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Mothers_Love

After drawing the neural-hormonal flow that moves through a woman giving birth, I said to a pregnant couple that at the heart of the matter, what gets a baby born is love. The mother replied that that was a very romantic concept. No, it’s not! Pure love is a state of being, not an emotion or a thought process.

 It’s taken me years to put this understanding into words; it is the essence of both Birth and Yoga. I’ll repeat: pure love is not an emotion or a thought process but a state of being. Science understands that it is the release of oxytocin and endorphins into a woman’s sytem that enables her to give birth. Our bodies are flooded with these “hormones of love” whenever we are in a situation of intimate connection: sex, giving birth, breastfeeding, even sharing food with others brings us into a physical state where our minds are present, our bodies are at peace and the boundaries between ourselves and the rest of the world dissolve.  This is Nature’s way of ensuring our survival. When I gave birth to my daughter, no wave of emotion washed over me. Her birth had taken me to a place below emotions, into the very ground of Life. I didn’t have to try and be motherly.  She and I embodied love. It simply was.

Where there are hormones of love, there is Shakti, the Life force. Of course Life is always present but it becomes much more obvious in intimacy.  So much spiritual discussion is framed in emotive and moral paradigms that restrict Life rather than free it.  The assumption is that love is an elusive thing that must be worked at.  As if we must create love rather than simply enjoy the fact that we are created by it. Disintegration, fragmentation, or downright evil emerges out of disassociation from Life and conversely, having the strength to receive Life makes love effortless.  This isn’t romance.  It’s reality!

may26xpace

                                                                                                                                                                                             We make sense of our experience by telling stories about it. The performance piece I attended last night played with our  impulse to attach narrative to everything. It did this with lightness, intelligence and  humour.

My daughter and I had dutifully brought our headphones and plugged them into one of the four monitors placed in the corners of the performance area. Each monitor played a different spoken narrative that played as two dancers moved. At the end of the story, the audience shifted places and moved to the next monitor for a new narrative and a repetition of the same movement. How we weave meaning into the overlapping of words and action became a very conscious experience, often funny, sometimes very moving.

I spoke with one of the writers, Caylie Staples, after the show. She said each writer watched the choreography once and then wrote while it was repeated. So often, dancers choreograph to text; reversing the process created a new relationship between the two which I found interesting. It gave the choreography an autonomy and a sense of spaciousness that felt very free. 

Leaving the gallery, we walked into the night along Queen Street. I thought of the stories that have become embedded in me, weary soundtracks to fresh experience. And I thought of how some of these anthems are lifting off of me, leaving space between them and pure experience. This is one of the effects of Yoga practice. I witness the same thing in the birthing women I accompany. We have so many tales embedded in the pain we feel. During labour, our songs have the opportunity to rise up from our anatomy and leave us free to be in what is brand new and full of life.

The show, called Draft Four, was conceived and choreographed by Alicia Grant and Cara Spooner. It runs two more nights, this evening and tomorow at 8:00pm. Admission is free. Bring your headphones!

XPACE Cultural Centre
58 Ossington Ave M6J 2Y7
www.xpace.info | 416.849.2864
Tues – Sat 12 – 6PM

In the early hours of yesterday morning I got home from a birth, peeled off my clothes as soon as I shut the front door, listened for the sound of my sleeping daughter’s breath (almost eighteen years after I had heard her first exhale and then the unexpected quiet of her peacefulness), shut her bedroom door, showered away the blood and amniotic fluid of a new life, ate a bowl of rice with peanut sauce, drank a cup of chamomile tea and slid into the clean sheets of my bed. I had done my Yoga.

Today my mind is still in the open and alert place it goes to in the wake of a birth. Carrying groceries home, the shadows of bare branches stripe the sidewalk. A small, black bird with slashes of red and white on its wings stands in my path and sings. Its presence is as bold and wonderous as that of the little boy who entered the world yesterday and spontaneously latched himself to his mother’s breast. The sun shines down on me. I am content. This is the gift of this work.

To really be with someone is to be with life. To be with a birthing woman, undistracted, to breathe every breath with her, to merge my sound with hers, to have my hands on her skin and my mind in her mind, is to link to the unqualified force and intelligence of life that pours through her with extraordinary power. It pours through me too. It belongs to both of us and neither of us. Yoga calls this power Shakti. She is the source and the movement of life. She is Reality. She is the woman giving birth. She is me.

