Ashtanga During Pregnancy – Surrendering to Grace

[Here is an article submitted by Mariela Cruz, authorized Ashtnaga Yoga teacher in Costa Rica. You can read more about Ashtanga and Pregnancy with Wendy's article here and the follow up article here - Ed.]

As I start to write, I can feel, and start to count, the contractions that are now coming every ten minutes. We are almost there, my baby and I, ready to meet and finally embrace! During the past nine and a half months, he has become my teacher, my guru and my salvation.

I am 38 weeks and almost there. This article is an attempt to capture the magnificent experience”yoga-wise” that this baby has meant for me and my practice.

The level of letting go that I have experienced, I never, ever anticipated. Just when I was enjoying a peak in my practice, very strong and committed, this baby chose me. Third Series was blowing my mind and my body seemed to answer to all the extreme demands this beautiful practice asks.

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Mariela Cruz adjusting 9 months pregnant in Costa Rica

I was gifted with a very bendy body that started practicing yoga at a rare young age. My mother was one of those “weird” beings (in a good sense, I realize now) who was always searching. Back then, to practice yoga in Costa Rica, a traditional catholic country, was considered a mortal sin. Anyways, she found a way to take me with her to class when I was about 10 years old. My only memory is watching these beautiful tall, white bright
beings moving in the shala’ s corridors -angels I guess- and since then, I could feel the blessings of yoga.

Life kept moving; I had my four children and I became a lawyer. Although very successful as a lawyer, I found to be absolutely miserable in a career that was not for me.

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Mariela 6 months pregnant in scorpion: don’t try this at home!

My first visit to Mysore was 7 years ago. Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore is hard to describe: I can only say that the energy around Guruji and Sharath made me return six more times and always crave for India while I was home. Practicing on my own (since I had no teachers in San Jose where I live) was a small price to pay, compared to the promise of returning every year to see my beloved Guru.

Life started changing very fast. We built the studio and people started coming. Life shifted and I happily gave up my law practice and started teaching full time.

When the news came last June that I was pregnant again, there was a mixture of profound joy and overwhelming worry… “and what about my practice?”

One thing is to theorize about how beautiful having a baby is, especially if you are in love and with the right partner by your side. But then there is the reality of what your body will go through! The first three months were pure hell! Besides that, I decided to go back to India and finish the process of getting authorized by Guruji and Sharath: it was not a very good idea! But my desire to be close to my teachers and finish this first stage was too strong to let go.

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I arrived in Mysore last August on my own, being 12 weeks pregnant and after 26 hours of non-stop flights and delays. Pregnancy is such a delicate time. You are as open and vulnerable as ever and flying across the world from Costa Rica through Germany to finally arrive to Bangalore and then Mysore was the biggest challenge I have faced. Constant nausea, vomiting and loneliness made this the hardest trip. Arriving by myself, longing for my husband and children was also very hard.

A dear friend rented me his place, a very cozy little apartment with all the facilities. Mr. and Mrs. Chinnappa, the landlords, were always so kind and respectful. So I felt cared for in the middle of everything. I would stay awake all night, still very jet-lagged, thinking of my loved ones and crying and directly go to the shala at 6 am for practice.

I was assigned to practice with Saraswati. A part inside of me craved for the 5 am practice with Sharath as always, for my teacher friends and the whole gang.

Practicing with all the beginners requested a big dose of humility. But Saraswati’ s gentle approach and daily concern made everything easier for me, even though during practice I had to leave and go vomit every ten minutes. My body was refusing to adapt to so many changes at the same time: baby, food, time zone and broken heart.

Being used to having my body do whatever I asked of it, this felt very confusing. I felt as if I was possessed and couldn’t get it to obey my mind. This started upsetting me deeply, to a point where I started regretting what was actually happening and many doubts started clouding my mind.

Yoga teaches us the art of acceptance. It’s easy to accept things when they happen “your way”; but how about when they completely go upside down?

From a three-hour daily practice, I had to cut short to half Primary Series with a lot of modifications. It was very interesting how Saraswati immediately removed all the twists (Marichyasana C and D). My practice used to give me lots of energy for all the challenges of motherhood and full time yoga teacher, but now I was feeling depleted and above all, profoundly depressed.

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My husband made it to India for his first time, probably intuiting I needed support. The trip ended with my authorization being granted and us returning to Costa Rica. Though things were not easier once we got home.

Normally the nausea and vomiting stop after the third month and Guruji and Saraswati advised against practice during the first three months. However, this was not the case with me. I came back and things got worse. I could barely stand up from my bed. Everything was foggy and couldn’t get the grip of the practice again. Teaching was very hard, but I kept going.

