Loving Kindness in Yoga for Pregnancy & Motherhood
"In modern life we have become so busy with our daily affairs and thoughts, that we have forgotten this essential art of taking time to converse with our hearts….If we are still, and listen deeply, for even a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart… " Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart
In my 'Self-Care Sunday' Facebook live video this week I introduced the practice of loving kindness (if you missed it catch it here https://www.facebook.com/yogaformodernlife%20/videos/1369281359787198/). I also shared it in one of my pregnancy yoga classes which is a just the most lovely way to connect with your unborn baby. It's such a beautiful practice and I really wanted to write a blog post to share it with as many people as possible and tell you more about it.
The practice of loving kindness is one of the elements of modern mindfulness programmes, it's also found in many of the other ancient traditions including the Buddhist tradition. The practice is a simple yet powerful way of cultivating positive regard for both yourself and others around you, as well as the world at large. It both taps into our innate capacity to be kind and compassionate towards one another, whilst equally recognising the ubiquitous human desire for happiness and wellbeing. It's a kind of unconditional well-wishing, being open hearted towards ourselves and others. In difficult times, it can really help to ground and reconnect us.
The overarching message is : the work starts with you
"If you can’t accept yourself – if you hate yourself and get angry with yourself – how can you love another person and communicate love to him or her ? …Self understanding is crucial for understanding others, self love is crucial for loving others " Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Communicating
There is consensus amongst almost all of the many ancient wisdom traditions that we must first seek to love ourselves more fully before we can authentically and honestly give love to others. Cultivating compassion for yourself must come first if you are to seek to respond more compassionately to those around you. Many of us have developed a strong reflex tendency towards being ‘hard on ourselves,’ judging ourselves and our own achievements harshly. Such tendencies can result in a cycle of suffering, as we perpetuate feelings that we somehow fall short of our own potential and/or that of others.
Developing a practice of compassionate understanding and kindness towards ourselves and our experience can thus be a radical and crucial first step towards loving acceptance of things ‘as they are.’ And ourselves ‘as we are.’ And this is where our mindfulness practice truly starts to take flight…
So why is this practice especially beneficial during pregnancy and motherhood?
The first part of this practice directs loving kindness first towards your baby or child, then towards yourself, and then outwards to others. It's therefore especially useful during pregnancy and motherhood as you begin and continue to cultivate a relationship of compassionate understanding towards both your baby/child/children and yourself right from the get-go, and perhaps even before he or she is born if you start this practice during pregnancy.
In a nutshell, you’re setting off on the right foot! Whilst many mothers do fall madly in love with their babe from the minute they clap eyes on them, you will undoubtedly meet with many emotional obstacles in both pregnancy and during motherhood as your pre-pregnancy life and identity shifts and you meet with the many challenges of stepping into this new version of yourself as a mother. Its a long and ever changing journey, and that can be scary and hard to deal with for many women.
Developing this practice of loving kindness and compassionate self-acceptance is thus an important aspect of meeting these challenges with an open heart and an open mind. Most importantly, it helps us to steer away from these old habits of negative self-judgement that can potentially tell us "we’re not doing it right" or comparing ourselves harshly to others who somehow appear to be "coping with it all better."
The benefits of loving kindness are endless, and the good news is : it’s VERY simply to practice. We simply repeat these 4 phrases below first towards your baby/child/children, and then towards ourselves, and then out into the wider world.
It’s helpful if you can begin by establishing yourself in an easy seated posture, whether on a cushion on the floor, or on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. First connect with the rhythm and flow of your breath to settle and focus yourself into a state of ease relaxed awareness.
You may find that an image of your baby/child/children or yourself arises during your loving kindness practice and that you can direct your words towards this image. Alternatively, a felt sense or awareness of your babies/childs/childrens presence may become apparent to you.
REPEAT the following phrase three times, first directing the loving kindness to your baby/child/children.
May you be safe
May you be healthy
May you be happy
May you live with ease and in peace
Then REPEAT the following phrase three times, first directing the loving kindness to yourself
May I be safe
May I be healthy
May I be happy
May I live with ease and in peace
Finally REPEAT the following phrase three times, first directing the loving kindness to all living beings
May we all be safe
May we all be healthy
May we all be happy
May we all live with ease and in peace
As a result of the tendencies of self-criticism and suffering described at the beginning of this blog post, it can be very normal to feel some resistance to these words when you begin to direct the phrases of loving kindness towards yourself. Again, simply notice these reactions and try to meet them with the same spirit of care and acceptance. Remember, everything is welcome, in mindfulness practice we are not trying to be anything ‘other’ than that which we are, or change anything, we simply observe and accept things as they are, seeing if we can gradually meet them with compassion and understanding. The mindful birthing queen herself, Nancy Bardacke suggests that if you continue to encounter resistance towards your own positive self-regard it may be helpful to imagine yourself as a baby or child, who once was loved and cared for by your own mothers, and begin to direct these phrases towards your own inner child who too is worthy of this same love and acceptance.
What generally results from this practice is a compassion towards and sense of connectedness with, all other being. An appreciation that each one of us is struggling in some way on our own journey, that we are in fact all in need of the same essential loving kindness and acceptance.
Simply listen, then see what come next…
Some Further Recommendations…
Peter Renner has lots of great (and FREE !) meditations online including a loving kindness meditation (it’s not adapted for pregnancy but you can tweak it) on his website here .
Tara Brach’s online guided meditations and talks often include themes of loving awareness and self-compassion. Check them out here
Jack Cornfield’s book, "A path with heart" touches on many themes of putting our hearts into our mindfulness practice, and why it all begins there.
Anything written by Thich Nhat Hahn. Anything…