Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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Posted by on in Family

 

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Just a few weeks ago, I had a person in my belly. Now that person, a little girl, the fifth member of our family, is sleeping a few feet away from me. She’s decidedly her own person, both independent and also completely dependent on me. After sharing space with me for 9 months, she made her exit into a world in which she has to learn, step-by-step, how to do everything. Everything. Breathing is new, digesting is new, controlling limbs is new and initially impossibly difficult. In our family, we call her frenetic arm movements “playing the bongos.”

What can you say about something that is so profound and yet so incredibly common? In the time it took you to read that sentence, four more babies were born.

Sure, there’s the typical territory, but to me the most notable things about the newborn days are not the sleep deprivation or how hard it is to find time to take a shower. What amazes me is the fact that within days of my third child’s birth I simultaneously felt an overwhelming love and a paralyzing fear.

A week before my due date, I wrote about the joy of waiting and not-knowing. Baby girl took the post  to heart because she kept us waiting and not knowing for two weeks past her due date! During those bonus weeks I did lots of yoga and meditation, took walks, enjoyed weekly massages and nightly baths, and just generally tried to savor the in-between while also doing all the things people tell you to do to get your baby out. Contractions would start and kick up in intensity, then they’d stop. I wanted nothing more than to make sense of the patterns and figure out what exactly I needed to do to give this kid her eviction notice.

The night before I went into labor the waiting finally got to me. I tearily told Zach I wanted to “take the night off,” so I pretended I wasn’t desperately hoping to have a baby and instead we watched “The Big Lebowski.”

The next morning I did a sweet meditation and a wiggly yoga practice that veered from the usual sequence of poses that had kept me feeling so great throughout my pregnancy. The practice was mostly hip circles and other organic movements that just felt right at the moment, and it tuned me into a different sort of mindfulness. 

Contractions finally began that afternoon and as I labored through the evening and deepened my breath to match the increasing intensity, I felt the echoes of my yoga and meditation practice and a connection to an intuition I hadn’t experienced with my other two births. I let go of attachment to where I was in the process or how long labor would last and instead just did my best to surrender one contraction at a time. My strong baby girl was born that evening 5 hours after the first contraction and just 1.5 hours after we arrived at the birth center.

For the first few days after her birth I embraced the fluidity of life with a newborn and was simply overflowing with gratitude: for our thriving baby girl, for my wonderful husband, for our doula, for our midwives, for the luck of having a healthy pregnancy and beautiful birth, for the support of our friends and family, and for the immediate love big brother and big sister showed for their new sibling.

But on about day four, all that poetically intuitive stuff went out the window and I had my first new mom anxiety dream where I couldn't find my baby after having brought her to a party. Then my overthinking, control-seeking mind tried to push its way back in between feedings and changings. “When will she get on a nap schedule?” “How long before she smiles?” “Should I take her for a walk in the stroller or sling?”  

My first instinct was to pump google for answers, but I stopped myself. It’s been 6 years since we’ve parented a newborn, but I still vividly remember days wasted crying over this stuff. The intensity of the love I’ve felt for each of my children took me to new heights of fear and self-doubt. What if I do everything wrong and mess up this perfect little being? How can I keep her from getting sick or hurt? What if every other mother in the world knows something I don’t?

As baby girl sleeps today I get on the mat to breathe and move to remind myself that as long as I’m taking care of her basic needs, none of these seemingly pressing questions really matters. I remind myself that the newborn phase is all about creating a strong attachment, and attachment naturally leads to a fear of loss of love. This new mom business is tough - the emotions are so raw and real and close to the surface.

These first few weeks as my body recovers from birth and I'm adjusting emotionally to this massive change in our family's life, my yoga practice looks different. It's abbreviated, gentler, and more subtle, but no less powerful. This is yoga as prep for birth as prep for parenting; it's learning to be okay in uncertainty and to listen to the experts on the big stuff, but to body, breath, baby, and my own intuition on all the little daily stuff. She will sleep, she will eat, she will get sick, she will get hurt. There are no magic answers. When she wakes up crying and I can't figure out why, I kiss her and tell her over and over that I lvoe her. I know this is the most important thing I can do: quell the fears and amp up the love.

The experience of growing, birthing, and raising a human being is no less amazing the third time around, and the love I feel for her is still chased by fear. But instead of running from it or feeding it with a relentless search for external answers, I coo to my fears and gently shush them knowing that sometimes being less in control and instead surrendering to a tiny love is a glorious change of pace.

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Posted by on in Health

I was talking with a student after class the other day about her suspicions that particular aspects of her practice were actually doing her more harm than good. The NYT article had recently come out causing yoga practitioners everywhere to buzz with concerns about injuries and overdoing it on the mat. The student described specific aches, pains, and sensations that were consistently produced when she practiced too frequently and too vigorously. But in the same breath she emphasized her love of the practice and her uncertainty (hope) that these strong sensations might actually be something other than harmful. As she talked I felt the familiar knot developing in my stomach, the sick feeling I get when I know something that I don’t really want to know.


I like to think of it as the “I know I have a cavity” feeling. It’s that same uneasiness I get when I have a not yet been to the dentist, choosing instead to pretend I don’t feel the nerve sensitivity with each bite, each sip of a cold beverage, when I hope that just ignoring it will make it go away. I brush and floss religiously, I tell myself. This must be something else. But waiting changes nothing about the problem, and often only serves to makes the symptoms worse and more abruptly urgent.


Who among us hasn’t been in this situation? Whether trying to defend something you care deeply about like yoga practice or a relationship, or attempting to skirt something unpleasant like a cavity, it can be tempting to ignore what you wish you didn't you know. At first it’s just a hint, a whisper, but as time passes it gets louder and stronger and more obvious, and yet still you resist, worried. The worry stems not from the knowledge, but from having to do something with it. It’s scary to think about having to change your behavior, having to take a different approach when you were oh so comfy just as you were.

Just as ignoring the cavity doesn’t make it go away, when you keep practicing yoga in a way that causes you to question whether you are doing yourself harm, you likely are. After listening to the student I suggested that she already knows the answer to her own question, and typically that’s how it goes. When you wonder if you are overdoing it, you likely are. If you think you have a cavity, you probably do. That quiet nagging, that quiet knowing is your intuition. The decision to listen to it or not is all you.

Tagged in: injuries intuition
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