Meet Satya. He was born just a few weeks ago, in our dining room!
He's my third child, and his birth was something else.
With my first two babes, I woke up at my usual time in the morning and felt an inexplicable new feeling in my body. A couple hours later both times, my contractions began, and both times by 8pm there was a new kid in our house!
I'd been reminded throughout this pregnancy by my midwives and friends that third babies can come really fast. "Make sure you call us right away" they said. "Have a backup in case we can't get the tub filled in time," they said.
So while consciously I knew that every birth is different, the truth is I fully expected this labor to be straightforward and speedy like my others (or even-- I hoped-- faster!)
Which is why when I began having mild contractions on Saturday, I scrapped our weekend plans. But... by Sunday morning they hadn't gotten any stronger, longer or closer together (that's how you know it's really happening.)
I let the midwives know what I was feeling, made some raspberry leaf tea, ate my 6 daily dates and settled in to wait.
I'll skip the details of my next 2 days and just tell you there's a thing called prodromal labor. It's like... the purgatory of birthing. It's like the myth of Sisiphus, where he keeps pushing that boulder up the hill and it always rolls back down.
Prodromal contractions can be uncomfortable enough that you can't concentrate on doing other things while they're happening, but unlike "real" labor, they can continue without progressing in intensity or frequency for days or even (gulp) weeks.
Except that sometimes they stop completely and then start again. Oof.
Despite it not being my first rodeo, I was unprepared for this.
Or was I?
The thing is, I'd been sweating it up in our in-home hot room at least 5 days a week throughout this pregnancy. (Not to mention the other 17 years-ish since I found Bikram Yoga!)
So I actually had everything I needed.
Here are just some of the skills I've honed through my yoga practice, which helped me cope with feelings of frustration, impatience and exhaustion during the 60 hours or so from my first contraction until I finally met my son:
Just like in yoga class, I use nose breathing during labor to keep my nervous system calm and conserve energy. Here's more about how that works.
Interoceptive awareness is the ability to identify, understand, and respond appropriately to the body's internal cues. It's knowing what is going on inside my body, what it means, and what to do about it.
Pregnancy Yoga emphasizes this skill, encouraging us to constantly monitor the sensations in the body brought on by each posture, and adjust the intensity as needed. I mean, you should really be doing this in any yoga class! You just might get more reminders from the teacher during Pregnancy Yoga. Practicing with an injury will also train this especially well: you constantly have to listen to your body's messages to know if you need to do less or rest.
Interoception helped me pace myself even during a labor that seemed to go on and on. I could feel what my body was doing and respond to its needs in each moment with movement, sounds or rest.
I had to tap into my faith a lot during my weekend of waiting for Satya. Faith in the natural process of birth, faith in my body, faith in myself. With labor starting and stopping I began to doubt myself: maybe it was wishful thinking? Did I will myself into having contractions before it was really the time? What if I got too tired and couldn't see this through to the finish line?
There was a moment just before I needed to push, where I said to my husband "I don't know if I can do this." As soon as I said it, I knew that I could.
What we practice in Bikram Yoga class and in Pregnancy Yoga is repeatedly putting ourselves in this position. We're struggling, thinking "I don't know if I can do it" and then we prove to ourselves: we can.
Hatha (physical) yoga is about using our bodies to cultivate a relationship of faith (trust) with ourselves. And it goes so far beyond the physical realm.
In yoga, you might associate determination with "pushing through" or holding the pose no matter what until the end. But in fact, determination in yoga can often mean, NOT pushing through.
I mean, if your breathing is all over the place and your pose is misaligned because you're too tired to use your muscles correctly, pushing through or "no matter what" isn't determination: it's just ego!
So determination can also mean the commitment to doing what is truly best for you, and not letting ego get in the way.
During Satya's birth I used my determination in the "pushing through" sense. But I also had to stay determined to allow the process to unfold, without me (ego) trying to control it.
By focusing your mind on what your body is doing in the present moment, even with potential distractions like the heat, sweat in your eye, or that housefly that somehow snuck into the room, yoga helps you hone your concentration powers until they become superpowers!
Labor can actually slow or even stop as a result of distractions, like someone new entering the room. I used my concentration superpower during Satya's birth to keep me on track... even as my other children woke up and started eating their breakfast cereal beside me while asking questions about where babies come from!
