment of my body. I intimately knew its internal landscape. And my mindfulness practice in MBSR trained my mind on how to deal with pain and not brace against it but to lean into it and explore it. I was present and aware during the whole thing. I want to pass this knowledge that served me to other mothers in hopes to help them feel empowered and embodied in a pivotal moment in their life.

We have a massage table in our home too and foot rubs are a regular part of our little one's bedtime routine!

I'm curious, In terms of the body work that you do, how is a prenatal massage different than a postpartum massage? 

In terms of the physical body, prenatal massage receives more complaints about hips and low back pain. Postpartum massage usually is targeting the upper back and neck. These are simply because of the different physical demands of pre and post baby.

During the prenatal period, your body is opening itself and that hurts a lot. The muscles are holding on for dear life to try to maintain stability of the skeleton as the bones are loosening at every joint. And the axis where the lower body and upper body meet is the pelvis which is also the place that needs to open the most to let baby pass through. Prenatal I do not do deep pressure in the legs because of the higher blood volume increases the chance of blood clots. But I can do deep pressure anywhere else. The positioning is different. I have the cushions which allow mom to lay on her belly and when she flips over she is at an incline.

Monica Seligmann massages a pregnant woman at her Newark Delaware studio.

Meanwhile postpartum bodies are sitting, hunched and looking down probably 20 hours a day keeping their baby alive. Then if she has a c-section there could be scar work if that is desired by the client. She doesn't need the cushions unless she's newly postpartum and her breasts are engorged. If that is the case, I have cushions that allow her to lay on her belly without compression on her lactating breasts. She is allowed to bring baby to the appointment as well so if she brings baby, the session will be more choppy because we will be attentive to baby's needs. Postpartum is also a period of detox. The body is getting rid of all the extra blood. Both are flushing the body with feel good hormones which help in lessening the perception of pain, elevates mood, and allows the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) to take charge. 

The emotional and mental bodies are also different. The prenatal massage helps with managing the anxiety of the unknown as they approach a day that could go any which way. To stay present during pregnancy is key to managing the stress hormones. Having someone touch you anchors you more into the present, into your body. We can't think and feel at the same time. The postpartum massage helps with managing anxiety and depression by giving the mom a break from the extreme demands that is asked of her. Also, laying of the hands on the abdomen can be sentimental. It can be like a reclamation of her body. Her body, her abdomen is now hers. Touch is very powerful. The prenatal starts face down and ends face up like an opening to receive what comes. Postpartum ends face down. Like a closing. An end of a phase of needing to be so open.

That is so beautiful.

Can you describe some of the embodiment practices that you teach to birthing women? What is a specific exercise that someone could do right now to help connect with their body and intuition?

Yoga is embodiment. The yoke of mind and body IS embodiment. Your nervous system that goes about the world doesn't stop at the neck, which is how the majority of society lives. The nervous system that extends down into every crevice of your body is alive, turned on, and the mind is receiving its messages.

A simple embodiment practice I teach is to just guide them to drop their mind into their body and feel their body in the shape that it is sitting or lying from the inside out. Another one is free movement in my prenatal yoga class. I give them a few rounds of breath to just move in the way their body wants them to move. To flip the switch from mind to body, to body to mind. Yoga Nidra or bodyscans is a practice of embodiment.

An exercise someone could do right now is to feel their left big toe, now right big toe, now all left toes, the spaces between the toes, the toe nails and just feel them.

Or feel the weight of their body on the surface beneath them.

Or close your eyes and move your mind to your ears, the auditory organ and observe the different sound waves entering your ears as observable events.

There's many!

I just tried the practice you suggested about feeling my toes. I am now so much more aware of my feet-- I have been taking for granted that they were there!

I love that you encourage free movement during your prenatal yoga classes. I always try to incorporate free movement into my personal yoga practice and found it to be so beneficial when I was pregnant. Allowing yourself to move in an instictive and feel-good way is a huge part of working through the discomfort of labor.

Monica Seligmann centering before yoga class, leading her students with breath breathwork.

Speaking of labor preparation, how do you encourage birthers to tap into their animal brain and trust their body's wisdom during labor? Are there specific techniques or exercises you use to help cultivate this deeper connection and inhibition?

