I wanted to share some of the poses that helped me survive my first year of motherhood. When I say survive, I mean survive. In the midst of crashing hormonal changes and trying to ‘figure out’ this whole other human, my goal was just to meet our (mine and Nugget’s) basic needs. These poses helped me stay as sane as possible during that sweet yet tumultuous time.
Here's the tale of how my daughter landed earthside. It's a magical story full of heart, humor, and humility. I share it because so much of what our culture presents regarding birth is negative and full of pain. My yoga, meditation, and breathing practices, as well as Hypnobirthing, helped me have a positive birth experience.
At 3:15 the morning of December 23rd, I woke up to some contractions. They kept happening so I timed them and saw they were all over the place in terms of duration and time apart. I wasn’t sure if this was the real deal or just more practice. They were a bit uncomfortable so I tried to center by visualizing myself sitting comfortably at the bottom of the ocean, where the water is calm but flowy. There was some seaweed around me that swayed a little, as did my hair. For some of the surges I got on all fours. Worried that all my moving around would wake up Travis, I went out to the couch around 6am and the contractions spaced out to twenty minutes apart. I assumed this was practice labor and was getting pretty grumpy about my interrupted sleep. When Travis woke up I told him what was going on. I was glad that we both had the day off. We planned to just stay home and chill out except for an appointment I had with my midwife in the afternoon.
The contractions kept coming all morning. I texted Kimberly, my doula, and let her know what was going on. We still weren’t sure if this was just practice or early labor. Travis and I went for a walk and they got closer together, about 6 minutes apart, but still lasted for only 30 seconds. I managed the contractions by swaying my hips and breathing. I was surprised by how much sensation I experienced around my sacrum with each contraction.
My appointment with the midwife was at 2:40. The car ride there was not very fun. I think I was still tense because I wasn’t really sure what was happening - practice or not? I was hoping I could be taken back to a room soon after arriving so I wouldn’t have to work with the contractions in a waiting room full of people. Forty minutes later, we finally got taken back to a room. Manola was the midwife on call and when she checked me I was 3-4cm and 70% effaced. She seemed confident that this was it - just knowing that made me feel better and really excited. She gave us the choice of going over to the hospital or going home to see if things would really get going. We chose to go home and agreed we would get back in touch when contractions were 3 minutes apart. Again, the car ride was not very fun but I was in better spirits about it and was excited to think that I could meet my baby that day. We stopped at the store to pick up some dinner on the way home because we were both starving.
We decided to eat some pizza and watch a Christmas movie. By the time the pizza was ready, though, I really wasn’t hungry anymore. The contractions were getting stronger and closer together. I was using a heating pad on my sacrum and all fours to cope with the discomfort. Travis was really great at applying counter pressure…it felt so good. About 10 minutes into the movie (A Muppet Christmas Carol), I started to feel that both the movie and the pizza were annoying distractions. Travis helped me get set up in the bath tub so I could focus. I turned off the lights and listened to the Hypnobirthing Rainbow Relaxation CD. I really got in the zone and the water felt so good.
Travis came back to check on me part way through the movie and I was ready to get out because the water was cold. I was tired from not sleeping much the night before so I decided to sit upright in bed and relax. I found I was able to doze a little between each surge. Here I just continued to use my breath. I visualized myself at the bottom of an ocean cave whose wide mouth was above me, widening more and more.
After the movie was over Travis came back in and I let him know he should start getting our stuff packed and tying up any loose ends around the house. I really lost all track of time because I was so in the zone. I know that at 8:15 I saw my contractions were between 3-4 minutes apart. I told Travis that we would need to leave whenever he was done. I called Kimberly, pausing to breathe for the contractions now lasting about a minute to 90 seconds, and told her we would be going to the hospital as soon as everything was ready and asked her to meet us there. I also called Manola and let her know we would be coming in. Then there was another car ride. It was much easier to manage because I was so relaxed.
We got to the hospital at 9:45pm. Thanks to my hands on knees squatting, we got to skip triage at the hospital and got taken straight to a room. One of the nurses asked about the pain scale and I told her to pick a number for me - it really wasn’t pain. I laughed to myself when she rolled her eyes at me. Shortly after the eye roll, I got checked and was 5-6cm and 90% effaced. Then my water broke…it really just felt like peeing my pants, which, in that moment, was an oddly satisfying sensation.
