Lessons From My Miscarriage

Just over a week ago I miscarried my first pregnancy. Being the staunch advocate of story medicine (and serial oversharer) that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to harness this unique and powerful experience by writing a little bit about it, and hopefully spreading some awareness to others.

 

One in every four known pregnancies will end in miscarriage – once I began speaking about it, I quickly became aware of a plethora of women in my life who I didn’t realise were also members of this ‘secret society’ - and yet my personal experience of pregnancy loss has revealed the stigma that often surrounds this topic. Miscarriage is the natural end of a non-viable pregnancy. It’s just as natural as full term pregnancies, still births, and live births. Yet in our culture there is only one way to feel about a miscarriage: sad, and mostly silent, with an emphasis on immediately looking to the future (where hopefully a happier and healthier pregnancy awaits). Likewise, I find it counter-intuitive that there is only one socially acceptable way to feel about a continued pregnancy: delighted, blissful, and grateful, with no room for any feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, resentment, or sadness.  Like aspects of mothering, miscarriage is a complex rollercoaster of physical and emotional loss, denial, anger, sadness, and ultimately acceptance and healing. I have allowed myself to lean into these feelings and let my intuition guide my experience of pregnancy loss, and these have been my insights:

 

It Will Take Longer Than You Think

There is an all-too-common belief that when miscarriage (singular) occurs, a woman suddenly ceases to be pregnant and therefore goes back to the way she was before. We are expected to move on very quickly, both physically and emotionally. This is incredibly unrealistic. First of all, from a purely physical perspective, miscarriage is not a linear process.  It doesn’t just all come out and then you’re done. The physical symptoms can last for weeks and a woman will most likely need to go to work, attend social events, and generally function as though everything is fine and dandy during this time.  Emotionally there is an expectation that we will start off sad and gradually become less sad until we are happy again. This simply isn’t how it works. When you lose the baby that is literally growing inside of you, you feel every feeling in the world simultaneously until you collapse in bed crying your eyes out, sleep like the dead, and wake up to do it all again the next day. These early days feel like forever. There was nothing that anyone could say to me during this time that could help me more than what I kept repeating to myself: “This too shall pass”.

 

Everything Feels Like A Trigger, For Ages

There is a series of unpleasant ‘firsts’ following a miscarriage. The first shower, looking down at your body and knowing it has changed. The first time you cook a meal at home, spy the prenatal vitamins on the kitchen bench, feel your throat tighten and then move them to the back of the cupboard where they’ll be out of sight for the foreseeable future. The first trip to the grocery store where somehow all of your fellow shoppers have multiple kids in tow, or are nursing infants, or pregnant bellies. I went from listening to ‘birth stories’ podcasts one day, to ‘life after miscarriage’ podcasts the next. I scrolled through the pregnancy app on my phone in which I had enthusiastically tracked the first days of my baby’s life, found the ‘pregnancy loss’ button, and clicked on it to be met with a notification that read: ‘We are sorry for your loss. Resetting all data….’

There is no way to predict what will trigger feelings of anger or immense grief. As a result it can feel quite dangerous to go out into the world and participate in some semblance of a normal life.

 

The Universe Has Your Back

A few days before my miscarriage I was fretting about what I perceived as a lack of close friendships in my adopted home town of Melbourne. I could not have been wrong. People came through for me in the most incredible way after the loss of this pregnancy. Far from feeling alone, I have felt overwhelming support from people from every corner of my life. I can unequivocally say that miscarriage has not only deepened my existing friendships, but forged new ones.

 

You Can Love Your Body Through Miscarriage

A common sentiment expressed by women after a miscarriage is one of feeling betrayed by, and disappointed in, their bodies. This can lead to a feeling of disassociation from the physical body, and feelings of shame and negativity in the physical relationship with self. I feel fortunate to have emerged with a newfound respect for my body after miscarriage. Not only did it grow something beautiful, but it managed to recognize that something wasn’t right, and that it was best to let go. In doing this, my body has taught me an incredibly powerful lesson: there is no life without loss, and loss is a natural part of life.

 

Now that my journey into motherhood has begun (because let’s acknowledge and understand that all pregnant women are mothers immediately and forever, regardless of the outcome), I am committed to walking down the next part of this path with more trust than I had the first time around. Trust in myself, in my own strength, and in the people around me. Trust that the fear of loss is so much worse than the actual loss.  There are no guarantees in life. Statistically speaking, I have the same chance of miscarrying again in a future pregnancy as I did the first time around. For all our human brilliance, ultrasound machines, medical research and statistics, there’s a lot that we don’t understand about fertility and the human body.  It frightens me to think that I could miscarry again in the future. But in the words of psychologist Susan David, discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. My first significant experience of loss has encouraged me to live boldly and face each day with a faithful and open heart. If you or somebody you know is on this journey too, I send you strength, love, humility, and I hope you find peace.

