But the other big reason I quit yoga was this: after I gave birth to my first child, my personal yoga practice was feeling spiritually unfulfilling. And physically depleting as hell.
Following Archie's birth, the yoga I knew and loved - the dynamic, acrobatic, energetic practice full of dance and strong postures, inversions and fast flow - it just no longer... worked. It was not giving me the vitality, peace and stillness it once did.
It has taken many painful mistakes, a near-complete abstinence from yoga for a time, and a rediscovery of yoga at a deeper level for me to come out the other side. Here's what happened after I had my first baby, and how you can avoid making the same mistakes I did.
My postpartum handstand fail
Even though I could still pull off a handstand, the post-birth and breastfeeding hormones coursing through my body meant my wrists were incredibly lax and fragile. Doing handstands hurt.
I was still recovering from wrist tendonitis I had exacerbated before giving birth caused by - guess what - too many handstands. I quickly realised that doing handstands and other arm balances was completely out of the question, unless I wanted to totally fuck my wrists up.
I was tired, sleep-deprived and spending most of my waking hours breastfeeding... or eating to fuel that breastfeeding. Handstands were just not important to me anymore. They still aren't. I doubt they ever will be again. Ahh, the enthusiasm of being in our 20's!
I wasn't used to feeling so listless, and didn't recognise the person I had become (a MOTHER!). I hadn't properly grieved the death of the woman I had once been. I believed that working hard and fast in my yoga practice would rejuvenate me, and reconnect me to the person I was before having a baby.
My Postpartum AcroYoga fail
I didn't want to let any of that go.
I wanted to be uplifted, energised, and motivated to get back into the saddle. I wanted to fly around on someone's feet, feel the rush of being upside down high off the ground, and play with people again.
But rather than feeling uplifted after the workshop, I felt dreadful, like all the blood had been drained out of me, all over again.
It wasn't the fault of the teacher, who was highly experienced. No. It was my body and where I was at in my postnatal healing. I was totally not ready for an intermediate to advanced AcroYoga workshop! Hindsight is a wonderful thing...
It didn't matter how skilled I had become at AcroYoga whips or handstands prenatally. My body did not give a shit about any of that. That stuff just didn't feel good anymore - physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
The more I clung to my old practice, the more it seemed to slip away. In my desperation to get the vitality kick that fast asana practice can bring I leapt back into dynamic practice way too soon after giving birth.
I quickly realised that that form of yoga was no longer feeling joyful, easeful, or even accessible to me.
And I didn't know any other way, so I stopped yoga altogether. I never imagined that after 10 years, my practice would ever come to such a screeching, un-pretty halt.
But it did.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE DONE:
NURTURE - STABILISE - REVITALISE
When women practise too hard, too fast, or too soon after childbirth, it actually retards recovery. It's like going one step forward, and five steps backward. It certainly felt like that for me.
Luckily I stopped soon after noticing my aversion to this kind of yoga, before I damaged my pelvic ligaments, permanently munted my joints, or began bleeding again from the healing site of the placental attachment. Yes, these are all things that have happened to women who jumped back into practice too fast, too hard, too soon.
My disdain for the yoga culture around me further facilitated a clean break away from the yoga scene, so I guess I should be thankful for yoga culture in all its commodified glory!
What I now realise I should have done after having Archie - and what I WILL do after bubby number 2 is born - is relish the many practices that actively support deep postnatal healing. These practices centre around three stages: nurture - stabilise - revitalise.
Nurturing and stabilisation are the first things that need to be addressed to get ANY positive healing benefit from yoga at this special time in a woman's life.
Nurturance - proper postpartum healing, nutrition, sleep and rest - is paramount. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a period of 28 to 40 days confinement is practised where the mother is cared for, fed well, allowed to rest and bond with her newborn. Whilst the word 'confinement' leaves a lot to be desired, in my mind it's a bloody good idea and I'll be adopting this practice in my upcoming postpartum period. Numerous other traditions practise a similar ritual. I'll write about my experience in a future blog. After all, I am half Chinese.
Secondly, stabilisation of the pelvis and musculoskeletal structure is important. This is where gentle pelvic floor strengthening and clinical Pilates with an experienced teacher can be of immense value. Always wait 6 weeks postpartum, or get clearance from your doctor before starting any exercise again.
Last of all, once a woman feels nurtured and stable, then only then will practices intended to revitalise actually have the desired effect. This nurture - stabilise - revitalise sequencing is something I learnt from Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, and will be the structure for my postnatal approach to yoga this time around. You live and you learn.
Discovering pre & postpartum yoga
As I felt the need for stillness, relaxation in what is a busy life full of work, study, family commitments, and all the main trappings of life in the west... plus some pregnancy-related aches and pains that I knew were avoidable... I finally gave prenatal yoga a good shot.
And I fell in love.
Being pregnant the first time took me away from the fast-paced practices I once adored, and the shallow yoga world I once thought I loved. Motherhood rendered them completely inappropriate or irrelevant.
Ironically, this second pregnancy has gently, quietly brought me back to yoga. It's been like falling down a rabbit hole, running in the dark for two years, then popping my head up in a new and alien part of the yoga world. Bewildering but a very pleasant surprise.
The other morning - after weeks of sporadic little beach practices lasting only a few minutes between being climbed on and pulled at by my toddler - I set up bolsters, blocks, blankets and strap. I carved out the time. I practised prenatal yoga for a whole hour, something I haven't been able - or willing - to do for a long time.
And it was fucking glorious. Finally, after what I thought was the end of yoga for me, I reconnected with a sense of calm, and of non-striving. I remembered how good it feels just to move my body mindfully, rather than wonder how many more years of practice it would take me to float up to handstand.
I noticed my the smoothness of my mood afterwards. I wasn't hyped up and wanting to run under the full moon naked (as I felt in my twenties after one particular night time vinyasa class riddled with backbends.) I felt strangely calm.
In the still, bergamot-scented space of my little home clinic overlooking the bush, I remembered that an individual's yoga practice is at its core, a personal creation. You make it what you want it to be. You need not follow in the footsteps of a commodified yoga culture that has little to nothing to do with actual yoga. That stuff is as perennial as the grass.
The next step: teacher training!
I'm currently in the middle of a Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training with Bliss Baby Yoga, and I'm loving it! It's been especially eye-opening to do this training whilst I'm actually pregnant. I'm very excited about how I can share these practices with women in the future.
Life takes us on some pretty wild journeys. This is one detour I'm glad I took.