First is to cultivate a practice of observing the mind, nonjudgementally. To trust your body's wisdom is to be aware of when your mind is highjacking the show. besides sitting meditation, this can also be achieved by repetitive movements creating a flow, feeling and manipulating her breath, and sound (either music or her own tones). To focus not on what things look like but what things feel like.

In terms of mind-body connectedness, how can massage therapy sessions-- and touch in general-- create a space for pregnant and postpartum women to become more aware of their bodies? How does touch and body awareness help them to recognize and respond to the needs of their body during labor? How can this impact their ability to cope with pain during the birthing process?

Touch and massage eases the perception of pain, as does vocal tones like chants, therefore massage during labor helps with pain. Massage leading up to labor does not directly help with the pain that is felt during labor. How to cope with pain is more about the mind.

Whatever we touch or what touches us, it lights up the nerve endings that exist in that body part. That right there is a portal to presence. We cannot think and feel at the same time. When I am massaging my clients, I am very aware and focused on feeling what can be found beneath the surface. When I find something I work it. I'm very detail oriented and thorough. A lot of my clients walk out and say, I never knew I had so much tension there. That right there is, in a way, me guiding them to be more aware of what exists in their body already.

Also, this stage is so crazy with planning, anticipating, etc that a pregnant woman lives in her head most of the time. A massage gives her the time to just be with herself. I start my massages with a little guided meditation to get themselves in their body and to set the intention to try to stay there as best as they can. I sometimes ask if they want me to pop in gently to remind them to feel their breath or body. The nervous system is like a

muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it grows. So during a massage, you're connecting your mind to the different parts of your body and therefore, you're strengthening that connection. It's like slowly turning a side road into a highway. Our body is taking in so much information in any given moment. The more highways you have throughout your body, the more heightened awareness you'll have during labor and be able to feel soooo much more, even internally like be able to feel your placenta, the subtle sensations deep within your being. So if you're aware of that information you can notify your birth team of what you're experiencing because they don't know. It's up to the birther to inform the staff of what's happening within her body.

As part of my self-love/self-care routine, I like to self-massage with warm oil straight out of the shower or after a hot bath. I will often end my day with a shea butter foot rub before bed. I have recently learned that this is something that is practiced in Ayurveda. Is this something you practice personally, or encourage the moms you serve to explore for themselves? Are there any specific self-care practices that you would recommend to help pregnant and postpartum women stay connected with their bodies? 

Yes! I live an ayurvedic lifestyle. It is an amazing science and art to living. I definitely encourage moms to try out some of these practices if I see them being interested in the topic. If not, I do not mention it. It's not for everyone. But ayurveda has an explanation for everything and it links us to mother nature. That is an important connection to know about when you are becoming a mother and learning how to be a mother. We need roots to ground us amidst the chaos of the perinatal stage. Ayurveda says that prenatal and postpartum, in its essense, is an imbalance of the vata energies. Vata is air (think of wind), any movement in the universe and our bodies is the vata energy. To expel a human being out of our body requires a lot of movement. Also the running of the milk, and the detox of blood out of the system in postpartum-- that all is vata. So I let the mothers who are going to be postpartum in the fall (a vata season of the year) to really try to do grounding exercises to not aggravate the vata any more. That would be to oil the body, oil the feet, even the ears with a cotton ball, avoid drinking or eating cold things and raw foods. Try to limit caffeine. Etc. There are many things to help balance vata.

Very cool. I hadn't realized that Pregnancy and Postpartum had its own prescribed Ayurvedic grounding rituals.

In my own prenatal yoga practice, I would often do these challenging kundalini meditations where I would be keeping my arms up or extended for five minute stretches of time. In this way, I was able to simulate the discomfort of labor and  tap into my inner reserve of strength (we all have it!). 

Can you share some examples of how you help women develop their endurance through yoga practice? What are some specific yoga challenge poses that you might incorporate into a class for labor preparation? What are some meditations that you guide women through during your classes?

