Yogic Pregnancy: Self-study or Surrender?

On Saturday mornings I teach prenatal yoga. Many women discover yoga when pregnant because their obstetrician or friends recommend it. It’s a great time to start because the woman’s body is transforming daily and yoga helps her embrace the changes and get to know her body intimately.

I’m a passionate advocate for conscious birth practices and recently trained with Janice Clarfield from urbanyoga in Canada. So each week I take the women through a sequence designed to strengthen the pelvic floor, open the hips and pelvis, soothe joints and muscles and prepare the mind. There’s also lots of breath work, mother/baby connection and deep relaxation of course.

Last week I mentioned to my students that I had finished my full-time job and now I felt like I could start preparing for the birth. After class one woman (due to have her baby in just over two weeks) said to me, “You got me thinking; I haven’t really done much preparation for the birth either.”

She left saying that she enjoyed the vocal toning we were doing and would try to remember to keep her jaw relaxed during the birth. I was slightly alarmed that this woman (a professional woman in her late 30s) would approach the birth of her first baby with such nonchalance.

I soon realised that my surprise came from my deep commitment to the yogic concept of svadhyaya or self-study. Svadhyaya is both the study of scriptures and the study of oneself, including a deep understanding of our bodies, within and without. My first serious enquiry into my body began at 21 when I was pregnant the first time and has obviously evolved since starting yoga.

I kept thinking about my student and how little time she had to understand her body better before it performed this miracle and then I remembered that other yogic concept: Isvara pranidhana. This is complete faith in and surrender to God.

Maybe my student has such faith in the god/goddess within her that she will simply surrender to that during the birth?  Maybe that will be enough for her and maybe women like me can become so fixated on deep understanding that we forget the huge element of surrender involved in birthing a baby?

What are your thoughts? Self-study, surrender or a bit of both?

Everett Bogue Is Doing My Head In

I’m having a lifestyle crisis and it’s all Everett Bogue’s fault. I’ve recently dived into Planet Blog, one click led to another and I discovered Bogue. He is a key figure in the online movement to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. On a superficial level this means hard-core de-cluttering and having less ‘stuff’. On a deeper level it’s about mass consumerism, the environment, energy and freedom.

Bogue is a fan of having the ability to live and work anywhere in the world without fuss. He advocates a minimalist lifestyle as a way to reduce stress and increase productivity and contentment. This all makes so much wonderful sense to me because I teach yoga  and we yogis know that nothing you really need for joy exists outside of you.

So I’ve been reading Bogue’s  posts, downloaded his e-book and became his fan on Facebook. I’ve realised that I’ve been on a very slow path to minimalism for a while now (recycling, reusing, buying most things second-hand on eBay and asking people not to buy us gifts). But still I am in crisis. And here is why: I am about to have a baby.

All parents know that children demand huge lifestyle changes. And then as they grow they develop their own interests (my daughter likes to create and play with small, weird things like pipe cleaners, elastic bands, lizards and slime).

The arrival of our baby in five weeks time has been the impetus for some serious action in our home (nesting anyone?). We have repainted, removed, installed, dusted, decorated, scrubbed, sorted, washed and folded. The amount of stuff we have and apparently still need has alarmed me not only because of the cost but because of the storage and the fact that I am too busy (and lazy) to keep on top of it all.

So Mr. Bogue, while I am deeply inspired by your movement and your writing, I think it’s an unfair coincidence that I’m being driven towards minimalism right now because I am in nesting mode. And nesting involves making a nice, warm, cosy home for a baby…you know, with blankets, booties and bunnies (it’s Autumn Easter time in Sydney).

I have asked my family to please not buy anything for the baby and the responses have ranged from polite nods, quizzical stares and a blunt, “That’s just stupid.”  It seems people cannot comprehend coming to meet a new baby empty-handed and I don’t want to offend anyone. I also don’t want people to think that I don’t want their gifts just so I don’t have to buy them gifts! So I find myself at a confused crossroad.

Nevertheless, I will try my best over the next few months to only accumulate amazing babymoon memories…I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

How do you negotiate your minimalist lifestyle with your family and friends?

Celebrating Women’s Day the Yoga Way

“In the grand scheme of things, women in the West were permitted to vote last week!”

Mark Whitwell, Yoga of Heart

If I had a guru, his name would be Mark Whitwell. Mark has been teaching authentic yoga in the lineage of Krishnamachrya and his son TKV Desikachar for over 20 years. I first met him in Sydney in 2009 and then did a weekend workshop in January.

I quote Mark because today is International Women’s Day (IWD). First celebrated in 1911, IWD recognises the economic, social and political achievements of women worldwide. Most women today have some knowledge of the way our lives have changed over the past century. We are also aware that the basic rights of women are still being developed in many parts of the world.

A woman’s feminine experience depends largely on the historical and social context into which she is born. I am a 30 year-old Australian woman who has had full access to health, education and political opportunities. I grew up with the freedom to dress, speak and act the way I pleased. As an adult I pursue a career full-time, sharing home and child-care duties with my husband. All my friends have similar lifestyles; we keep our maiden names, work hard and we spend our own money. We have no idea what it is like to have no access to education or employment, to be told what to wear and to serve a man before ourselves. We believe we are equal. We believe we are free. But are we?

In his book, Yoga of Heart, Mark talks about the continuing power struggles between women and men:

“Men are afraid of women’s power and many women are trying to to duplicate men rather than relax and be themselves.”

He believes that yoga has the power to change this and free both men and women from restrictive gender roles. In a nutshell; yoga can help both sexes to soften and recognise our mutuality rather than our duality. It is only when this happens that we can find our true power as humans.

