‘Spiritual birth recognizes that each and every birth is the birth of the Christ child. The Birth support person’s job is to do her best to bring both the mother and child through their passage alive and well and to see that the sacrament of birth is kept holy,” writes the great American midwife Ina May Gaskin. When I visited Gaskin’s Farm in Summertown Tennessee earlier this year it was to further my training as a doula – a birth support person.
My first birth experience after my training with Gaskin was with a woman who had an older child and was preparing for her second. This woman remembers loud noises, and being directed what to do when she had her first birth experience. She recalls being tense all over which, she says, made labor pains worse. She had a fear of that same experience with her second child. Being mindful of this I made sure to allow her the space she required as she found her ritual of walking in circles, stepping in only when she needed to be guided physically.
She paused every few steps and we’d rock back and forth together as she hummed and swayed. She was somewhere else right now. A deep and spiritual place, it seemed.
She was completely at one with herself to the point that I knew that even if an intervention needed to happen in her labor, she would stay in this sanctuary she’d stepped into. She continued to hum and rock to the beat of her own internal rhythm
An intervention never came.
This got me thinking…there is something ritual about labouring and something ceremonious in carrying a child from the great unknown into reality.
In her book “Spiritual Midwifery,” Ina May Gaskin extols that if a woman allows herself to enter a spiritual realm in labor her pain will be felt less, she will reach a new high, and she will cross over from one part of her life into a new dimension.
I have to say reading those things before I had a child seemed wildly presumptuous. But, as I attended more and more births as a Doula, I began seeing these crossing over’s more often. There seems to be a marked point in labour where if a woman has enough of a connection to her spirit, she goes inward to an ethereal place.
Almost all religions have some sort of ritual whether it’s the ceremonial and symbolic drinking of wine, chanting, reciting, or singing. It’s that ritual that keeps the follower of a select religion coming back. It represents something meaningful… comforting.
Labor is an intimidating and scary ceremony to step into, but this mother I speak of hummed her baby into the world. When the baby was born she just stared straight ahead, breathing, with a fixed gaze. After what felt like an eternity to me, she just readjusted her eyes and looked at her baby with a smile that took up her whole face. She had come out of her spirit den as it were.
There are instances where the laboring woman can go to a place of divinity. It takes faith, support and the desire to know one’s spirit better, trust it, and let it lead you.
When her labor was over, there she was, back in this world with her newborn child feeling as though she’d rushed toward the center of her spirit for 12 hours and back again, reborn with a newborn. What a blessing it was to witness.
Sarah-Jane Steele is a Journalist, Mother, trained Doula and Yoga Teacher. She hails from Halifax and now lives in Victoria with her family. You can contact her regarding any of the above at email@example.com.
*This article was published in the print and online edition of the Times Colonist Faith Forum page.
You can read more articles on the interfaith blog Spiritually Speaking HERE
I promised myself I would only post foods for the pregnant woman’s baby-growing body. Lavender infused honey it not exactly that.
- The jury is still out on this but lavender is said to be harmful in the first trimester of pregnancy. It’s been written that it can cause miscarriage and is to be avoided. But, I have spoken with naturopaths and herbalists and nothing particulary conclusive says this is fact. Still, you may consider this before using lavender.
- Just make sure the honey you cook with is pasteurized. Anything not pasteurized does carry some bacteria and organisms that could be harmful to your baby. I thought this was worth mentioning.
Still, homemade lavender infused honey is a great gift, a great add to some balsamic and figs ( that recipe will follow) and it sounds more complicated than it actually is to make.
I followed Rebar’s directions. In early 2013 I made a pact, mostly with myself that I would cook every recipe in the Rebar cookbook within two years ( I didn’t set an insane goal like the lady in the film “Julia and Julia” and aim to do this in a year. Rebar’s cookbook is like gourmet for vegans…..I needed more time to hone my cooking skills.
Here tis’ ( This is dedicated to Daphne in Montreal )
Lavender Infused Honey
- 1 cup (240 ml) Honey
- 1 tbsp (15ml) dried lavender blossoms ( You can actually get these from a florist and at some swanky markets and they should only cost you about 50 cents…don’t let them pick pocket you!)
- or you can also use 2 tbsp( 30ml) fresh lavender
* Reebar doesn’t tell you this till you’re almost done the recipe but make sure you make this in the morning if you’re planning to serve it in the evening, it needs to infuse for a few hours). Also, have a mesh strainer on hand ( the little wire ones with the teeny spaces).
- Heat the honey in a small little baby pot over low heat until it turns to liquid ( keep pot handles turned in so little ones don’t grab).
- Add lavender and continue to heat gently for ten minutes ( you don’t need to watch the pot just put the burner on “gentle” Aka low setting and put the timer on and go back to what you were doing).
- Remove from heat and allow the honey to infuse for a few hours.
- Reheat the honey to liquid and strain out the flower blossoms.
- I used the sticky flower blossoms to adorn the plate of salad I made….you could also just I don’t know, CHUCK THEM OUT.