Once they got me all hooked up and whatnot, they noticed the baby was having some extreme heart rate fluctuations with each contraction. They gave me IV fluids and had me labor on my left side for a while, which was more intense, but helped her stabilize. I was expecting to labor in the tub but wasn’t really given the option because the way her heart rate changed with each position I was in. I did get in the shower for a while but my legs were shaking so much I felt really unstable. I also labored on the birth ball but found just sitting up in bed to be the most sustainable position for me and my energy level. I kept falling asleep between contractions and even burped after many of them, which we all thought was hilarious. I told myself that an hour would last only ten minutes and I really lost all track of time. At various points I felt my water release again and again, still oddly satisfying. One time the nurses noticed a bit of meconium. Nobody freaked out but they were on watch.
Eventually, I started to feel a little pushy and I was at 9cm with just a little lip of my cervix holding me back. I got on all fours and Manola applied pressure to the lip while I pushed some. That was really intense and made the contractions stronger. Still, I didn’t have the “overwhelming urge to push” I’d read about, probably because of that lip. I pushed sitting on my heels, on my left side, and on my back with my knees at my chest. All totaled, I pushed for an hour and a half, roaring with each push. There was so much pressure!
I started to feel afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get her out. I was giving it all I had but it didn’t feel like enough. Manola told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head - that was so surreal! Her heart rate was doing more crazy things so Manola said I needed to get her out with the next round of pushing. I was so tired and I roared and squeezed Travis’ hand like mad. It wasn’t enough. Manola did an episiotomy, which I felt thankful for - I needed some help! - and Kimberly said it was the smallest one she’d ever seen.
With the next round of pushing my baby’s head was born and Manola said, “Whoa! Whoa! Don’t push!” I was out of it and didn’t really know what was going on. Travis told me later that she had both hands up at her face and the cord was wrapped around all that. He said Manola worked so fast to free things up and with the next push, my daughter was born at 5:42am on Christmas Eve. She was immediately placed on my stomach where she pooped all over me! Everyone commented that if her hands would have been down she probably would have come out a lot faster. She was 7lbs 10oz and 20 1/2 inches long.
Because of all her crazy heart rate acrobatics, the NICU team was in the room just in case but she started screaming before her feet were out so they weren’t needed (her Apgar score was a 9). She was so alert and her eyes were really wide. As I looked at her in shock and awe, I noticed some hair on her lip and said, “Is that one of my pubes on her mouth?!” Manola responded by saying, “Well I’ve never heard anyone say that before but yes, it probably is.” Then I apologized to my baby for not trimming things up in anticipation of her arrival.
A little while later the placenta was born. My only regret is that I didn’t get to see it before they took it to the freezer. Travis didn’t want to cut the cord so Kimberly did it. I remember thinking the cord was so thin and long. I was at risk for a hemorrhage due to my bleeding disorder and I felt a gush of blood as the placenta was born. Manola said it wasn’t a hemorrhage but we still went through the protocol we had talked about in the past to be on the safe side.
I felt so proud and strong (and tired!). Travis told me all the nurses were impressed with how calm I was throughout the whole thing. Kimberly told me later that I seemed annoyed that each contraction woke me up. What an empowering birth experience - I pretty much felt like a badass!
“That was delicious…I like to use food adjectives to describe this class,” she said as she staggered into the prop room with her savasana hair. I smiled and replied that I was glad she enjoyed class so much - we had just finished Yin yoga - but on the inside I was whining with jealousy.
Since becoming an incubator for human life (sounds more epic than “pregnant”), I have left Yin yoga out of my personal practice. Yin yoga targets connective tissues and joints in the spine, hips, and legs. During pregnancy, the body produces a hormone called relaxin, which relaxes muscles, joints, and ligaments - great for the expansion required during labor, a little less great for stability, steadiness, and digestion. I personally feel that doing Yin while “on relaxin” would turn me into a puddle of goo, leaving my frame too fluid to support the rest of me. The problem is, I really miss my Yin.
