Tag Archives: childbirth

Missives from the Mat #11: Why Yoga?


I fell in love with my first svasana*, corpse pose, back in 1998. My first child was about six months old and I wanted to try something new to get my bearings on my re-formed body.

I had illusions that my body would return to its pre-child state, that with yoga, I could ease myself back into a world of fitness and of edgy, corporate communications and public relations agility and the pre-baby woman I was. That I’d get my groove back.

I had no clue what I was in for. The person that yoga restored me to is so different from the person I thought I was.

When I was younger, much younger, I remember my mother coming home from her yoga “classes.” I use quotations because I’m not sure what the classes were like back then, in the 70s, and what she actually did. I recall vividly of her *lying on her back, just lying there! and saying, “this is yoga.”

As I’ve aged, but before I allowed yoga to know me (not me to know yoga) I remember thinking, “Bullshit. That’s called ‘lying on your back.’ ”

Another time she came back from her classes, her hair in a scarf and she in a buttoned-down shirt of my dad’s knotted at the waist and wearing beige velour pants. I encountered her again laid on her back as she lifted one leg up in the air. The raised leg was straight and the foot was parallel with the ceiling; the lower leg was flat on the floor. Her hands were by her sides. “This is another yoga move,” she said, as the sunlight through the window set the room softly aglow. She did seem calmer. I was about five or six.

As a child, I’m sure I was eager to learn more, to connect with her in a way that she clearly felt she could have both the advantage and teach me without it seeming like a “lesson” and also to also connect with me in a nonthreatening way in which we were both learning new things.

Mom could extrapolate information and then diffuse it in a completely unique way that, given the right circumstances and a goodly amount of general ignorance in her audience, she would reign omniscient. Yoga in the US was esoteric and weird back then, nothing like the mainstream, studio-on-every-corner, $6.9 billion industry (hey! where’s my share?! oh wait, that’s not yogic) world it inhabits now.

Little did I know, that some 25 years later, I’d begin my own journey on my mat, with my children equally entranced by this mysterious relationship between movement and silence. And I’d also learn that what she was doing, was yoga.

Recovery from trauma

So when I started, I was attuned to the fact that something had changed forever and that even though I knew it was impossible, I endeavored to regain some semblance of my physical being despite having given birth to an eight pound baby whose head measured 14cm. I won’t go into the discussion of childbirth as trauma / business in a hospital, but I will say this: it’s far from a nurturing environment. Pregnancy is one thing, being “prenatal” is something else entirely.

As I look back on it now, the fact is that I knew I was seeking healing. I knew what I’d experienced — all of it, from the invasive tests, to the low count on a premature CVS test, to the weight checks and belly measurements, to the peeing in a cup every two weeks for the last eight weeks, to the false labor, to the rejection at the hospital, to the being up all night, to the final moments, to the wholly disturbing unscheduled induction… to the birth to the recovery, to the incessant overnight interruptions for blood pressure and temperature taking, to being released home, to nursing, to insomnia, to returning to work — was a major disturbance to my qi.

On a level I’ve only recently allowed, it was all trauma. I was angry. I told Mom everything that had happened, but she didn’t seem to acknowledge in on a level that I needed; she brushed it off and said, “that’s the way it goes, kid,” about it all while also allowing some tenderness, but overall, little sympathy.

I remember her telling me I was angry. I didn’t think I was, but as I look back now, I see it. But I didn’t know that yoga would bring me peace and self-acceptance (and still does, despite my crazy ego-induced fallacy that I don’t need self-acceptance). I just went to yoga classes to get my body back, right?

Everyone seeks healing in one way or another

As I’ve continued my journey, now with its latest step as a yoga “teacher,” I’ve had to allow and ultimately embrace jubilantly, actually, that those of us who seek yoga do so because we allow, finally, that we need to be healed.

Some people have families, some people are alone. Some have tight hamstrings, some have loose hamstrings. Others have jet lag, some are mad at the world, some are mad at themselves, some have too much going on, others have too little going on. Some people are sick, some people are healthy. Some people have fears and anxieties, some people are in recovery. No, strike that. Everyone is recovery.

Everyone in that room, on their mat, has a story. Every morning for each person, no matter where they live, starts differently.

One person’s morning might start gently, with a bird’s call outside the window and the golden light streaming into the room between the cracks in the venetian blinds. The eye lids slowly open and flutter, blinking back and forth between near-darkness and sunlight. A stretch in the bed as an arm extends ushering a big inhale as a leg joins in the dance.

