Yoga & the four trimesters

Hello dear readers!

I’m happy to be here, surrounded by silence and about to embark on the process of turning thoughts into sentences. My dear mother is out with the babies at the playground. I’ve just finished up a short practice and I’m seizing the moment to write about how the yoga practice went throughout my second pregnancy and into Motherhood 2.0.

First Trimester: I stopped with the Ashtanga sequence and practiced along with some prenatal sequences designed specifically for the first trimester. Mostly, I needed more time to rest as I found the symptoms this time around pretty heavy handed. My body and mind felt the stress of not having the asana and prananyama practice to support me through this early time,  I tried to keep myself breathing and making this a more introspective practice, asking myself how I could turn things around without these strong pillars of support.

Second Trimester: As soon as I entered my 13th week of pregnancy, I signed up for prenatal classes at Purna Yoga in downtown Helsinki, which I really enjoyed. Classes began with breathing and visualisation. We focused on our heart chakra and did some protective cocoon building, drawing the light and energy from our heart chakra up to our heads and then spreading our arms out and to the side and down to the earth, encasing ourselves in this golden ball of nurturing, protective energy. It was a wonderful way to connect with your body and the growing baby within.

We then began moving and did lots of work to find stability in the centre of the pelvis, rather than being tilted forward, as tends to happen with the changing structure of a pregnant body. We emphasised lengthening the spine and creating space in the side body, which felt wonderful. I’ve been feeling breathless lately (hence not so much feeling to do pranayama) and so opening up the upper back, chest and shoulders really felt beneficial to getting some more breath and oxygen flowing.

We used lots of props, like bolsters, chairs, the wall and straps hooked into it, so there is not much chance to generate an ongoing flow. This can feel a bit jolting for an Ashtangi, used to getting on the mat and moving oneself through a meditative state. This feels more like you build your poses and then hang out, dismantle the poses and then move onto the next thing. But once you are settled into the props and the pose, they feel wonderful and you can really hang out in a pose for a good while.

I felt at my pregnant best during my fifth and sixth months. We were in warm, sunny places and I felt full of energy, strength and flexibility. I didn’t dare practice more than some modified primary series during my first pregnancy; however, with this one, I was able to practice, with modifications of course, a good chunk into my intermediate series practice as well. We even managed to film some Ashtanga-based pregnancy sequences this year at Purple Valley.

Photos courtesy of Alex Hedges

Teaching wise, I worked throughout the Thailand and Goa retreats, and it was only during the last week and a half or so of the Goa retreat in February where I needed to be more judicious about what sort of adjustments I could manage. Luckily, we had a stellar team in Goa so I could sneak to the back for a bit of a sleep when it got too heavy.

Third Trimester: As I moved into the third trimester, I began to slow down a lot with the asana practice and begin to mentally prepare for labor. For one thing, we were back in Finland in March, so the body naturally stiffened up as a result of this change in environment. Physically, it became all about managing the discomfort of late-stage pregnancy. I went back to my weekly prenatal class and practiced ‘breathing the baby out.’ I had a great burst of energy for nesting, as I got all of Sesam’s baby clothes out from storage and ready for his brother. Mostly, I took walks with Sesam around our neighborhood, savoring the last moments with him as the only child. In the final month, I did a powerful new moon to new moon liturgy every evening in preparation for a safe home birth. Those were special moments, with Sesam hanging out with me, watching and waiting for me to finish chanting.

Fourth Trimester: Now that little baby Sumu has passed the third month, the fourth trimester is officially over. Much has changed since the first doddering days postnatal. I’ve been on the road to recovery, first by incorporating some gentle post labor exercises I learned in postnatal yoga. I began doing them days after the birth, as they are very gentle and can be done while lying in bed, to begin to close the body slowly, slowly. During Petri and Juha’s summer yoga retreat in Kustavi, I managed within the span of two and a half weeks to build my practice back up to Navasana, followed by a short back therapy sequence and a shorter finishing sequence. I haven’t managed to sustain this mind, but it felt nice to live and breath with the Ashtanga sequence during those weeks. Daily practice also helped alleviate some tough shoulder and lower back pain I was experiencing prior to the retreat. Stress, stress, stress. Exhaustion and lack of sleep…that does a number on your back.

Now that I’m back home, I’m managing to do some yogasana for about 15-30 mins on most days. I mix it up for the moment, incorporating back therapy and strengthening poses. A short daily meditation, first thing in the morning (oftentimes while lying in bed breastfeeding), is a must and I’ve started doing a short pranayama sequence as well since these are effective and efficient ways to calm my nervous system, setting my mind up well for the day ahead.

