So much of the kirtan and mantra chants presented in some yoga classes call upon Hindu deities. These chants are inspiring and evocative for those they resonate with, but they may exclude yogis committed to different religions or to non-religion.
When I chant the mantras I discuss in this article, they remind me of the teachers I learned them from and of the other lessons they taught me. Om shanti shanti shanti and Om mani padme hum were the first and last chants I learned in my yoga teacher training with Shakti Mhi. She made yoga philosophy accessible to me and guided me into a practice beyond only movement, breath, and focus. Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya reminds me of my mentor, Les Leventhal, leading this chant in his deep baritone voice at the end of a delicious, sweaty vinyasa class. He taught me how to sense, explore, and embody the principles of yoga on and off the mat. Lam vam ram yam ham om reminds me of a healing practice I did with Diego Del Sol when my body was profoundly misaligned. He is the only teacher I know who watches students carefully during pranayama and provides detailed feedback about the quality of their breath. His teaching supported me in feeling like there was still a place for me in public yoga classes when I had to heavily modify my asana practice. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu is chanted in one of my favorite songs on a kirtan album one of my students recommended to me when she got tired of me playing MC Yogi all the time. Chanting it reminds me that my students are some of my wisest teachers.
March 16 – March 22: 39 Weeks 0 Days – 39 Weeks 6 Days.
My mantra this week is: “My baby will be born in the perfect way at the perfect time.” If I need that as a mantra, you can guess that it’s not how I’m organically feeling. Other women have told me that by the end of pregnancy they were so uncomfortable that they were desperate for the baby to be born. Physically, I’m not that uncomfortable: I still have inner thigh spasms, achy knuckles, and no endurance, but that’s all manageable. It’s the mental discomfort that’s starting to get to me.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve cleared my to-do list and shifted into lazy vacation mode, which was great for a couple days. But reality is, I’m not a lazy vacationer. When Richard and I went to Hawaii for our honeymoon a couple years ago, in the space of ten days we swam with dolphins, marveled at molten lava from a helicopter, drove the whole perimeter of the big island to experience the variety of climate zones, snorkeled with colorful fish and sea turtles, explored shipwrecks in a submarine (with a bunch of old folks), enjoyed an Independence Day fireworks cruise, filled our bathing suits with sand during an afternoon boogie boarding, swam with the amazing manta rays, walked across the lava fields in Volcano National Park, and watched the sunset from the peak of Mauna Kea. To us, this was the best vacation ever.
One day last week, I didn’t leave the house and it was awful. By the end of the day, I didn’t feel calm, relaxed, and ready to get a good night’s sleep. I felt bored and restless. This week, I tried to get out of the house every day to do something stimulating, healthful, and social (while still leaving time for my requisite naps):
Monday: Prenatal Pilates and impromptu quickie prenatal massage.
Tuesday: Prenatal yoga in the A.M. and a mama’s circle with my doulas and their other clients in the P.M.
Wednesday: Appointment with my midwife and bringing lunch to an injured friend.
Thursday: Meditatively walking the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral with other pregnant. women as the noon bells tolled. And a longer prenatal massage with the same woman from Monday.
Friday: Morning prenatal yoga and evening date night with the husband (There was a brownie sundae with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream involved)
Saturday: Replenishing Conscious Birth yoga workshop with Britt Fohrman
Sunday: The plan was to go swimming, but I was having a day of particularly high physical discomfort, so I curled up with a book instead. Relaxing all day was lovely, but I didn’t sleep well at night.
I nearly didn’t make the trek to Grace Cathedral, but I’m glad I did! Walking the labyrinth was such a nice birth preparation ritual. Jane Austin, one of the organizers, explained how the labyrinth is a metaphor for birth: It’s not a maze, you can’t get lost. If you just keep moving forward along the winding path eventually you’ll get to the end. The whole process took nearly an hour. We walked through the labyrinth into the center, where we paused for reflection. One women remarked that at the labyrinth had many switchbacks that made it feel like we were moving backward and away from the center, but in reality we were always moving forward and getting closer. Then we walked all the way back out.
