|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - Nov 2016|
by Tamara Soru
The Seed for Motherhood
There started the dilemma: is it because I do not know how to give that I do not know how to receive or is it rather the opposite? And then, where should I start from and how could I learn to give and receive? And what to learn first?
I was raised with some examples in my family that the most noble actions that a human being could do towards others is to help those in need. I had heard many times the story of my grandmother working at the hospital and preparing food for patients with tuberculosis and bringing it to them even if she was not allowed, with no fear of being infected. I also remember when I was eight years old she brought me to her village where she met many people, all of them inviting us to stay for lunch. She accepted only the invitation of a very poor woman whose house was nothing but only one small room and the little courtyard, who offered a simple piece of bread and cheese. And they were laughing remembering old stories.
I developed a sense of compassion that lead me to do voluntary service since I was fourteen, offering food to the disadvantages people of my town. Every Saturday, after school I used to run to the place to help with the preparation of meals, serving and cleaning. I used to share the meal with the people and enjoy their way to relate as a family. From there I always felt the need to do something helpful for others, until it became a job, which slowly did not give me the same feeling of being helpful to others. I got lost in the search of a satisfactory definition of poor people, the people I was trying to help. I understood that poor are not those who do not have access even to basic needs, but those who are not capable to share, to love regardless of the things they possess. In that sense I was also poor. I decided to take a break from my job.
And that is when I was in front of the Ganga writing about my thoughts. I did not know how to give anymore. Somehow my job had created expectations for the fruit of my actions. I knew that love does not require and need any condition, but how this could be experienced was not known well to me. The love that I used to call in that way was very often accompanied by sorrows and delusions. And the worst thing was that I used to consider them as signals of true love. I thought that love was not real love if not felt as a bit painful. Later I understood that that was only a false idea to which my restricted mind was attached.
From there then I started my search of how to learn to love unconditionally. I guess there are many ways to learn and many things to do to learn. In my situation it was during a full moon meditation that while my mind was resting at the belly area I had the feeling of a little girl in my womb, carrying a message “Ahimsa” (non-violence). I thought of it for some months until I got the meaning. I had to commit myself in the experience of motherhood as a way to start in the search of the experiential meaning of true and unconditional love.
Few months later I heard my doctor saying that I had a cyst of endometriosis that could prevent pregnancy unless treated. Paradoxically it could have been also treated by the pregnancy itself, if only I could get pregnant. The way was a hormonal treatment either if I had to try the pregnancy or simply treat the cyst in order to reduce it and keep it under control. My partner said he was not ready for this experience. I found myself in sorrow again, because only then I understood that the seed for motherhood was already sown. I had not many choices about the way to treat the cyst. I started the hormonal treatment but I also started to love the cyst. I considered her a good friend of mine who was there only to teach me something, to open my eyes on something I was not able to see at that moment. I used to talk to her and give massage in the evening time. I invited her to stay until she would decide her mission was completed. I learnt how to surrender. And then I received the first key for loving unconditionally. I already loved her unconditionally.
I felt this situation was ironic. I was taking care of something that was preventing me realizing a desire. In this attitude I felt myself maturing, growing, able to feel compassion again. I had no expectations. If I were not to become mother I would have explored another way to truly love. I can never forget the day the presence of my new friend cyst finally opened my eyes. Whether she was still physically there or not I was cured. Few months later I went to see the doctor who said that the cyst was few millimetres smaller. I decided to stop with the treatment without informing him. That same day I also heard my partner saying that if I still wanted we could try to have a baby. Two weeks later, exactly nine months after the full moon meditation I was expecting a little girl, Luce (that means Light in Italian language).
Mental and Emotional Preparation
During the time I was hosting my friend cyst I used to pray after meditation: “Please Gurudev, make me an instrument of your love, compassion and peace. If you think that motherhood could help me in this path I will take this responsibility to serve you. If it is not with this purpose, then please do not allow me to become a mother. Indicate to me another way”. With that practice I was trying to conceive the baby in the mind first, a baby who could help me in learning unconditional love.
The gift arrived after nine months from the full moon meditation, a time where my mind really made a sincere effort to create a good environment for the seed maturing of coming to life. I am of the idea that mental preparation is necessary to establish the link with the child-to be, a link that should be strengthen after the birth for the baby to feel the connection with this new life. My mind was clear and serene before physically conceiving the baby because I was able to surrender to Mother Divine, the Life herself, and never in my life have I been so before. The first environment I prepared was the one within, the one which indicated the motivation for motherhood. And then my body changed, because the body is the second recipient of the child, after the mind.
