Rites of passage

I remember my yoga teacher trainer, Bill Wood, explaining how yoga had survived so well and been adapted by diverse populations because of its ability to change and shape-shift according to the needs of a specific group of people, at a specific point in time. 

‘Yoga might more be seen as a collections of practices and ideas that have evolved, and continue to evolve, out of people’s experience of practice within their own cultural setting. Central to the science of Yoga is personal experience so, for practice to have any true meaning for each generation, the individual has to rediscover it within themselves in the context of their own time.’

Spanning two immersive years from 2005 to 2007, the focus of our teacher training was exactly as Wood describes above: our personal experience of the practices shared with us by our teacher and visiting teachers. At the time, I was in my early 30s, a young mum and had pivoted my career from a health and fitness journalist to a pregnancy yoga teacher and childbirth educator – I was feeling (and still am) incredibly inspired and excited by my own experiences and those of the women I worked with.

Aged 29, I gave birth to my first son and was compelled by everything pregnancy and birth. I had also recently discovered the Scaravelli yoga approach, which was inspired by Vanda Scaravelli, an Italian woman who studied the natural world and applied what she observed to her practice and teaching. This way of practicing felt very intuitive to me, and was just right for a time in my life when I was discovering what it was like to really go with and have faith in my intuition.

Through research, study, teaching and observation of my own experience and that of others, I understood that there was a power in birth that I could never have accessed without meeting it fully, leaning into its intensity – and that yoga had given me the skills and internal resources I needed to be open to its learning. 

By embracing the challenges of birth, and choosing courage over fear, I realised the potential for this aspect of the woman’s life cycle to be a positive, transformative process, a hugely significant rite of passage. Having worked with the menstrual cycle with a similar desire to understand its rhythm more consciously and, now entering the peri-menopausal years, I believe this to be true, not just for birth, but for all stages of the woman’s life cycles from menarche to menopause.

Just as yoga has evolved through the ages and across various cultural settings, so to can our practice of yoga. As women, whether or not we choose to identify with our biology, we are moved by the life of our bodies. Our hormones shift and change and enable us to constantly evolve and adapt to each new phase. 

By listening to – or becoming more attuned to – our bodies, and trusting their wisdom, we have the potential to undergo great and small shifts and changes in our minds. Women have yoga as a process of transformation built into their physiology. Meanwhile, the tools, techniques and practices yoga, which we learn from teachers and experiment with ourselves, can be a profound way in which to deepen our relationship with this process.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring these ideas on this blog as well as through my new Women’s Wisdom Series – three, 3hr workshops at Trika Yoga exploring how yoga can be an anchor through the life cycles, starting with peri-menopause.

For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from pioneer of pregnancy yoga, Jeannine Parvatti Baker (Prenatal Yoga and Natural Childbirth, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, 1974):

‘Meeting what comes fully is one of the goals of yoga (santosha, contentment) – and it is the best advice in childbirth as well. With breath as ally we can receive a vision that will spiritually feed us our entire lives, right at the moment of birth (and conception). Go into the intensity, up to the very edge of eternity. Open to the stretch of body/mind, knowing each moment for what it is. Be thankful for life however it presents itself. Receive the blessings of birth gently and in love.’