And of course, appreciation and gratitude.  Thank you, thank you, thank you ❤

 So much gratitude for my people.

 

 

 

 

 

One bad-ass mami

Hi friends,

Another late and short post on this Monday evening. Lots of workshop wrap-up yesterday and travel back to the base today, but I’m still determined to get this one out as a response to last week’s post.

Thank you so much for everyone who posted comments on the blog and on Facebook in response to my mother’s post. It seems like it resonated with a lot of people, which is way cool.

My mother is one bad-ass woman. Seriously, she’s such an inspiration, the way she’s delved into this yogic lifestyle, started not in the first flush of youth. And yet, she approaches her asana practice with such consistency and diligence, not for the glory of advancing into more glamorous, eye-catching postures, but for the value of keeping the body healthy and in well-functioning order. I think her mental drive is one her main strengths. She doesn’t make excuses for herself, she never has and most likely won’t start now. She doesn’t use her age against herself as a reason not to give things a go. I mean, she’s not taking mad crazy risks either and injuring herself, but that spark of curiosity that has been blazing throughout her life is very much present.

I think that’s what it is. That spark.

Makes you want to be around her.

May we all practice with enthusiasm and sparkle, no matter the series or posture (or age!).

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Reflections of an ageing Ashtangi

The following post was written by my mother, Celia Nyamweru. Enjoy!

Ashtanga yoga is a family affair for me – I started practicing after my daughter, Wambui, began to share her life with the highly respected Ashtanga yoga teacher Petri Räisänen. In January 2011 they invited my husband and me to join them at Petri’s retreat on Koh Mak island in southern Thailand. I celebrated my sixty-ninth birthday the following July, when I was at my second retreat, the one run by Petri and his long-time friend and business partner, Juha Javanainen, in Houtskar, south-west Finland. Since then I have attended these retreats every year, usually for two or three weeks.  2016 was the seventh year of my retreats – and incidentally of my seventy-fourth birthday. As I’ve got older and stiffer, I have seen Wambui gain in skill and confidence, both as a practitioner of yoga and as a teacher. She and Petri are now the parents of a 2.5 year old son, Sesam – but I will come back to that later!

The way I have come to understand Ashtanga yoga, your chosen teacher is a very important person in one’s practice, the person to whom one turns for advice and by whom one is given permission to attempt new asanas. I consider Petri to be my instructor, but I only actually practice with him twice a year, during the Koh Mak and Houtskar retreats. During these retreats he makes time available for personal consultations, as well as running group sessions where he addresses people’s questions and demonstrates particular asanas. As his mother-in-law, I feel that I should keep a low profile in these sessions. I try to be very scrupulous about not bothering him with yoga-related questions when we are together at meal times or sharing family time during the retreats. I am a retired university professor and I know how exhausting it can be to run workshops and field trips when one is constantly bombarded with student questions! I am lucky to be able to turn to Wambui for questions about my practice as well – including reminding me of the Sanskrit names of some of the asanas!

During the months between the retreats, I practice at home. I try to practice five or even six times a week, most weeks, and I think this frequent practice is essential as one ages. We are all of us getting older – but obviously there is a difference between ageing from twenty-nine to thirty-four, and ageing from sixty-nine to seventy-four! As I practice, I am constantly aware of my body and how it is changing. I think I have a naturally flexible body, but my upper body strength leaves a lot to be desired. It took me about three to four years to get my legs into full lotus, and I am still working on it! But I find that much easier than Bhujapidasana and Kukkutasana, which remain distant goals.

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Balance is said to be a challenge as one gets older, and I look with envy at other people’s perfect Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, though in fact it is the transitions within this asana that I find most difficult; once my leg is out in front or to the side, I can usually remain fairly steady. And in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, I find I can usually bind if I do so once my head is down, though I cannot bend forward with my hand already binding! In the transition from Kurmasana to Suptakurmasana, I find it almost impossible to bring my feet together, however hard I wriggle them. It is much easier for me to get out of Kurmasana and then go into Suptakurmasana as a new asana. I mention these details to show how I am constantly making concessions and taking small short cuts, which I assume will increase as the years pass. Petri and Wambui are very tolerant and understanding about this!

At the same time there has been progress; there are some asanas that I consider as the benchmarks or hurdles that I use to monitor my efforts. Marichyasana D is one of them (I’m sure I am not the only person who feels this!) I cheat a bit with this one, since I am much stiffer on the first side when one is twisting to the right. My first right hand twist I do with my left foot on the floor; twisting left I can put my right foot on my thigh, first time round. Then I turn back to the right hand twist again and this time put my left foot on my thigh – and I can usually bind, however inelegantly! Another benchmark is Sirsana, which I have been working on very incrementally for the whole seven years. I still need the reassurance of the wall in front of me as I go into the pose, and I still need to go up with bent legs rather than straight legs. But most of the time I do not need to actually feel my feet on the wall before I straighten my legs fully, and I am slowly trying to bring my straight legs slowly down to the floor as I come out of the pose.