Do you think women try to duplicate men? And do you think that men are afraid of the power of women? What does International Women’s Day mean to you?


Random Acts of Kindness

Today I was standing in line at a department store. There came a man to my left who placed an item on the counter. We acknowledged each other with a quick glance the way strangers do. Then he looked at my baby bump and smiled, “Congratulations.” It was a broad smile and he spoke confidently.

“Oh. Thanks,” was my reply. And that was it. No further questions or small talk. Just one big congratulations and my uncertain half-smile response.

So why was I weirded out? Why was my initial thought that he must be a bit loopy? Why couldn’t I just accept his warm wishes without query or judgment? Was it because he was a man? Would I have assessed the person’s mental status had the comment come from a woman? Was it because there was no follow-up conversation? Had my response quashed the possibility of a follow-up conversation? Or was it just because he had said it in such a broad voice?

I like to think that I am a kind, friendly person who often talks to strangers (usually the elderly, women and sales staff). I enjoy a bit of banter and sometimes even find myself engaged in a power-D&M with someone I don’t know and will never see again. But would I say, “Congratulations!” to a pregnant woman while standing in a queue and then nothing else? I don’t think so.

I wonder if this guy is the epitome of open-heartedness; someone who makes it a habit to say something nice to random people on a daily basis. Someone who talks to people instead of just staring at them or pushing past them. Or maybe he is a member of The Australian Kindness Movement? Run by volunteers, the organisation believes kindness has positive health benefits for you and the person you are being kind to. They host National Kindness Days and are members of the World Kindness Movement, which celebrates connections through acts of kindness.

Have you experienced the kindness of strangers? Do you make it a habit to show kindness to others? And are you interested in striking up conversations with random people?

Nesting in 2010

I am not a bird but I am nesting. Nesting is what animals do when they are expecting a baby. It’s about preparing a warm, comfortable home that will help the new baby survive. Birds gather twigs and leaves. Cats and dogs pad around until they find somewhere soft and warm and then they work on smoothing it out. Rodents scurry about searching for a low, dry place to birth and humans? Humans spend money.

We have lived in our home for over three years. It’s in a nice street, in a nice neighbourhood. The layout is great and we have more than enough room. When we bought it we knew there were improvements to make here and there but we were happy enough to have stopped renting and got on with life.

Magazines are a passion of mine and home decorating ones are no exception. So I’d peruse them with sticky notes in hand, visualising what our home may look like one day when we ran into a truckload of cash. Well the truckload never materialised but I did become pregnant…

Now there are just seven weeks to go until our little girl makes her entrance and I have had:

  • The entire house painted (including front door in a sexy deep blue)
  • New doors and door handles installed
  • Old wardrobes ripped out
  • Carpets ripped out
  • Floorboards sanded and varnished
  • All the windows professionally cleaned
  • New blinds installed

I have also bought new furniture, bedding and electricals and have a little list of items still to purchase once I’m on leave. On top of all this I am cleaning with gusto; mopping, soaking, wiping, disinfecting.

Thousands of years ago expectant women probably just swept out the cave with a broom made from animal hair. But not I. I often ask myself where these urges are coming from (nature or nurture?) because I know the newborn won’t come out admiring the white skirting boards and window frames. Nor will she notice that the books on the shelves are organised categorically or that her wardrobe has a double-hanging feature.

She may notice though that we don’t have any money left and we are living in a nest made of twigs and leaves…

Wii will get there

Today I filled in for a Year 1 teacher. Because she was also absent yesterday her students had not yet gone over their new weekly spelling words. There were 12 words; six belonging to the ‘ig’ family word group (pig, dig, fig, etc) and six frequently used words like have, went, play.

When introducing new spelling words, teachers like to ask their students if they are able to verbalise a sentence using the word. So today it went a little something like this (keep in mind the children are about six years old):

Me: “Can somebody give me a sentence using the word dog?”

Student: “I.have.a.dog!”

Me: “Can somebody give me a sentence using the word went?”

Student: “The.dog.went.to.the.park!”

Me: “Can somebody give me a sentence using the word play?”

Student: “I.play.with.my.dog!”

And then there was the word we and I saw one little boy’s eyes light up. Up until now he had seemed distracted so I was keen to hear what he had to say. “Yes, Adam*? Go ahead.”

“I.play.the.Wii.at.home.”

At first I didn’t register because I don’t own a Wii but his mates were right onto him, explaining the difference between the two words.

How is a six-year old boy whose first language isn’t even English able to use the word Wii in context but not the word we? Is it a cause for concern or just funny? And I wonder how confused he’ll be when he discovers you can use the word wee for pee?

*Names have been changed.

Out of the playground, into the world

Yesterday I read about two Sydney high school girls who recently experienced two vastly different cultures as part of their study programs. Katie Summers from Kincoppal-Rose Bay traveled to Queens, New York for four weeks and Meriden’s Melinda Heinrich spent 11 days in the Tanami Desert, Alice Springs.

While Katie studied in an old mansion, visited UN Headquarters and climbed the statue of liberty, Melinda slept in a tent, hunted goanna and assisted a vision-impaired boy at school. Both girls go to private single-sex schools. Katie wants to pursue international studies and Melinda wants to work closely with small communities.

As a public school teacher, I am envious of the opportunities these girls have that the kids I teach probably won’t ever have. As a mother of daughters (one on the way!) I hope that some day my girls will grow up to have the same attitudes and independence that these two young girls have. And as a woman I am inspired by all that they will become in the future.

Which trip would you have preferred as a student: a winter in NYC or the rocky terrain of the Australian outback?