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I am very moved to be part of this book.  It is a collective creation about birth written from a doula’s perspective.  It will be going to press soon!

As doulas, we have an intimate experience of love in the purest sense of the word.  Love as the force that brings us here and binds us as one.  We bear witness to this force and to the obstacles that are put in her way.  Our way.  Life’s way.

Fellow doulas Lisa Doran and Lisa Caron edited and authored and nurtured this work.  More details to follow!

When you think of birth, what comes to mind?  What feelings move through you?

In an American study that midwife and filmmaker Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova told me about, 95% of women felt that giving birth had been a traumatic experience for them.  Their babies experienced that trauma too since a baby receives its mother’s flow of hormones and the emotions that go with them.  So most Americans born today experience their entry into the world as a very frightening thing.  The flow of Life is associated with terror.  It makes sense then, that  contemporary culture is so resourceful at keeping us disassociated from ourselves.

The thing is, terror and trauma is not what nature intends for us.  When a woman feels safe and her process is not interfered with, she and her baby meet each other in a state of ecstasy.  They are filled with the hormones of love.  Peace and joy are an integral part of birth and all of life.  Peace and joy are our natural state.

Yoga, in its original expression, understands this.  Yoga connects us to the essence of what we are: the joyous movement of Life.  Two mornings ago,  I witnessed this movement in a dramatic way in the 2 hour birth of a 9 1/2 pound baby boy.  It was the mother’s third child and the third time I was with her and her husband.  As with her second, she had dilated quite effortlessly to 4cm the week before.  We knew that when strong contractions came, the birth would happen quickly.  The memory of her amniotic waters gushing from her is clear in my mind.  And the open armed gesture of her son as he lay between her thighs in the moment before she gathered him to her, umbilical cord still attached.

I got an email from a pregnant friend yesterday, thanking me for the birth preparation session I had done with her.  She wrote: “I feel calmer than I have in quite a while.  It was important to look at birth from a normal, natural, healthy, joyous perspective rather than discussing all the things that could go wrong.”  We’re here in order to feel joy.  We’re here to pass it on.

visionLife is one.  That’s the message I got from Ina May Gaskin last Friday night in Ottawa.  It’s the message of Yoga too.  The action of Yoga is to surrender your breath to the Whole/Ishvara.  Your whole body participates in the flow of Life.

It was a clear fall day when Isabel Perez and I drove from Toronto to Ottawa.  Blue sky touched red and orange leaves and the pink stone cliffs beneath them.  The vivid colours reminded Isabel of the great quantities of brightly dyed sawdust she helped her family make when she was a child in Guatamala.  People bought the material at Christmas time to decorate their handmade nativity scenes.  Isabel’s memories have merged with the Canadian landscape and have added another layer to my perception of it too. 

Isabel and her family came to Tennessee in the 70’s so that she could train as a midwife with Ina May.  Our journey to Ottawa was a brief reunion.  Ina May was the final speaker at the Breech Birth Conference.  It was billed as a storytelling event.  Ina May is a wonderful entertainer.  I spent most of the evening laughing.  Her stories were of the link between childbearing women and other mammals.  How we share the one process of Life.  

Ina May said she loves old books.  They are often sources of lost knowledge and alternate frames of mind.  In an 18th Century medical textbook , she found suggestions for relieving milk engorged breasts that included an “intelligent maid” and a cooperative goat.  This was in an era before the invention of the breast pump.  Intelligent, cooperative husbands were the standard solution on the Farm, she said.  In the weeks before his baby was able to latch onto the breast, Ina May told of one skinny vegan man who blossomed in his efforts to build and maintain his wife’s milk supply.  Breast is indeed best.

In order to give birth, the primal brain stem, the part of the brain we share with all living creatures, must be freed from the tyranny of the modern, rational brain.  In order to give birth, we must surrender to our animal selves.  It is in this surrender that we experience love.  Images of the direct connection between animals and us are in the media now.  Perhaps we are remembering our link with Life.  Ina May mentioned the photo of Tori Amos suckling a piglet.  I happened on the less provocative but very beautiful mixed media exhibition of Gregory Colbert, entitled ‘Ashes and Snow’ which opened in Venice in 2002 and has been touring the world since.  The photo of the boy and the bird at the top of this post is one of Colbert’s. 