During my first pregnancy – and when I say that I mean the first nine months where I prepared the environment within to welcome the idea of a baby – what I did was a very simple thing, surrendering. Surrendering is allowing silence to arise. Emotions here find a place where to be at rest. They calm down allowing the mind to enjoy silence. In silence the mother-to be can find herself. There was that huge need for me to stay in touch with my deeper nature. I needed very much to listen and respect myself. Naturally my sadhana got intensified though I was very busy with my new job and the new country where I was working. The practice became constant and regular, and I was happy I was being able to work for caring of that spiritual poorness which I understood to have at that time I first left the job. In surrendering I was doing nothing, just letting things to happen.
I heard of many women who had difficulty having a child, but when they were able to let go of the attachment to the idea of having a baby, they got pregnant. Others fought very much to have a baby, and in some cases this fight was so hard to the extent that the environment to welcome the baby became hostile. It is very important to learn how to channel emotions and thoughts, and this is equally vital in preparation for motherhood. Because we are responsible for the preparation of the mental and emotional environment to welcome a new life. Then there is an Infinite force which will magnetize or not to it. But for sure there is no magnet which will attract to something that is not suitable.
Mental and emotional preparation does not end with the beginning of pregnancy. Actually it is very important to continue throughout the whole period. Many changes occur at different levels, of which the most noticeable one is on the physical plane. Hormones play their role as well and the mother-to be can be very sensitive to these changes. That is why it is fundamental to prepare the mind and make it concentrated as much as possible. I found this preparation interesting. Meditation changed. My mind was always in the belly, no matter the effort to go back to other energetic points or to the vibration of the mantra. A diverting force was taking over it. In seated meditation I was only able to enjoy the stillness of the baby who was usually very active at other times. In the pre-partum course I attended we were taught that the mother usually feels the activity of the baby when the mother herself stops acting. Little Luce would actually stop moving during meditation. I could feel her enjoying this unique stillness. For long time I used to think that because of this change in meditation, I was not meditating. Only now after 17 months from the baby birth I have realized that actually that was the best meditation I could experience so far, after all my mind was all the times drawn back to the belly and there pointed.
In my preparation for motherhood I used to chant a lot. The first was the Carnatic chanting proposed by the gynaecologist Fredrick Leboyer together with Savitry Nayr who both worked with Guruvayur Punamal. This chanting has its origin from South India (1).It is very energizing since it works together with the sound and breath, especially with exhalation. When the sound is exhaled, the womb inhales effortlessly. In addition, it is the repeated sound that, by producing a calming and soothing effect brings the mind to a good level of concentration. A similar effect was for me obtained by chanting the Gayatri mantra. I chose a melody which sounded nice to me that I also used as a lullaby when baby Luce came into this life.
Japa repetition was another way to stay in touch with the marvellous experience of carrying a baby. I used to do it in the morning on the street when I was walking to go at work, the mala in the pocket of my handbag or trousers. Later in pregnancy, I used to do it at any moment seated at home enjoying that very time and waiting for the big event.
To me this preparation was not just useful but also necessary to deepen my understanding of what responsibility I was taking as a mother, for my family, and as a starting point for society. I was preparing myself to welcome a baby with Ahimsa, and to learn gentleness and respect for another life.
I have learnt how this society can contribute to disconnect women from their innate nature of being mothers and how can it prevent them to explore and make full use of this potential. Most of the pre-partum courses in Western Countries give at least one class on how to deliver painlessly, through the epidural anaesthesia. They invite women to take a visit with the doctor few weeks before delivering to be sure that they fit medical requirements. I even remember my gynaecologist writing in my clinical folder that I refused to take the visit, while he tried many times to suggest me doing it to prevent situations that I could not manage during the labour if much in pain.
This is not the right place to discuss about the righteousness of all these many roles society is playing to welcome new lives. And I also learnt not to be judgemental. But I think that this way of considering the mother-to be and to receive the new life is affecting the society as a whole. If the mother is encouraged to be afraid of the pain that labour and delivering can cause by proposing unnatural preventive remedies to a natural process, the whole society is then afraid of the possibility to explore the Unknown. What pain is the one which is experienced during labour, no one knows until it is experienced. Which are the reasons for it, no one knows unless one prepares herself enough to receive explanations. And there is one more thing. Men will never know. This mystery remains mysterious for most of them.
