October 24, 2011

The Pregnant Yogini: I Worry So I Do Yoga.

I won’t begin to pretend that I didn’t worry before I was pregnant. Of course I worried. I worried about all the usual things. I like to think of it as ‘healthy worry’, worry that keeps me from doing something silly.

Now I’m pregnant and the worry-meter has elevated to a whole new level. Suddenly I have this little human relying on me to keep it safe and healthy. If you’ve been pregnant or have known any pregnant women, you’ll know that there are a couple of very long lists to follow: What you SHOULD do, and what you SHOULD NOT do.

The SHOULD NOT list is long, and has caused me some grief. The grief has stemmed from wanting to do everything just right. So I don’t eat soft cheese, I wash fruit and vegetables within an inch of their life, I cook food until it’s piping hot, I don’t get into a hot bath or spa, I don’t drink alcohol, don’t sleep on my right side or back… the list goes on and on.

I feel ok when I’m in control; I can be confident in knowing that I’m doing the right thing. But what happens when I’m not in control? When someone else is feeding me, or I worry about every little twinge in my belly; I turn into a twenty-questions champion. My husband looks at me with an incredible level of patience, assuring me that everything is fine.

I’d forgive you for thinking I’m paranoid (you wouldn’t be the first). The positive out of this though? It’s been a huge yogic lesson. This lesson has started with an acute awareness of the thoughts that clamour in my mind when I find myself heading down the worry track.

In the yoga sutras, Patanjali advises of two possible states: one of yoga, or unity, in which the thoughts that race through the mind slow and come to a stop; the second of identification with the thoughts that race through the mind. When I worry, I’m identifying with the thoughts in my mind – those thoughts that say ‘you must get everything just right; you aren’t doing enough; you should try harder to be a good mother-to-be’. If I sit with these thoughts and let them convince me that they are right, I start to slip further and further into worry. If, on the other hand, I can step back from the thoughts, I move a little closer towards unity.

My weapons of choice against worry have been practising Santosha (contentment) and meditation. Santosha has allowed me to accept that things will be exactly as they are. It isn’t an excuse to be careless; but it is an acknowledgement that my control is limited and a belief in the innate intelligence of my body (and my baby’s) to move through the pregnancy exactly as nature intended.

And then there’s meditation. I can tell if I’ve missed my practise: I feel a general sense of anxiety weighing over me and a draining feeling of fatigue. When I sit and focus on my breath or a mantra, I realise that my mind will always throw up ideas and thoughts, but that I don’t have to agree with every single one, like a puppy anxious to please its master. I can actually just notice what’s happening and let it drift away again. The most unpleasant pregnancy-related anxiety I’ve experienced to date has always happened when I give my thoughts a voice, and they keep on talking until I’ve worked myself into a messy state. Meditation pulls me back.

When I sit quietly and simply connect with the growing baby in my belly, I feel so peaceful, so content and so in love.

Photo credit: Yogi

Related article: The Pregnant Yogini: From Headstands to Headaches.

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