My body felt terrible and I wasn’t able to apply the only medicine I know for body and heart aches: practice. What to do?

I realize this pregnancy has taught me what my regular practice would have never taught me. Suddenly, everything I loved the most was taken away from me. When I say “I loved and love my practice above everything else”, it is because I appreciate so much the perspective it has brought to my human experience.

Giving up such love is no easy task. I had to start from scratch, doing one Surya Namaskar and then collapsing into Child pose for 20 minutes while the room kept turning and turning.

mariela-adjusting.jpg

I realize my profound love for practice was definitely a very heavy attachment. My body was used to the chemicals produced by it and I had to go through heavy “detox” with all its consequences: mood swings, sadness, intolerance almost to the verge of depression.

Then slowly, things started shifting. My only option was to surrender. And from that surrender to this tiny teacher inside of me came a second wind. My practice completely changed, even more as I started growing bigger. But as I faced my mat everyday, scared to find I was not able to perform anymore, I started getting real. I found new joy and gratitude in the blessing of knowing there was a life growing inside of me and that somehow he was helping me understand new things. My only sadhana was to become a clean channel for this soul and stop interfering and asking something for myself. Instead, to just be there for whatever he needed from me, beyond my likes and dislikes.

Yoga gives us so much power and there are many ways to use that power. We can use it for our own benefit or we can use it to give and help each other. Even though I always thought that my job as a yoga teacher and my mission as a mother was fulfilling all this, I know there was a part inside that still wanted something for myself.

As Krishna tells Arjuna: surrender the fruits of your actions. This is what I have learned during this last 38 weeks. I can now happily say that I will go back to my practice, after Gael is born, from a different space inside. A space that simply wants to serve and give in a sincere way and use practice as an instrument to prepare body and mind for that.

I feel very blessed by the presence of this little-huge being in my life. He was already in India with me and I plan to take him back next year to Mysore. Gael will always be a constant reminder that yoga is not about achieving anything, but about being grateful for what life offers us. As we all, in our family, embark in this new adventure with baby, I thank all of my children for teaching me how to let go of selfishness.

UPDATE 17th FEB 2008: Gael was born on Friday February 15th at 1:26 pm – baby and mom are doing well.

17 thoughts on “Ashtanga During Pregnancy – Surrendering to Grace

  1. Marco Amador Jimenez

    Is amazing how Yoga can really take the best part of you. Yoga is not only the asana, it’s how you live in this world. Mariela is an inspiring teacher for many people, not only in Costa Rica, but in the world. She is an example of determination, courage and loveliness. Our love and gratitude for Mariela (our teacher) reaches the higest!

  2. Adriana Gonzalez Cruz

    the strength my mother posesses is an inspiration to all.
    As she gives thanks to us for teaching her how to let go of selfishness,i
    thank her for teaching me how to continously evolve as a person….

    …Baby Gael is a beautiful ray of light whom now shines brightly in our home.

  3. Hazel

    When I learned that Gael was born this last Friday I felt very happy for Mariela and her loved ones. She is truly an inspiring teacher, and during this time we have all witnessed how devoted she is to both the practice and her 5 children, Gael included.

    Mariela mentioned in her article that sometimes I was hard to teach…. boy! I never noticed it…. even though I kept watching Mariela’s big, ever growing abdomen. In hindsight, I believe the smile on her face during practice worked its magic…..another lesson learned. I guess this baby has taught not only Mariela but also her forever grateful students!

    Hazel

  4. Lula

    First of all, welcome to the smallest member of our kula, Gael!!!
    I’ve been very close to Mariela for many years and have always admired her level of commitment with the practice, but with Gael’s pregnancy she thought us no only the commitment but the love for us (her students) being there even when she wasn’t feeling good, always willing to transmit her knowledge. I feel grateful for having her as a teacher.

    Lula

  5. carolina sevilla

    Mariela has been a bench mark in my life, not only as a yoga teacher but in the small details, my every day’s “big decisions”.
    I would like to have her and her family (*including Hugo) close, but my conditions don’t let me for the moment. It doesn’t matter, she is with me wherever I go, as my beloved teacher. Mariela, you will ALWAYS be in my heart and in my practice.
    in the dharma
    carolina

  6. larry g hobbs

    That was a wonderful well descript article.I was recently in Mysore and there was a young woman there who was about 28 weeks into her term and it was wonderful to see her practice every morning and just taking her time and doing what her body needed and Sharath and Saraswati were very kind and giving.Its amazing how once you leave Mysore you want to jump and the next plane back.It was my first trip and my wife Dale’s third.