Through a proper mental and emotional preparation, women will have this particular and unique chance to stay in touch with this mystery, and slowly explore it by constantly going back to their feminine force. To me labour and delivery have been the starting point for the search of this feminine power.
Soon morning nausea began and I had to stop the practice. I have heard it is possible for pregnant women to do asanas, but for me the very first four months was a period of body resting. I could not do it. At the beginning of the fifth month I started practicing again, in a very slow and participative way with the baby. I could feel what it was comfortable for me and for her as well. I enjoyed the joints & glands movements (2), and I used to practice selected asanas that could help both to relieve some tensions accumulated by the new alignment of the body, and to prepare the body for labor and delivering.
There were some precautions I had to take; for example, I would avoid all the backward asanas because that implies touching the belly to the floor, and of course we do not want to constrict the baby. Inversions were also not natural for my body to perform, though I could find a short hold in Setu asana (the bridge pose) enjoyable. Relaxation in Shavasana after all the sequence was very short, no more than five minutes. I did not like lying down unless to a side. That position was also uncomfortable in sleeping, during which I would put a small cushion between my knees while resting on one side, to relieve back tensions. I would enjoy very much poses like Vrikshasana (the Tree pose), standing forward stretch variations, Baddha Konasana (the butterfly), Gomukhasana (the cow), Vajrasana (kneeling pose), Janu shirshasana (head-to-knee), lying down twist. I would enjoy very much poses which could prepare for opening the hips such as Baddha konasana with forward stretch or janu shirshasana with all the preparatory movements. I remember I missed very much the sun salutation (Surya Namaskar), which I avoided throughout the pregnancy to reintroduce it only around the eight month. Of course it was a very slow and arranged version, since I had to skip bujangasana (the cobra) and ashtanamaskara (eight points) because they imply touching the belly to the floor. But it was very beautiful, especially because done with an attitude of devotion (3).
In my understanding there is no recipe for the practice that a woman can do during pregnancy. It is very individual, and every woman can decide what to do or not to do, provided she has developed the capacity to listen to her body. Some yoga teachers say that pregnant women should stop asanas during this period. It might be useful for some. In my experience it was useful to practice. It is important to listen to the body and to have a good guidance during pregnancy, because pregnant women naturally develop a sense of pain resistance, especially in the pelvic zone. That means that overstretching can occur in this area, causing harm to the ligaments rather than helping them to become more flexible.
I stopped practicing pranayama, even Bhramari and Ujayi which can maybe felt good by other women. Nadi Shodanam, the alternate nostril breathing, was instead a very important practice for the regulation of the breathing and emotional ups and downs that can happen in this phase of life due also to many physiological factors and changes.
Here is a sample of my personal practice:
Breath awareness and relaxation in shavasana (3 to 5 minutes)
Every day was a different feeling, so I would make changes in the practice especially for what concerns the duration of each step. I could decide to chant a bit more one day rather than doing asanas, or just do some rounds of sun salutation and then meditation. I was flexible in the schedule as my body and mind needed. It was a time I could be very gentle to me. And now I know why. In my practice I did not have any expectation for myself, unless entirely offering it to the baby. And some days I could even skip if I felt that, but when I was cleaning the house I was careful on how to hold the broom, how to collect the laundry from the machine and put it in the line to drying, how to sit, how to stand up, how to carry the shop bags. There was so much mindfulness in action because everything was done with love and care for the baby.
Labour and Delivering
In the West part of the world it is now difficult to find a place where a woman can deliver naturally without much hospitalization. It is unfortunate that practices like epidural or episiotomy, or unnecessary caesarean are very common. Women are less and less supported to give birth spontaneously, resulting in a difficulty for them to be guided by their instinct rather than rationality. Very often medical staff are not even prepared to support delivery without intervening in this natural process. Women are not much encouraged to live that moment as a spiritual moment, more often they are patients who have to deliver within a certain number of hours so that the rhythm and all the natural implications of the process that brings one into new life are not respected.
