Pregnancy – Being Movement
Yoga and Childbirth - Chapter 1
Despite having taught yoga postures for a number of years, I nevertheless feel that the best exercise is that which expresses our functions. There is nothing more fulfilling and satisfying than movements in which, and through which, we express our feelings, our longings, our needs and our life. Stop for a moment and consider the hundreds of movements you make each day, whereby you fulfil yourself, provide your needs, express your feelings or vent your anger. Take some of the most basic movements and postures such as going to the toilet, eating, breathing, working to provide your needs, loving each other, holding hands, having a baby. Without going any further than these few basic movements, let us look at them and see what a wonder of satisfaction or frustration can lie behind them.
Going to the toilet, for instance; what is it about as a movement? It is obvious in this that we fulfil a need on the part of our body to be rid of waste. In fulfilling this need fully we have a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Something has triggered off a movement in the muscles of the colon, and if this urge to move is not allowed expression, then this part of our being is not allowed to satisfy itself. In that degree we are unsatisfied.
Similarly, eating requires movements of the body, some gross, some subtle. The way we perform these movements, the quality or poverty of being we bring to this activity, largely controls, once again, the degree of pleasure and satisfaction we harvest from the whole process of eating and digestion. Many people have seen in their own experience that to eat in the relaxed company of friends produces in them quite a different state of digestion and well-being than to eat alone. It is also well known that to eat while emotionally upset very often leads to vomiting, or at least to impoverished digestion and absorption. So it is not only the movement, but the quality, emotional tone, and fullness of expression that we bring to it that largely controls the degree of satisfaction we reap from eating.
In our breathing this is particularly noticeable, as it is a process we can watch more easily. In doing so we can see that our breathing intimately mirrors not only our physical activity, but also the state of our soul. Not only does our breathing quicken or slow as we exert ourselves or rest, but also, while sitting reading a book, or when absorbed in a play, our breathing reflects our emotional state, either being long and slow in peace, or agitated in emotional turbulence. So much is this so that psychological problems can literally be diagnosed by an examination of one’s breathing.
Work should be fulfilling
When we come to the movements we make in our work, in a general sense, the man or woman who works hours in a garden, planting and hoeing, to grow food to fulfil their needs, is having a far more fulfilling exercise than a person who goes to a gymnasium simply to ‘get enough exercise.
This undoubtedly needs further comment lest it be misunderstood. I am not saying that the gardener will be healthier, stronger, or more exercised. I am saying that in general there will be more satisfaction and fulfilment in it when there is a direct connection between a fulfilment of a need or love, and the activity performed. If the person in question sees that the produce grown fulfils the need for food; if he likes this form of activity and is also expressing his sense of pleasure; if he is also intellectually interested in the technical side of the garden – then he is literally fulfilling himself in innumerable ways. Not only does he use his physical energy to provide for his physical needs, but in doing so he experiences pleasure, satisfies the need of the mind to occupy itself in learning, study and application; and besides all this, the need for fresh air and sunlight is fulfilled; and possibly in some cases, especially in flower gardening, his sense of beauty also.
Obviously I have used gardening merely as an example. What I am trying to emphasise is the need, in our activities, to satisfy ourselves as fully as we can. If we do not recognise our needs then we may easily overlook them and feel incomplete. If we do not find activities which satisfy several parts of our being in the one action3 as in the above example, then we may either be rushing around trying to fit in innumerable different activities to satisfy different needs, or remain largely frustrated.
We can see more of these needs in the act of love, and its movements; or just in cuddling. Likewise, the birth of the baby expresses definite movements, a reflection of Life itself. We can therefore begin to see that our life is largely a matter of being ourselves as fully as we can, and in this, finding the reward of pleasure and satisfaction. Having a baby falls into a similar category. Margaret Brady, in her book Having a Baby Easily, says, ‘It is a CREATIVE function. It is an ATHLETIC function. It is a SPIRITUAL function.’ This is a very helpful definition, because it aids us to see that, being an ‘athletic’ function, or at least involving as it does muscular activity of a strenuous kind, it therefore requires the mother to be capable of such activity.
