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A piece of fiction that is true. Everything was made in shades of green and blue. She stood and leaned against the wall or over a bed, hips circling. Hot blood dripped onto the cold floor, circles within circles. The head pressed deep. The nurse asked her to come onto the bed. She said I’m coming. Another nurse arrived and set up obstetric tools. The resident looked like a twelve year old, the husband said after. His wife’s lips part, wet hair revealed. No one but mother and child are ready. Panting mixes with primal sound. Do you still imagine giving birth is sexless? Smell the ocean here. A world is breaking. Breathe earth and iron. Stop now. Let yourself soften to this, wet and warm, burning open, rising up. And she slips free, a fish swimming in air, unaware that the elements are rearranging themselves. Hush. Who are you? Silence. Then the clang of metal on metal, breath on breath. And she penetrates.
My mother’s first memory of me was the sound of my voice. She said I screamed so loudly as I was carried away from her and down a hallway that a nurse remarked she had never heard a newborn cry with such strength. We need our mothers and our mothers need us. I was trying to make that clear but to no avail! In Toronto hospitals in the 1960’s, all babies were immediately separated from their mothers and kept in nurseries. Figuring out when to use my voice has been the focus of my life ever since. My writing is the result. Like my first howl, it comes from love.
To give birth is to be at the heart of life where the distinction between inner and outer dissolves and what was hidden comes to light. Unbounded, every cell pulses to the thrum of the world and a woman knows who she is because she is in touch with every part of herself. Yet fear of birth is everywhere, in our families, our popular culture and in the very “health care” systems we rely on. It shrouds our collective mind so that what is meant to bring us into wisdom, thrusts us instead into shame.
Women have shared their birth stories with me ever since I gave birth almost twenty-two years ago now and the crazy thing is that it’s the women who have had births that deepened and enlarged their sense of self who are usually the ones most hesitant to tell their stories in public. I know the feeling. After a woman has told of being induced, for example, and she describes the pain she felt from it and the relief the epidural gave her and the hours and hours she lay numb on her back and how she waited to be fully dilated as her blood pressure and contractions and her baby’s heart tones were constantly monitored and a catheter was inserted into her and she wasn’t allowed to eat and she was filled with I.V. fluid and then her baby went into distress and was born through a caesarean section, it feels like the wrong time to share how I went through none of that and felt the strongest and most beautiful I ever had after I gave birth.
Women’s stories of the suffering they have endured in birth need to be told and heard. It is vital to them and vital to us as a society. They are stories that demand healing and action! Along with these though, we need to hear of women’s joy. We need to share how our bodies can bring us into pleasure and strength and faith in ourselves and our world. I think these are actually the more dangerous stories. They challenge. They challenge our mothers and perhaps even our grandmothers. They challenge the idea that our bodies are a source of an inherent weakness. They challenge our collective idea of women. There is camaraderie in suffering. To declare that you live outside it is to stand alone.
Malala Yousafzai, the fourteen year old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban, is finding her voice again. The world watches. It was her strength that made her a target, not her victimhood. A spokesman for the Taliban explained that Malala’s writing was “obscene” and needed to be stopped. To claim that feminine intelligence is dirty has been the way of the patriarchy for thousands of years. The Taliban’s tactics are brutal, and proudly public, but the same impulse is expressed in more subtle but no less destructive ways in how birthing women are treated in much of the world. Most women either give birth without the medical safety net they need, or they suffer obstetrics’ assault. Either way, we are hurt. So are our babies. Some of us die. My midwife, Mary Sharpe, who is now the director of the midwifery education programme at Ryerson University, calls the situation a “global crisis”. She writes,
The incidence of medical and surgical interventions for birth is increasing at an alarming rate. In many settings, induction of labour and epidurals are the norm and caesarean birth rates range from 30% to 70% with a corresponding rise in maternal morbidity. In under-resourced areas of the world, equitable access to midwifery and obstetrical care is still not possible, and the United Nations’ Fifth Millennium Goal to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters has not yet reached its target…efforts to improve infant and maternal mortality by moving births to institutionalized settings are in fact replicating the worst in Western maternity care; women give birth in crowded facilities, are separated from their family and loved ones and birth alone in a dehumanized, assembly-line fashion.
This is taken from Joyful Birth, a book I contributed to that was put together by Lisa Doran and Lisa Caron.