Another person’s morning might start from a gorgeous dream when she was young, seventeen even!, on a beach with her first love, walking toward a twilight bonfire on a sultry summer BUUUUUZZZZZZ! She shoots out of bed, knocking her glasses off her nightstand and sending her glass of water into the wall behind the nightstand. No stretching for her. She has to find her glasses and then look for the cup, but not until she finds a towel to clean up the mess.

Another person’s morning might begin with a phone call from a child at school asking for the delivery of a long-lost assignment that is required. This request comes on the heels of a pre-dawn argument with that child about her performance in school and how her future depends on her compliance in her classes and performances. He rushes back from the drop-off, pulls his car into the parking lot, grabs his mat and dashes up the steps to the studio.

Countless other mornings take shape all over the globe, many of them without the answer of a yoga routine through the day or the lifetime of the people experiencing them.

For all of these people, however, there is a practice which awaits them. A practice which meets them where they are in that moment, on their mats. A practice which, if allowed, will show them their strength and their grace, and their limitations. A practice which, when noticed, will show them how much they’ve grown and how much wonder there is yet to experience.

And for all these people, there is a teacher who has also been there, providing she has done her own Work. Becoming a yoga teacher is not easy; to be a sincere one, you have to do a lot of self-discovery and be OK with it. This teacher may not know her students’ personal woes and frustrations and triumphs, but her allowance and realization of every mutual up and down, every moment of ennui, every doubt of what to wear, what to say, how to act and what to think –within herself– is what brings her the courage to stand before them and share her love of yoga, a vital bridge for the work of self-healing.

I stand before people three times a week, sometimes four times a week, amazed and humbled by their confidence in me and my presupposed ability to take them away from themselves for just a few moments each time we meet. I stand before them willingly and without pretense because doing otherwise is inauthentic.

Find your breath, find yourSelf

Every movement has its release: running, skating, rowing, swimming, cycling, dancing, gymnastics … they all offer an opportunity for the practitioner to express him or herself physically in a way that no other activity provides. We create teams of these exercises because others want to engage at the same time and also connect. Then we have people come and watch these teams engage.

In yoga, it’s you and your mat. Partner work exists, but a few of us shy away from all that. We indulge our teachers and form our little groups which help our classmates stretch psychically as well as physically, but we prefer the solo work.

It’s the whole of the solo work, the inhales on a lift and the exhales on a fold; or the inhales on a lift and the exhales on a twist, that creates for a room of people, a symphony of breath and movement. Even though each person is doing it by herself or for himself, the sound of your fellow yogis inhaling and exhaling on their forms at their paces and in their ways affirms the notion that while we are social creatures, we are also solitary ones.

For a yoga teacher, as new as I am, I can say that right now at this stage, I feel it’s the best time: to experience the concert of motion and breath where everyone finds themselves and ultimately loses themselves in the same room. When you lose yourself in yoga, you don’t necessarily have to go looking for yourself … yourself finds you where you are.

“Mom, my quads are really tight.”

All three of my kids have taken yoga classes with me as teacher at one point or another.

I remember when I first started teaching, kids!, I was petrified.

“They’re going to know I’m not certified,” I would insist to myself as a reason not to do it.

“They’re going to know I should have said ‘left foot forward instead of right foot forward,’ ” I would think to myself once I got started.

I look back on that now, six years ago, and I think to myself, “The crap we do to ourselves in the name of advancement is just awful.”

The kids had no idea; they just liked that it wasn’t math or science. As each week went by, it became easier and easier to do. I wasn’t in a limbo state where I felt I had to convince them to do any of it. They just did what I proposed to do because they knew yoga was good for them and they knew they should try it and also because I was “the teacher.”

So as I worked through that, I gathered the nerve to teach adults. And the conversations I have with myself still (and for likely a few sessions which will dot more months, if not years, to go) are still rife with self-doubt, nausea-inducing nervousness and at-times crippling inadequacy fears.

“Oh! I’ve done that! It gets better, I promise,” one yoga teacher friend said to me when she asked me if I’d worked myself sick with worry before a class.

“Have you thrown up yet?” asked another one.

“Almost,” I answered, relieved? that this teacher could relate to where I was coming from.

“I still have moments when I leave the studio and think to myself, ‘well, that was a career low,‘ but the people come back and somehow in the morning, it all seems better,” another one said to me.

“If you do this and it brings you nothing but anxiety, isn’t that defeating the purpose of teaching yoga?” my son asked, his brothers, and my husband nodding in accord and looking at me expectantly.

I have no answer for them other than the slowly revealing one: that each time I teach, it gets a little better. I’m perfectly happy to admit that I’m at the stage where I need I need I need positive feedback.