I do feel, however, that this definition may make us overlook the fact that in being a mother it is not just parts of our life that are involved. Really, our whole being is involved, from heights to depths – body, soul, and spirit. This is why I believe yoga has such a lot to teach us about childbirth. But Margaret Brady is certainly right when she says, ‘Since it is also an ATHLETIC function, she must have the NECESSARY ATHLETIC TRAINING for the event.’ But, as we have seen, the quality and fulfilment of this ‘athletic event’ is conditioned by the emotions we bring to bear on it; our intellectual interest and involvement, which is shown in the very act of reading this book; our relationship with our source of life, and the way we link up our other interests with pregnancy.
Movement is essential to life
Looking at exercise from a slightly different viewpoint, the medical or physiological, we can see that movement is essential to life. In fact, movement is the very expression of life. One of the most obvious differences between the living and the dead is movement, for while we live, movement never ceases. Whereas machines wear out through use, the body literally thrives on being made to exercise its systems and possibilities. It comes to the peak of its efficiency through being used. This is so obvious to us that it needs no argument. Our joints become stiff with inactivity, supple with use; our muscles small and flabby with disuse, large and sleek with activity. Great activity and deep relaxation are laws of the universe, as we 11 as of our body.
Recent research has proved that much of what we call ageing is due not to ‘natural’ processes, but to lack of correct nutrition, exercise and rest. People like Hauser, Kordel and Bragg are proof of their own philosophy in regard to diet, exercise and rest. They are all ‘elderly’, but each has little or no sign of ageing. Modern medical research has uncovered many of the processes which cause this, but in general the inadequacy of diet and exercise can be summed up in its results by seeing what it does to our bones. Bones are not dead structures, but are made of living bone cells, called osteocytes. As in all other cellular structures, there is a continuous process of breakdown and repair. In many people, especially in the aged, the process of building up does not keep pace with the process of breakdown. This produces weak, fragile bones. One often hears of old people falling and breaking a thigh or hip. In fact, what usually happens is that the bone has become so weakened it has broken and caused them to fall. It is now realised that such fragility in the bones is not a process of age but is due to the lack of sex hormones in the blood and inadequate exercise. The sex hormones stimulate production of osteocytes. Similarly, muscular activity puts strains on the skeleton, and this stimulates not only the flow of blood but also the production of bone cells. These bone cells use proteins, calcium salts, and vitamins C and D in building fresh ‘bone Thus it becomes obvious that lack of sufficient exercise and nutrients can cause degenerative changes in the body. The degeneration of the bones is but one example of such changes throughout the whole body.
17. Be an oyster. Deep in the sea, oysters silently grow their lovely pearls. Be an oyster, hinged at the waist. Your baby is your pearl, and you are closing your shell around it. As with other postures, hold it until the feeling fades. But as you do it, feel the hard shell formed by legs, trunk and arms. All your life is enclosed by the shell. When you have finished, slowly open again.
18. Be an earthquake. Lastly, be an earthquake. Do it in any position you like, lying or standing. Imagine tremendous tensions and pressures slowly building up deep inside you. These are the anger and violence of the earth. Gradually feel them build up, and then maybe just a twitch as the first sign of the enormous release hits the surface. Then the whole earth shakes and vibrates as the wonderful release is accomplished. Let yourself go into it as fully as you are capable. Shout, groan, bang with the arms and legs, roll about, or whatever is in you to do. Don’t be held back in any of these ‘Being Movements by a sense of foolishness. These things are tremendously helpful, and we are not just playing for the sake of it. A whole chapter could be written on just what happens psychologically, physically and spiritually when we really involve ourselves in being these movements. But find out for yourself. Do them and see how wonderful they are; how relaxed and fulfilled you feel afterwards.