In the spirit of paying it forwards, below are some resources that I have found really helpful during this time.

Even just by following some of these as accounts on social media, I have felt very connected to others moving through a similar experience and I’ve found that really healing.

Gather Women Space

I Had A Miscarriage

Pregnancy Loss

Life After Miscarriage podcast

Emotional Agility by Susan David

 

 

 

Routine Is A Dirty Word.... Or Is It?

I recently realised that in all my years of being a super organised Type A person, I have never once planned ahead to have time out in my week for self-care or rest. Free time in my calendar is very quickly re-purposed into project development time, side hustle time, music practice time, house cleaning time… basically for all the other stuff that I feel needs to get done, and that I haven’t managed to fit in elsewhere in my week.

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Why East Meets West Is Best: My India Studies Recapped

Since completing my 200hr YTT (Yoga Teacher Training) in late 2016, I’ve taught in gyms, schools, studios, in my own home, and in the homes of total strangers who became beloved students. I’ve undertaken more speciality training in particular focus fields such as yin yoga, and have spent many hours as a student in weekend masterclasses, advanced teacher trainings, and studying online – all of which have helped me to develop confidence in my teaching, my message, and how to relay this to others in the most accessible way possible.  Why, then, did I feel the need to travel to India at the very beginning of the year and undertake an entire month of further intensive training?

For me, it was a combination of things that led to me investing the time, energy, and money (teacher trainings aren’t cheap!) into my most recent 300hr YTT. First of all, I knew that the opportunity to dive deeper into certain aspects of yoga would benefit me hugely, and in terms of my schedule as a freelance creative and yoga teacher, an intensive course is the way to go for me personally (at least when I leave the country for a number of weeks, I know I won’t be distracted by other work!). Secondly, I hadn’t yet popped my India cherry and thought that Goa would make an appropriate ‘soft introduction’ to this incredible, but sometimes intimidating, destination for soul-seekers and wayfarers from the world over. Thirdly and finally, after many hours of research, I found one course in particular that I knew would allow me to dive deeper into several aspects of yoga that I found fascinating, but hadn’t had an opportunity to explore in much detail:

 

Ayurveda

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Therapeutic Yoga

 

Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have a few things in common – both are ancient systems based on five elements inspired by nature; the theory being that each of these elements are present within our bodies, and we function best when we are able to achieve a state of balance between each element. When a person in India feels unwell, they might visit an Ayurvedic doctor to get advice on which of their elements is out of balance, and how to bring things back to into equilibrium using herbs, medicines, and specially selected foods. Similarly, in Chinese medicine when a person is unwell they might visit a traditional Chinese medicine doctor for acupuncture, cupping, and herbs to feel better again. Prevention, rather than cure, is one of the main principles of both Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. Instead of waiting for a serious malady to present itself, an individual’s quality of life is examined to provide an insight into what might benefit the person.

 

The difference between these two systems and Western medicine is that, in the West, we treat the disease, not the patient. In hospitals in the Western world, we’re diagnosed based on our most obvious physical symptoms (heart rate, cholesterol, hormone levels, blood tests) without giving any consideration to the other factors that might be influencing our poor health (mental and emotional challenges, stress, tension, fatigue). Don’t get me wrong, I staunchly believe that we would be nowhere without Western medicine, and that in many cases the provision of medication and antibiotics is essential to providing the first step towards healing for people suffering from physical and mental distress. However, it’s been my belief for a long time now that Eastern therapies are an invaluable counterpart to the way that we manage our health. During my training, this concept of customising yoga classes to the individual culminated in our final assignment: to design a therapeutic yoga program for a particular person, or group of people, and to use a wide range of tools to support the holistic wellness of the body, mind, and spirit.

 

This training has been incredible, and I can’t believe how much fantastic content has been packed into one huge month! In addition to the elements I’ve already mentioned, there has also been a big focus on yin yoga, functional anatomy, adjusting, and above all the opportunity to share ideas, feedback, and thought-provoking conversations with my peers every day about how we can support our respective communities through the practice of yoga. A group of 19 people from all over the world has so much to teach one another. I’m grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow in my teaching, and I’ll be travelling home on Friday with a new understanding of what yoga can be when we put dogma aside, and approach all things with a curious mind and an open heart.

 

 

One Week In India - My 300hr YTT Experience So Far!

Greetings from India, where I’m currently spending some time in South Goa for a 300 hour intensive teacher training course! We’ve just finished the first week of a month-long program, so I’m a quarter of the way through, and since I’m currently sitting at a café with very reliable wifi (not a common occurrence) I’d thought I’d take the opportunity to write a quick blog post about my experience thus far.