One of the childbirth techniques I learned in Rachel Yellin’s class was to find power by visualizing all the women who have given birth before me. I got this feeling of community in the labyrinth: there were women in front of me and also women following me. At times, I’d be walking alongside another women on a parallel track or be surrounded by other women going in all different directions. During these times I relished in the solidarity and mutual support. At other times, I was in a completely different part of the labyrinth than anyone else, walking the path alone. During these times, I tapped into my own internal power and got connected to my breath.
It was a beautiful day to walk the outdoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. Many of us were close to forty weeks, so we must have been a sight to see! An older lady asked to take our picture after we were done our meditation.
Stir-craziness aside, another factor that’s got me anxious is that I’m starting to feel like I’m on the clock. Most hospitals medically induce labor at 42 weeks, and mine induces at 41.5 (probably because their focus is low-risk pregnancies). Along with other potential side effects, pitocin (a labor kickstarting drug) makes the experience of labor much more intense (which makes it harder to do without pain-management drugs), so I would love to avoid induction. As such, I’m starting to sense the tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock coming from my chart at the hospital.
Update: The morning of my due date Petco sent me an e-mail informing me it was my last chance to partake in their big sale with the subject line: “Tick, tock, tick, tock…” Thanks Petco.
My impatience is compounded by my body withholding any sign that it’s preparing for childbirth. A few weeks ago, it felt like the baby dropped, but she doesn’t seem committed to it. Some days there’s a lot of pressure in my hips, some days I feel like I’m back in my second trimester. Although there have been a variety of sensations and discomforts in my belly and pelvis, I’ve only experienced anything that felt like it might be a Braxton-Hicks contraction (practice contraction) once—it was on a day that I did almost every natural labor induction technique listed below. I’m not leaking any breast milk whatsoever. I haven’t seen any sign of my mucous plug (which seals the uterus until the baby is ready to be born). All of this is totally normal. Some women don’t experience Braxton-Hicks contractions, the baby may not drop and the mucous plug may not come out until labor starts, and some women don’t leak breast milk even when they’re actively breastfeeding. But still, it would be nice if my body could give me a sign!
I haven’t been doing much to encourage labor until this week, even though in the natural birth community, mamas are encouraged to be proactive (starting around 36 weeks). I want the baby to cook as long as she needs to. At 37 weeks the baby is considered (early) term, but it’s not until 39 weeks (which I hit on Monday) that the baby is full term—they’re a little bit heartier. Also, on Monday I had one final appointment with my neurologist to discuss the postpartum period and one last Prenatal Pilates class that I’d prepaid for, so before that it felt like I had unfinished business (although missing a Pilates class would not have been the end of the world). Now that I’ve past all the milestones and fulfilled all my commitments, I’m ready to communicate to the little that it’s safe for her to make her debut whenever she is ready.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to naturally encourage labor:
Consuming pineapple, mostly in refreshing and delicious smoothie form. Apparently pineapple contains an enzyme that may soften the cervix. I’m not sure if doing this has made much of a difference. There is also evidence that eating six dates a day can encourage women’s bodies to go into labor naturally, but I don’t think I like dates enough to commit to this.
Drinking Red Raspberry Leaf Tea. In traditional knowledge, this herbal tea tones the uterus, which may make contractions more effective. I’m a big tea drinker, so it’s worth a try! I’ve been sipping RRL tea every morning.
Deep squats. These encourage the baby to drop down into the pelvis and engage with the cervix, which can encourage it to begin effacing and opening. Because of my hypermobility issues, I can’t go crazy deep on squats, but there is still a noticeable difference in the baby’s position after a juicy, mobilizing yoga class.
Walking. I haven’t increased my amount of walking, I’ve just been trying not to decrease it too much. Walking jiggles the baby downward, which may stimulate labor in the same way as deep squats. On days when I do a ton of walking, I notice much more pressure in my lower belly and pelvis.
