When I was expecting my first daughter, I did all I could to prepare for a natural birth. I took classes, stayed fit and active, ate healthfully (most of the time) and read every book I could get my hands on. As a yoga teacher and Ashtanga Yoga practitioner, I continued with my regular yoga practice throughout my pregnancy, modifying as my belly grew and my body changed. When the day finally came at 38 weeks, I was blessed to achieve my goal of a natural birth (I almost had the baby in the car!).
Out of all that preparation, what showed up to comfort and guide me in those raw, consciousness-altering moments of simultaneous pain and pleasure was my yoga practice.
All that time I had spent directing my mind toward breath and ease in challenging yoga poses became the focus and calm I needed to surrender to birth. All those moments I spent as witness to the fluctuations of my mind helped me turn fear and anxiety into presence and purpose. All those moments on the mat cultivating prana (life force) allowed me to trust the process of birth and the power of the nature to bring my baby through and into my arms.
During pregnancy, as I put in the miles on my mat, I consumed all the knowledge about birth that I could from every angle – physiology, culture and politics – and in retrospect after the birth, realized that I had also gotten somewhat lucky. A different care provider, a longer labor, and I knew my experience could have more resembled the multitude of stories I had encountered where women’s bodies were co-opted by a business driven, politically motivated, patriarchal maternal care system.
I did not emerge entirely unscathed by it. Wonderful as the labor was – when I pushed the baby out within 5 minutes of arriving at the hospital – she was immediately taken away from me and placed in the NICU “for observation, just in case.” Even though my beautiful, natural birth had happened, I was not prepared for this unfounded and unnecessary moment when my first child was whisked away. The first I saw of her was of a bad photograph someone had taken in the NICU with tubes and wires coming off her body when she should have been safe and warm against my chest.
Those moments of separation were a painful eternity, but what they did do was to awaken an activist, a passionate new devotee to the rights of mothers and babies to be regarded with utmost respect during the sacred, transformative rite of passage that is childbirth.
When I was ready to return to teaching yoga, I did so with a fierce new passion to support and educate families about the impact of birth on the mother and the baby both as individuals and as a bonded unit. I did so wishing to educate women about the choices available to them in childbirth and the possible impact of those various choices. I did so wishing to offer the yoga practice as a way toward physical health and strength, emotional balance and calmness, mental clarity and insight and spiritual awareness and surrender.
That is how Yoga Birth was born. Yoga Birth combines the philosophy and practices of yoga (postures, breathwork, meditation, relaxation) with education on the physiology of normal birth and spectrum of choices available in the modern birthing environment. Yoga Birth is not a “natural birth” class per se, though I love natural (physiological) birth and teach about its many benefits. I believe in a woman’s right to self-determination, to maternal autonomy. I support a woman’s right to make an informed decision about what is best for herself and her baby in her unique situation, given that she is informed of the benefits and risks of the various approaches.
So what is a Yoga Birth and what defines this approach to childbirth preparation?
A Yoga Birth is a conscious birth in which women and their partners are aware of the spectrum of choices available to them and informed enough to follow a path that aligns with their values and intentions. A Yoga Birth is a birth in which the parents have not only educated their thinking mind, but done the inner work to cultivate a vision of birth that aligns with the deepest longing and knowing of their heart and soul.
Yoga Birth is embodied. With movement through yoga asana (posture) as one of the primary tools, we don’t just sit around and talk about birth and think about birth. We get up and move through the body as a form of deep listening and connection. We use movement as the basis for understanding what brings about ease in birth (gravity, movements of the spine and pelvis, variety and maternal intuition in positioning) but also as the basis for a deeply connected and loving relationship with our own bodies. The postures of yoga give us a safe but challenging container to experience our physical limits and working with our minds to cultivate ease and relaxation in moments of intense effort and to cultivate surrender and total relaxation in moments of stillness and rest. There is simply no substitute for practice.
Yoga Birth balances data and wisdom. While knowledge of birth is important – the anatomy and physiology of birth, how to facilitate the normal mechanisms of labor, the risks and benefits of typical hospital procedures, etc. – we believe intuition, inner-wisdom, gut feelings and a knowingness of the heart are equally important avenues of perception and decision making. In Yoga Birth we seek to connect expectant parents to their own faculties of inner knowing and cultivate an awareness of how the mind and consciousness work so as we take the journey of altered states of consciousness that is birth, we remain perceptive, unafraid, able to balance our intuitive sense with our rational, thinking mind, to make choices in our births (and our lives) that align with both our knowledge and our intuition.
Yoga Birth is inclusive. The Yoga Birth approach is not only for those wishing to have an unmedicated birth. It is not about narrowing our choices but broadening our minds. Yoga Birth aims to make parents conscious – conscious that they have choices, conscious of the risks and benefits of the various choices available to them, conscious of the importance and impact of the birth experience on all involved, conscious of the need to take personal responsibility for the quality of their birth. We work from the maxim of my primary childbirth education training from ICEA – “freedom of choice based on knowledge of alternatives.” Every birth can be a Yoga Birth if approached with acceptance of what is, compassion and self-love, a respect for the inherent power of the birthing woman and sacredness of birth as a manifestation of the creative force of the universe.
Yoga Birth is holistic. We do not just give birth physically. We give birth intuitively, primally, spiritually and emotionally. Birth happens on every level of the being. And while the primary consideration is the health and safety of the mother/baby dyad, a Yoga Birth recognizes that well-being goes beyond the physical realm and the emotional and spiritual needs of the mother and baby are also important and deserving of acknowledgment and respect. A Yoga Birth is mindful of the inherent wholeness of babies and birth and recognizes the transformation that is happening at every level of being – leading to the bliss that is at the heart of yoga and a mother’s love.
Yoga Birth is thorough & informative. While yoga is the tool we use to cultivate the faculty of discernment, education about birth (anatomy & physiology, choices & methods, evidence-based use of procedures, etc.) is the goal. Yoga Birth classes include a wealth of information about the realities of childbirth from a physiological perspective (hormones of labor, importance of privacy & safety, physical & emotional support) and how to facilitate the mechanism of normal birth. They also include an understanding of evidence-based procedures, interventions and medical realities of birth, when such approaches become necessary, and how to navigate their use to preserve the spirit of gentle birth and the togetherness of mother & baby as soon and as much as possible.
If you are a yoga teacher, or grounded strongly in your own yoga practice, and the description above resonates with you as something you may like to offer to expectant parents, you are invited to join us for the FIRST EVER Yoga Birth Conscious Birth Education Facilitator Training, beginning in November 2015. You will learn to offer this 6 week, 18 hour class that combines yoga practice with childbirth education to help expectant parents navigate the maze of choices and challenges that may influence their decisions and experience. The training will also offer a basic introduction to labor support, examining what it means to hold the space for a birthing mama and her partner and practical ways of providing physical, mental and emotional support throughout the childbearing cycle.
I have been teaching this innovative and extremely popular class for 10 years and I am extremely excited to share it with you and enable more teachers and families to benefit from these teachings that have proven so effective (read testimonials here) at helping families define and prepare for their best birth.
If you need a more solid foundation in teaching prenatal yoga before combining it with childbirth education, you can also join in with the Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training beginning September 2015. You can take both trainings together for a discounted rate (contact me for details or with any questions you may have about either training.
Thanks to all who choose – in a wonderful variety of ways – to offer their love and effort in support of all the beautiful mamas birthing all the beautiful babies and helping to raise the vibration of love and consciousness in this world – whatever your method.