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Letting Go: A Control Freak's Approach To Yoga

Have you ever been called a control freak? I have. It’s not my favourite term in the world, but I can hardly argue with it when it’s used as a descriptor for my approach to life. Since I’m the first to admit that I struggle to let go and relinquish control in daily life, I thought I’d unpack this myth a little, and share some of my ‘control freak’ insights in the process.

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Ashtanga Guilt: How To Silence Your 'Yogi Conscience'

Note: This article first appeared on Do You Yoga on 27 May, 2017. 

I tend to do things back to front – in the reverse order to most people. My introduction to yoga came via three years of passionate Bikram Yoga attendance. I loved the heat and considered myself something of a masochist, so Bikram was perfect for me at the time. After a few years I moved to a new area, and couldn’t get my Bikram fix any more – so I fell into Vinyasa classes and practiced in that style for the next 4-5 years. When I began to feel a pull towards yoga teacher training, like many others I didn’t really know where to begin. I did my research as best as I could, and for a variety of reasons I selected an Ashtanga Vinyasa training in Bali. I was in for a shock: I had never practiced Ashtanga yoga before. Therefore, in the space of a month I went from somebody with absolutely no experience of the primary series, to somebody who was basically ready to have ‘I heart Ashtanga’ metaphorically tattooed onto her thigh. Despite the ever-present aches in my hips and hamstrings, I fell in love with this rigorous series of postures, and the way they demanded focus, discipline and mindful breathing from me. However, when I returned home to Melbourne I realised that spending 2 hours a day, 6 days a week on my asana practice was not entirely feasible – and that’s where my Ashtanga Guilt set in!

Like many lovers of Ashtanga yoga, it could be said that I have an inkling of the ol’ Type A personality. When I find something that I’m interested in, I feel drawn to learn everything about it, and I want to do it wholeheartedly and perfectly. This translates to my attitude towards yoga, too – I’m eager to use it exactly as prescribed, doing every repetition of every vinyasa, being able to enter each pose to the same depth as I did yesterday, regardless of mood, illness, injury, hell, even death! And if I have to shorten my practice, or skip it completely, I feel like a Bad Yogi. I let thoughts creep into my mind like, ‘You’re not committed enough’, or ‘How can you teach this stuff if you don’t practice it every day?’ It’s guilt. And it’s pointless. Sometimes I even find myself projecting this guilt onto my teachers, imagining that they are sternly disappointed in me when I skip a 6.00am Mysore class. In reality, the only person who is affected by this guilt is me. 

I attended a workshop with Kino MacGregor recently, and I was amazed at how many people expressed similar feelings of guilt or shame when it came to their level of engagement with their asana practice. Kino’s advice was simple and sensible: don’t flog yourself.  Yes, there will be points in your practice at which you will need to sit with discomfort. But don’t endure self-loathing or physical pain. Keep in mind that one of the ethical rules is ahimsa – non-violence, also translating to compassion. And who do you think we’re least likely to be compassionate towards? You guessed it – ourselves. Sometimes it’s just not possible to practice the entire primary series 6 days a week. Maybe even 2-3 times per week is a stretch, and that’s completely okay. The frequency and duration of your asana practice is dependent on so many different factors, and Ashtanga shouldn’t feel like a club where we are judging each other, and ourselves, for how often we rock up, and how hard-core we are when we do. I work long and variable hours in my day job as an event manager and musician, so there are weeks when daily asana practice just isn’t a thing. At the moment, I’m working on absolving my Ashtanga guilt by allowing myself the freedom to explore the enormous universe of yoga that we find beyond the physical asanas. If I am breathing mindfully whilst sitting in traffic, am I improving my jump throughs? No. Am I making the best effort that I can to experience conscious living, and practice compassion towards others and towards myself? Yes. Yoga is a tool that allows us to experience a more connected and heartful life. By taking an outcomes-based attitude towards it and beating ourselves up with a concept of what we think our practice should look like, we’re robbing ourselves of its benefits.  So, if you’re like me and you’re prone to the occasional yogi guilt trip, I encourage you to take some deep breaths, smile, and tell that guilt exactly where to go.

Namaste yogis, enjoy your practice!

The Real Deal: How To Develop a Home Yoga Practice

Note: This article first appeared on Do You Yoga on April 20, 2017. 