After dinner, the conversation continues in our bedroom.

“They keep coming back, right? No one has asked for a refund, right?” my husband asks when I pace from plank to downward facing dog to plank to upward facing dog like a Newton’s Cradle toy, just to flush out my anxiety.

“No.” I answer on my presses back to plank. Rats, shoulda answered that on the exhale press back to dog… when will I ever learn?! 

“Then just keep showing up. They will too. You’re good at this, Mol,” he sighs, exasperation and humor in his voice over the irony of it all.

Our bedroom door creaks open.

A little shape is in the crack; his silhouette formed by the light in the background.

“Mom? My quads are really tight. Those are my muscles in the front legs, yeah?” Thing 3 asks.

“Yeah, buddy. That’s where they are. Can’t you sleep?” I ask, silently hoping inside that he’ll say no and that he’ll need a cuddle and a moment here. With me.

“I can’t sleep because you won’t stop talking, but also because, yeah, my quads are tight. I think it’s from growing pains,” he says. “Can we do some yoga? To help stretch them out?”

“Sure buddy. Go get your mat.” And he turns around because it’s right outside the door and he drags it in and we do some yoga together.

He asked me to buy an app for him where we can design a bedtime routine for him. He does it, but he prefers me to teach him. I watch the routine, and give him pointers.

Thing 3 and his mat and his yoga app.

Thing 3 and his mat and his yoga app.


Yup. We all just want to heal a little.

Thank you.

12:06am April 21,1998; 33 Years Earlier; Frère Jacques


My mother and I share a common bond; one that just came to my consciousness like a tidal wave and woke me from my slumber not one hour ago. I knew of the commonality, but not of its nuances and of what it meant. Maybe it means nothing; maybe a cigar is just a cigar.

We both had a child born on April 21 when we were both 31.

My oldest son, Thing 1 is 15 today. He was due on 4/18/98 but decided to make my life uncomfortable for an extra two days and then completely uncomfortable for another 30 hours.

I, being a first-time mom, was in no rush to speed things along and increase the crazy in my life any sooner than necessary, so I was sort of grateful for the reprieve. At 11pm on April 19, though, things really started moving along and my labor went into “we’re going to have a baby soon” mode.

The thing is, my labors have (as I’ve learned twice later) a penchant for just … y’know, stopping whenever they felt like it. I was sent home and then six hours later, I went back.

While having a baby to a layperson, a first-time mom or anyone else is sort of a thing that happens every day and we don’t hear about too many things going wrong in the process, I was of the “ok, this’ll happen when it happens” mindset. I was totally uncomfortable, but I didn’t think anything would really go wrong. I loved my obstetrician, I loved the staff, I was ready for my son to be born, my husband was a rock (a nervous rock at the time, but a rock nonetheless) and all indications were, all along (minus a blip due to my ignorance on a CVS test) from day 1 of my realization that I was pregnant to sonograms to glucose tests to labor, false labor and then labor again: going to have a healthy son.

The labor was exhausting. At 4pm on 4/20 We did cytotek to speed things along. No.

At 9pm on 4/20 we did pitocin to speed thing along. No.

All along we did walking around to speed things along. No.

At 11:10 we broke my water to speed things along. That did the trick.

It all worked out. At 12:06, my son was born. He was big: 8#; he was robust: 20.5″ long; his head was enormous; he was beautiful. He was quiet. Eerily so. Uncomfortably so.

There was a little managed panic, a change in the atmosphere when he was taken out. They let me see him for a moment and then they whisked him away. They put him in a little clear bed. They had to clean him off. I didn’t care about any mess; but I was also a little out of it. It was a wild ride and I was depleted physically. Despite my interest in him, I just wanted sleep. I was not one of those blushing fantastically enthusiastic mothers whose milk starts to flow the moment her baby’s cry is heard. Maybe that’s because he was so quiet. I asked what was wrong and they concentrated on him. He was breathing. His color was good. His eyes were open. Ten fingers, ten toes. Pulse, ox, everything was good. He was quiet. His eyes still very wide were open.

“It was those eyes, I’d seen them before, so many times,” his father said. Dan followed him everywhere in that room; “Don’t let him out of your sight!” I said to him. I said that to him about all our babies. Things were fine as it turns out, he was just really mellow and observant and scored 100s on all his APGARs, so I know he’ll get into Harvard.

I didn’t know the time. It was after midnight, I was aware of that. I was conscious of a fact though, a reality. I was aware of the date and of its significance: April 21. “He held out for the 21st, mom,” I remember saying to her, thinking of my brother. I wonder about that coincidence, and how it affects her and my father.

