Back in April I became the proud and deliriously happy mother of Alexander. Throughout my experience of pregnancy, birth and new motherhood I have repeatedly found myself asking the same question: How does anyone do this without yoga? Time and time again I have realised that without the strength, skills, body awareness, emotional techniques and connection to Spirit which Forrest Yoga has helped me develop I would be lost, or at least finding things a lot more difficult. My practice on the mat has been, during pregnancy, considerably modified and, in the four months since birth, a very rare treat, but off the mat I am experiencing a serious uplevel. Before I embarked on the journey into motherhood I had expected that some aspects of yoga would help, for example using my breath to calm and to track sensation during labour, being able to stretch out tight muscles in pregnancy, and knowing how to acknowledge a feeling or sensation and then release it. However, other things have taken me by surprise.
As my bump grew bigger and bigger, it felt like with every passing week I needed to relearn again how to walk well. Although the discomfort I was feeling was in my loosening hip joints and my compressed, unsupported low back, I discovered that the trick was always to concentrate on feeling my feet on the ground. Active feet gave me a foundation of support and awareness, onto which I could add adjustments to the way I moved my knees and engaged the fronts, insides and backs of my thighs, and the amount of strain I moved from my back into my bum muscles. Then, and only then, could I lift my heart and move my back ribs back to create some well needed breathing space and to stand in a way that made me feel proud, strong and comfortable.
Before I found Forrest Yoga I lived mostly in my head, I had never thought of myself as a sporty type, and my body was weak. As a result of a few years of doing a regular Forrest practice almost accidentally I became physically quite strong, and that’s how I went into pregnancy. Even though my practice got more and more gentle as my bump grew, my still-strong body was able to cope pretty well with the extra weight I was carrying, and because my joints were well supported with muscle I had relatively little pain in my back and hips. That meant I could keep fairly active, which is very good news for any body, let alone a pregnant one! The point at which I was most glad of having physical strength, though, was after the birth. I ended up having an emergency c-section (thank heavens for the NHS!) and yet was up and about, able to move myself in and out of bed and take short walks along the hospital corridors within 24 hours. It made an enormous difference, especially because birth is only the very beginning - suddenly I had a fast-growing boy to lift and carry and rock and walk to sleep, and the real weight-training had begun!
‘It Takes The Time It Takes’
This little phrase, courtesy of the wonderful Forrest Yoga Guardian Heidi Sormaz, has come to my rescue many times in recent months. In the last weeks of pregnancy it helped dispel any impatience I felt for the baby to arrive, and I could remind myself that he had some important growing to do before he was ready for this world. In the first weeks of recovery from the major abdominal surgery of a c-section it helped me meet limited movement, aches, pains and cabin fever with breath and patience, and infinite wonder at the body’s amazing capacity to heal. And now, beginning to get to know my new post-baby body, it is helping me to approach the slow, slow mending of diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles) and of several layers of scar tissue with curiosity and excitement for the journey.
‘What Part of This Can I Do?’
I first encountered this tool whilst doing the Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training, and ever since have used it whenever I have felt outfaced. Asking myself ‘What part of this can I do?’ has been the only way I could start tackling the jungle of brambles at the allotment, get onto my mat on many a cold winter’s morning, or approach an advanced pose like Head to Ankle which is yet beyond my reach. During labour it helped me face each contraction, one by one, second by second. Nowadays, however, it is most often invoked at 4am when my body and mind are screaming for sleep but my baby is screaming too, and my head is ringing with a swirling, painful chorus of ‘I can’t do this’. If I can gently ask myself this magic question, though, I discover that I can look at my tiny fragile beloved and remember that his cry is a plea for help. I can take a breath. I can pick him up and wrap my heart around him. I can yet again clamber out of bed to bounce him, walk him, shush him, sing to him. I can.
Minimising the Gap Between What Is and What Should Be
This is perhaps the most powerful thing I have learned through practising Forrest Yoga, and the idea I find myself returning to nearly every day in a new context. In the first trimester of pregnancy I felt constant, awful nausea and I didn’t feel like doing anything at all, let alone a full Forrest Yoga practice. At first I beat myself up about it. A voice in my head told me a yoga teacher should be getting on the mat every day, and how could I expect to teach others if I wasn’t practising myself. After a while I realised that this ‘should’ was rooted in fear of not being good enough, and that it was much more important (and a much better example to my students) to honour my needs. From then on the gap was closed - I needed to rest and I felt I should rest, so life was much easier and happier!
In the first few weeks after Alex was born, like all new parents I got very little sleep. (I remember one particularly crazy night when I got a total of 45 minutes rest!) It was a very intense and extraordinary time, but for the most part, contrary to my fears and expectations, I coped well and was surprisingly cheery. I put this down partly to the incredible flood of oxytocin, but mostly to the decision I made in the first few hours of being a mum that whatever the baby needed from me, that was what I should be doing. Our first four months have been incredibly, deeply happy, and I am still working hard on keeping what is and what should be as closely matched as possible!