While much of the world looks in reverence to the United States’ high tech medical system, it is not serving birthing women well. The U.S. is one of four countries in the world where the maternal death rate is rising. Perhaps obscene is a good word for this. Ina May Gaskin, a world renowned American midwife and author, has created The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project to bring women’s unnecessary deaths into public awareness. She said in a television interview recently that, “We let so many maternal deaths go invisible in these United States and a half to two thirds of the maternal deaths that take place aren’t reported to the CDC. That’s very shocking because in most industrialized countries there’s a huge effort to identify every single death so that you can say, “OK, how do we reduce it next year?” According to the number of maternal deaths that have actually been documented, the U.S. ranks somewhere between 40th and 50th in the world. The highly medicalized approach to birth by American obstetricians is not working. Out of fear of life and the intimate human connections that are a natural part of it, medicine tries to control birth and many women feel safe in its tight hand. Salman Rushdie wrote, “Repression is a seamless garment” * Despite feminism and the sexual revolution, we wear our constriction so comfortably in the West, we barely notice it.
So my words are for you, to speak to the fear you can’t help but absorb and to feed the faith that is your birthright. We are the knowledge and strength we look for outside ourselves. Denial of life’s power, its unfathomable intelligence to bring us into being and sustain us, has been acted out on our bodies and minds, and those of our children, over many, many generations now. Unspeakable violence is our legacy and the impulse to heal it demands that words be found. A coherent story must be told, not just of the suffering, but of the rightness in embracing all that we are. All our lives depend on it.
* Salman Rushdie, Shame (1983) from the first, unnumbered page of Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery.
You are your baby’s Source, its entire universe. This is obvious! And so what you eat literally shapes your baby, which isn’t a reason for guilt but for allowing yourself the pleasure of exercising your real power. In Pam England’s book, Birthing from Within, she writes, “Technology is not a substitute for good nutrition.” Ultrasounds and blood tests don’t heal or nourish. You do. By being in a close relationship with your self, it’s possible to really know what you and your baby need. Nourishing your self is the single most important thing you can do for your combined well-being.
Eating regularly keeps your blood sugar stable and your energy levels consistent. In the last few weeks before you give birth, you might need to eat frequent small meals as your stomach is compressed by your very full uterus. Your blood volume increases by fifty percent, so drinking frequently, about three litres of fluid a day, supports your body and prevents bladder infections, headaches and early contractions. Your need for protein increases too, so include it in every snack and meal, when you can. You will build strong, resilient tissue that will stretch rather than tear as you open to your baby. Nuts and dried fruit are a portable, high fibre snack rich in protein, iron, calcium and folic acid, nutrients particularly needed in pregnancy. Fresh fruit smoothies with yogourt or soy milk give a quick nutritious boost. For lunch and dinner, a source of protein, whole grains and dark leafy vegetables should be the priority.
Also, the average Canadian diet is lacking in adequate levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid found predominantly in fish oil that is necessary for your baby’s optimal neurological development and is also good for you, reducing your risk of premature labour and postpartum depression. Salmon, herring and sardines are a good source but a supplement ensures an adequate supply.
As a woman, you receive strong messages from our culture about how your body should look. Being pregnant is an opportunity not to take them seriously as you get in greater touch with how you feel. That’s where the wisdom lies. And the beauty.
Learn the technology of breath and body that makes practice a movement into the heart of what you are: the nurturing force of life.
I’m one of a few teachers in Canada who is passing on this knowledge. It is a revolution in understanding that recognizes the essential power of the Feminine in everyone and everything and offers a way to live in wholeness and grace.
Yoga teachers and new practitioners alike will get what they need in a small group setting where individual needs are honoured.
November 14, 21, 28, December 5, 12 & 19
Wednesdays from 7:00pm to 8:30pm at Eka Yoga Studio, 473A Church Street, 2nd floor, Toronto, ON M4Y 2C5
9 hours over six weeks: $120.00
Registration is necessary: email@example.com; 647.748.4884
In the wake of the disintegration of John Friend’s authority and empire, William Broad’s recent articles in the New York Times and Mark Singleton’s book a year or so ago, the question that everyone with even the mildest interest in yoga seems to be grappling with is, “What is yoga?” In the responses I’ve heard, the answer is absent.