Thirty-three years earlier, my mother gave birth to my frère Jacques. My brother John. Her second son. I never met him. She never met him; he also was whisked away right after his birth. On April 24, 1965, my brother John died.

I see my blinking cursor on my computer monitor here. The awaiting cursor. It’s a prompt in itself. An annoying thing to me at the moment.

Words fail. She never met him; she never saw him. She has shared reports from my father that he was “beautiful.” There are parts of me that want to believe that; that he was healthy and gorgeous and full and fantastic. The truth of the matter is that I will never know. I know of no pictures. When my mother was 5 months along with him, she started to bleed. She said she was pushing a stroller with my oldest brother in it and she knew something was different. She was on bed rest after that. She was on bed rest until April 21, 1965, when she went in to have her second son. I believe the condition was placental abruption, when (parts of?) the placenta disconnects prematurely from the uterus.

It was 1965; it was nothing like today: there was no sonogram, no way of seeing inside her, no 3D imagery of her uterine wall. The effects of placental abruption can be devastating to the mother and her unborn child. The placenta is what feeds and nourishes the unborn child.

I will admit that despite the fact that my son was born completely fine, functioning and all that, that I was very nervous until after three days had passed. My milk came in and I didn’t know it; we went on our postpartum appointment and he wasn’t eating; apparently my breasts were as big as sourdough loaves and harder than bricks; the poor little guy couldn’t get any fuel. Once we rectified that, he was a little overwhelmed. It all worked out though because my sister-in-law sent me a doula and that changed everything.

I wonder about the timing, for my parents. A bittersweet birthdate for them; the arrival of my son, the “closure” (maybe? – that’s theirs) of life’s circle. They don’t talk about it much; of course I am full of questions, but it’s not mine. They gave him “St. Raphael” as his middle name. St. Raphael is the patron saint of travelers. Raphael means “God has healed.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

I recently started therapy again. There’s stuff going on internally that are stirring up other old deep wounds I need to address and I’m glad, frankly, of the opportunity to work on them.

I said in therapy the other day, that I’d often considered my mother weak due to her choices and behaviors; I grew up not appreciating the value of her softness and her simple kindnesses. I grew up devaluing sensitivity and vulnerability and learned to place great importance on toughness and strength and resilience.

What I realized last night, when I was drifting off to sleep, was that her strength is private but so obvious, so she doesn’t wear it like a badge; in fact she doesn’t wear it at all.

Around the time when/after John was born, her obstetrician wanted to sterilize her. She refused.

Two years and some months later, I was born. The doctor wanted to sterilize her after that. From what I understand, while she was being wheeled into the delivery room and about to be put under for a c-section, that she grabbed the guy by his lapels and told him that he had no permission whatsoever to touch her other than to give me life.

Sigh. I am her “strength” in human form. She has said things like that to me, that I’m super important to her; I didn’t get that until *right now.*

There’s a lot there. My mother had guts. There’s a lot there. This explains so much. Why I have been / what I have represented unconsciously to my mother, perhaps my father as well. Processing… not for here.

So, four years and some months after that, she had my younger brother. She wanted a family. She was 37. She was a rebel. My younger brother is fine, almost normal (no, he’s totally normal, he’s just a brilliant nut). She was ready to be done then, but she still did not allow a hysterectomy. I had my third son when I was 37 too. I also had my second son at 33, the same age she was when she had me. I did not plan that; I planned their births, absolutely, but not to be in time with my mother. At that time, I wanted no similarities between myself and my mother.

I have Work to do on myself and my perceptions of strength and courage and guts and determination. No one is perfect. I’m writing a memoir, first-person, true, and all that. I don’t think I’ll ever publish it; but it’s important for me to write these things as a testament to my own recollections. My life before my own children was completely different from the life I live now.

Before them, I was lost, truth be told. I was confused and so very angry. Before them, I drank too much, I was irrational. I was responsible but super sharp and intense; brutally honest.

Having a child made me tone that all down or eliminate it completely.

But on days like today, on April 21, I can’t but think about my Frère Jacques. I know he is sleeping. Church bells are ringing.

I admit while I think about John a lot at times, I can understand why now. It seems “duh!” to many people of course, but my private thoughts are percolating and I won’t share them here.

I try not to think too hard about John on this day. After all, today is my son’s day. I don’t want to freak him out and make him any more self-conscious than he already is at 15.

Happy birthday to my beautiful son.

Thank you.