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Entering the spiritual dimension of birth

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‘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-steeleSarah-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 sarahjane@birthspace.ca.

*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




Stop! And Smell the Poses – Originally featured in the Times Colonist Newspaper

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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 SteeleSarah-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, sarahjane@birthspace.ca.

You can read more posts from Spiritually Speaking HERE




Finding the Om in “Mom”

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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.




RE: A quote I like

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You at around 5 and half months old :)

October 20th, 2011

“We are not responding to this instant, if we are judging any aspect of it. The ego looks for what to criticize. This always involves comparing with the past. But love looks upon the world peacefully and accepts. The ego searches for short comings and weaknesses. Love watches for any sign of strength. It sees how far each one has come, and not how far he has to go. How simple it is to love, and exhausting it is always to find fault, for every time we see a fault we think something needs to be done about it. Love knows that nothing is ever needed but more love. It is what we all do with our hearts that affects others most deeply. It is not the movements of our body or the words within our minds that transmit love. We love from heart to heart.”

– Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, introduced Transcendental Meditation to the Western world.




An Exercise in Patience

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“You’re due this weekend and you can still bend down like that?”
My mind flashes back to my prenatal training and all the dancing down to Malasana (squat) I did day after day.

“Yes, I’m still quite mobile surprisingly” I joke to the store clerk who is still gap eyed at my mobility. She extends out her hand for me to take and I bob up with the receipt she dropped.

I’m in the 40th week of my pregnancy and I’m bopping and be-bopping around Vancouver’s West End. I, like many other new mothers, am expecting my baby will arrive on its due date.

Where does the yoga come in to all of this? Well- I am an expectant mama who has utilized yoga to teach myself and other mothers’ patience.

What I learned not only in my original 200-hour yoga teacher training but also in subsequent training is- anger and impatience with what IS pulls a person’s vibration down and is an extremely wasteful expenditure of accumulated spiritual merit. In Yoga patience is recommended as a countermeasure for frustration with what we cannot control. However, in my 85 hour prenatal teacher training my wonderful goddess guru Teresa Campbell taught me, being patient is much easier in theory than in practice, which is why they call it a practice.

Instead, Campbell suggests, we can dance with the discomfort of everyone asking where their baby is when it “hasn’t been born yet???. We can bask in knowing our babies know who we are and will come to us when they, our uterus and the entire body mind system is ready. Finally, we can be rest assured knowing, this precious time we have in the lead up to baby’s arrival is a lesson in and of itself that we could all use more patience in our lives.

As a woman, my desire to have a child was no secret to many. In Journalism school amongst a number of hard line, career driven will-be journalists, I was the one racing along on the career train with them…. but wiping their noses and chasing after them with bagged lunches so they’d eat right. I also taught my comrades yoga. Even if I didn’t know the mother was in me then, fellow students must have.

Even last year in our Ghanaian house in the thick of Accra I would ask my roommate Jessica (a very admirable and accomplished journalist)” Did you take your vitamins today?”….vitamins I’d given her and that I demanded she take….

She would glare at me and say “Yes.”  I even suggested she could take them with her gin and tonic but preferably after her cigarette. But I digress.

For some reason, the more work I took overseas and the more time I spent alone, the more I resolved that I would be a mother in many ways but I wouldn’t necessarily be a mother to my own. I did grow impatient with this….until I met my other.

Within a year and a half, my other and I carried out a long distance relationship between West Africa and Vancouver, moved me from Nova Scotia across the country to Vancouver, got engaged, I attended three births and became a Doula and we conceived ( this last one was a surprise- but boy did it teach me to be patient with what I can’t control).

If ever I was impatient with all things maternal and marital, I got my comeuppance.

Journey back to my prenatal yoga teacher training. My life now, is the culmination of all of the above. My first lesson in patience was not finding out the sex of my child, I embraced the unknown.

My second lesson in patience was, rarely will anyone hire an expectant mother, even if they say that’s not the case.

My third lesson in patience is it’s ok for your partner to put his, or her, hands on your shoulders and tell you to sit down, put your feet up, and read a book, or go for a walk and see pieces of driftwood that are shaped like a pelvis for once ( see next post). It’s ok.

From the first moment I sat on my mat and chanted the Gayatri mantra with seven other women who came to learn to teach pregnant mothers how to be pregnant, enjoy yoga, celebrate their bodies and their babies- I was instantaneously patient and accepting of the unknown in this next chapter in my life, and my little unborn one’s life.

By the second day of training I stopped feeling guilty for indulging in yet another teacher training when I could be racking up EI hours for a maternal benefit.

By the third day of teacher training I was dancing with my pregnancy belly hanging out to Punjabi music.

By the end of my prenatal teacher training I felt full loaded with gifts to give my future students and families I will Doula for.

I’m now 41 weeks into my pregnancy and I feel stellar. This comment is not meant to make any pregnant woman who feels less than stellar feel meek or incompetent because she feels anything less than that- this blog posting is meant to illuminate the benefits and juiciness of prenatal yoga, and practicing patience. It’s a type of yoga that really is reserved for women. To celebrate our accomplishments, mourn and then accept our losses, and embrace that there will be more of the former and less of the latter if we accept and surrender to what life throws at us.Sometimes it takes 9+ months to do all of that :)

A Birth Shrine filled with presents from the women in my prenatal teacher training who gave me a “Blessing Way” Where each of them blesses myself and baby with words of encouragement.





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