When I first began practicing Yin, I knew it was something I needed in my life because it made me want to cry. Sounds crazy right? Instead of pushing to the limit, we go to 60-70% of stretch capacity in each pose; that’s because we’re trying to stimulate connective tissue (fascia) as opposed to stretching muscles. It’s a “back off to go further” approach. During the 2 to 5 minutes of stillness in each pose we relax muscular effort and attempt to release held tension. That’s where the emotion comes in to play for me: The “made me want to cry” thing indicated some deeply held tension that needed to unwind. When I practice Yin, when I practice yielding, I can feel my body literally rearranging itself. As I commit to stillness, my fascia slides around under my skin, mobilizing, hydrating, and aligning. I watch this reorganization with an attitude of “whoa that is so mind blowing and cool and weird.”
Yin is impactful not only for the body but also for life off the mat. It’s an opportunity to retrain our response to life’s stresses; we can learn how to yield and go with the flow when things are out of our control. I try to practice this on I-40, when I’m mentally anywhere from “everyone is an idiot” to “all these cars are out to get me.” With mindfulness I can catch myself in the pattern of bad traffic, white knuckles, and held breath. Then instead of maintaining the tension, instead of pushing back, I try to find my breath and relax. From that headspace, the idiocy of my fellow drivers (it’s never my fault) seems way less significant and I’m free to flow on to the next thing.
Even though I’m not holding physical Yin poses during my pregnancy, I’m still trying to put the skills I’ve learned into practice…I have a feeling they’re going to come in handy sometime in the next two months. What about you? Do you need a little restructuring for your spine, hips, legs, and maybe even your attitude? I’m not saying it’ll be easy but it has the potential to be transformative. I teach Yin Yoga on Mondays at 6:00pm at The Glowing Body and I’d love to see you there.
Connect with yourself to connect with others.
I love having to quiet the room when I walk in to teach a class (maybe you’ve observed how much pleasure I take in ringing the gong). I know many of you have built solid relationships with the people matting up next to you. I truly cherish the community we’ve built at The Glowing Body.
After college, I decided to stick around Knoxville even though I wasn’t from here (I had my eye on a fella). At that time, I had a handful of superficial friendships mainly with people from work. We didn’t really have much in common other than the job. I found it easy to build meaningful relationships in college but a little bit harder out in the real world. Where was I supposed to meet new people with similar interests?
At some point, I found myself at The Glowing Body doing yoga and not talking to anyone. Believe it or not, sometimes I’m shy. I was loving the yoga, though, taking lots of classes and the teacher training – it didn’t take long before I felt like I’d “moved in.” Eventually I made friends. At first, we only talked about yoga, then we started sharing our lives. As I practiced the yoga of connection with myself, I began connecting more to others around me. Those people then connected me to other people, who connected me to other people, and so on. Now, I see someone I know practically everywhere I go in town. I feel incredibly connected, plugged in, and supported (something I hear is helpful when raising a tiny human).
Yoga is all about connecting. The word “yoga” actually means “to yoke” or “union.” Typically we perceive this connection happening with one’s highest Self. But just as connection runs vertically between you and that Something Greater, it also runs horizontally between you and the folks around you. Syncing up with your highest Self means having a centered base of attention from which to reach out, thus enhancing relationships with others.
I hope that you continue to reach out. Whether it’s at yoga, your kid’s soccer practice, the break room at work, or church; you never know the impact a sincere “how are you” may have on a person. For those relationships that are more established (think: the strange beings you live with and love), practice yoga to be more present. Your practice becomes a service when it allows you to listen and respond mindfully, navigating relationships with greater skill.
See you on the mat,
Some of you rather astute and intuitive folk have started asking about my growing (albeit still rather small) belly. And yes, there’s a bump in the making (and yes, I’m super pumped about it)! This is one of those times in my life where I think, Holy cow, what would this be like with out my yoga?! I’ve never experienced such a rapid and constant rate of change; add hormones to the mix and a girl’s bound to feel crazy at least once or twice or ten times.
I shared this crazy change feeling with a friend and she offered an idea I think works for all people, not just the pregnant ones. Think of a mountain. Each season, the mountain looks a little different – vibrantly green in the Spring and Summer, burning with oranges and reds in the Fall, and a little bare in the Winter. Different people and animals visit the mountain at different times as well. Despite the constant change, the mountain is still the same mountain. It might get worn down in a few places but its essence is unchanging. We are in the same boat as the mountain. Even as life happens, even as we grow and develop new skills and perspectives, our essence remains unchanging. We acknowledge this same essence in one another when we say Namasté at the end of a yoga class.