The audience for Ina May on Friday was a young one.  I felt quite ancient in its midst and quite delighted.  I have hope.

Yoga is your direct immersion and integration with Life.  Since we are Life, Yoga isn’t about achieving anything but about participating completely in what already is. Thousands of years ago, people took the principles evident in the creation and sustaining of Life and applied them to simple practices of breath, movement and sound.  In this way, they deepened their intimacy with themselves and each other.  We will do the same.

These principles got left by the wayside as Yoga became something that womenless men did in their attempt to transcend the world.  Intimate relationship, sex, birth and caring for children were avoided in the quest for enlightenment.  The irony is that rather than being at odds with our spiritual life, these ordinary aspects of life are precisely the means to realize it. 

Krishnamacharya, the teacher of many of the most influential teachers who brought Yoga to the west, spent seven and a half years in Tibet studying with his teacher, a Yogi with a wife and children.  Krishnamacharya promised his teacher that in payment for what he had been given, he would raise a family of his own and bring Yoga out into the wider world.  He did this within the confines of a rigidly patriarchial society, however.  Today we can go further.   Today we can practice in a way that expresses the Feminine and brings it into union with the Masculine.  The integration that happens is immensely healing. 

There will be ample time to address your understanding and experience of Yoga, to talk about teaching and how we can transmit a real understanding of Yoga to each other and to explore how sex and birth can bring us into deep intimacy with Life and its renewal.  We’ll then put this into our body and breath and move with it, making our practice accurate and powerful, practical and relevant.

crescence-kruegerYoga with Crescence Krueger:  An Ontario Yoga Association Workshop

 Sunday, October 18th, 9:00am to 4:00pm at Pegasus Studios, 361 Glebeholme Blvd.(Danforth and Coxwell)

$85.00 ($65.00 for OYA members)
 Registration is limited to twenty participants. 
 
To register, please call the OYA at 416. 646. 1600, Ext.25 or info@ontarioyogaassociation.ca  Click here for the OYA page and registration form
 
Yoga Alliance CE credits will be offered.

orchidWhen we give birth, we open so completely that our centre dissolves.  Our cervix melts.  Our belly becomes utterly soft.  In this receptivity the boundaries between our baby and ourself are magnificently transparent.  Breastfeeding sustains this unity while helping our body to regain its strength and realign around an expanded centre.   While the uterus needs about six weeks to return to the size of a pear, connective tissue needs about a year to regain its pre-pregnant state and the transformation that happens in our heart is forever.  In the most literal sense of the word,  post-partum isn’t a limited period of time after birth but extends through the rest of our lives. 

An uncomplicated birth initiates us into an awareness of our wholeness.  Obstetrician Michel Odent says women enter an altered state when they give birth.  We experience  a physiological transformation that ensures we are able to give and receive love.   When the process is interrupted by major medical intervention, the integration is also interrupted.  A woman experiences the spiritual aspect of birth without being able to process the intensity of it through her body.  In the case of a ceasarean section, dis-integration happens not just because of the physical trauma of surgery but because a woman loses touch with herself, with her source. Integration will need to take place after the birth rather than through it and the early weeks of motherhood will likely be a particularly vulnerable time.

One in three women who give birth in Toronto today will do so by caesarean.  It is such a common event and yet as a society we don’t honour the immensity of the experience or the multi-layered healing that needs to take place afterwards.  Every woman needs deep nurturing after giving birth but after a caesarean this is especially so.   I met a woman a few days ago who has gone through two caesarean births in the space of three years.  She said her children are happy, her husband is happy but two years after the last birth, she is still in pain.  While not a usual situation, it is not an uncommon one either.  After talking to her and seeing how she breathed and moved, it became clear that she has yet to recover the connection to her strength that was severed in the course of two major abdominal surgeries.  As a place to begin, I gave her some simple Yoga to do every day. 

