For thirty-three-and-a-half years, I spent the majority of my waking hours moving. My friends and family referred to me as a fitness fanatic. For me, it felt normal to teach a yoga or high-intensity fitness class in the morning, bike to my day job (I work as a government ethics attorney), and then bike home before catching a friend for a run or heated vinyasa practice. I had a ton of energy to burn, and the activities I engaged in not only burned off that energy, but quieted my mind.
I had always assumed that I would be one of those fit pregnant yogis. Sure, I knew that I would have to cut down on the intensity of my workouts, modify my yoga practice, and adjust my usual gluten- and dairy-free diet; however, I'd witnessed plenty of noticeably pregnant women rocking through my heated vinyasa and fitness classes, and then embarking upon six-mile runs the next day. Plus, my primary care physician affirmed what I had already suspected: Most healthy pregnant women can maintain the fitness routines they had before becoming pregnant (with some slight modifications, of course). I was a happy, healthy yogi, so it never occurred to me that my experience would be any different than that of the women in my classes.
I didn't know how to be tranquil and stationary at the same time—until I found myself in a state where I was forced to do less.
But when the miracle that I had been hoping for finally happened, with it came many surprises: an endless desire for bagels with cream cheese, ten more pounds than most doctors recommend gaining in the first trimester of pregnancy, and unexpected and unforgiving physical stillness. As a yoga instructor, I have spent countless hours trying to teach people to find stillness in their minds, but the idea of finding stillness in my body was completely foreign to me. I will admit that restorative yoga never really felt like my jam, but somehow I'd never noticed that I didn't know how to be tranquil and stationary at the same time—until I found myself in a state where I was forced to do less.
At five weeks pregnant, I was exhausted. I didn't feel like exercising at all, but I still felt like I was having an identity crisis when my primary care doctor recommended I give up heated yoga during my pregnancy. My ob-gyn concurred.
Initially I fought them on this, but I soon discovered that I couldn't even practice in the heat, let alone teach in it, without feeling like I might pass out. "It's only temporary," I told myself, and "How selfish can I possibly be? It's for my baby!"
I convinced myself that a hot-yoga hiatus was not a big deal. I couldn't work out like I was used to, but at least I could continue to eat healthy. I know that there are some things pregnant women are advised to give up, but minus my morning unpasteurized, cold-pressed green juice, I figured that I would be fine. After all, there is nothing wrong with a pregnant woman eating an unprocessed diet of green smoothies, quinoa, brown rice, fruits, veggies, nuts, and the occasional piece of cooked fish, right? Apparently, my stomach thought "wrong." By the end of week six, I was downing gluten-free pasta and bagels, pasteurized cheeses, chocolate, and ginger candy like it was my job because they were the only things that kept me from feeling like I might barf all over my government-issued laptop.
So there I was, a yoga teacher—a lover of handstands, superfoods, and creative, heated vinyasa flows—who couldn't teach her own yoga classes, practice the style of asana that she loved, or stick to a diet of healthy whole foods. I felt like I had lost my identity, and worse, I began to hate and complain about the people who were able to do the things that I couldn't do. Believe it or not, it was actually a random line from the HBO sitcom "Silicon Valley" that snapped me out of my misery: "In the hands of the enlightened, hate can be a tool for great change.”
And then the feelings of jealousy started to dissipate. I felt myself shift into the present moment, and I began to practice yoga like I never had before.
Aha! I'm not saying that I'm enlightened, nor am I claiming that the way I was acting was a path toward enlightenment; however, when I heard that line, something clicked. The awareness behind my feelings of hatred and resentment—not the ridiculous, reactive, and emotional outbursts themselves—could be a great tool for change. Of course, I did not really hate all of the women who were living healthy lifestyles; I felt jealous of them. I took some time to quiet my mind of all the drama and to think about why I felt so envious. And then the feelings of jealousy started to dissipate. I felt myself shift into the present moment, and I began to practice yoga like I never had before.
My physical strength and unrestrained energy had been crutches. With them, I saw no need to dig very deep spiritually or emotionally in order to find stillness in my mind. Without them, I became aware of the work that I needed to do to get rid of the drama in my mind. I became present to my needs and, more importantly, to the moment-to-moment needs of the life growing inside of me. And in a way, this experience is teaching me more than asana ever has about what it truly means to be a yogi.