Acupressure. The scientific evidence on whether acupuncture and acupressure encourage labor is equivocal, as far as I can tell, but I’ve heard tons of anecdotal evidence that they work. A prenatal massage with acupressure feels great, so I’m totally on board with trying this technique. My first massage with acupressure was energizing and I felt great afterwards (but no signs of labor). My second session was on a day I did several of the other techniques listed here, and by the end of the day I felt the closest to labor I’ve been so far (hard to say how much the massage itself contributed).
Spicy food. The idea is that spicy food irritates the digestive system, causing it to release prostaglandins (a type of hormone), which ripen the cervix. (Castor oil induces labor in a similar way, but the digestive symptoms are so intense that it’s generally not recommended—it’s definitely not my idea of gentle birthing). According to my midwife, if you’re used to eating spicy food it wont make a difference, because your system is used to it. I usually avoid anything that makes me sweat under my eyes, so Richard and I dined of Thai food Friday night and Indian food on Saturday. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
Sex and nipple stimulation. I try not to make my blog posts TMI, but I would be remiss not to mention these techniques as they so closely mimic medical induction (or, maybe I should say medical induction mimics them). Semen contains prostaglandins, which soften the cervix (If you’re medically induced at the hospital, often the first step is to apply prostaglandins to the cervix, so why not try a natural source first?) Nipple stimulation and orgasm trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract (pitocin, the main labor-induction drug, is a synthetic version of oxytocin). Also, like walking and deep squats, certain positions may encourage the baby downward, and being on hands and knees (a sex position commonly recommended to pregnant women) helps turn the baby to face toward the mothers back—the optimal position for childbirth. All I’ll add in terms of personal experience is that back in my second trimester the advice, “If you go past your due date, just start having sex every day” sounded great, but now that I’m actually in my full, cumbersome, achy, exhausted glory as a forty-weeker, I have to say that’s going to be easier said than done.
On a completely unrelated note: I moved to the suburbs around the same time I got pregnant, which had me making long commutes throughout my pregnancy. In the car, I listen to the radio, and lately is seems that at least thirty percent of the songs I hear are by Taylor Swift. I’m a little worried this is going to be my baby:
Oh well, there are worse role models than Tay-Tay, and if all I have to do is play Blank Space, Shake It Off, and Style on repeat to soothe my baby I’ll consider myself lucky!
Om Mani Padme Hum is one of my favorite mantras. Translated directly, it means something like: the jewel is in the lotus flower. One of my teachers explained this metaphor to me: if we peel away the layers of our identity (much as one might peel away the many petals of a lotus flower), we reveal our true nature (the jewel inside). If we let go of the transient labels we by which define ourselves (and they’re all transient), we uncover our inner light. We can find moksha, freedom.
We can begin to peel away these layers in meditation by questioning the pieces of our identity: Who would I be if I lost my job title? Who would I be if I lost a leg? Who would I be on mood-altering drugs? Who would I be if went through gender reassignment surgery? You may find that even after you’ve whittled down to the bare bones of your identity, there’s still a conscious observer who can ask the question, Who am I now? Once you can’t think of any more pieces to dismiss from your identity, ask yourself, How is who I am different from who anyone else is?Underneath all of the layers that separate us, you will find that which connects us all.
Om Mani Padme Hum came to my mind today while I was reading fellow students’ tributes to one of my most influential and beloved teachers, Jacques-Andre Larrivée, who recently passed away. One person’s tribute quoted something that he always used to say:
Qui es-tu pour penser que tu peux changer le monde?
Qui es-tu pour penser que tu peux changer?
Qui es-tu pour penser?
Who are you to think you can change the world? Who are you to think you can change? Who are you to think? Who are you? Who?
This same peeling away of ayers as we can do in meditation, as described above. But in this case we deconstruct a dharma, a purpose: changing the world. The amazing thing about this deconstruction is that if we get to the point that we can answer, “Who?” (independent even of identity) we unearth our enormous power:
Who? The continuity of the universe,…
Who are you? —a significant and dynamic scope of it—
Who are you to think? …expressed as an intelligent system…
Who are you to think you can change? …whose identity is more a matter of perspective than one of reality…
Who are you to think you can change the world? …and who simultaneously takes part in the world, contains the world, and is the world.
That’s who you are to think you can change the world.