Ashtanga, Pregnancy and Letting Go
As I come to the end of my pregnancy I can’t help but feel a profound sense of gratitude towards the Ashtanga Yoga tradition and my teachers in particular – David Robson and his team at AYCT Toronto.
I have struggled with Ashtanga as I have struggled with all things in life. Mostly I love it, at times I hate it, many times I’m somewhere in between and contemplate pursuing a different path. I couldn’t be happier to have continued to this point, seeing all challenges as obstacles of the mind, and reminding myself that I all I really need to do is step on my mat 6 times a week (except moon days).
When we first decided to get pregnant again, the Universe told us we weren’t yet ready. I had cervical dysplasia that required 2 surgeries. I was so angry that I couldn’t control this, and even more angry that I couldn’t practice for a month after each surgery. I was so eager to move forward in my practice and master supta-kurmasana, but it wasn’t in the cards for now. David guided me as I recovered from both surgeries and eventually started to embark upon the fertility journey once again.
In trying to get pregnant, I came across yet another hurdle – I wanted to move forward in my practice, be a “good yogi” and wake up really early to get my full practice in. But I was TIRED from a full-time job, recovering from surgery, and raising a toddler. I started to suffer from lack of sleep, and felt that something had to go. I asked David for advice, but didn’t like the idea of doing a shorter practice – maybe Ashtanga wasn’t meant for me after all. I tried other things, but eventually missed the structure and stability that Ashtanga gave me. I went back to David, he got mad that I hadn’t listened to him. It was exactly what I needed. Why does the mind play so many tricks? Why not trust the tradition, trust those that are further along the path? So I started again, softer, shorter, but still practicing. It was a gift, and shortly after the Universe gave me the gift of the beautiful baby girl that grows in my belly.
I took the first three months of pregnancy off as the tradition suggests. Funny how Ashtanga gets a bad rep for being tough, but then people ignore the blessings of the rest that is suggested. This was a time of introspection, of getting used to the life growing within, and definitely a part of my yoga practice even if there was no asana. At four months I came back, the mantra of softening and opening accompanying me in my journey. This was a whole new way to practice. I am so used to pushing, to doing more, to wanting to be the best. Yet in pregnancy yoga is about letting go. Letting go of expectations, of what we used to be able to do, of wanting to be better, of moving forward. It is a deepening, a going within and within and within, of honouring the breath, the life force above all else.
A few times during my pregnancy I thought of letting go of Asthanga. It was getting too difficult to do things like I wanted to do them, I started to feel more aches and pains and again the tiredness was getting to me. Yet each time, the call to leave was actually a call to deepen. How can I work within the tradition and structure to honour what I need at this time? Often, for me, it was doing less. A real “aha” moment was when I realized that I could do chaturanga on my knees! Unheard of! This small change allowed me to continue my practice into my 40th week, where I am today.
I think I have probably practiced 6 days a week except moon days, maybe missed 3-4 days total, from the third to 10th month of pregnancy. I think what kept me going was the thought that all I really needed to do was get on my mat every day. This is easier said than done. It is often when there are uncomfortable feelings or thoughts that I want to skip, and these are the days when practice is most beneficial. If I can’t practice in the morning, I make sure I will have time during my lunch hour or before bed. I deserve it. No matter how busy we think we are, we all deserve a moment with God. We must plug in daily to recognize where we are living from spirit and where we are on automatic pilot, reacting to our old habits. All it really takes is standing on our mat.
I have found that once I stand, I tend to want to chant, and the sun salutations follow. Often a full practice, when I thought I had no time or energy for it. And this time, this commitment to take a stand, keeps me grounded, keeps me whole, and keeps me going deeper into myself.
Thanks to this experience of Ashtanga during pregnancy, I now know that Ashtanga can be with me to the end of my days. As long as I can breathe, I can practice. And the desire to leave the path to try other things gets weaker as I see that it doesn’t really matter which path we choose, as long as we continue it. Sticking to one path allows us to put aside all tricks of mind to focus on what is really important, coming back to the present moment. Ashtanga does this for me, and I am grateful.
Tomorrow is my baby’s “due date” and while I yearn for a beautiful, natural birth (or a “hippie love-in birth” as Stan calls it) I am also aware that there is only so much I can control about my baby’s birth or anything in this life. Ashtanga has taught me this too. As much as I have yearned to move past it, I remain at Supta Kurmasana in my practice, where I began over 2 years ago. At first I was mad about this, then felt sad and inferior to others who flow so gracefully, then tried to push, hurting myself, and eventually let it go (for the most part). It is still my practice, it is still beautiful, I am still whole, and ultimately even if one day I get past Supta Kurmasana, lo and behold there will be another pose to master. Just like my baby’s birth. I can want it to look or feel a particular way, but the magic is in the surrender, in the mystery, in the knowing that there are powers much greater than me that run the show.
Part of my pregnancy practice has been reading the Yoga Sutras before home practice. I was shocked to discover that as much as we Westernize yoga these days, it is a profoundly religious endeavour. Sutra I.23 states that the whole goal of yoga can be achieved from devotion to God. As I continue my practice, I find comfort in surrendering more and more of my efforts to God, to something greater than me. This allows me to be just as I am, rather than beating myself up for not being a good enough yogi.
So for today I am so incredibly grateful to this practice, to the people that continue to lead me on this path, and for the ability to be kind enough to myself to accept that I am a work in progress. Yoga is not something to be perfected at the outset but a life-long process, an ideal that we work towards, in kindness, in patience, in peace.
Proposals for an insightful daily practice
#1 On dealing with distraction
#2 Practicing with Equanimity
#3 Being Vegetarian
#4 On Patience
#5 Softening in your Practice
#6 David speaks about “The Perfect Pose”
#7 Family and Ashtanga (with guest star Bambi)
#8 Mula Bhanda; Squeeze your Anus!
#9 Our Challenge is our Work
#10 On Change
#11 Stop Fidgeting!
#12 Jump Backs and Jump Throughs
#13 Forward Folds; Hamsters & Hamstrings
#14 Alignment in Upward and Downward Dog
#15 Weekly Challenge Outtakes