Last July Petri suddenly gave me a few second series asanas, which came as a surprise and an added challenge. I had no time to read up on them or to watch anyone else doing them – I was on the mat and following his directions before I realized what was happening! Luckily I was able to consult with Wambui later and also refer to his Nadi Sodhana book for a sense of what I should be aiming at. I don’t think my Achilles tendons will ever allow me to proceed very far with Pasasana, but I am excited to be making tiny improvements in my balance in Bakasana. I take the precaution to put two cushions in front of me in case I plop forward onto my nose, as has happened several times.

Being retired means that I don’t have to rush anywhere after my practice – but during the retreats I find that family life makes some demands on my practice, especially in Houtskar. Juggling a busy professional schedule with care for their son Sesam is a huge challenge for Petri and Wambui, and over the last three years I have been able to make a modest contribution to this. At Houtskar Petri usually goes for his own practice soon after 4 a.m., and I would start my practice as early as possible (before the first group session that begins at 5 a.m.) so that I can be finished before 7 a.m. This allows me time for a quick shower before I take over watching Sesam from Wambui so that she can teach her class; we still have to make sure that each of us has time for breakfast! Later in the day things are slightly less hectic, but I have spent many hours walking with Sesam; first with him in a baby carrier, later in a stroller and most recently keeping him company while he plays in a sand pit.

As I get older, I worry more about injury. So far I have avoided serious injuries, though at times I notice bruises on my upper thighs, probably due to the pressure from Marichyasana B and D! I am extremely cautious with my legs, in particular my knees, moving very slowly in and out of the standing asanas. And when doing some of the seated asanas like Janu Sirsana, I give my knees a kiss now and then to thank them for being there for me! Yoga has made me extremely aware of my body and how it continues to change. I think that the main challenge over the last seven years is that I now find it harder to practice in the early morning as I wake up stiff and sore after the night’s sleep. I broke my left arm in 1999 and my right pelvis in 2009, and the residual stiffness from those injuries is increasingly making itself felt. By mid-afternoon I am warmer and more flexible, though I still find I practice extremely slowly. One of the challenges of doing Mysore practice in a group is the sight of younger people going through their practice so fast – I know one is supposed to keep one’s dhristi in all the appropriate points, but one can’t help noticing some things!

Being part of a group during the twice-yearly retreats means that other people also notice me! Over the years I have built up a group of ‘yoga friends’ from several European countries whom I meet at retreats, and many of them have given me tremendous encouragement about how my practice has developed. They notice improvements that I may not be aware of, since I feel I am always practicing at the limit of my ability. And last summer I also learned something unexpected from one of them; it seems that Petri has been using me as a source of inspiration for older people with remarks like this: “Celia started doing yoga aged 68 and look where she is now; no reason why you can’t do this at the age of 55.” I was a little surprised to find myself used as a role model in this way, but I have to think of it as a compliment! I am sure yoga will continue to be an important part of my own life, of my family life, and a help to me as I negotiate the challenges of living in an ageing body.

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Bye Bye Canton & I Heart Creative Africa

Hello dear readers…that’s if I still have any seeing as my last entry was about two months ago. Oh my, oh my, while I haven’t been actively posting since October, I assure you that my mind has been abuzz with ideas and thoughts for the blog in 2015. Namely, how to stick to, a consistent, manageable editorial calender. Today’s entry serves two purposes: a recap in the world of yogini motherhood from October until now and my reaction to Lupita Nyongo’s speech she gave as the keynote speaker at the Massachusetts Conference for Women 2014.

First up: We’ve counted that baby Sesam, during his nine months of life, has been to eight countries so far. Here he is with daddy overlooking a canal in Amsterdam

IMG_3242And here he is making his maiden transatlantic voyage to America last month

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Sesam and I spent the month of November in my childhood home, Canton, NY, where I helped my mother clear out the family home. After 23 years of working and living in Canton,the bucolic backdrop to our own Coming to America immigrant chapter, my parents will be selling the family house and moving out west to Spokane, Washington, where the climate is much more friendly and accommodating for my father. It was rather an emotional month, physically packing up the place which has been HOME for such a long time. At any rate, it was a special chance for Sesam to bond with his grandparents and for family friends to meet him. Sesam began teething (four: two up, two down), which leaves him without much appetite and in an uncharacteristically cranky mood. I’m trying one of those amber teething necklaces and while it’s hard to tell if they help,  it doesn’t seem like they are much harm. He has started pulling himself up to standing. Then he gets scared that he is actually standing and cannot get himself back down. Looks like this one bites off more than he can chew! He is also getting more and more independent, able to play alone for longer stretches of time, especially with all the things he shouldn’t be getting into!

