The Other Side of Yoga

I never thought I'd say it, but pregnancy and childbirth was the best thing that's happened to me since I started practicing yoga.  

Since 2004 I have explored various Yoga traditions (or styles as we say in the West). My first class was a Bikram class at Yoga Source in Palo Alto. I remember walking out of the studio feeling shell shocked from the intense heat, nearly passing out, and puking, but I still recall the calm and quietude of my mind as I stepped out of the studio that day. I had really no idea what yoga was at that time besides what I had just experienced, but I was hooked. 

After a couple of months of trying out various classes at Yoga Source, I found another studio that seemed a lot more fitting for me.  I started attending the Iyengar Flow classes at Darshana Yoga. I found a couple of teachers there that I enjoyed practice with and I stuck to the same Monday and Wednesday evening class for about 4 years until life events took me away from practice for a while. 

In 2008 My life was coming apart at the seams. I was shuttering the doors on my boutique business while my marriage was simultaneously unraveling. I was trying so hard to be a super mama to my kids while juggling a full time business.  All of this, while trying to live up to expectations of my then partner, parents and anyone else who felt free to tell me who I "should be" and what I "should do". 

If I was at work late and I wasn't home with the kids felt guilty. If I was not available to volunteer at the kids school, like it seemed so many moms were doing, I felt guilty. If I was taking an afternoon off to schedule a play date for my kids after school instead of working, I felt guilty. If I was making dinner instead of dealing with emails, I felt guilty.

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Some where along the way, I lost myself. My sense of self, well really was not a sense of SELF. It was a conglomeration of so many things I thought I "should be". My mind was constantly cluttered, my heart was closed, and I was fucked up. 

I stopped going to yoga classes for almost a year during this time. The practice however was always there in the back of my mind. I craved those rare moments when I felt balanced and calm.  Eventually, (and thankfully), I did find my way back again to the mat. 

Over the years since that initial break from asana practice, I have come to realize that yoga, at it's core, is a spiritual practice. A spiritual practice isn't easy. If anything, it's a lot easier to skim around it, or just skip it altogether. But once you have a taste of the deep inner healing that stems from the practice, it is difficult to go back to living in avidya, or what I think of as ignorance of self.

This year, I have learned some new lessons within the framework of practice while growing another little human.  

I've had some minor injuries since starting yoga but nothing like what I experienced in the first six months post partum. 

About a month ago, I shared the story of our baby Mila's birth and crash c-section that resulted in a long road to recovery.  I had to let go of my expectations to be back to my "regular" yoga practice 3 months after birth. Talk about a total re-set of expectations.

I could not even think about doing a single sun salutation when I could barely get up out of bed. I also discovered that I did have diastasis recti (a condition where the large abdominal muscles separate), which was not apparent to me until the first time I tried to do adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog).

So I found that in addition to letting go of the frustration and disappointment of my birth experience, I also needed to accept the fact that I would need to set aside a physical practice for a while.  

Lessons:

Acceptance. The universe has gifted us with a healthy baby. Though I have birthed two amazing humans over a decade and a half ago, my body is in a different state now. Coming to acceptance of this was difficult, but crucial to my mental health post partum.

Non-attachment and Surrender. I let go of expectations of myself and my practice. I surrender to where I am in this moment.  

Patience. I sent an email to my teacher who confirmed that I would need to wait at least 3 months to resume practice after a vaginal birth, and 6 months after c-section.  This was a challenge to hear, but again I needed to come to terms with this and accept where I was at the time. 

6 months! Really, though if you think about it in the scope of a life long practice, it's not THAT much time. 

Patience thus became a major part of my practice. Which led me to... 

Compassion. I push myself continuously all the time. My tendency to be endlessly optimistic about my abilities sometimes clouds the truth of what I am actually capable of doing.  I always thought that saying yes to something was better than no, which led to many times in my life where I crashed and burned.  Coming to terms with the truth of my current situation allowed me to practice compassion for myself. To allow the time to heal and fully recover so that I could truly prioritize the one most important focus - to take care of my baby.  

No more guilt. 

Equanimity. 

Humility. 

I have come to realize that I had to experience this in order to reach the other side.

The other side of practice. The unglamorous side.

The side that requires you to walk the fine line between discipline and surrender.  The side that asks you to be present, to engage, but to also let go. 

So many women feel the need to recover and bounce back quickly after birthing their baby. With the underlying pressure from the media, un-empathizing supervisors, and sometimes, even other moms, it poses a question as to why we are so in a hurry to "get back" to our "normal" or "pre-pregnancy" state. There is so much support given to women before birth, but unless you have extended family who are able to help or can afford some extra support, women are expected to heal their bodies, while fully supporting the growth of that little human who is still 100% dependent on them. 

Fuck all of that. 

Six months gave me some new perspective. Mamas really need at least 9 months, even better, a full year to fully recover. Also, there is never really a FULL return to your prior self. With every birth, a new identity, a new layer to self is composed.   

About two months ago my physical therapist gave me the green light to start practice again. Yes, of course I was excited, but I realized as I stepped on to the mat, my relationship to asanas have changed. There is a deeper appreciation for the practice when it is approached from the perspective of healing versus the perspective of physical prowess.

Not to mention, the practice has gotten a lot faster! There's nothing like knowing you may need to stop at any time to feed a hungry baby to motivate you to move through the mental distractions and stop fucking around.  

No more whining or wondering why this or that pose sucks. Or why I suck and can't do a posture.  

When everything is painful and there are so many strong sensations, there's nothing left to do but just surrender to the practice.  Surrender to the process. Just surrender. 

Yoga is a foundation for healing. Practice long enough and the ebb and flow of our life will be exposed. 

It has cycles just like seasons. In the spring of our practice we feel growth, we see ourselves progress. We feel excitement about the new bloom on the rose. We may revel in the summer of our practice. We feel healthy and strong.

Eventually, as in nature, winter comes back around and our practice may not be what we expect. It may wither like the leaves, disappearing for a little while. When we accept that our practice is not a linear progression, we find equanimity, even when the physical form changes. We let go of our grasp on the postures, we allow them to fall away, like the leaves with the wind. 

Once we recognize that this is part of our work, our journey, this is where the yoga begins.  

While I am still slowly reconnecting with my new post partum body, and feel very low energy on most days I am always grateful for this practice. There is never a time that I regret moving just a little bit, even if it's only sun salutations and standing postures most days. 

Everyday is gift.  Every breath is a gift. Love yourself as you are in each moment, suffering, non-suffering, steady or unsteady. 

Keep on mamas, keep on practicing.

With love from the other side. 

Charina 

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