Assumptions need to be put aside because without understanding what yoga is, attempts to practice and teach it won’t work and people will continue to get hurt. Whether they are in physical alignment or not, lying down or leaping through space, using props or just the bare floor, in heat or in cold, in an intimate group or a mass of hundreds, chanting Sanskrit or never letting a word of it pass their lips, studying ancient text or ignoring it, moving to music or in silence, working their edge or staying clear of it, eating vegan or raw or pure or whatever they feel like, paying fees or getting instruction for free, working with a teacher who socializes with students or stays aloof, who has thousands of hours of certified training or none, who is part of an ancient lineage or who gives no credence to the idea of spiritual authority, who has the anatomical training of a physiotherapist and the psychological insight of an analyst or who thinks only of light and love, none of this matters. What does is that you practice in a way that gives you the strength to receive… an inhale, a feeling, the movement of life. Its movement is yoga. Its movement is you.
This is obvious when you give birth. Then the vast intelligence of life pours through you in waves, bringing new life to light. Any distinction between you and what’s moving you dissolves. Coming into unity with your experience is the consequence of giving birth and it’s what yoga practice should give you too. Both activities return you to your natural state, sahaj samadhi, pure love.
In love, polarities merge. The polarities of spirit and sex and pleasure and pain are particularly fierce in a world that denies the inherent sacredness of life. Birth reveals it. We need to speak about the insight women’s experience gives us. It shatters dogma. What brings a person inside you is what brings them out: sex. The hormones that bring men and women to orgasm are the same hormones that control the birth process. While pain is part of birth, so is ecstasy. To give birth autonomously, you must leave your mental framework and enter the unbounded territory of primal experience. Then sexual energy moves, unconfined by cultural definition and the manipulation of self and other that comes with it. New life moves too and the sexual body and the spiritual body are known to be one. Every cell in blood, bone and brain vibrates in harmony with life’s descent. We are the source and the force of life, what yoga calls Shakti, so using yoga to make you somehow more spiritual is nonsensical.
Culturally, we are so very confused about love and sex. We set up huge obstacles to being in relationship and it starts at birth. The medical paradigm doesn’t understand how life works, only how to intervene when it doesn’t. In the face of drugs and surgery, mother and child lose touch with each other and their ability to be as one disintegrates. In a similar way, when yoga is misunderstood as a series of interventions that transform us into something else, something more beautiful, something more spiritual, they disassociate us from what we already are and become an assault on our integrity as life itself. We lose our selves.
It looks like we are beginning to recognize the violence and betrayal. But I don’t think the source of it is yet understood. Denial of life runs deep. It’s old and its craziness infiltrates every bit of us. Without a technical understanding of how to develop the strength to receive your life, any attempt to “do yoga” is not going to work. Adding beautiful words and concepts onto dysfunctional technology won’t help. It makes things worse, intensifying the sense of lack and longing that grows in the discrepancy between how things feel and how we imagine they should be.
Mark Whitwell has been an enormous help in my understanding of all this. What is missing in our collective understanding of yoga is a connection to life in all its beauty and pain. When UG Krishnamurti realized this, he called it his Calamity. It hurt to have his mind let go of its grip on his body, just like it hurts to give birth. UG insisted there’s no higher state to get to. We are yoga. Coming into love is heartbreaking. And the only sane thing we can do.
Understand birth, and you understand yoga, the fact that you are the source and force of life. Direct access to your power, what yoga calls shakti, is the gift. It’s your connection to this power that gives you a real ability to mother, heal and teach.
In learning the principles of breath and body that let the vast intelligence of life flow, a woman has the practical means to prepare for the complete integration that giving birth entails. These principles come from an ancient knowledge of life that Krishnamacharya was blessed to learn but that has yet to become a part of our collective understanding. Simple and safe, these principles lead to an experience of your natural state and the strong likelihood of an uncomplicated, spontaneous birth. Birth IS yoga.
An exploration of the physical, psychological, and spiritual transformations a woman goes through in the childbearing year will give you insight into her needs and will help you provide a space that nourishes her connection to herself and her community. The feminine force isn’t a concept, myth or metaphor; she is you and me.
Crescence Krueger passes on the beautifully simple and profound Yoga that she has received from Mark Whitwell. Her direct experience of Yoga began when she gave birth to her daughter and it has continued through eighteen years work as a Doula, helping other women give birth. Her ability to integrate the wisdom of traditional midwifery into current birthing environments has been supported by a twenty year connection to Isabel Perez and Ina May Gaskin. Crescence teaches and mentors Yoga teachers and Doulas. Real relationship is at the heart of life and she is committed to working in a way that makes it possible.
BIRTH: THE HEART OF YOGA
with Crescence Krueger
An Immersion and Pre and Postpartum Yoga Teacher Training
June 4/5, 11/12, 25/26; Saturdays 2:30pm-6:30pm, Sundays 1:30pm-5:30pm;
and two private meetings with Crescence
at LiV Yoga Studio, 155 Liberty St. (King and Dufferin), Toronto.