Patanjali wrote that Yoga is a merging with the chosen direction or experience (1.2). “A person of extraordinary clarity” is someone who has stopped searching, someone “who is free from the desire to know the perceiver.” [S]he has felt h[er] own nature. (4.25)¹ There is no better way to feel what you are than by giving birth!  No rules apply. Life itself provides the structure. To surrender to life, Isvarapranidhana, is to let life move you. Your body moves in the way it needs to. Your breath moves in the way it needs to. Sound and silence come and go. This is the Natural State, sahaj samadhi. This is freedom, vairagya. Mark says Krishnamacharya defined vairagya as “freedom relative to all experience”. It doesn’t mean to remove yourself from experience. To be free with experience, merge with experience.

I spent nine hours at the hospital with my client and her family. In our intimacy love and peace unfolded and a new life was born. “The sun shines. All is evident…”(4.31)² 

___________________________

¹Mark Whitwell, Yoga of Heart (New York: Lantern Books, 2004) p.140

²T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga (Rochester:Inner Traditions International, 1999) p.213

Unexpectedly, in the wake of the Yoga Festival Toronto‘s Roundtable on ‘Yoga and Birth’, my mind has been mulling about death. The other half of this Roundtable event will take place on May 2nd, and its topic is exactly that. It’s clear that Matthew, Dennison and Scott have created a wonderfully natural structure for us to delve into what is at the heart of Yoga. Birth and death are two aspects of the same process. They interpenetrate. We found ourselves in this liminal territory by the end of Saturday night, at the place where opposites merge.

We spoke of how in order to give birth, our concept of who we are and where our boundaries lie dissolves. What is inside? What is out? What is me? What is not? We  die to who we were and are reborn as mothers. We encompass everything.

We spoke of maternal death and abortion and afterwards, in private conversations, of miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death. They are a part of Feminine experience and yet so often, they crouch in silent places full of grief and shame. As a Yoga teacher, I was once forbidden from referring to the Goddess Kali and how she reigned over birth and death. Saying the word “death”, I was told, might upset women who had had miscarriages. In the denial of the Feminine, in the denial of life, we also deny death. Between one in five and one in three pregnancies ends in miscarriage. It is such an ordinary, if I can use that word, part of being fertile and yet the social taboo around speaking about it remains. Additionally, the abortion rate in Canada is approximately 20% of all pregnancies. To speak of death in a group of women is to acknowlege what many have already experienced and what all face in potentiality. Speaking the “unspeakable” is to make our lives whole.

We spoke of how vital it is for a woman to be nurtured and nourished in the weeks after birth. While the form of that nourishment changes through time, the need for it never leaves. I’m reminded of Germaine Greer’s words that living in a body that isn’t nurtured yet is responsible for nurturing is a form of female madness. Some related statistics… 70% of the 1.2 billion people living in poverty are women; 80% of the world’s 27 million refugees are women; only 1% of the world’s land is owned by women… you get the picture. Here in Toronto, I’m aware of an emotional starvation even among women who are not lacking materially. On this level, fathers need nourishing as well. Men need men, a tribe of men, who know that loving and honouring women and children is what makes them strong. Nurturing the Feminine in all of us, we give children what they need to live and love. We get it back. Children are, quite literally, our life.

My thoughts come back to Yoga practice. Just as breath envelops movement, so life contains death. Yoga  gives us the strength to receive life and everything in it. We can embrace our beginnings, our endings and each other with less fear and more love. We can stand on the threshold with our heart wide open.

roundtable1   The opportunity to be part of a conversation among members of Toronto’s larger Yoga community doesn’t happen very often. For me, one of the highlights of last summer’s Yoga Festival was the evening roundtables. I listened and I spoke and I felt part of something very valuable and exciting. Tomorrow evening, Saturday March 14th, I will be a panelist at the Yoga and Birth Roundtable. Come and join us!

img_2755How were you born? Do you know the story of your birth? Has the tale been woven repeatedly or do you live in its stark absence? In imagining our beginning, we touch both the mystery of our existence and the obvious reality that we are an integral part of life. We didn’t enter the world alone but in total fusion with another. No one exists who didn’t emerge from the warm, fluid centre of a woman.

