A birthing ball is quite a familiar sight in birthing centres or pictures off the internet that show smiling pregnant women stretching luxuriously while sitting comfortably. Cliché as the imagery may be, in reality birthing balls are that comfortable and their range of use goes beyond just sitting on them.
So, what can you do with a birthing ball?
Sit on it
One of the first and easiest things to do with a birthing ball is to simply sit on it. Beginning on approximately the 5th or 6th month of your wonderful pregnancy, when the bump becomes more prominent and it starts interfering with your usual range of movement, sitting on the ball can save you the pain and frustration of stiff or overstretched hips. Choosing a ball suitable for your body type ensures maximum benefit, as every time you sit your knees will drop naturally lower than your hips, keeping this way your spine long and straight, your hips neutral and your bump free.
Once you’re comfortably sat on the birthing ball, the first thing you might feel like doing is rotating your pelvis. This is an excellent exercise to mobilise your spine, gently massage the hips, gradually open the pelvis and very importantly connect with your pelvic floor. Really, the importance of connecting with your pelvic floor at all times but especially during pregnancy can’t be stressed enough. With all the pushing you will probably be doing, you will need some strong pelvic support in order to help your organs return back to their pre-pregnancy and pre-birth place. Going back and forth as well is also a great way to achieve most of the above with the added benefit of giving your legs and toes a stretch while working gently on maintaining your balance. Win-win!
After you’ve addressed the pelvis, why not stretch your arms in Garudasana (eagle pose) to open and release the upper back, or in Gomukhasana (cow face pose), to stretch the shoulders and open the chest wide? And you can still keep rocking that pelvis!
Lean on it against the wall!
This is for many the best, most ingenious use of the ball. Standing up, place the ball against the wall and then bring your back to it, holding the ball in place with your body. Here, depending on how you feel and what your aims are, you can simply drop your head back for a sense of release and relaxation, you can roll your back up and down for a little back massage or you can bring the ball a bit lower on your back and do your squats. There is no end to what you can do, you only need to find time to explore and see what feels good for your body!
Bounce, bounce baby!
For the big day, the ball is heaven sent. All the pressure that’s coming to your pelvis may feel a bit too much to take and with emotions running high, it may affect your experience in a less than desirable way. Using the ball to simply bounce on can counteract the force of the downward movement and give you a sense of balance and relief. And, don’t worry, it’s not pushing the baby back in, it only helps you to stay more positive, relaxed and able to go with the flow. Plus, it reminds you of that all-important pelvic floor that you will soon be using quite vigorously!
Hopefully, you have seen what a great and helpful tool a birthing ball can be. With a small investment (decent quality ones starting at just £8-10) you get massive benefits. So, don’t hesitate, get on your ball today and bounce, baby, bounce!
The first few months, before the bump started showing, were easy. I even enjoyed the sense of extra flexibility that came from the hormone relaxin flooding my body. I knew I had to take care with certain things, such as deep, closed abdominal twists and strong core work such as planks and navasana (boat pose) but not having told my students yet and leading high-energy classes, I couldn't just suddenly stop and instruct verbally. I did all my cobras and upward dogs, my yogic crunches and chaturangas, my twisting lunges and wide legged postures, hoping all the while that people would think that I was just a bit belly-heavy. All this before the first scan.
Because after that, everything changed. First and foremost, I told my students, who are my closest people after family and friends, about my pregnancy. That meant that I could openly and with a valid reason change my teaching style without anyone wondering why. My students were happy for me and their reaction was really touching when they asked me to not be gone for too long, as they would miss my classes! I felt so chuffed! I thought then that pregnancy certainly isn't an obstacle to my building up my yoga classes.
And indeed, January, just as I was moving from the 4th to the 5th month of my pregnancy, was busy, busier than expected in fact: new students, new enquiries, full classes - New Year’s resolutions ran high and strong at that time! “I will have to think about a cover”, I told myself. “I can’t let such successful classes fall apart!”
