The ashram within, during pregnancy and beyond

Published on September 20, 2014 by      Print
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By Corinne Andrews

The only thing I cared about during the last two years of my UMass college adventure was practicing and studying yoga.  There was nothing I wanted more than to surround myself with these teachings, so upon graduation, I headed off to the Mount Madonna Center in California, and eventually got certified as a yoga teacher and started teaching in peoples’ living rooms, schools, gyms, and studios.

I read yoga books and listened to yoga music and wore yoga clothes and spent at least three hours a day meditating, breathing, and dancing through postures.  I loved the entire yogic lifestyle, and I loved the depth-seeking aspirations of the ancient yogis that dove into the human body and psyche looking for answers.

I'm having an existential crisis BRB

I loved that yoga was a quest for freedom.

All my life I had lived by other peoples’ rules, and felt smothered by other people’s expectations. I grew up the first grandchild of Holocaust survivors in a cookie-cutter suburban town,  and fear and anxiety had been constant companions.  The lives that I saw people living around me did not resemble the life I wanted.  I wanted to be free to redefine my destiny, shatter barriers, and help others discover inner freedom, too.  I dreamed of one day creating a “Center for Freedom.”

In 2005, I was teaching regular yoga classes, working for an acupuncturist, and patiently waiting for “a letter to arrive in the mail from God” letting me know it was time to kiss my family and boyfriend goodbye, pack my bags, and head off to India.  It was just a matter of time.  And that was the precise moment when I got a message of a different kind.

At 25 years old, I found that cheery pink plus sign staring up at me from the end of a pregnancy stick.  I couldn’t breathe.  I think I vomited (would’ve been par for the course at that time— why I took the test to begin with).

I couldn’t believe it.  I had never wanted to become a mother.

I wasn’t destined to be a wife or own a home or commit to a life that would tear my dreams of freedom from me.  I didn’t even want to use the word boyfriend because it felt too heavy and suffocating.   Babies and marriage meant commitment, burden, and responsibility.   I wanted freedom.

What I didn’t yet know was that motherhood was just what I needed in order to learn that freedom and responsibility are like day and night:  you don’t get to have one without the other.

Months later, there I was in our small rental apartment processing the homebirth that I had just had.  Yes, it was earth shatteringly beautiful, but also long, hard, scary, and, dare I say it, traumatic.  And every day, when my new husband went off to work for eight to ten hours, I was alone with this new tiny person.  It was impossible at first.  Unbelievably hard.  The isolation, the endless crying, the endless needs that I felt incapable of meeting were all just too much.  I knew I couldn’t do it.  I was too small, too weak, and by no means ready for any of it.

As a joke, my mother-in-law gave me a magnet that said, “I wanted to change the world, but I couldn’t find a babysitter.”  I would look at it and cry.  My dreams of healing myself so that I could truly help others and change the world were drowning in a sleep-deprived pile of dirty cloth diapers, wool covers, and breast milk.

But over time, as I bonded deeply with my baby and other new mamas who were also struggling, I grew up.

Every hour sitting in my mama nest on the couch, literally having the life sucked from my withering body, strengthened me.  Every sleepless night was an opportunity to discover my inner reserves, which turned out to be much deeper and richer than I could have imagined.  And every screaming need that I felt I couldn’t satisfy humbled me and taught me patience, and it rose, crescendo’ed, and passed away into five minutes of peaceful silence that were worth more than a hundred trips to India.

My heart began to open in a new and profound way.  I experienced an expanded capacity to love, feel empathy, and hold the suffering of those near and far.  I’d even go so far as to say that I felt an identification with the Mother of all, as She nurtured deep within me a profound love for all of humanity.

My baby grew, I grew, and at some point I found myself open to having another baby.  I was ready to make a choice that had felt unfathomable to me just a few years ago.  The running story in my head that went “Poor me, my life got taken away when I had to become a mother” shifted, and a new one emerged that said “I take responsibility for my life, and I’m grateful for its richness and beauty”.  Slowly I began to let go of the idea that something bad had happened to me, that my “real life” had been taken away from me—in fact, it had been given to me in the fullest way possible, through the experience of a surprise pregnancy.

Day by day I realized that the freedom I was so desperately looking for through all those years was happening.

Running away and not committing to “regular life” was not the way to freedom.  As I accepted my life and took responsibility for it, leaving behind the victim mentality, I could see much more clearly the self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors that were the real chains of bondage.

I found that through committing to my husband and children I was inviting accountability that would continue to illuminate how I was keeping myself small, broken, and chained.  And with their support and love I could trust the vast and limitless spirit that has always resented being suppressed.  I could begin to set that spirit free.

Today, I continue to dance this dance, even now that my babies are five and nine.  I search for quiet moments and freedom, and then I remember that if I’m not free inside, no outer forms will take me there.  And if I am free within, nothing can hold me down.  Through the constant everyday chaos of raising children and managing societal obligations, I find a quiet ashram in India inside myself and commit every day to seeing the truth, working through the difficulties, accepting life as it is, and rising up to the call of mother-hood.

The irony is that by struggling within motherhood, I have discovered not only my Self, but my life’s work.  Supporting women through pregnancy, postpartum, and motherhood through yoga and spiritual healing has become my vocation.  Now I have the privilege of walking next to many women as they move through the transformational passage of pregnancy and motherhood.  And I hope and pray that what I’ve learned and gained through my journey is a support to them along theirs.

About Corinne Andrews

Corinne AndrewsCorinne Andrews is the founder and head author of Birthing Mama, an online holistic pregnancy program.  Corinne has been teaching yoga since 2003 and is a senior Embodyoga® teacher, teaching weekly gentle, vigorous, and Shabbat yoga classes.  She is the co-founder of Birthing Mama Yoga, teaching weekly prenatal, postnatal, and toddler yoga classes.  In addition to yoga classes, Corinne teaches private yoga sessions for health and healing at Atkinson Family Practice. She is the mother of two children who are her greatest spiritual teachers and the focus of her life when she is not practicing or teaching yoga.

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  1. Vicki says:

    Corinne, Your words and expressions are so beautifully expressed and your abilities to assist others are greatly appreciated. You continue to grow yourself with Birthing Mama and to help others to find their freedom as well.
    Continued wellness and growth,

  2. Emma says:

    Thank you for sharing. Honest, beautiful and genuinely inspiring xox

  3. Nadine Fawell says:

    Oh Corinne, this was amazing, and so affirming for women of all sorts. The mamas and the not-mamas. I am not a mama, although I would desperately have liked to be one. And so for me, the path to freedom is in accepting what is. Just like the path to freedom for you was in accepting what is.

    Funny that ;)

  4. Shari says:

    What a beautiful sharing of the amazing journey of motherhood. We just meet all of our stops and fears and challenges – til we finally birth ourselves. You are a beautiful writer and so very sensitive. What a gift to the world. Namaste!

  5. LRiss says:

    No words for how desperate I was to find a piece like this. Thank you thank you.

  6. The Ashram Within | Peggy O'Mara says:

    [...] A version of this article previously appeared on Recovering Yogi. [...]

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