19. The birth position. After the last relaxation of the previous series, put a pillow under your head, draw the knees up, feet apart, hands by the side. The feet should be about a yard apart, knees fairly high. This is the birth position used almost exclusively throughout the civilised world. One of the few -disadvantages of this posture, as against the squat, is that there is an inclination to arch the back and tense the genital and rectal area during contractions. This was why we practised the tensions and relaxing in the squat position. Therefore try to tense the abdominal muscles while keeping the lower back relaxed and genital area untensed. In a sense, as will be explained later, the process of birth is not unlike certain parts of the spontaneous movements that occur during orgasm. This may seem far-fetched when compared with the average woman’s experience of birth. Nevertheless, there is some evidence to support the idea that birth should be as wild and wonderful as complete orgasm. That in most cases it is not, may simply point to the probability that most of us cannot fully surrender to spontaneous emotion and movements, and that the muscles of most women are not sufficiently well exercised or well nourished enough in the sense of present nutritional research. But it is hoped that these outlines of exercise and diet will go a long way to remedying this.
Earlier we talked about natural or instinctive postures the body assumes. it was said that because we often deny or prevent our instinctive drives we often fail to be able to assume these spontaneous postures and thus cannot experience the sense of pleasure and fulfilment arising with them. This is very true in the sex act, and also in childbirth. Virtually everyone recognises, even though they may not be very conscious of it, that during labour the contractions are spontaneous. Just as a deeper level of our being controls digestion and heartbeat, which we can interfere with or modify according to our emotions and tensions so also this deeper instinctive, or bio-energetic level, causes contractions and the process of birth. If our habits of tension or emotional reaction interfere with the natural development of such processes, pain and dissatisfaction can occur.
Thanks to the amazing work of Wilhelm Reich as expressed in his book The Function of the Orgasm, it is easy to see how much habits interfere with instinctive drives, which subsequently become painful instead of blissful. For instance, in the sex act spontaneous movements cause the abdominal muscles to contract, swivelling the pelvis forward and upwards. In the man this causes deeper penetration; in the woman a relaxation and ‘giving’ of the genitals. When lying on the floor, this movement causes a rising of the hips, but not of the lumbar region. In fact the hollow in the small of the back disappears, bringing that part of the back flat on to the floor. Also the head drops back and the mouth usually opens. When habits of emotional tension interfere with this spontaneous movement, it often happens that due to unconscious fear of genital pleasure, the hips draw hack instead of swivelling up. This makes the hollow in the back more pronounced. Or else genital tension causes the body to arch stiffly up causing the lower back to lift off the floor. Such tensions, which do not allow the genital pleasure to develop into the bliss of orgasm, instead cause such feelings to be experienced as disgusting, frightening, hateful, repugnant, or painful. We can learn an enormous amount from this in regard to childbirth. In a similar way, unconscious fears or tension can cause either a drawing back of the genitals during contractions, or an arching of the body upwards. The instinctive ecstasy of childbirth is also in the same way stopped from developing.
The following advice may cause shock in some quarters; it is nevertheless time that people know the details of this method based on modern psychology and ancient yoga. If some people doubt that such methods have ever been a part of yoga, I would agree that in this form, probably not. But any study of Tantric yoga, its principles and practices, will assure the reader that the method is developed from yoga principles, where the study of sexual relationship as an inner and outer fact are used. It is a bad reflection on our society that I should even feel the need to apologise, for the following are but natural expressions of our feelings.
Of course, it is all very well talking about this, but is there anything we can do that will be of practical help? Well, we can watch our sexual intercourse to see whether we allow the spontaneous movements to possess us without fear. If we observe the tensions that result in pulling back the hips or arching the back, we can attempt to relax them and face the fears that underlie them. For if the tension is caused by a feeling of guilt, sin, and dirtiness in regard to intercourse, then we will certainly have to face these feelings in relaxing the tension. You can also practise the movement and feeling of sexual ‘giving’ and surrender -in this posture.
