The divine yoga of childbirth

miles and me cragside copyThis time last year I gave birth to my son. I was in labour, but it was so much more than just ‘labouring’. Of course it was a day of hard work, in fact it was the biggest test of physical endurance I have ever experienced, but what about my mind and spirit?

My experience of childbirth felt like a new level of yoga. I felt connected to my body, my breath and the universal life force flowing through me in a way that I had never encountered. I was literally being opened-up to experience something so much greater than myself.

Practicing yoga before and during childbirth has a myriad of benefits. Yoga asana teach us to how to connect to our body and this is essential in labour. The body knows exactly what to do, so the more we can tune into its innate wisdom the more we can trust and let go. We can listen to what position we need to be in and how to move in a way that will ease contractions.

The power of the breath can also be revealed. Specific breathing practices help to release the pelvic floor and work with the downward energy flow. Staying with the breath guides our attention, relieves pain and keeps us centred between and during contractions. This also allows us to birth with the breath, rather than pushing, which is far gentler.

Labour further offers us a gateway into a deeply meditative state. Our attention can turn inwards to a new level as every part of our being is focused on the act of birth. This meditative awareness allows us to listen to what our body needs, so that we can respond, as well as find complete calm between contractions. The beauty of contractions is they are a series of extraordinary sensations, but each one comes out of and returns to stillness.

The use of mantra is another profoundly helpful practice. Releasing the jaw with mantra helps to release the pelvic floor and sound is an incredible pain relief. Choosing deep resonant tones such as ‘ma, om, ou and ah’ all have a lower vibration that help to take our energy and attention down to the pelvis.

With the inner stillness that comes from these techniques we are then able to connect to the divine life force that is flowing through us with each contraction. We can feel connected to creation, to our baby and to every aspect of our being. We can experience the still awareness and dynamic sacred energy behind life. This is the divine yoga, the play of Siva and Shakti.

Childbirth is always a sacred time of transformation, but for many women it is also a time of fear, grief and disempowerment. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Practicing yoga in pregnancy helps you to tune into your body, prepare your body and to trust your body, so that you have the confidence that you can give birth. Given the right environment it can be a natural and deeply spiritual experience.

Why losing weight does not make us feel light

As winter draws in and with it the dark nights, it is a wonderful time of year to celebrate light. We suddenly become so much more thankful for the sun and the daylight hours it brings, as well as the light we can bring into our homes. It is the season for candles, fires and fairy lights. And this week is also the start of Diwali – the Hindu festival of light.

Diwali is a celebration of goodness over evil, or light over dark, and that has got me thinking about the symbolism of light and its many different meanings. By definition light is an agent that makes things visible; it is a source of illumination. But we can also ‘see the light’ in spiritual enlightenment or ‘shed light’ on a problem. Light is seen as goodness, ascension and moral elevation. It is something to aspire to and hold in high esteem.

And then there is the light that means something weighs very little. This is the light that we aspire to when we want to lose weight. We want to feel physically light rather than heavy. And it strikes me that maybe we hold weight loss in high esteem because we associate it with the light of illumination, of goodness and moral elevation. But when we lose weight do we really feel elevated and full of goodness? Many diets are sold on exactly that notion that losing weight will make us feel good. That the more weight we lose, the better we will feel. We buy into the concept that when we lose weight we will feel happier and love ourselves more. But does it really work like that?

No. In the short-term achieving a new weight can certainly give us a small boost because we have ‘achieved’ what we had set out to do, but this is only ever short-lived. It is short lived because it hasn’t made us fundamentally any happier. And I believe our fixation of finding happiness outside ourselves can never leave us feeling truly content. Here the fixation is on our outer appearance, on how fat or thin we perceive ourselves to be, but when we reach our desired weight we seek to change something else.

I believe that so many people want to lose weight and feel light in their physical body because as a society we have become hugely disconnected to our inner light. This is our divine essence, which is always present and self-luminous. This disconnection has lead to the fixation on our outer appearance and the craving to feel physically light. But what we are all really seeking is to feel our true nature, our inner light, which can only ever be found within us.

 

Lakshmi Invocation & Meditation

lakshmi

As the festival of lights begins this week let’s turn our attention inwards and connect to our inner radiance. There are many ways that this can be done, but for me I shall be turning to goddess Lakshmi and invoking her golden energy. She is one of the most sacred goddesses and her presence is always felt when you call for her. You can invoke her by repeating om shrim lakshmyai namaha nine times, whilst having the feeling of dropping the mantra into your heart. Or you can simply chant her bija mantra shrim in the same way. Then imagine her golden presence in front of you and imagine her energy pouring into your heart on the inhalation and flowing throughout your body of the exhalation.

Try committing to this practice for ten minutes every day for the next week and observe your connection to your inner light. It is a powerful practice when done regularly and leads to a strong sense of inner abundance that is not depended on external factors or appearances. This is the true meaning of feeling light.