Appropriate for anyone who is interested: teachers, pregnant women, doulas, midwives…the yoga will be adapted to you.
$645.00 + HST Yoga Alliance credits; certificate given.
contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 416.994.4566
Twenty-two years ago, I bought a copy of Spiritual Midwifery at the original Big Carrot, a small wooden floored health food store on the south side of the Danforth. The book was filled with pictures of long haired hippies and accounts of their birth stories. It blew my mind. When I finished it, I knew that someday I wanted to give birth at home with midwives. Two years later, I did. Ina May’s presence in my life has continued. My midwife, Mary Sharpe, is friends with her, and Isabel Perez, my back-up over the last eighteen years, trained as a midwife with her and worked with her for four years before coming to Toronto. When I was just beginning to attend births, Isabel and I drove down to Tennessee in a van filled with midwives and midwifery students to take part in a conference that was hosted by Ina May and the Farm. I learned a ton and felt like I had had a little taste of living American history.
Join vocalist and composer Wende Bartley and me! In the union of inhale and exhale, movement and breath, we feel our innate wholeness. By extending the breath into sound making, we readily resonate and open to a wide range of sound and healing frequencies. Directing our sound into the masculine and feminine polarity points, we celebrate our union with Source. Love isn’t something we need to find; it’s what we already are.
February 14th, 7:00pm to 9:30pm; Opensource Yoga (central Toronto;exact location given when you register); $30.00 Contact Inya: email@example.com
A Pre and Postpartum Yoga Teacher Training and Immersion: April 2/3 and 9/10, plus two private meetings
Understand birth, and you understand the very heart of Yoga, the fact that you are Mother, the source and force of Life. Direct access to your power, what Yoga calls Shakti, is the gift.
By learning the principles of breath and body that let the vast intelligence of life flow, you’ll have the practical means to prepare for the complete integration that giving birth entails. These principles come from Krishnamacharya; in the deep denial of the Feminine that still defines our world, they have yet to become a part of our collective understanding. They are simple and safe and lead to an experience of your natural state and the strong likelihood of an uncomplicated, spontaneous birth.
An exploration of the physical, psychological, and spiritual transformations a woman goes through in the childbearing year will give you insight into her needs and will help you provide a space that nourishes her connection to herself and her community. The Feminine Force isn’t a concept, myth or metaphor. She is you and me.
This experience has meant more than words can say. I am leaving today with a full heart, deep inspiration and an overwhelming feminine connection. Jessica Liebgott, Yoga practitioner and aspiring midwife
I don’t know if I can begin to express my gratitude for the love, incredible insight and passion you have shared with me and ignited in me! It is with a sense of connecting with something much bigger with myself that I walk out into the world with after this weekend. Amanda Montgomery, Yoga teacher and mother
Crescence Krueger passes on the beautifully simple and profound yoga she has received from Mark Whitwell. Her ability to integrate the wisdom of traditional midwifery into our current teaching and birthing environments is rooted in eighteen years’ work as a doula, helping women give birth, and a twenty year connection to Isabel Perez and Ina May Gaskin. Real relationship is at the heart of both yoga and birth and Crescence is committed to teaching in a way that makes it possible. She was on the faculty of the Yoga Festival of Toronto in 2010 and has played a variety of leading roles in the community over the past two decades.
Included are two private meetings, one before and one after our group gatherings on April 2/3 and 9/10, Saturdays 9:30am to 6:00pm, Sundays, 11:30am to 6:00pm. The one-on-one time is an opportunity to talk and to receive an appropriate personal practice in preparation for, and integration of, the training. Your own practice is the source of your effectiveness as a teacher and your power as an individual. Everyone, including pregnant women, is welcome.
Eight Branches Healing Arts Centre, 358 Dupont Street (west of Spadina) Toronto, ON, Canada
Fee $645.00; Certificate; Yoga Alliance CEU’s.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org 416.994.4566
Yoga understands that you are Mother, the source and force of LIfe. Connected to your power, you will know in your very bones how to give birth. Learn the principles of breath and movement that forge this connection. In the deep denial of the Feminine that still defines our world, this knowledge is missing from much of our current Yoga education. Like a wave in rhythmic flow, breathing, moving, meditation and life are a seamless process. Through it, you develop the strength to receive life and give birth… in peace and love.