The preparation before and during pregnancy helped me understanding that I had to try as much as I could to experience labor and delivery as a spiritual moment, with no fears and expectations. I heard so many things about it, some good, some bad, but I was so happy that I was able not to be affected by any of other women’s stories. That was because I understood I was only partly responsible for this beautiful moment. I simply had to live it and to accompany the process to receive this beautiful gift. I had to give my entire self, and the rest was not in my hands.
In the ante-natal course I attended, I could witness the many worries other women had during pregnancy, but none of these women knew how to reduce anxiety and tensions. None of them could sit with a straight spine and allow the breath to flow freely and smoothly. The obstetrician leading the course was mostly giving information about the biological and physiological aspects of pregnancy and delivering. She was kind enough to present some emotional and psychological aspects of it that can affect the woman, introducing a breathing technique as an instrument to face them. But the structure of the course itself, which was organized and offered by the local health center, could not allow her to bring women experiencing it directly, thus remaining a theoretical suggestion that in most cases could not find application at the needed moment.
Because I had no fears left about delivering, I was looking forward to experiencing that moment. I was only hoping to find someone at the hospital that could be kind enough to understand the way I wished to experience the whole process. I stayed home for most of the labor, only in the presence of my partner and an old midwife who would send me to the hospital only when I was ready for delivering.
At the hospital I met a young obstetrician who first asked me if I were to take the epidural anesthesia. To my negative answer she asked me the reason why, to which I replied astonished but gently that I thought it was the right choice. She said she understood I wanted to deliver naturally and that she could help me. She sent me to take a 30-minute warm shower to relax, especially the back, belly and pelvic area. At my return to the delivery room, she put some music on, she allowed me to play with a big balloon to sit on and feel the pressure the baby was exerting on the pelvis. Most of the times I was able to walk freely around the room (which is not possible when epidural is being arranged), and breath every new pain into a non-pain. I was in a different dimension though being present. When I was ready the delivery phase began. The obstetrician allowed my partner to be an active assistant to her and to me. She explained me how I had to breathe during pushing, but I had learnt to exhale in a different way, with a different pattern. Finally, she abandoned any explanation saying to breathe the way I felt comfortable with. And this is how I did. While pushing I was exhaling long waves of joy, knowing that the hands of my spiritual masters were there to welcome Luce.
Laboring and delivering, especially for the first baby, is never a walk in the garden. It can be a long journey, but the most unforgettable one. It really depends on our preparation whether we want to keep the record of a unique and meaningful experience or to reject it as a traumatic event in life. And we can certainly prepare ourselves to generate the best environment and manage it the greatest we can within our own capacities.
Changes in Life and New Sadhana Arrangements
For the first six months of Luce’s life I was so much happy, so much curious about what next could happen, what would be her next step. I was participating with joy to this new phase of life. I only missed the time to do some hatha because I felt my body needed to realign and readjust after delivering, but also because of the tensions accumulated by the way and the time of carrying the baby in my arms.
As a new family, my partner and I chose to live in a small village by the seaside, in order to have all that we needed to stay fully available to the baby. In particular, what I needed was simply a relaxing environment to manage this big change. I used to take many nice walks during which I used to chant for us very much. Luce used to recognize the chanting and especially the Gayatri mantra which she had heard so much when in the womb. If she was crying, I would chant it holding her close to my heart and she would raise her face looking at me, smiling, and then she would go back to crying until either her hunger was satisfied or sleep would calm her. She would cry at evening time for the first two or three months. I think it is because babies are adjusting themselves into this new world. My partner would do the same, holding her in his arms chanting mantras and whispering calming words and sounds.
I did not have any preoccupations at the time, thanks also to the support of good friends who would send me messages of encouragement especially during the very first days where I was giving all my energies to allow breastfeeding to become an integral part of our relationship. I remember meditating on a universal force which would erupt in my breast in the form of milk. Milk finally came, so abundantly that I could feed twins. During this time of raising her it was very useful to me to read spiritual books, and I could do that every time Luce was having a nap. I used to go out for a morning walk, during which she would sleep for about an hour. In the afternoon I used to sleep with her, for two reasons. One it is because rest becomes very precious since babies, especially those who are fed with breast milk, are used to wake up at night. And there are babies, like Luce, who do it many times at night. Another sweeter reason is because I enjoyed so much resting next to her, feeling the contact with her body and breath. I was trying to respect all her basic needs, in the sense that I would do anything possible in order not to impose any schedule on feeding and sleeping. I would rather adjust my habits to it. I found it easy because again I decided to surrender. That means I had to strongly commit myself to the new task, but when things are done in a form of offering to the divinity or the universal force or whatever name we want to call that higher purpose which is Life, then they are done with no much effort, because there are no conflicts within. I did not renounce to my social life, because I reframed its meaning in the new contest, so that it was not a priority to participate in a late dinner at some friends’ houses or going to cinema, concert or whatever events. I naturally assigned different meanings to things and valued them according to the new perspective. It is a very intense experience to discover new ways of relating to the world.