It is a simple truth and a profoundly intimate one. I want to give voice to this intimacy and to the wisdom that nurtures it because our ability to love and be in right relationship with the world depends on it. Science supports this understanding. Research gathered by the visionary French obstetrician Michel Odent  links psychological and physical disease with our time in our mother’s womb, how we were born and how we were cared for in the first year of life.  Clear links have been made between rates of violence towards oneself and others and the circumstances of an individual’s primal period.  A mother is her child’s universe. For the first time in history, the majority of women are giving birth without releasing ‘hormones of love’. Odent asks what our future holds if the capacity to love continues to be restricted? We are part of the whole and that whole is in crisis.

To speak of birth is to speak of fear. In its grip, the Feminine voice is silenced. Quietly, one in every three birthing women in Toronto is cut open to her core. Every year, in this same silence, 24,000 women in Afghanistan die after giving birth. There the Feminine has been pushed so far underground, fear is so thick, ignorance so deep that in many places there is no one able to assist at births. Both the deadly absence of medical skills and their aggressive use point to a world devoid of wisdom.

Birth is a part of a woman’s sexual life. I believe this is why we try to control it. To give birth freely is to feel life moving through us. Birth requires our receptivity and strength, our passion and wisdom. In the process of connecting to these, we meet our restrictions and our lack of knowledge about ourselves. I read of a recent Australian study in which one out of three (that statistic again) women had never, or rarely, experienced orgasm. How easily do these women give birth and suckle their children? The full release of oxytocin, the  ‘hormone of love’ , is necessary for all events in the continuum of a woman’s sexual experience: orgasm, birth and breastfeeding. 

Birth sheds light on Yoga. The light comes from life, the flow of the Feminine force, rather than two thousand years of doctrine. The principles of Yoga are found in life and bring us back to life. Mark Whitwell’s clarity about Yoga supports my experience. Birth is Yoga, when the waving and pulsing of Shakti through a woman’s body is an utterly tangible experience for her and her child. Shakti is not a metaphor or a philosophical concept but reality.

Participating in reality is the purpose of Yoga practice. It is in everyone’s reach, of course, because we are what we seek. We are real. We are the manifestation of Life in all its mystery and power, in all our mystery and power. In the repression of the Feminine, the understanding of how to live and love has only been whispered. Listen to these tales! They are written out loud.

 

Ina May Gaskin and Isabel Perez

Ina May Gaskin and Isabel Perez

 

Isabel Perez has been my friend over the last fifteen years. Her life encompasses the ancient and modern, the rural and urban, South and North America. Birth has always been at the centre of Isabel’s life. She lives within an effortless recognition that the seen is evidence of the unseen, that heaven and earth are one condition.

Isabel was born in Guatemala to Mayan parents. Her great-grandmother was a nodrisa, a traditional midwife. Her father was a shaman. After the devastating earthquake in 1976, Isabel, her husband and children were brought to the U.S. by Ina May Gaskin, a pioneering midwife, now world renowned. Isabel trained and worked with Ina May for four years on The Farm in Tennessee. She contributed to a community whose way of handling birth resulted in a caesarean rate of only 1.4% amongst 2,028 women from 1970 to 2000. Home was the environment for 95.1% of the births. Isabel then moved to Toronto where she practiced midwifery until it was integrated into the Ontario health care system in 1993. Subsequently, Isabel has worked as a doula.

What follows is some of the conversation we had in her kitchen this past May. The sounds of living accompanied our talk: splashing water running from the kitchen sink, rice being washed, boiled and stirred; tea being poured; spoons touching bowls; our swallows. Isabel cooked and shared a breakfast of rice pudding while she carried the thread of her narrative. These sounds place her story in the current of daily life. Hear them as you read!

Crescence Krueger What is the most powerful thing that you bring to a birth?

Isabel Perez Confidence. Peace. Love. And trust. Those are the words my clients use, eh? So I’m just repeating them. I have a very simple personality. And that works for me almost everywhere. It’s very simple, the way that I work. Very simple. You have seen.

CK  That’s what I love.  Read the rest of this entry »