That's amazing that you did that! Yes I do something similar in every yoga class. I do either toe sits or wall sits. I do three sets for about a minute to a minute and a half. I guide them through strategies to work with pain. Just coming to a yoga class consistently will help with endurance in terms of greeting yourself as you are and showing up for yourself consistently. Because if we're talking about "endurance" of the physical body, that is not what yoga is really for in my opinion. Prenatal yoga, at least mine, is not to train you into physical fitness to be able to withstand a possible 20 hour labor. If you want that, I have a reference to a prenatal personal trainer haha! The endurance I work with is the endurance of facing the really hard shit (excuse my language). Life is hard, and labor is hard, and motherhood is really really hard. And to cultivate an endurance of accepting yourself exactly as you are moment by moment is what I teach. As you progress through pregnancy you're going to be able to do less and less. Your range of motion will be less, your physical endurance will be less, and that is how it is supposed to be. Your body is literally opening. And you need to have a strong sense of self, a strong relationship with yourself, with the dark sides of yourself, in order to withstand the pain and suffering that comes with this stage of life.

Yoga poses I do are many or any that are quadruped. It helps get baby into optimal fetal positioning. It also lightens the load on the uterine ligaments. childspose balasana for grounding, anjenayasana for asymmetrical pelvis and back pain, malasana for opening the pelvis toning pelvic floor, janushirasana for low back pain, diaphragmatic breathing which is pregnancy core work haha no crunches!

How can a regular yoga practice and being in-tune with one’s own body lead to a more empowered birth experience? What are some of the physical and emotional benefits  yoga offers during pregnancy and what role does self-awareness play?

Empowerment is autonomy, sovereignty, and self governance. Labor and birth is completely the woman's body. In order to be empowered in this setting, embodiment is necessary. She has to know what her body is doing, how it feels, and what messages it's telling her in order to make autonomous decisions over her body. Our body holds our intuition. Our body knows so much more than what we give it credit for. When we are going along with what others tell us, be that our friends, parents, OB, midwife, social media, etc then we are not empowered because we have given away the decisions over our body to someone else. A doula is a fabulous resource to help push the "pause" button in those tense situations of decision making to guide the mother into her autonomy to make the educated decision for herself. Yoga and meditation strengthens the self-awareness muscle. We become the observer of our experience.

What are the benefits of yoga postpartum and do you teach postpartum yoga classes?

Some benefits are being able to meet other moms in the area, building up the core and pelvic floor, grounding yourself to yourself :) I will be teaching it in the new year.

During pregnancy, our bloodstream is flooded with the hormone relaxin which relaxes our muscles, joints, and ligaments.

During my pregnancies I was always so bendy and I hurt myself on a couple occasions by overstretching while exploring my new range of flexibility. How do you help women focus on stability and strength in your yoga classes? Could you explain some specific techniques or modalities that you incorporate into your classes to ensure safety?

I think the most important thing is to set the tone that my class is not about competition, showing off, comparing or anything. And that my teaching and cues are only suggestions. The focus is honoring and accepting your body as it is that day and just moving your body in a way that feels good. It needs to be this way because this is labor prep and each woman needs to be their own guide on Labor Day.

Prenatal yoga is not like any other yoga that focuses a lot on form. prenatal yoga is flowy fluid soft and grounding. Naturally the movements will pick up their heart rate but it is not a physical exertion. We are learning to be kind to ourselves in my class. And if she does overstretch, it happens to everyone. It's just a moment where she has learned her body a bit more intimately. She has learned where her edge is and to maybe reflect on the mental thoughts going through her mind at that given time to see if there were any thoughts stemming from competition, "not enough", "perfection", comparing etc. It's an opportunity to hone in on more awareness of yourself. It's not a bad thing to overstretch. The body in terms of connective tissue will always repair itself. Compassion is key. And to not be afraid of your body. Your body is always working in your favor. Women in this stage doesn't need someone to fill them with more fears.

In what ways during your prenatal yoga classes and massage therapy sessions, do you encourage women to let go of self-judgment and embrace an attitude of self acceptance?

I feel like it's infused in everything that I do and everything that I say. My life purpose is to spread self-acceptance and compassion. To do the brave work of looking at yourself honestly with loving eyes.

Do you have any resources or anything else that you would like to share?

I have been greatly influenced by Acharya Shunya. I have chosen her to be my teacher. She speaks truth. She has a website, written books, been interviewed on many podcasts.

Non-linear movement is a practice of embodiment.

How can people get in touch with you?

Did you enjoy this interview? You can read more HERE.

64 views0 comments


bottom of page