I have always loved yoga, but it wasn’t until I found a yoga studio last year that I truly started to reap its benefits. Before, I had always done yoga at the gym as a way to stretch and do what I considered to be a relaxing workout. Once I found the studio, though, yoga became so much more. For one, it was much more difficult. Taking yoga with a trained, professional teacher who isn’t just a fitness instructor certified to teach it is a much different experience.
Furthermore, because it was a studio and because the teachers were trained, the focus was on fitness, yes, but a fitness of your total being – mind, spirit, and body. Poses were performed not only to tone our muscles but to release toxins and emotions stored there. At first, I was skeptical of these new-agey techniques, but after a while, I started to see that what they said was true. You do get emotional when you find stillness in a pose, and being able to experience those emotions and let them pass is a technique for yoga, but an even more important one for life.
My yoga instructors were the first people outside of my mom and Tim who knew I was pregnant. They have championed me and encouraged me every step of the way. They have reminded me, on several occasions, that I should not be focused on what my body can’t do, but what it can.
Our Bradley childbirth classes have given us so much knowledge and empowerment when it comes to the options we have in the hospital while giving birth, but before turning to yoga, I never would have actually believed that I could give birth without drugs. Now, after spending so much time on my mat, I know – without a doubt – the strength my body has. I know what it can do, and, when I leave the studio, I’m proud of it.
Sometimes, I falter. I look at myself in the mirror and feel the overwhelming weight of pregnancy and motherhood. I feel depressed. I feel like I just want a day off. I feel like I want to crawl back into bed and not get out. I call it “relaxing,” but really, it’s more of a way to deal with (or not deal with, as the case may be) the crushing terror that apparently comes with being a parent.
If I can drag myself to yoga, though, when those thoughts strike, I spend an hour thinking about pregnancy in an entirely different way. It’s not a string of symptoms I’d rather not be experiencing all lined up to torture me unfairly. It’s a biological response to growing a life. There is a life in me now that isn’t my own, and it is my job to nurture that life. This life is both a part of me and doesn’t belong to me at the same time. Sometimes, that feels a bit alien. Sometimes, that feels like the heartbreaking and heartwarming act of letting your child define herself rather than offering a definition for her.
Pregnancy is a scary thing. I’d definitely never tell anyone that it wasn’t, especially if they weren’t sure they wanted to go through it. It’s downright terrifying. Your body seems like it is not your own anymore, not only in the sense that it is being used as an incubator for another life, but also in the sense that it seems to be everyone else’s business all of the time. Appropriately, then, you spend a great deal of time worrying about what is happening to your body – Is your blood pressure too high? Are you gaining too much weight? Should you be eating that sandwich? What are all these fluids? Is it normal that my pants don’t fit this early on? – but you also spend an even greater deal of time just worrying about whether or not your little one is comfy and alive in there, and if there’s anything you can do to make her stay a little better.
On top of that, you feel like you have to know all of the things lest you be pulled unwittingly down the rabbit holes called Google and Unsolicited Advice. You want to know everything so when someone says something meant to scare you (and they will), you can shoot them down with a smarty-pants response. Sometimes, that’s necessary for your mental health. Sometimes, though, it pulls you in even further, requiring that you become an expert in pregnancy and parenting, which can be more damaging than the advice itself.
Beyond its physical benefits, yoga has given me the strength to know that I cannot know everything, but it has also given me the strength to admit that I don’t need to. Just like I cannot know what poses the instructor will call out and in what order, I can trust that, in the capable hands of my instructor, those poses are exactly what I need at exactly that time in order to relax, focus, and release the negativity I’m holding on to. Similarly, I cannot know how childbirth will go and if I will need surgery or drugs, but I can trust that what needs to happen will happen, and I’m in capable hands. I don’t need to know all of the terrifying moments of everyone’s birth story; it will not prepare me for my own, just like knowing all of the frightening moments of new motherhood will not prepare me for my own journey. Knowing I’m capable and I have a competent and capable support system in place is enough.
Just like in yoga, I will fall. (And I’ve been doing a lot more of that recently as my center of balance is completely off, just as I believe new motherhood throws your center of balance off for a while.) But, just like in yoga, I will pick myself up and try again. And, soon, we will move on to a new pose and a new challenge and a hundred different new ways to fall. Maybe I will fall, and maybe I’ll find my drishti – my unwavering focal point that hones my concentration and balance – and I’ll perform it perfectly. And then, I’ll congratulate myself and move on to the next.
But the fact remains: I know nothing. I don’t know where I’m going or what will happen when I get there. But I know I will succeed: Just coming to your mat in the first place is a success. In the same way, for me, just the decision to come to parenthood in the first place was a success (though I know that isn’t the case for everyone).
Listening to a friend with a newborn the other day talk about her pride in herself for doing her pregnancy the way she wanted to do it, I had to look at my own and wonder if I could say the same. At first, I was upset because I didn’t think I could. I wanted to be relaxed and enjoy the ride, but instead I have been sick all the time and consequently pretty miserable and whiny about it.
But then, I took a step back and looked at the big picture. Having pregnancy the way you want it isn’t about each individual moment; it’s about the entire journey all together. And, while my journey isn’t over yet, I can say that, overall, I’ve done pretty well. Sure, I’ve fallen at a few hurdles and descended into a But, I’ve done what I’ve needed to do to get the information necessary to continue on. I’ve prepared myself in every way I can for a natural childbirth, and I’ve encountered most ridiculous situations with humor and a healthy eye roll (and some crying, but find me a mother who says she didn’t cry about anything her entire pregnancy, and I’ll show you a liar). I had a gender reveal party surrounded by those who love us to show how excited we are to have a baby girl. I’ve had fun designing a nursery and crafting the heck out of some pretty cool projects. Overall, I’ve done pretty well. And I, too, am proud of that.
For a type A, know-it-all person like me, knowing that I don’t know much is scary, but it’s also been the most exciting part of this journey so far. And, it’s oddly liberating to be able to say, “Eh, I don’t need to worry about that right now.” But, knowing that I don’t need to know right now… that is empowering. It’s given me the ability to ignore unsolicited advice, to accept what I cannot control, and to fall and try again.
It’s hard to believe that yoga has done all of this for me, but it’s true. Without yoga, I’m not sure how I would have made it through this pregnancy. The fact that I came to this studio by accident with a Groupon last summer just goes to show you that, sometimes, the universe knows what you need better than you do; you just have to have the courage to come to your mat not knowing what your practice might bring.