When the ujayi breath is the inspiration for movement (see previous post) Yoga engages and strengthens precisely those muscles that were most stressed during pregnancy and birth: the pelvic floor and abdominals.  In a caesarean, the abdominal muscles aren’t merely stressed, they are cut in two.   A reconnection of above and below needs to happen in order for the body to regain its fluid strength.  When it does, the spine aligns and the internal organs, including the bladder, uterus and intestines, find their place.  A linking of above and below is also necessary for our heart’s equalibrium.  When softness and strength balance each other, we feel good.  

In a caesarean birth, a woman’s body doesn’t get the opportunity to complete the full birth process and her participation is restricted to that of a witness.  Mind and body separate and “hormones of love” don’t flood through her system like they would in a spontaneous birth.  Sadness and grief are a natural part of the time after birth but they can be a particularly strong reaction to the parameters of a caesarean experience.   As the baby isn’t brought immediately skin to skin with the mother when it is born, more time and support to establish a satisfying breastfeeding relationship might be needed. 

Having someone in the recovery room who can unwrap the baby and help latch it to the breast in the first hour after the birth can be a great help in bringing mother and child together again.  I do this in my role as a doula.  It is a great source of comfort to have your newborn suckling at your breast even as your body is coping with the immediate effects of surgery.  I often see vital signs in the mom stabilize as soon as she and baby are reunited in this way.  Oxytocin and endorphins flow; Life moves and all is well in the world.  Getting consistent breastfeeding support in the subsequent days and weeks is also invaluable.  It is a mother’s relationship with her child that is her primary Yoga.  Connected to each other, both find their strength.

In traditional societies all over the world, it’s recognized that mother and baby flourish when the mother is completely cared for in the first forty days after birth.  She needs warmth on every level: a warm, quiet, space; hot food and drink; warm baths and gentle touch.  Nurtured, she can nurture in return.  While our urban, technological environment suggests otherwise, we need no less.

IMG_2721For the first time in 18 years, I am free to come and go as I please in the world.  My daughter has left Toronto to attend university.  It is a bittersweet freedom, coming as one phase of our lives ends and another begins.  What to do with it?

In speaking to the Yoga Alliance this past week, I found out that they are struggling with a backlog of 200 teacher registration applications.  It took four attempts, by mail and then by fax, until they were able to locate my paperwork.  Is there anything, in the millions of people now practicing and teaching Yoga, that I can add?

I’ve been reading Yoga, Buddhist and other spiritual magazines over the last few weeks, interested in what people in the public realm are saying right now.  My birth work happens in the intimacy of bedrooms and birthing rooms and the majority of my teaching over the last few years has been one-on-one in my home.  I feel that what happens in these private realms is not impacting the public conversation.

Here`s an example. In the August-September 2009 magazine Tathaastu there is an article by David Frawley.  His realm is Tantric philosophy.  “Wonderful!” I’m thinking, as I dive into his words.  But as I read, something doesn’t feel right.  It takes me a moment to figure out what.  “To merge one’s mind into [the] yoni of the heart is to move through all creation to the absolute beyond, to be reborn into the Supreme!”  He speaks of “higher” powers and how sexual energy is “only” an outer manifestation of cosmic consciousness, “a greater Divine sexuality which transcends all creaturely existence”   Ah, now I have it!   David separates the spiritual from ordinary life and in doing so, turns what we are into something less than what lies “beyond”.  Wherever that is, it is not here.

Disassociation is at the root of human suffering and spiritual philosophy that assumes we have to leave ordinary reality is yet another source of pain.  Our physical existence is not a barrier to the absolute but is its fullest expression.  When sperm fused with egg, the energy of Life, Shakti, God/Goddess, call it what you will, moved through your parents and took form as you.  You wouldn’t be alive if Shakti weren’t pulsing in you at this very moment.  We don’t go “beyond” to feel this.  Life is right here, right now, present in a never ending flow.  Like a river and its bed, like sunlight and its warmth, we are indivisible from our source.

So our birth is not an event that needs to be improved upon.  I challenge anyone to be with a woman as she gives birth and then say that what you have witnessed is not the pure power and mystery of the universe revealing itself.  After sixteen years of attending births, I return home in greater awe each time, feeling the strength and delicacy of my own aliveness, raw and open. If I gave birth to another human being believing that I had trapped them in a state that needs to be transcended, it would turn my life into a nightmare. I would become a vehicle of suffering.  What misery for all of us!  Krishnamacharya’s statement that “We have created a hell out of this earthly paradise” describes the situation very aptly, I think.  He defined practice, sadhana, as “doing what can be done”.  Everyone can receive the reality of Life as it is given. Small “l” or capital “l”, there is no difference between them.