In this technique, use your imagination freely. Hold in mind what has already been said about the spontaneous posture. Now imagine your response to intercourse. Allow your imagination to express itself in movement, letting the hips curve up, the head drop back quite loose and free to move, and the breath come in quick panting. Let all tension in the genitals drop away and the feeling of delight arising in the genitals develop. The aim is to let genital pleasure happen so that it relaxes all but the abdominal contraction that pulls the hips up. We also aim to become very conscious of the emotional and physical feeling of genital ‘giving’ and sexual surrender, or surrender to sexual feelings without sense of sin, guilt, or tension.
When this is achieved, allow any spontaneous movements of the hips to continue, although at first this may be jerky. Now realise that the contractions in this case are not to give your love -and being more deeply to your partner, but to give your love and being to the world in the form of your baby. Nevertheless, the movement is the same, and if successful, the joy is the same also. Please realise that you are practising this movement and giving so that at childbirth it will be habitual. That is, the hips up without hollowing the back; the genitals relaxed, surrendered to spontaneous movement.
20. Toning-up movements. While the above ways of ‘Being -Movement’ are quite different to the ‘yoga postures’ we usually read about, such postures are only a tiny part of yoga methods. Such ways of exercising as I have given have been used for centuries, but are little known. Likewise, there are some consciously motivated movements also used by various yogis, which are a great help in toning up our body. These are very simple, but have quite a profound influence on the body. When you first use them, do so very gently and for only about thirty seconds. But as you become accustomed to them, gradually lengthen the time of practice to five or even ten minutes. At first they may cause great discomfort inside the body because they massage the internal organs. This is why you must do them gently and only for a short period. If you patiently persist, however, these discomforts will gradually disappear, and sometimes even illnesses are cured.
The first of these movements is done by standing with feet slightly apart, body relaxed, knees free to move, and not stiff. Then slowly start circling the shoulders forward, up to the ears and back and down. Let the head move as it wishes. When you are doing this easily, slightly bend the knees and let the bottom jut back a little. Do this very slowly at first to get the feel of the movement. Now begin to straighten the knees and bring the hips forward and up. In other words, in time with the shoulder circling, let a wavelike movement occur with the hips. Eventually the hips are going backwards and forwards as the knees are bending and straightening.
The next movement is very simple, yet again it has profound results. Stand upright and relaxed. Very slowly begin to circle the hips in a clockwise direction. The feet need to be apart to help balance, and at first the head stays more or less in one place, just the hips circling sideways right, backwards, left and forwards. As you get the feel of it, let the circling become wider and wider, even bending slightly forward and back as the hips swing round. In the first movement the hips were going backwards and forwards. In this one they are going round and round. After circling clockwise, then circle anti-clockwise.
The last of these movements takes a bit more energy, but is again very simple. Stand with feet apart and bend the knees slightly, taking up a position skiers or skaters take – trunk forward, bottom back. Then begin to move the hips from side to side while remaining in the position. At first keep the trunk and arms still until you get used to the movement; then move your arms as if running or skating in time with the hip movements, but do not move the feet. So in fact it is like skating standing still.
Considering that it is advisable to also practise daily relaxation and breathing, the above complete exercises may need too much time. It is therefore suggested that through personal experiment you work out a routine for yourself which fits your timetable and abilities. I would suggest rather than cut out any of the postures or exercises, they should be practised a few on one day, a few another, until you have done them all, and then -start again. Or at least incorporate all the series over a period of several sessions. But if you have the energy and the time, practise them all daily. Always rest for some minutes after the postures.
Another point is that although the routine is directly designed for the already pregnant, it is nevertheless important to realise that whenever possible parenthood should be taken very -.seriously, seriously enough to prepare before conception in as many ways as possible. Endeavouring to get one’s body in tiptop condition is basic to all such preparation. Osteopathic adjustment to the spine; attempts to cure any digestive problems as indicted by acidity, coated tongue, etc.; treatment of any anaemia or weakness; and general all-round fitness; these should all be part of any such regime. This may sound like too much to ask. But frankly, the more you put into parenthood, the more you will get out of it. Certainly it will be more of a personally creative event.