After being introduced to yoga at 15 years of age, it helped Nina Isabella navigate through life’s challenges and she was keen to continue while pregnant with her son. After a difficult birth and subsequent damage to her pelvic floor, she began reflecting on her prenatal yoga experience and realised that women needed a whole new kind of yoga practice to prepare them for birth. She went on to complete her training as a yoga teacher and childbirth educator and started Mamashanti, a yoga practice entirely devoted to supporting women through their birthing years. Here, she shares the passion behind Mamashanti and her business journey so far.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
I was introduced to yoga at the tender age of 15. It helped me navigate high school, university, moving cities, my career as a landscape architect, relationships and health crises – everything! When I fell pregnant with my son in 1999, I realised I had been practising yoga for half of my life. Like many women who love their yoga, I wanted to continue my practice through pregnancy with as few alterations as possible – staying strong felt like the most important goal for birth preparation. Late pregnancy, I did transfer into prenatal yoga classes; while these classes gave me superb tools in breath awareness, they focussed on modified classical yoga sequences that had little reference to birth preparation.
When I birthed my son, tension through my pelvic girdle and pelvic floor made it difficult for my son to position favourably. I experienced an extended second stage that left me with damage to my pelvic floor. I couldn’t believe that I felt so lacking in skills to work with the intensity of labour. I had adhered to all of the messaging around preparation for birth – I kept myself strong and supple. Little did I know back then, this was a major contributor to my birth experience.
When my son turned four, I began yoga teacher training, studying part time, and working three days a week while raising my son alone. It was an incredibly challenging time that compelled me to process my birth experience. In this time, I found a deep held passion for reclaiming women’s trust in their innate wisdom to birth and raise their children consciously.
Reflecting on attending births; conversations with birthing women and my own experience of attending prenatal yoga, I felt strongly that women needed a new kind of practice; one created from the ground up – from birth up. A whole new practice to prepare them consciously for the real world challenges of birthing in the 21st century.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
Early my second year of yoga teacher training, I covered a few prenatal yoga classes and I fell in love with being in a room full of gorgeous pregnant women. It felt very clear to me that this was the only kind of yoga I wanted to teach!
In 2005, I completed training as a yoga teacher and childbirth educator and I established Mamashanti – a yoga practice entirely devoted to supporting women through their birthing years. Soon after, I completed birth attendant training with renowned educator – Rhea Dempsey – Birthing Wisdom.
I took a bold leap, left my career as a landscape architect, started attending births and teaching in a small, local studio. It all began with very modest-sized classes – such a wonderful way to learn my craft by offering individualised care – something that remains central to my practice. I posted flyers everywhere and soon, word got around and the little space started filling up!
Later that year, I received a call from the owner of a large studio who invited me in to run classes in her centre. I was over the moon with joy! I had a couple of conditions. First and foremost, Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth would be moved from the outer edges of the timetable to the centre; by regarding these classes as central to the studio’s offering, we became the first studio in metro Melbourne to offer four classes each week. Classes filled and soon they were overflowing – so many beautiful pregnant women one space! I augmented these classes with monthly Birthing Partners workshops and as these women were so lovely and so loyal, I started offering Womanly Yoga for postnatal support.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
Initially, I looked to the core needs of modern birthing women and pioneered a new mode of practice I call Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth – a practice that seamlessly integrates contemporary yoga, acupressure, breath awareness and nervous system regulation techniques with inspiring and on-point childbirth education.
As I spent more time connecting with birthing women, I uncovered a very dark secret – women were being led into childbirth without meaningful techniques to support their pelvic floor integrity. I thought it was just me who missed some vital message! I soon realised the prevailing message given to women in preparation for birth continues to be “stay strong”. This persistent message has inadvertently developed the modern condition of the over-toned pelvic floor; this is where muscles that are tense and unable to relax may contribute to longer labour, higher rates of intervention in birth and pelvic floor damage.