Now where did I put my Birthing Pelvis?….Oh, there it is!
For the past few weeks I have been observing a 6-week prenatal class series at Mothering Touch here in Victoria.
This week the teacher, Eva explained the actual physiology of the transition phase of birth. Her words, “Once the baby passes through the bony pelvis…..they’re very close to be being born.” She was holding a model pelvis in her hands.
I drifted off for a moment, back to my pregnant bony pelvis striding along English Bay in Vancouver. 41 and a half weeks pregnant, like many other expectant mothers at 40 plus weeks, I was as impatient as a ….well as a woman who just cannot wait for her baby to be born, for the phone calls to stop asking “where’s that baby,” and for my life as a mother to really start. I also wasn’t confident that my small framed pelvis would be able to pass a baby.
I walked…..and walked.
When I saw it. The sign. The bony pelvis. Alright, it was a woody one…..
Just ten feet from me, a large protuberance in the sand- the most glorious, beautifully shaped pelvis. I stopped and looked around me, someone had to see this ( I have a terrible habit of speaking to people on the street like I know them when something monolithic happens like this….I really need to get a handle on that).
No one was around to rant to, so I took in the moment.
I told myself that the birth of my child was imminent- I needed to take a picture of the bony pelvis and go home and deliver my unborn. Too bad merely seeing a piece of driftwood in the shape of a pelvis doesn’t will the unborn to be born right? Well, that’s debateable. I think I, and my baby were not ready to meet each other before that moment.
Sure I’d gone for acupuncture to see if I could coax the ol’ cervix along. Admittedly I bemoaned to my family back east “I’m so ready to have this baby” when really I had no pain, discomfort or medical cause to say that. Finally, I actually let myself get worried when 41 weeks came and almost went without a baby when I wasn’t even 100% sure the date she was conceived. Why? I was listening to everyone else, but me.
Which brings me back to that pelvis. As I walked away from it I smiled down at my baby. It seemed almost like this little unborn being needed me to take this walk, see that sign, and finally surrender to giving birth. I can now honestly say, I had some emotional peace to make, some walks yet to take before I became a person’s mother. I walked to my monolithic bony pelvis 3 more times that week.
I’m off to study with US midwifery sage Ina May Gaskin in three weeks. At present she is campaigning the whole “Baby come when baby ready” idea. The due dates in themselves, says Gaskin, do not indicate the need for induction (Guardian, Uk, I was Pregnant for Ten Months). She sites there are definitive signs if there is something wrong and the baby needs to come out before 42 or even 43 weeks: reduced foetal movement, for example, a deceleration in growth, or reduced amniotic fluid (even this last point is arguable). Mothers are advised to pay attention to the former, as is the midwife.
On the third day of walking by what I now deemed “my personal pelvis” I ate some apple cobbler, checked in with my midwife as I felt some deep sense of “calm” I described as “unnerving” ( what a loser). Turns out that calm was my surrender, that placid lake in my body was about to be rocked by a behemouth storm we call labor and birth.
Eight hours later my own bony pelvis passed a baby. I visualized my pelvis was the size of the 15×10 foot sized one I’d seen on the beach.
Nine hours later a squirming, red faced little girl was in my arms. Oh the power of staying in discomfort to see what comes.
Update: I showed Ina May Gaskin and Pamela Hunt the picture of the wooden pelvis I found on that English Bay Beach. Pamela’s exact words ” you knew you were ready to surrender after seeing that didn’t you?”
They look statuesque. Some look difficult. Some look impossible. Some look absurd. None of them look particularly spiritual.
Postures. One of the biggest challenges of the new yoga student is the physical practice of yoga. They come to yoga seeking fitness and if spiritual awakening happens as a by-product then…bonus. I’m sure you’ve all seen the adept yoga poser on the mat next to you, though you know you should keep your eyes on your own mat….you find yourself staring, thinking to yourself “ I wish I had core stability like that…I wish I could look that good while standing on one foot.”
In that moment you’ve already lost the point, and I bet you’ve lost your balance and fallen out of the posture.
What if that person you’re comparing yourself to isn’t thinking about their core, what if they’re just at one with the posture, and its meaning?…it’s deeper meaning.
Let’s use the pose warrior two as an example. It’s one many would recognize so seems fitting to use it as the archetypal yoga posture. Often on yoga posters at studios-the picture of the warrior features the thriving, determined face of the yogi delegate. It’s the pose that symbolises being alive and vibrant. The form it takes can be beautiful, but its function is the real essence.
Warrior two or Virabhadrasana (veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-anna) ) the name of a fierce warrior who was an incarnation of Shiva (One of three Hindu gods believed to be the deity of dance, and destroyer of the universe…in a good way). Shiva is described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger’s skin. Maybe you feel you are the embodiment of all that when you’re in warrior 2, or maybe you just feel a thousand muscles burning.
