Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Aikido and Pregnancy
I agree, it's always best to consult your doctor, especially if there are any special circumstances surrounding your pregnancy. When consulting your doctor, I think it's also important to realize that your doctor may not know what Aikido training entails. So it may not be enough to just ask "Can I practice martial arts?" I think it is best to accurately describe to your doctor what it is you will be doing in your Aikido training.
Medically speaking: One post made a good point on the numerous viruses that are passed from student to student on the mat - viruses which can make a pregnancy more uncomfortable that it may need to be - especially if they are coming one after the other. Outside of this, I've been told by our doctor that the baby is pretty well protected in the womb. Our doctor has always left the decision up to us but has also always advised us toward moderation and the personal comfort of the mother.
Socially speaking: I think there is more to training while pregnant than just the medical issues. I had one student that trained up to a date that was quite far in her pregnancy. I think in many ways that was a courageous thing to do. But I also saw that in many ways this student was very socially unaware of what she was doing. Of course one's pregnancy is a very personal thing, but one's Aikido should always be balance between personal awareness and social awareness.
What I mean by this is this: Like her, her training partners were having to properly adapt their training levels to her current physical state. I find this to be a natural part of training - pregnant or not. Training partners should always adapt their training levels relative to each other's conditioning and skill, etc. This is a part of awareness training and the cultivation of martial sensitivity - at the least. A student gains much more via this kind of "adapted" practice than by leaving it out. However, adaptation or no adaptation, accidents happen on the mat: People fall when they aren't supposed to; People hold on longer than they are supposed to; People don't let go when they are supposed to; Neighboring uke crash where they aren't supposed to; weapons are let loose or hit the wrong target when they aren't supposed to; etc. It always seemed to me that Aiki awareness demanded that all parties involved should realize this fact - accidents happen.
With that in mind, I talked to the mother privately and asked her if she did in fact realize this. She of course said "yes," since it's such an obvious fact to realize. But wanting to go a little deeper, as our training itself demands, I asked her if she was ready to accept the actual occurrence of that possibility. More importantly, I wanted to know if she was ready to fully forgive any fellow student that might accidentally injure her baby. I also wanted to know if she was fully aware that she was also asking fellow students, as well as expecting them, to be able to forgive themselves if they happen to accidentally injure her baby?
As an instructor, I will have to say that I didn't see the level of social awareness I would have like to have seen in her replies - especially as it became later and later in her pregnancy. In fact, I saw a kind of "selfishness" that was very much at odds with Aikido training as well as Japanese culture in general. Of course this "self-centered" training was present before the pregnancy, but with so much as stake I felt I could not just let this one play itself out on the mat. I made a decision to greatly reduce her partnered training. Instead, I opted to provide many additional training hours per week for in her the shape of private and/or smaller "directed" classes. These classes took the shape of private weapons classes, private Iaido classes, private tai-sabaki training and dedicating the first 30 min. of various group classes to stretching and/or tai-sabaki (after which class would continue as normal without her). For the social aspects of Aikido training, I felt this was the best route to take as a balance between her desire to train as long as possible while pregnant, and the great responsibility that was being placed upon the dojo as a whole and her fellow members individually.
I have had two other pregnancies in our dojo. In all three cases I have always tried to leave as much of the decision up to the mothers-to-be - granting good medical advice - on whether they want to train or not. I find that certain aspects of Aikido training can be quite conducive to the pregnancy as well as the delivery. In particular: breathing from one's center, strength, endurance, the cultivation of calmness, and flexibility. So in most cases I'm quite encouraging of mothers to train while pregnant - especially during the early stages. But from the beginning I try to tailor classes (as I listed above) and provide a "safer" environment (as I listed above). I also try to actively encourage the practice of yoga - as yoga training can also provide those same positive traits that Aikido can bring to the pregnancy/delivery. Yoga though can be practiced much further into the pregnancy than Aikido, and it is supremely safer, comparatively speaking. Should things again head in a similar direction, in light of all else that is provided, I think it is not only a part of Aikido training, but that it is quite fair to again raise the social issues I mentioned above.
Currently we are expecting our second child. My wife also trains in our dojo. At the beginning of her pregnancy, she did take advantage of the adapted training I provide for pregnant mothers that wish to train. But she, like the other third mother, opted to halt their training much sooner than the first mother I discussed. I did not have to pose the social awareness questions before them - they seemed more socially inclined and reached their conclusion to halt their training all on their own. Currently my wife and I practice yoga together in order to prepare for the delivery. Aside from garnering all of the psycho/physical benefits I mentioned above (those equally offered by Yoga and Aikido), Yoga, unlike Aikido, allows both my wife and I to really concentrate on the baby in the womb while we are training. We find this to assist greatly with the overall bonding experience. Also, our other child, now 2, also mimics our movements and talks about the new baby as we are practicing yoga. It really becomes a family experience - one that cannot be so easily duplicated on the Aikido mat.
Okay, that all being said… I just wanted to say that aside from the medical issues that people so accurately provided elsewhere in this thread, there are social issues - social issues are very much related to Aikido and that should be considered. That is to say, aside from talking to your doctor, I think you should also talk to your sensei. And if your dojo is small enough, maybe even talk to your fellow members as well. I also think it is important to realize that accidents do happen on the mat. And I think it's important to ask yourself, in light of that fact (reasonably considered), whether you are ready to fully forgive your fellow members should they accidentally injure your baby or not. I also think it is important to realize that you are asking them to be able to forgive themselves should they accidentally injure your baby. For while Aikido training should always include a level of adaptation, I don't think anyone should get on the mat and put all the responsibility for safety on the shoulders of others. To do so would be to cultivate the opposite of self-responsibility. Such a thing would be detrimental to one's Aikido training, in my opinion, because self-responsibility is often the very matrix that binds the elements of spiritual cultivation together (e.g. compassion, love, courage, sacrifice, discipline, endurance, etc.). I also tried to offer some "other" possible outlets for you in the shape of adapted training (which can be done with one's sensei and/or with one's fellow members in private sessions or in smaller groups - which make for a safer mat, etc.) and yoga. I hope this helps, but as others pointed out - the choice is yours to make.