In hatha yoga patience is developed in many ways. One is simply the patience to hold your body in an uncomfortable position until you hear the word "change!" Another is patience over the longer term: accepting your current level of ability/ flexibility/ strength/ balance and allowing that to improve over time, on a timeline that may be slower than you'd prefer.
This one was huge for me with this birth. I'd been ready to meet Satya for days, and there were moments it seemed like he would never show up! I tapped into my yoga-patience and reminded myself that he would arrive exactly when he was ready.
The good news about prodromal contractions is that they help the body prepare for active labor and may even help dilate the cervix a bit. By the time my baby was finally ready to join us, I only had to push 5 times to get him out.
Satya was born just after 8am that Tuesday morning, with one arm raised up next to his head like he was setting up for Standing Bow Pulling Pose! It's called a nuchal hand presentation. And maybe that was part of the delay, my body trying to nudge him into an easier position before he began his descent.
Besides longer labors, other nuchal hand birth stories I've read often involve tearing, pain and long hours of pushing.
I can't say for sure if my yoga practice is completely responsible for my smoother experience, but I can tell you that besides walking the kids to school and a bit of swimming, it's the only exercise I've done for over a year.
Here's how my pregnancy went:
Here's how I felt after Satya's birth:
I was talking with my doula a few days later, and she said: "Every baby has something to teach you with their birth." I think Satya's lesson for me was that life is (still) full of surprises.
Every birth is different, even for the same mom!
I'm in no way claiming that if you practice this yoga our experiences will be the same.
What I do know though, and what any birth professional will tell you, is that having a healthy body and mind can only have positive effects on the kind of pregnancy and birth you have! There's so much in life that is beyond our control, but to a huge extent your health is up to you.
Pregnancy Yoga ticks all the boxes for a safe and effective exercise regimen that will help you prepare for the birth of your dreams: It's zero-impact, moderate to low intensity, emphasizes breathing, tones the pelvic floor, strengthens joints, prevents back pain, builds stamina, improves balance and relieves stress.
I felt so good during and after yoga that I practiced almost every day throughout this pregnancy. But you don't have to hit your mat daily to enjoy the benefits!
Even 2 to 3 sessions a week can have a huge impact.
So if you're expecting (or plan to be) find out more about Pregnancy Yoga here. We've got several classes and downloadable resources for you in our library here. And feel free to email me if you have any questions! I love helping out new moms and moms-to-be.
Always consult your medical provider before starting a new exercise routine.
As Bikram yoga teachers, so many students tell us this one is their "nemesis!" And we get it. SHTK not only requires you to use a ton of physical strength and stamina to develop your own flexibility, it also calls upon 110% of your will power, integrity and mental fortitude to stick with it, try the right way and not give up. The good news is, by using those aspects of your body and of your character you are building them up, and they (like this posture) will only get better with practice.
Health benefits include:
How to do:
Standing Head to Knee can be best understood by dividing it into a progression of stages or steps. Keep in mind that while we identify 4 main "steps" in the posture, there are a bazillion mini-steps along the way, and any one of the steps may take you weeks, months or years to master. For example, between grabbing your foot and locking both knees, you may find your maximum expression of the posture somewhere in-between for quite some time. No worries: as long as you try the right way and you don't give up, that's the ultimate destination!
*You want me to lock my knee??
Yes. But let's make sure you understand what we mean by that. In Bikram yoga, to "lock the knee" means 3 things: Straight leg (full extension of the knee joint) + thigh muscles (including quads) contracted + body weight even on the foot. Check out our post on the subject for more!
Eyes and abs!
Balancing on one foot is a big challenge for many beginners. Remember that your 2 best friends on your "balance team" are your abs and your eyes. So always keep your abdominal muscles pulled in firmly, and maintain your one point of focus on your standing knee throughout the posture.
Breathing properly is key. If you’re working on Step 1, simply breath normally with an engaged core. If you are kicking out into Step 2, inhale slowly by the nose while you kick your leg forward. Take another deep inhale when your both knees are locked and exhale as you bend your elbows down for Step 3. Take another deep breath and slowly exhale again as you tuck your chin to your chest for Step 4. This focused breathing keeps you calm and maintains oxygen moving through your body to feed your muscles. It also assists with the stretching and rounding of your spine and ribs.
