Just had a baby and want to get fit? Deborah Nicholls-Lee went to Studio 191 to meet Natasha Martin, the founder of a new yoga, movement, and lifestyle studio in the Pijp where baby comes too. Can new mamas really keep fit without a babysitter? Read on to find out.
“I’m dying for a coffee,” says Natasha, founder of yoga & fitness Studio 191, letting her hair down and swapping her funky pink gym kit for a black maxi dress and sandals.
She steers me away from the fitness class I have just taken with her and round the corner to the local café. I bypass the herbal tea and fruited water provided at the studio – also delicious – and, biting deep into my chocolate croissant, embrace Natasha’s no-guilt attitude to exercise – and life. Her body, a testament to her classes, is as strong and toned as you’d expect, but her philosophy, I discover, places fun firmly at the centre of everything she does.
A Client-Led Concept
I have just taken part in Natasha’s Baby + Me Fit class; a cheerful and upbeat session, and one of three classes offered where baby (normally 6 weeks-12 months old) comes too. This class comprises elements of yoga, pilates, barre, and traditional fitness moves to realign the body and build strength and muscle tone. But what Natasha most enjoys about it is “being with the mums and having a laugh.” The huge health benefits are just an added bonus.
Bringing a baby to a class seems ambitious but, as Natasha explains, the idea for the class evolved along with the changing needs of her clients. “I’ve always been interested in the pregnant body and I started giving prenatal classes. Then I thought – the women – then where do they go [after the birth]? So, then I was like, I should do post-natal. And then I thought, where do they go with the babies? It was kind of common sense.”
I admit I had been sceptical, but after a fully-booked class on a baking hot morning, I'm a believer. Seems the mamas are convinced – in their droves - by the concept too.
The whole point is to get a good workout and have a great time.
Happy Babies and Serious Toning
Ceiling fans keep our busy class cool and 18 babies coo happily, nestled on the end of their mothers’ yoga mats. Some are asleep in maxi cosis, some lounge on muslins surrounded by toys; one sits up and marvels at herself shaking a rattle in the studio mirror for the duration.
Any worries about what baby might do are allayed right away. “This is super casual,” Natasha announces to the group, “The whole point is to get a good workout and have a great time.” She reassures the mums that they can go in and out of the room if they need to and that it’s OK for baby to be noisy. As one mum later effused, “It’s great. You don’t have to feel awkward or embarrassed because your baby’s crying.”
The tone of the routine is fun (“We all want perky butt cheeks”) but the workout is thorough and challenging and peppered with technical explanations for why this exercise is good post-partum. Each series lasts several minutes, with plenty of reps, so it’s easy to slot back into the routine if your baby needs attention at any time. Most exercises are differentiated so you can adapt the intensity according to your strength levels.
I pause to bang my aching muscles out. The exercises are doing some serious work but the atmosphere is relaxed. “It’s like a disco in here,” Natasha says, as our vigorous activity begins to steam up the room.
The infants are surprisingly cooperative. The movement and music (think pop rather than panpipes) keep them stimulated for ages. Most gaze up at their mothers gape-mouthed, and if Natasha spots a restless one, she wanders through the mats and has a quick chat and a cuddle with it.
Next are some exercises with the babies, or with a weighted ball if your baby is sleeping. Now getting fidgety, they are delighted to have this interaction and enjoy all the lifting and swaying.
The last few minutes of the lesson are what Natasha calls ‘a top-up’. We’ve already done a full body workout but this is a chance to either ‘turbo charge’ or, if you missed parts of the lesson tending to your baby, you can fill in the gaps now. Some mums take this time to breastfeed. Anything goes.
At the end of the session, mothers mingle and chat, grab a drink, rock their babies. Unhurried, they gradually disperse. You can see that this coming together has been hugely beneficial for them for both body and mind.
We’re not just a gym or yoga studio, we’re about community.
Building a Community
Behind the friendly, life-affirming atmosphere of the yoga class is a philosophy which seeks to bring people together for the greater good.
As Natasha stirs sugar into her iced coffee she talks enthusiastically about ‘Movement beyond Movement’, the community projects at the studio: “We’re not just a gym or yoga studio, we’re about community.” She tells me about collections for refugees, guest speakers and ‘Karma classes’, where participants donate to charity rather than pay.
Her studio lobby is itself an expression of her values. Built from reclaimed bricks, second-hand stainless steel cupboards and salvaged wood, it is environmentally aware, fun and very cool. It’s hugely practical too, housing all the prams and baby paraphernalia with ease. And on partner-comes-too evenings (‘Man up at the Barre’), they even serve beers there.
So Many Options
The growing community of clients has led to rapid expansion in this new business. In addition to Baby + Me Fit, you can also bring baby along to Baby + Me Yoga, Baby + me Yogalates and Baby + Me Barre. Each class offers a different challenge depending on where you are in your recovery and what you want to work on. And don’t worry about the classes being oversubscribed, Natasha has it sorted: “Each time a class fills up, we open a new class.”
Prenatal mamas can go to special yoga, pilates, barre and fitness classes. These are also perfect for postpartum mamas, who are invited to return once their baby is born. With the 5 or 10 class card, you can pick and choose which sessions you want to do, ideal when transitioning from pre- to post-natal.
And – shhh - there are new Baby + Me classes being developed as I write, so it’s worth following on Facebook or signing up for the newsletter to find out more. Facebook is also a great place to snaffle the special offers which Natasha posts from time to time to reward her followers.
“I just love helping women feel good about themselves again. Get a workout, feel good, feel empowered, and don’t worry about a babysitter or day care.”
The Answer is Always Yes
Studio 191 has a can-do approach to exercising post-pregnancy. Natasha understands what women need and she recognises their power. “You’ve had a baby, you want to feel strong. I don’t want women to feel ‘Oh, I’m fragile, I’m going to break.’ They can do a great workout. It doesn’t have to be easy, it just has to be correct”.
Natasha’s motivation is simple: “I just love helping women feel good about themselves again. Get a workout, feel good, feel empowered, and don’t worry about a babysitter or daycare.”
There’s no self-denial, no whale music, and an overwhelmingly positive attitude to what mothers can achieve.
Can you workout post-partum? Yes. Can you bring your baby? Yes. Can you regain your strength? Yes. Can you go for a coffee and croissant afterwards? Hell yeah.
Disclaimer: Studio 191 has paid to be featured on Amsterdam Mamas because they believe that their services would be of interest and benefit to our readers, and we think so too. For more information on sponsored posts and advertising on Amsterdam Mamas, please see our Advertising and Disclosure policy.
Deborah Nicholls-Lee is a British national who moved to the Netherlands in 2009. A former French and English teacher, she now works as a freelance writer and editor while raising her two children. See her website to find out more about her work.
Photo credit: Studio 191