I’m joyfully managing this pregnancy due mainly to the skills I’ve gained from my yoga practice (think: self-care like a panda). Deepening connections with other women has also been an integral part of my process. Over the past year and a half, through focused study and personal experience, I have absorbed some pretty vital information I can’t wait to share with other women. The Yoga for Women’s Health & Healing training I attended with Dr. Saraswati Markus in May served as a capstone experience for me, validating several ideas I’d intuited and providing a more cohesive framework from which to present those ideas.
As a result, this summer is full of special offerings for women: another Yoga for Women series and two workshops, Yoga & Your Fertility and Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm (details below). I’ve also planned my workshop calendar through November, which includes another Target Practice focusing on hips, a Down Dog Clinic, and a super special Self-Care Retreat co-taught by the lovely Sarah Fields. Keep your eyes peeled for more information on those offerings in the future.
I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line and let me know how you’re changing, what you’re learning, and where you’re traveling this summer.
A 9 year old recently asked me, “what’s your spirit animal?” He didn’t find my quippy response of “pizza” amusing. He told me to be serious so I said that I wasn’t sure and asked for his opinion. The corner of his mouth turned up and his eyes moved in a way expressive of deep thought. Finally the answer emerged, “a panda.” He caught me off guard as I’ve never been compared to a panda in my life. “Because you’re always so calm and even-tempered,” he added. According to this kid, pandas are calm and I am calm too.
Even as my husband, close friends (including the mother of the 9 year old), and family are rolling with laughter at the thought of me being described as calm, I must say I get this a lot. People frequently say to me, “You’re always so calm and peaceful. How do you do it?” In fact, the client I just saw said those very words which inspired me to sit down and write this post. (She followed up by saying, “you’re so cool.” Gush!)
Just to set the record straight, I have spells of feeling quite the opposite of calm and even-tempered. I’m human (not marsupial). I fly off the handle and scream at my husband and get sassy with customer service representatives on the phone. Overall, however, I feel incredibly stress-free most of the time – think panda chilling and chewing on some bamboo. I attribute this to my amazing job and skillful self-care. I’m not in the business of giving career advice but I can help you with self-care.
Effective and nourishing self-care requires planning and commitment. I often find that when I haven’t scheduled self-care practices into my day or week they fall by the wayside. For me, self-care includes regular bodywork like acupuncture, Rolfing, massage, chiropractic, and Reiki. I have assembled an awesome team of gifted healing practitioners who keep me running like a well-oiled machine. I also make time in my schedule for regular yoga and meditation practice along with journaling and walking. Another essential element in my self-care mix involves syncing my life with my monthly cycle. Ladies, we’re quite lucky that we have a monthly reminder to slow down and release things that no longer serve us.
For me, self-care is a lifestyle choice. Even though I’ve chosen to work a bit less than most in order to focus on things that truly bring me joy and satisfaction, I often hear those voices telling me that I’m lazy or don’t deserve to be stress-free and content. For me, radical self-care is choosing to claim my worth. It’s such a big deal!
Self-care is a choice and sometimes a difficult one at that. There’s space in even the busiest schedules for nourishing and supportive practices. Aren’t sure where to start? I’d love to be a part of your self-care routine, whether that’s through yoga, massage, or energy healing. Drop me a line and we can make a plan for you. And let’s not forget the vital question that started it all: What’s your spirit animal?
Every January, my yoga classes explode; by March they’re back to normal size. I see this as evidence of the damaging New Year’s Resolution Cycle. Some of us New Year’s Rezzers do indeed accomplish our goals by December 31st but far too many of us set ourselves up to fail. Besides, how do we reconcile this culture of self-improvement with the yogic teachings that we are already enough/perfect/whatever it is we are striving to be? I’m finding the answer is in the present moment.
Many self-improvement goals take us far beyond the present moment to a future place of smaller pants and greater peace. When we live that far in the future, we can’t possible be present for ourselves and the people around us. Consider taking your eyes off the prize in order to cultivate a new level of awareness and self-compassion. Mindfulness is a great tool for this. I’m currently reading The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, an incredibly practical book which also encourages me to “let it happen” instead of “make it happen.” Expect to see these themes woven throughout my classes in the coming weeks and months.
Happy New Year! I look forward to seeing the same old you soon.