  7. antonia

    dear mariela,

    i only just now bumped into your article. thank you for sharing! i was touched by your thoughts & candidness.

    antonia

  8. Heather Liebe

    I just read you posting. It brings tears to my eyes as yours is so close to mine. I recently had a boy, Jan 23rd, 08. He was due feb 20th. My water broke at 28 weeks and my practice and all movement was taken away in one day. I am a practitioner of six years and had just began third series. I have a small studio in New Mexico were my best friend/yoga partner and I hold morning mysore. We are without a teacher were we live. We both have children and often sacrifice sleep to practice at 5am. We travel to workshops and trainings when we can to deepen our practice. We have each other and our students that help us continue our practice.
    Now that I am rebuilding my practice I am grateful of the perspective that starting over has given me. I know now the great struggle that people have with their bodies. I feel as a teacher that I am closer to my students and more able to help them then I ever was.
    I loved reading your posting, It is nice to know that others have similar struggles.
    I hope you and your family are doing well. Perhaps I will get to practice under you one day.

    I honor the light with in.

  9. kampe

    Mariella, Thank you for the great exposee. I have seen others forsake their health and family to be drawn to only “the practice.” Glad that you were able to leave the cultic and narcissistic side-effects of yoga exercises to return to a normal life! Best Wishes!

  10. April

    Your writing has brought me such relief and moved me to tears! I just found out I’m pregnant and I’m feeling really depressed about what I have perceived to be a suffering practice. But I realise you are right. It’s the first thing I’ve read that has brought me any comfort. Thank you so much for writing and sharing.

  11. baguette

    I understand the experience but I have found Mariela was just irresponsible by wanting to do yoga at all cost even pregnant. I am wondering how she did not understand with her 4 first children what pregnancy and motherhood is about. I hope the baby is fine and wont suffer later in his life because of the experiences he had to have in the uterus of his mother. But if he does, at least he can consult this post and show it to his therapist

  12. Mariela

    I would like to let you know that Baby Gael is doing great…the delivery was in water and he was born healthy and strong. He is one year and two months now, a happy baby!

    i don’t recommend doing intense asana during pregnancy unless you already have a steady practice before becoming pregnant. Also, i didn’t practice during the first trimester. It’s better to wait. I know my body pretty well, but i do recommend a teacher to guide asana practice while pregnant.

    Thanks for your concern about the baby, but as a mother of 5, i would never risk them for anything…i know yoga helps me everyday, but yoga is also about discernment and common sense. My pregnancy had no incidents, so that’s why i could keep going.

    Namaste
    Mariela

  13. P

    Hi

    I found your post very interesting and moving. I am currently trying to conceive and I do moderate iyengar or ashtanga yoga at home.

    Tadasana, Trikonasana, Warrier I and II, Adhomukha Swanasana, camel pose(ushtrasana), Ardh Chandrasana, Kandhrasana, badhakonasana(bending in front), upasavita konasana(bend in front), paschimottasana etc.

    Could you please tell me if I should do these asanas after I probably have conceived during the two week wait before I find out if I’ve conceived. I am in great anxiety to find this out. I have some hormonal issues and these asanas actually help me, but in case I do , I dont want to lose out any option.

    Thanks so much

  14. D

    Hey Baguette,

    Pretty judgmental – I can’t believe you are a yoga practitioner. No one who’s ever set foot on a mat would even think of stating the following:

    “I hope the baby is fine and wont suffer later in his life because of the experiences he had to have in the uterus of his mother. ”

    Tell you one thing – I’d rather be born from Mariela’ uterus than yours. All that negativity you seem to have has got to be bad for a child.

  15. D

    First, Mariela, congratulations on the birth of Gael. And thank you – you’re sharing of this wonderful and life-altering experience, and your candor and honesty about it all, are inspirational. Reading it made me realize it’s very similar to the “loss” I felt after getting injured last year and was unable to practice at all. I too had to start from scratch and am returning slowly. But it was a great lesson to let go of the asana and just be with what “is”. Very humbling, but it’s made me a better student and teacher.

    Second – a word for “Baguette” – Why write something so judgemental and obviously meant to harm? “I hope the baby is fine and wont suffer later in his life because of the experiences he had to have in the uterus of his mother. ” Based on what both of you wrote, I think I’d rather be born from Mariela’ uterus than yours, given the choice. Find yourself a good yoga teacher and learn about ahimsa.

  16. nikki timmermans

    HI Mariele,
    I am 25 weeks pregnant with my third. I am really enjoying the gentle approach to my ashtanga practice. Tha day I found out I was pregnant was the only day I have completed every asana in the primary series unassisted and beautifully. Wow. I live in Guatemala on a boat for six months of the year and am interested in coming to Costa Rica to practice with you.
    Congratulations on the birth of you baby and I hope you are enjoying the journey.
    I look forward to hearing from you
    Namaste
    Nikki

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