I started modifying more and more for me but kept the classes strong and appropriate for my students and their goals. I didn't do as much but still did quite a lot, not totally honouring my pregnant body. And then, February appeared and with it, expected and unexpected changes. Suddenly, numbers and enquiries equally dropped and from where I had become quickly used to teaching full classes, now I had to content myself with the thought that life does get in the way of even the most dedicated of yogis. I cherished and honoured the students who were in class, but for hours after, self-doubt and worry would creep in. Why such a change from one month to the next?
As I started growing bigger, I also started teaching without a lesson plan. Going instead with intuition and according to people’s needs, based on what they had brought in the class on the day. However, as I wasn't able to do what they could do, I didn't have a real feel for what their bodies wanted or needed or were able to do. So, for a couple of classes I ended up teaching them pregnancy yoga!
In the meantime, although I had introduced modifications for myself and adapted my teaching style to mostly verbal instructions and adjustments rather than “doing with the students”, teaching four classes a week and cruelly opening my hips in postures that were in the grey area of suitability, started taking its toll on my pelvis. New, unpleasant sensations that I never thought I would experience started showing up not gradually, but suddenly and most positively! My left hip felt painful deep within and soon after, my pelvis felt as it had been split in left and right side, not a balanced whole but a wonky, unstable half and half! Unpleasant and uncomfortable as it was, it was also the thing that liberated me.
Going into March with student numbers remaining smaller than anticipated and desired, I started embracing more and more the idea of taking a break not as a necessary evil but as necessary and good business practice. Whereas I had embarked upon teaching-while-pregnant with ideas of teaching until the baby popped out, now I wholeheartedly entertained the idea of stopping a bit sooner, giving myself and my students a bit of time off and using this time to enjoy and acknowledge the changes that the pregnancy brought. I sensed that my priorities had shifted and maybe my students had sensed that too. Additionally, with the curse of being plugged in 24/7 I couldn't ignore all the other teachers, new and old, that were popping up in my news-feed with their fancy new classes and projects, leaving me with a feeling of being left behind. After all, with a more sizeable bump at 6+ months, I couldn't run as fast as they!
So, here I am now, having made peace. Maybe not entirely, but for the biggest part. Just the other Sunday I made a list of things I can do to become a better yogi even as I take a break from teaching; reading the Bhagavad Gita was one of them and this is what I'm doing these days.
On chapter 2, verse 47-48, Krishna says to Arjuna: “Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work. Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or in failure. Yoga is evenness of mind – a peace that is ever the same.”
So, for these last few weeks, before my maternity leave, taking Krishna’s timeless advice, I don’t look any more at the numbers that come through the door, but I look at the people. I connect and I make sure that I keep nurturing them as I have always done through yoga. I am aware that my priority now is the little person growing inside me and I'm ok with that. And, so, I have found peace. Peace and equanimity in the knowledge that everything is as it should be.
Finally, after thinking about and wanting it for such a long time, in two days' time I am hosting my first ever workshop! I am not alone in this however. Trying to give all the breadth and width of the richness of yoga to my classes in Newcastle, I didn't want my first workshop to be yoga related only. So, for this one I am working together with a very talented friend who has great experience in holding space for people to express themselves, dance, discover and simply be!
So, what we are offering this Sunday is a truly unique collaboration between two very different but essentially complementary disciplines: Life coaching and Yoga come together to offer their tools to participants who wish to understand better and manage successfully thought patterns that don't serve them any more.
Yoga, through the use of mantra and asana will serve to mobilise, soften and energise the body, therefore giving access to the more subtle layers of the mind. At that point, the incisive and intelligent enquiries of life coaching will be introduced by Nicola, thus helping the participants tune into the messages they receive from their body, recognise and understand what holds them back and walk away with the tools that will help them towards a more centered way of being.
I am looking forward to this new and unique collaboration which will hopefully facilitate ease and progress in inquisitive people's lives.
Ever since I started Canny Yoga, I found myself many times required to write a few things in order to explain or advertise what I do and why it is different.
These short paragraphs more or less reflected the theme of "sharing the gift of Yoga with the world" which, true as it may be, it also happens to be what 99% of yoga teachers say about our choice.
So, what is my own unique reason?
Yoga is so old and so alive at the same time, that each person who has been graced by its magic touch, is forever changed and irreversibly changes it. Yoga is the biggest democrat as it takes any form or any shape its thousands practitioners want to give it.