For many of us, our involvement in yoga begins when we first walk into a group class at a yoga studio or gym. It’s pretty easy to understand why yoga classes are so popular – a yoga class is a conveniently timed slice of serenity, in which you can slip into a peaceful environment free from distraction for some ‘you time’. Your yoga teacher has it all under control, from the relaxing music to the mood lighting, and you’re guided through a sequence of postures and offered modifications to suit your body. Sometimes, though, it can be tricky to find the time to get to a yoga class as often as you may like – traffic, late nights and early mornings seem to conspire against us. Imagine, then, if you could practice yoga at home, on your own time, and get the same blissful benefits as attending a group class. Sound too good to be true? A home practice is a great way to bring yoga into your daily life, and experience it in a different way. However, sometimes it can feel a little bewildering to try to manifest all that yogi goodness on your own in your messy bedroom – so read on for some tips on developing a home practice. 

1. Create a space.

Last year, I undertook a yoga teacher training in Bali with All Yoga Training. We practiced every day in an idyllic shala in the rainforest, listening to the gentle movement of the trees in the wind and the sounds of birdsong…Simply put, it was pretty much the dream environment for connecting with oneself. On the last day, one of our teachers led us through a guided meditation in which she encouraged us to take the peaceful surroundings into our hearts, and to reflect on how this environment, and this moment, made us feel. Then she said, “You can come back here anytime you want”. This really struck a chord with me. We have the ability to go anywhere in the world that we want, thanks to the power of the mind. However, this can be difficult to remember one we’re back on our home turf!

One of the major obstacles I’ve encountered in my home practice is the issue of where to actually roll out my yoga mat and get down to business. Sharing a two bedroom townhouse with my significant other, I don’t have a dedicated yoga/meditation room with a door that can be closed and allow me to practice in private. I have used this lack of ‘yoga space’ as an excuse to avoid my practice more times than I can count!  However, at the end of the day it’s not your physical space that matters – it’s the space you’re creating with your breath and awareness, and this can happen virtually anywhere. As long as you’re not going to bump into any table legs or door frames, your space for practice need only be the size and shape of your yoga mat. That being said, a few small adjustments can help to create more presence in your home yoga space. Perhaps you would like to experiment with placing a few candles, some incense, an image that inspires you and helps you to focus, or some mala beads together to create a small altar. You might like to set up a speaker dock so you can play music that helps you tune in to your space. Like everything else in your practice, creating a comfortable space for your yoga at home takes trial and error, and above all a willingness to keep showing up.

 

2. Set a time frame.

When you self-regulate your practice, there’s nobody there to keep track of how much time has passed the way a teacher normally would. I find it helpful to set myself a timer for my practice, so that I know I can relax into it without having to constantly check the clock. I’ll normally set two timers: one to cue me when it’s time to move into savasana, and another to bring myself out of savanasa. One of the many handy features of your smart phone is the large range of alarm tones available, so you can set a gentle harp sound rather than a blaring foghorn – the latter might not be quite as congruous with your practice!

 

3. Move your body.

Once you’ve established a nice space for yourself, and set a time frame for your practice, you may find yourself sitting on your mat scratching your head and wondering what to actually do. Simplicity is key when it comes to sequencing your own yoga practice. Just start with what you know, and go from there – warm up with some sun salutations, play around with some balancing poses, maybe throw in a few backbends and some slow hip openers to finish. If you’re short on time, you can perform just a few sun salutations, or you could take a yin approach, focusing on just one or two poses with longer holds. The key here is to listen to your body and mind. Set aside the ego, avoid practicing only poses that you feel you’re already ‘good at’, and give yourself a balanced practice, just the same as you would in a class.

 

4. Check yourself.

You can do a hundred handstands while the television blares away in the background, but the truth is, if you’re not applying a single-minded focus to what you’re doing, you’re not actually practicing yoga. The difference between stretching and yoga is what’s going on upstairs – and if the lights aren’t on, nobody’s home!  Our goal during asana practice is to be mentally present on our mats and focus on our breathing while we move from one posture to another. This can be trickier than it sounds, particularly in a home environment. It’s easy to let our gaze wander whilst in Warrior II past the tips of our fingers, and to the pile of unfolded laundry on the couch. This is where you, the yoga practitioner, have a choice: follow the path of distraction to its logical end by ceasing your practice and folding the laundry (or at least moving it out of sight), or accept the challenge to shift your focus back to your breath, body and sankalpa (intention). It’s completely normal (and virtually guaranteed) to initially experience more distraction whilst practicing at home than in a group class at a studio. However, this is also the beauty of home practice – if you can apply the principles of mindfulness, presence in the moment, and self-acceptance in this environment, you can apply them anywhere!

In our busy lives, flexibility is the key to success with any daily pursuit. The beauty of yoga is that you really can take it anywhere with you – all you need is your yoga mat and a willingness to tune in to yourself. By cultivating a home practice, you can bring the mental and physical benefits of a yoga class into your daily life, and experience your yoga in a new and beautiful way.

Namaste yogis, enjoy your practice!