For me, I got the chance to walk down memory lane while saying goodbye to Canton and St. Lawrence University, as I have known them. I didn’t actually graduate from SLU, but I was a campus brat there from the age of 10 until I graduated from high school, taking ballet classes and theatre courses there. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t just go there, this scenic, country club institution of higher education. I suppose after my middle and high school years in a tiny, rural town in Northern NY, I was ready for something bigger and more cosmopolitan.

 Here are some photo highlights from November

Sesam and I outside 9 Goodrich, the family home since 1994

IMG_3561        Sesam as my yoga partner for the November Instagram yoga challenge I participated in to raise awareness for the Africa Yoga Project

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The silent rural winter landscape meets with a peaceful, friendly wish at Northern Light Yoga

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And a no BS attitude to yoga and life, as seen at the Canton Yoga Loft (I taught the Saturday morning community class there, on my birthday no less!)

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Where I spent a good deal of time during the formative years

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My second Wool and the Gang workshop was well-attended at the new LYS which opened up on Main Street while I was in town

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Sesam with Cucu on the drive down to Saratoga Springs to meet with Njogu, Sara and cousins Nia and Lila

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Sesam with Buck, his babysitter during the month, and his wife, Whitni. Sesam is teary-eyed and cranky in the shot but Buck was a star with him!

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We attended a tobacco burning ceremony, held once a month, at the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne. The Mohawk Nation is a territory that straddles the intersection of international borders (Canada and America) and provincial boundaries on both banks of the St. Lawrence River. My mother has taught at Akwesasne for the past 15 years or so. The Freedom School (pictured below) uses Mohawk as the language of instruction.

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I attended a workshop at St. Lawrence University on how to paint Enso, Zen Circles of Englihtment. The lecture and workshop were presented by artist and peace worker, Kazuaki Tanahashi

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 Finland was not so far away after all. Here is St. Lawrence University’s Finnish alumnus to date, Jukka Tammisuo, class of 1987, and star athlete of the same year

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Back in Finland, we’ve been contending with some crazy jetlag at this dark, kaamos-filled time of year, so watching Lupita Nyong’o’s speech came as a welcome bit of inspiration, helping shake me out of the funk. In it, she really captures the zeitgeist of creative types who grew up in Kenya during the 80s and did not see a career in the arts as anything viable or supported by the culture at large. I’ll never forget when I went back to Kenya for a visit during my college years and a family friend, a very successful doctor, asked me what I was studying. “Theatre Studies,” I replied. “Meaning?” he countered in a tone that implied: Does. Not. Compute (this course of study tinged with irrelevance and frippery). Lupita tackles this head-on in an utterly relatable way and I find it tremendously encouraging that her platform will embolden a new generation of creative and artistic Kenyans and Africans to pursue courses of study and contemplate livelihoods (provided you got game in the field) that previously weren’t considered ‘serious’ enough. Towards the end of the speech, she offered her seven tools for fearlessly following your dreams. Not only did she have to overcome her fear in the form of self-doubt, self-hate and imposter syndrome (especially during the making of 12 Years a Slave), but she also talked openly about contending with the fear of success, which must have been absolutely bananas for her, given all the success she has received career-wise this past year. It must be a crazy amount of pressure: the projections she is facing as the Hollywood supernova, not only for her accolades as an actor, but as the face of Beauty. Redefined in her role as Lancome’s new Ambassadress. I think it’s totally awesome to have her so front and center, wearing her natural short Afro style and living in her beautiful, dark skin. Although I do have to point out that this definition of beauty is hardly new. Still, it’s great to have her representing it, out there in the white, western world. Now, if only they would just stop lightening her skin tone when putting her on magazine covers. I find it completely ludicrous and hypocritical, but this is a huge, loaded topic which I will save for another day. A fun bit of trivia: Lupita and I went to the same primary school in Nairobi (Loreto Convent Msongari). She started about two or three years after me.

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An equally phenomenal voice coming out of creative Africa is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I heard her TED talk on why we should all be feminists in February and find it most eloquent, relevant and beneficial. And while I am curious to watch Lupita’s performance in Star Wars, I cannot wait for the film version of Adichie’s book Americanah which will feature Lupita as the main character. Talk about a one-two KO punch of intelligence, talent and creativity!

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