And this is why I am a yoga teacher. Because the shape or form my yoga has taken can strike a chord with people out there. I can be a teacher because some people can be my students. And as they learn from me, so I learn from them. Because ultimately we all walk our own path of fulfilment and we need a system (or two) that will help us dis-cover what lies inside so as to face what is outside.
So, you have finally found the person of your dreams! You make each other laugh, you both love (or hate) the same healthy food, you take long walks by the beach or spend nights wrapped up watching art house cinema, they know your buttons and uses the knowledge for good. Your paradise on Earth! What can go wrong?
Well, for starters, everything! Over familiarity may set in and where nights wrapped up in the same blanket were a cozy cocoon, now seem an all too fuzzy prison that your exotic bird wants to fly away from. Do not despair though! Not all is lost and you too have ways to make sure that your love, who you spent a big part of your life looking for, will happily keep choosing you as their safe port to come back to again and again.
Here goes! 5 top tips to give an honest fight
First and foremost: Look at them
In many occasions, especially in long relationships, we reach a stage where we tend to think that we know everything there is to know about the person next to us. To a degree this is true as we grow with this person and we most likely see the changes as they happen. Or do we? Do we really see our partner with new eyes every day as an exciting and intriguing stranger trying to find out how they view the world today or is it just “good old Mike”? If the latter is your modus operandi at the moment, it is time for a radical review.
Second: Keep looking
Like a memory foam mattress, our communication with our partner soon comes to mold in the shape of our repeated chat and small talk we engage in on a daily basis. “How was your day?” may seem like an innocent enough question at first, but the 1000th time that without fail your partner knows it’s coming during dinner, it may offset a nuclear reaction! As much interest as it may exhibit, so much “I can’t be bothered” whiff it emanates. It feels as if someone has pressed the play button on an old cassette player. Maybe that’s not the type of communication for today, maybe your loved one just wants a kiss or a silent hug. Do you know or are you just eager to carry on with your playlist?
Third: Have your own life
There is nothing more satisfying to a strong, independent person with a purpose, than seeing their loved one being absorbed, lost even in their own creative project. Don’t expect the person by your side to fill all the holes in your life. They are a fellow walker on the path of life, not plaster! Have or find something you love and do it just for yourself, just for your own satisfaction and then bask under the admiring and loving gaze of your lover!
Fourth: Expect nothing in return
“The heart that gives, receives” advises Tao Te Ching from the depths of time. If only we could bathe in the timeless wisdom of Lao Tzu’s words. We do the good deeds because we want to and because they make us feel good. That already is a finished and balanced exchange. However, greedy old people we are, we want more. We expect gratitude, acknowledgement, both, either or something in between. And not getting it, leaves us with a profound sense of dissatisfaction. “Why?” we must ask ourselves. Why do we want more? Isn't the smile or the expression of pleasant surprise or the rest our love got from our selfless action enough of a “thank you”? Let’s behave like the richest people in the world, because we always have something: our body, our mind, our emotions.
Fifth: Be yourself
Who else can you be anyway? “Everyone else is taken” as the saying goes. Soon, the real you will start showing through the cracks of your mask anyway, so, to begin with, don’t even bother. Being yourself means exactly that. Be the unique “you” you are with whatever that means. That’s the person your loved one fell in love with and decided to stick next to. So, don’t forget about yourself and always give yourself the space and time to shine through.
As a general rule of thumb partners end up acting as mirrors for their partners. Last time you looked in your “mirror” did you like what you saw? Or was the image distorted? In the same way, in the beginning, your partner-to-be fell in love with everything on you that they identified with or was hoping to be themselves, in a similar way, but on the flip side, they now show to you everything about you that you are not happy with yourself. So, what can you do with this information? Use it as the beginning point to start becoming the best version of you. And ultimately this is not a favour to your partner but an obligation to yourself. Keep challenging yourself, keep learning, keep expanding your being, don’t take anything for granted. Life is so big and you owe it to yourself not to become small and hide in a comfortable cage.
And the outcome? Even if your love doesn't stay with you but decides to spread their wings and fly, you will at least know that you now have brand new, strong wings of your own. Because, with such a blue blue sky, every bird deserves to fly!