With the front knee bent, the yogi sinks their hips, which causes both legs to become active. Eventually they get a nice butt from the butt work and toned quads from the legwork. But the bottom half of the warrior, your legs, also symbolises a base, ground, a foundation (here comes the real legwork). Above the base the yogi is spreading their arms outward from their shoulders and expanding and opening their chest valiantly. The yogi lifts through the crown of their head to lengthen the spine. But through this expansion, in the words of Yogarupa Rod Stryker “The pose ultimately becomes an invitation to fully and completely expand both the body and the mind and thereby enliven the essential qualities that inspire us to grow, thrive and evolve.”
Bam, there it is. Evolving means being our best self. Performing a pose means squat (no yoga pun intended) if we don’t know what its higher function is. So, we know warrior two works our legs and bum, opens our chest, lengthens and strengthens the spine. But we’re also creating a duality of base (foundation and solidity) paired with lightness (expansion).
It’s great to feel strong and solid in a yoga pose. But, if we can find a lightness in some part of our postures we can feel an expansion in our physical body that radiates out to others. This in turn, fights the fighter in all of us- the one who needs to always be right, the one who can’t let their guard down for even one moment, the one who fights to move out of places of discomfort before they’ve even hung up curtains.
It’s good to be a warrior in life. We often need to be a foundation for others, and ourselves. We also need to be able to fight in times of hardship for others and ourselves. The Warrior is said to help us combat our own ignorance and ego in doing the former, not others. No one’s saying that is easy, but it is a facet of the spiritual practice of yoga; doing it does bring us closer to our own divine spirit.
Warrior pose offers you the chance to ponder how you can be more grounded while maintaining a sense of open lightness. This coupled with breath and the other observations, or the limbs of yoga offers us the ability to be free beings, unclouded and awake in our postures and in our life. Food for thought for your next practice. You wouldn’t just wolf down a gourmet prepared meal without first savouring it or asking how it was prepared and what makes it special, why treat your poses any differently…..or do you?
Sarah-Jane Steele is a Journalist, Mother, trained Doula and Yoga Teacher. She hails from Halifax and now lives in Victoria with her family. You can contact her regarding any of the above at, firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more posts from Spiritually Speaking HERE
The “work” of yoga is finding a union between one’s mind, body and spirit. But many a yogi who has reached this seemingly unattainable union likely did not have their children toddling behind them.
I remember when my daughter was just a few week’s old. We sat on the coach in another marathon breastfeeding session. I looked to the left at the dish deluge in my kitchen, to my right at the profusion of laundry, then back down at my daughter who required every ounce of my attention, constantly. No yoga for this mama today. My body was hunched, tired and not in the mood to make beautiful postures anyway. My heart sank a little.
‘Yoga only works when you don’t have children’, I thought. I’d worked so much on connecting to my daughter when I was pregnant. Spiritually and physically we were one. Then she was on the outside. She’d cry and scream at me. In her shrill sob, I swear I could hear her saying, “That prenatal yoga and our supposed connection is CRAP, now fix my issue, fix it, fix it, FIIIXXXXX ITTTTT”
One morning feeling victim to her cries, I wrapped her up tight, held her close against my heart and chanted low “Ommmmmmmmmm”, over and over again. It worked. I had a faint grasp of the obvious in those early days and drew my conclusion: my daughter was my real yoga. She would teach me new ways to bring the yoga back into our lives, not just mine.
Some of us are new moms, in a new city, with no family near. In the absence of family and home help we might need to love the spiritual part of yoga, rather than getting out to “take” yoga as much as we once did. If we do take yoga, maybe we can be OK with bringing our child along. They might cry, squirm and feed through a fair part of class but there will be five breaths of peace and a posture somewhere. I now do the physical practice of yoga with my daughter and we actually have found a way to connect through this. Often I’m still wearing pajama bottoms that have pee or food on them, my hair is askew. As it turns out, this actually makes me do yoga, rather than making shapes with my body while wearing cool clothes. My daughter loves when I chant “Om.” She laughs; I breathe in that smile.
I do not believe that reading about finding the yoga in parenting will bring about peace and perfect health. I do, however, believe having a child can offer an opportunity to retrieve your best self from within. Even when it seems like every other woman on Pinterest and Facebook is doing it better than you.
Yoga “works” with children. You can find a union with your body by treating it as best you can, doing five yoga poses a day rather than the 30 you’re used to ( if you were a avid yoga posture practitioner pre-baby).
Finally the union of your spirit is recognizing what’s already within you. It’s an effervescent thing that existed when you were as small as your children. Let your child bring it out. Reading the ancient yoga texts I learned that yoga is a journey of the self (Atman), but our children are the extension of ourselves. Why not let them toddle behind us, teach us, show us authenticity? Maybe that can be an aspect of a parent’s modern day yoga. To use the words of writer Elizabeth Withey, “Look closer, there’s a secret message in the word “Mom,” Om.
This article appeared in the Saturday addition of the Times Colonist. You can find more on the Spiritually Speaking Blog.