On Birth and Yoga

Like many mamas, I relish birth stories. I love hearing girlfriends recount their experience of moving from labor-as-abstract to labor-as-lived. The profundity of bringing a child into the world is almost incommunicable: we go into the deepest, basest parts of ourselves and when we come back out, there's a baby in tow. But as hard as it is to translate the birth experience into words, there's a desire to share with others who have seen that place in themselves, too. One of my friends had twins (twins!) a week ago. She generously invited me to spend time with her new family a few days after everyone came home. When I arrived for the visit, she curled the smallest of her little girls onto my chest, and she scooped up her other little babe. It was late afternoon, and we sat outside on her shaded porch, marveling over tiny pink feet and the sound of newborn chirps and coos.


As she shared her birth story, we sat across from each other, babies cradled in our arms. Both twin girls were born healthy and strong, but their births held some scary moments. As my friend described the pain and fear, the joy and celebration, the helplessness and empowerment, the relief and exhaustion—as she expressed the inexpressible—we both laughed and cried. My daughter is over a year old, but her birth still feels fresh to me—the emotions etched deeply, the memory crystalline. Perhaps that never changes. I listened to my friend, her emotions raw and familiar, and remembered my daughter's arrival and saw the ineffable beauty of birth echoed in my friend's face.

Moms have an instant bond. It gets expressed in shared birth stories and in commiseration over nursing, sleep woes, discipline...the list goes on and on. Pregnancy is the start of a journey dark and scary, light and divine—above all, omnipresent. My friend and I sat there, jubilant and relieved, with little sleeping babies curled in our arms,  bonded by the awesome and awful experience of childbirth, bonded by our motherhood.

Birth is a profound experience, in part because in birth we experience complete embodiment. In childbirth, we surrender and we are brave, and those practices serve us well as we become mothers—a role that requires much surrender and bravery. The only other time I've felt that full-spirit letting go is in my yoga practice. And that certainly hasn't happened every time I've stepped on my mat: yoga is not always so life-changing. Much of the time, my practice feels like checking the box: 3 rounds of Sun Salutations, some lunges, and a rest. Yoga done. But there have been practices so profound that tears streamed from my eyes and I stifled sobs through Savasana. There have been practices so intense that I've come back from them more confident and spiritually stronger—exactly as I felt after having my daughter. There have been practices so overwhelming and challenging that I leave my mat emotional, confused, a complete wreck—only to understand the power of the experience upon reflection later. Birth is kinda like that, too.

You've probably heard this: everything is yoga. But everything is yoga, in that yoga means union: breath and body, body and spirit, you and others, self and deeper self. The simultaneousness of being so deeply embodied and internal yet so deeply present and attuned to What Is Happening Now that you've gone beyond your skin and bones to your energetic, subtle body inside: that's yoga. That's birth, too.