Finally, the real secret to mastery of Standing Head to Knee is: attitude. Relish every step of the magical journey, because every step has something to offer your body, mind and soul. And more than anything, this posture demands that you activate and cultivate the connection between those! That's part of what makes it so tough, and that's also what makes it so... yoga.
Since our Founding Memberships went on sale a few days ago, seven people have purchased year-long memberships to a yoga studio they have never seen, because it isn't even built yet. I haven't met most of these people, but I can tell you they have a lot to teach us. They know how to do possibly one of the most important things in human life: They know how to leap.
You know, leaping. Like when you come to a giant, muddy puddle at the foot of your driveway, and the whole world is waiting on the other side- but you're not wearing your rain boots and it's hard to gauge the depth or whether your legs are long enough to make it across. It's tempting to walk around. Or even go back inside and wait for the sun to come out and dry things up! (Heh. Can you tell I'm originally a Californian?) Anyway, those are very practical solutions, and there's nothing wrong with them. Some of us, though... maybe we back up a bit, get something of a running start- and we leap the hell over that puddle and get on with the day.
Bikram Yoga St. Johns was a leap for us. When we found out we were going to be parents, my first impulse was to say "Let's wait with the business." We were going to have a baby to consider, after all! I wanted to go back inside and wait till the puddle dried, get an office job and put the kid in daycare. Save money. Play it safe.
It can be that way with the yoga sometimes, too. For many of us it was a huge leap to get to that first class, that's for sure. We had to get over worries about the heat, the fear of being vulnerable and sweaty in a room full of the beautiful people, concern that our bodies were somehow not up to the task- we had to let all that go and just leap ourselves into the hot room. And there are days like that even after practicing for years- coming back after an illness, or maybe just feeling really out of sorts and like we might not make it through two sets of half moon. If we go to class, we risk feeling uncomfortable, imperfect, even having to sit out a posture or three. On those days it feels much safer to stay on the couch and scroll through Facebook and let the hours pass us by.
But. Do you remember how you felt after your very first class? Have you had one of those "iffy" days, and then you go to class anyway? I know I have, and I've never regretted it. It's not always pretty, but in my experience you always feel better when you leap.
It certainly would have been easier for us to put the studio on hold. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been more responsible. But that puddle wasn't going anywhere! And did we want to teach our children to play it safe? That seems less responsible.
I'm not concerned about this community at all. It is being founded as we speak by people who are not afraid to take a chance. These people will build the kind of community that jumps in with all it's got. They will inspire new students to try that scary first class, they will make our studio vibrate with an adventurous spirit. Together with them- with you- we are setting exactly the example we want to set for our daughter.
Together, we will make this the best leap we all ever took!
A recent conversation with my husband, uploading stories onto our Testimonials page, teaching several classes this weekend full of super-motivated students, and watching my 1-month-old daughter's efforts on her movement mat have all got me thinking about: perseverance, drive, dedication. What great feats we are capable of when we pour in everything we have! Here's one of my favorite poems on the subject.
If you want a thing bad enough
To go out and fight for it,
Work day and night for it,
Give up your time and your peace and your sleep for it,
If only desire of it
Makes you quite mad enough
Never to tire of it,
Makes you hold other things tawdry and cheap for it;
If life seems all empty and useless without it
And all that you scheme and you dream is about it,
If gladly you'll sweat for it,
Fret for it,
Plan for it,
Lose all your terror of God or of man for it,
If you'll simply go after that thing that you want,
With all your capacity,
Strength and sagacity,
Faith, hope and confidence, stern pertinacity,
If neither cold poverty, famished and gaunt,
Nor sickness and pain
Of body or brain
Can turn you away from the thing that you want,
If dogged and grim you besiege and beset it,
You'll get it!
- Berton Braley
Even if you've never taken a Bikram yoga class, you can probably imagine a few ways sweating your guts out for 90 minutes a day might change your body. (Weight loss, lower blood pressure, increased stamina, improved digestion, anyone?) After all, Bikram yoga is a hatha yoga practice, meaning a practice of physical postures, called asanas, and breathing techniques, called pranayama. And hatha yoga offers tremendous health benefits for all the systems of your body. But that's not all, folks! By attending to your physical practice, you also cultivate certain qualities of mind which have the power to absolutely transform the way you see the world and the way you live your life:
How has Bikram yoga changed your mind? Leave a comment. We love to hear from you!
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!