After the first six months, things changed. I felt myself sliding down into confusion. New fears, or maybe old ones, came to surface. I did not know who I was anymore. I only wanted to have someone to talk with and the time for meditation. It coincided with the movement of my new family to a different country where I did not know anybody and the language was also new to me. On the opposite, my partner was enthusiastic, and I felt so much frustrated because I could not participate to his enthusiasm, cutting it down day after day. It became difficult to re-establish a schedule for my practice. As my baby was growing, she was changing her new habits very fast. It was difficult to set the time for meditation, let’s say, I would wake up at 6 o’ clock in the morning, but ten minutes after she would wake up too. The day I decided not to wake up for meditation at 6 o’clock, she would maybe sleep for one more hour. I felt as if I was not able to control and manage basic things. I knew it was a phase but this thought did not help me much in arranging my meditation time. I tried to do it in the evening. It worked for some time but often, after having fed Luce in bed I was so tired that I could not wake up to find out that I had also fallen asleep.
I tried to meditate while breastfeeding. It also worked for some time and then my mind was not able to concentrate for more than just few moments.
I asked for support from my partner. I wanted him to spend some more time with the baby for me to have the chance to establish my practice again. I felt released. Slowly my confusion disappeared, I was able to see clear again. One day, during a Sangha meeting, I spoke about my difficulty in meditating. One of the friends simply said that maybe I was not surrendering. I accepted her opinion as an option to think about. It took some time to understand it. Because I thought I was doing it already.
I learned two things. The first one is that I cannot count on somebody else’s availability to practice, even if this person is a very close one like my partner. He also has his duties as a father and as an individual in his own path. I am not saying that support from others should not be asked for. Actually I strongly recommend that. It is important to share and also have the time to cultivate a healthy mind. But to rely on that is not advisable. Every day things change. Only one support cannot cease to be granted if sincerely demanded. And that is the one provided by the force within, that I like to call the divine principle within all of us. When I find myself in a difficult situation, I ask: “Please God, do it for me”, or “say it for me”, or in recent times I even asked to breastfeed for me when I was very tired. I have always been granted help. So why not asking for support to do meditation? From my side I have to acknowledge what strengths I have at the moment and make full use of them. Maternity has been given me the opportunity to experiment yoga in action. Meditation is the most important step, but it needs a lot of preparation and constancy, both in the inner and external world. There are so many practices that can be done to help in establishing regular meditation. I find many of them very supportive to this phase of life. And all of them work well if only can we remember to offer them each and every time before the divinity within, God. That was the meaning of surrendering that my friend in the Sangha refered to. Surrendering is a constant attitude of mindfulness.
There is another big lesson in maternity. Maternity works similarly to a biofeedback device if we want to learn how to measure spiritual progress. Babies are mirrors of their parents before that of society. As mothers we simply have to tune us well to them and we will know how we are acting, progressing in our chosen path. And the secret is only one. Practice, practice, practice.
2) Exercise for Joints & Glands - Simple Movements to Enhance Your Well-Being as taught by Swami Rama, Himalayan Institute India 2007
3) Philosophy of Hatha Yoga, Swami Veda Bharati, chapter 2
Tamara Soru is a TTP student L2 and attended a course for teaching children. Her mentor, Chiara Useli, is active at the Himalayan Yoga Institute in Florence, Italy and teaches about yoga and motherhood. Tamara writes, “I hope to be teaching soon. Next December I am going to SRSG for the Youth retreat to learn better how to teach children in our tradition. I am currently working for an NGO in Swaziland… in the coordination of an emergency project due to the drought that badly affected small farmers during the past two seasons. My main job, when I work, is to coordinate projects to support vulnerable people and territories.”