Can yoga and mindfulness help reduce labour pains?
Every Yoga teacher I know and respect says that having a daily sadhana (personal practice) is the key to continue growing both as a Yoga student and as a Yoga teacher. Especially as a teacher, a personal practice is of utmost importance. As a Yoga student, I agree and as a Yoga teacher, I fully endorse this notion.
Yet, I'm human and I'm not perfect in anyway. So I have had moments where I have strayed from my personal practice and come back to them. I used to be extremely austere with my practice (to the point of being too rigid), and then when marriage and kids happened, it went the opposite way. Then I came back to it, but with a different body, and then I strayed again because I was uninspired. Then I came back to it again.
What I thought was a short break actually ended up being a much longer break than I anticipated. How did I come to this realisation? My sadhana journal kept track. I am embarrassed to reveal that once, I had not meditated once in over three months... but I'm glad I have revealed that because I feel that many yoga teachers and students struggle with the idea of having a daily practice.
Each time I lapsed, I had feelings of shame and although I always thought about my sadhana, it was a struggle to get on the mat. I would judge myself for being a "bad" Yogi. I have had to start over many many times. I've found my new groove and I have rekindled my love for my personal practice, and here's what I learned:
Forgive yourself for being a human
If you are anything like me, (actually, if you're anything like all human beings) you get down on yourself a lot; mainly because you want to do a really good job. We all have this trait of putting ourselves down, or feeling like we aren't good enough. How can we be an authentic teacher, if we don't practice what we preach? Well... being honest about the pitfalls of your own daily practice can be a source of relief and inspiration if your students can relate to it. Instead of putting yourself on a self-proclaimed teacher pedestal, come back to earth. Love yourself in all your humanity and guess what, your students will respect you a lot for that.
Done is better than perfect
Robin Sharma, the author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari has a wonderful quote: "The smallest of actions is always better than the noblest of intentions." We have all these great ideas of how we want our practice to be, but when it comes time to execute it, we put all these blocks in the way about how it's never good enough. Instead of wasting time figuring out the perfect time, place, atmosphere, circumstance, etc... just get on your mat and do something - anything - a round of Alternate Nostril Breathing, one Sun Salutation, one OMMMMMMM.
REMEMBER THAT THE PRACTICE SERVES YOU
To me, success in Yoga is about equanimity of mind and an overall sense of wellbeing in the midst of your life. We all have different goals for physical fitness, mental clarity and stress management. Yoga practice is there to serve us in bringing us closer towards our inner peace and our personal goals. My body today has specific needs which requires I avoid certain poses, even though I know I can do them, I have to resist the temptation because it's not good for my healing to do that. If my energy is low, then my practice must suit my energy. It's no use loathing myself for not wanting an intense practice. A simple breathing practice or one-minute meditation may be all I can do today... but at least it's done, it's sincere, it's authentic.
Learn From your inner-beginner
Some students feel discouraged at the notion of having to start at the beginning again. For many years, I had the worst attitude of "I already know that..." That phrase held me back and prevented me from growing, learning and developing. Once I allowed by inner-beginner to coexist with my more experienced side, I made new discoveries about myself, found new inspiration to explore in my practice and had some epiphanies to help my students through their personal challenges. The best part was I started to have fun again. If you are going through obstacles, your students are definitely going through similar obstacles, and now you can offer them some authentic knowledge by always being a beginner.
GET OUT OF COMPARING YOURSELF
Time and experience do not determine how good of a Yoga teacher you are, and who you practice with does not make you any less of a Yoga student. Honestly, it doesn't matter if you attend a class that is taught by a yoga teacher or a trainee or a friend or a master. If a person inspires you to go within and find your zone, you're in the right place. Countless times, I've attended a practice class taught by a teacher trainee and found absolute bliss by the end of the class. No matter which class you are in, if you truly follow the guidance from a teacher, getting past your own judgemental attitude about where you "should be", and of course listening to your body, you can receive a very wonderful class that serves you in the most wonderful way.
When I first started teaching prenatal yoga, my classes were targeted to a typical happy picture pregnancy -- people who were married and planned to have a baby. I had a very enthusiastic student attend classes regularly and would always comment about how much she loved her sessions, and then one day, she stopped coming; with no explanation.
Hong Kong is a small place, so I ran into her some time afterwards and asked her how she was doing and how the rest of her pregnancy went. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she had lost the baby, which is why she stopped coming and couldn't bear to let me know because it was too painful.
Frozen and distraught at the news, I gave her a hug and told her she always had a support system with me and I invited her to my regular yoga classes. I knew it would be too painful for her to come, but I wanted to let her know she didn't have to suffer alone.
Prenatal yoga teachers often do not get to see this side of their students. When a person loses a baby, they simply stop attending the classes. The more I taught yoga, the more I learned about the personal stories of my students and it wasn't always a happy picture or a happy result.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one out of three women are subjected to physical, emotional or sexual abuse, usually by her own partner or boyfriend, or someone she knows. This is a startling and tragic statistic. Potentially one-third of the women in my class has a negative experience which is potentially traumatic. Pregnancy could perhaps be unexpected, unwanted or the result of a violation. This changed the way I teach prenatal yoga for good.
Today, pregnancy is not limited to a husband marries a wife and they have a family. It never was limited to that, but with our world opening up, we can now become more aware of the different types of pregnancies that exist:
- Pregnancies through IVF
- Teen pregnancies
- Pregnancies as a result of sexual abuse
- Same sex families
- Women with chronic health conditions getting pregnant
- Unplanned or unwanted babies
- Forced family planning (with very traditional cultures)
The way we teach yoga to pregnant women must shift from being more inclusive, trauma sensitive and foster a sense of community for women. If we look to our traditional child-rearing roots, women were always supported by other women, helping her through her pregnancy, delivery and postpartum period. Today, women are often isolated and unable to express their negative emotions, shame, grief. They suffer in silence and solitude.
What is the scope of practice for a prenatal yoga teacher? She may not have any counselling skills or midwifery skills, so is she stepping over her boundary? Absolutely not. A yoga teacher's duty is to establish a community, a sangha. She simply has to be a friendly, warm and safe presence for her students both in and out of class. Keeping students connected is an important way to let someone know that you care, that you acknowledge the suffering and that the sangha is always there for them no matter what.
Yoga need not be long to be effective. This sample yoga class is designed for a person in a wheelchair to help improve basic circulation. It's under 10 minutes so you the sequence is ideal for a daily practice.
Accessible Yoga Training - September 26-29, 2018
Learn how to make your yoga classes more accessible and confidently work with people who have disabilities or chronic illness. Join our upcoming Accessible Yoga Training.