Which brings me to the question of teaching.   In the Summer 2009 issue of Parabola  the Taoist teacher Sat Hon says:

I think that students and teachers are in a conspiracy of lies.  My teacher used to say that students will come to you with chains of concepts and an unskillful teacher will give them another chain of concept to carry around and they’re both happy.  They think that’s what teaching is.  To really get into the core of your being, you don’t have to accumulate more.  You have to have the good fortune to meet someone like my kind teacher who whittled away everything.

In order to whittle, you must know what you’re working with.  Is it pine, oak or cherrywood that you hold in your hand?  Freshly cut or seasoned?  As my daughter  begins her time in an institution of  “higher” learning, I’ve been thinking of her path up until this point.  Certain that a personal relationship between teacher and student was essential,  I homeschooled her until she was eight.  She then entered a Waldorf school and stayed with her core teacher throughout the next six years.  High school was spent at another small school where there was a strong sense of community and a real engagement between teachers and students.  While now part of a student body that numbers over 20,000, she has chosen a program that contains only 80 students and that has her in a seminar class of eight and a tutorial class that is even smaller.  Her instinct is to seek out the opportunity for relationship.  I am fascinated by this.  And I think how much more important is the connection between teacher and student when the subject is not intellectual but of the heart?

Like Sat Hon, I too have met kind teachers.  They have met me in return with a knowing that has touched my very marrow.  In our meeting I have come to recognize that the core of my creaturely existence is love.  Everything whittled away, I am left with everything. 

So much of Yoga is now taught en masse.  I wonder if this reflects our collective struggle with intimate relationship?   My daughter has had the good fortune to experience real connection.  So many of us haven’t.  We’ve drifted through social and educational systems where we’ve never been seen.  If you don’t know what you’re missing, how can you ask for it?  How can you give it?

So I think there is something I can both add and take away.  I know how to teach Yoga in a way that gives you the strength to receive.  With this receptivity, your connection to everything becomes obvious and the need for conceptual complexity dissolves.  As Mark says with great understatement, “Our life as it is given is full and sufficient.”

This was Mark Whitwell’s response to a question about the use of bandha during asana, about the channeling of energy that comes as the musculature of the whole body participates in the movement and suspension of the breath. His answer takes us to the crux of Yoga, a practice that comes from Life and takes us back to Life. If what you’re doing doesn’t, it’s not Yoga.

Before I met Mark, there was a gap between what I experienced in my life and what Yoga practice gave me. I tried different strategies to bridge the two, particularly when I taught pregnant women. Something was missing. I see other teachers still grappling with this feeling of incompletion. It’s common to hear that the physical practices of Yoga are not enough to fully support us. Richard Freeman says in his foreward to Michael Stone’s book , The Inner Tradition of Yoga, that “awakening to the simple truth of impermanence, of universal death, is all that has been missing [from contemporary practice].”¹ I beg to differ. What is missing is Life.

mark01Mark gave me the practical specifics of a Yoga technology that allows me to receive my experience. The gap between my life and my Yoga has dissolved. The profundity of spiritual practice is encountered in the simplicity and complete tangibility of breathing and moving. Nadine Fawell, an Australian Yoga teacher,  has written a post that beautifully, concisely describes this experience of Yoga. She got it when she met Mark at the recent Syndney Yoga Conference. 

U.G. Krishnamurti was a friend of Mark’s who, despite being recognized by the Shankaracharya as a living Buddha, rejected the idea of enlightenment. Watching videos of him speaking or reading his words, I am comforted by his fearlessness. U.G. said, “The mystique of enlightenment is based upon the idea of transforming yourself. I maintain that there is nothing to transform… somehow the truth has to dawn on you that there is nothing to understand…Stop thinking and start living.”  An appropriate Yoga practice gives you the means to do so.

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¹ Michael Stone, The Inner Tradition of Yoga (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2008) p.x