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Learning to Let Go
by Amy Hassinger

I started practicing yoga nine years ago because I wanted to look sexy. I bought B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga, and taught myself the asanas, following his suggested courses in the appendix. Within a few months of regular practice, I could see and feel the results. I was strong, limber, and best of all, my stomach was flat -- a state it hadn't enjoyed since puberty. I was an immediate convert.

But a convert to the sport of yoga, not its practice. I treated yoga almost exclusively as an athletic discipline. I held each pose for the longest period of time suggested and pushed myself to progress to the most advanced poses rather than deepen my understanding of the basics. I didn't even bother to read Iyengar's introduction, in which he articulates some of the basic philosophical principles of yoga practice. Nor did I bother to find a teacher until a good six years after I bought the book. I was doing Sirsasana (headstand) for years without instruction. Once I did find a teacher, I still ignored her advice: I practiced inversions at home at all times of the month, figuring that the rationale that kept women from going upside down while menstruating was a sexist holdover from ancient Indian culture. I did standing poses when I was sick, and if I felt at all pressed for time in my practice, Savasana (corpse pose) was the first to go. When I got pregnant for a second time, I kept up my athletic sequence, dismissing the idea that I might try taking things easy for a while.

Then at ten weeks of pregnancy, I went in for routine checkup and listened in vain for that rapid fetal heartbeat. The nurse squirted on more gel and pressed the Doppler wand into my belly at every conceivable angle, and still, the only sound was the slow drumbeat of my own stubborn pulse. The fetus had died inside me weeks earlier, and I hadn't even known. Two days later, I was in the hospital for a D&C.

Still, a week later, I was back at my goal-oriented practice, pushing myself as hard as ever. I had to lose the extra pounds I'd put on, weight I felt I'd gained for no good reason. I didn't tell my yoga teacher that I'd miscarried until a month after it happened. When I did tell her, she suggested I focus on restorative poses for a while, to help myself heal, but I ignored her advice. Enough time had passed, I figured. I felt fine. And besides, restorative poses wouldn't help me lose any weight.

I was also determined to get pregnant again, as soon as possible. I charted my cycle fanatically, taking my temperature every morning, monitoring my cervical fluid and checking my cervical position each time I sat on the toilet. When the signs indicated that ovulation might be close, I insisted that my husband and I "try" every night. Sex became a chore, and when O-week, as we called it, was over, neither of us was interested in making love for the rest of the month.

Over a year later, I still wasn't pregnant. Yet I continued to ignore advice to focus on restorative poses during ovulation. I'd gotten pregnant before and had a healthy daughter while swimming, biking, jogging, and practicing yoga -- why couldn't I again?

Finally, after sixteen months without success, I went to my yoga teacher for help. She suggested I enroll in her therapeutics class, and there she taught me an asana sequence, which included a series of supported backbending poses, supported Sirsasana, and supported Niralamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand). She forbade me from continuing my regular practice, and generally discouraged me from participating in any truly vigorous physical activity, and for once, I followed her advice. I was not breaking a sweat in class, but I did leave feeling healthy and restored.

Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. I still am, eight months later: my baby's due at the end of May.

It's tempting to attribute the pregnancy to my yoga teacher's advice and my altered practice, even though I know I ovulated just before the first session of the new class. Still, who knows? There is a week between the fertilization of an egg and its implantation in the uterus -- maybe those first two weeks of gentler practice created a friendlier environment for that tiny blastula to find a home. It's impossible to say. But whether or not I can credit yoga for my pregnancy, I know it's taught me a valuable lesson. I now see the value of a gentler practice. Now, when I wake up feeling extra tired or with a tickle in my throat, I'm more inclined to practice restorative poses and pranayama, rather than plowing ahead through standing poses. I now see yoga as a source of healing, rather than solely a means toward strength, flexibility, and achieving a flat stomach. Yoga is about health -- mental, spiritual, and physical -- and sometimes being healthy means letting go of a goal. It means attending to the intelligence of the body, and taking into account the particular moment you're living in. Pregnancy requires a kind of physical devotion to the child inside of you, and yoga -- responsible, attendant, respectful yoga -- requires a devotion to the body, mind, and spirit, wherever they happen to be on a given day. Yoga's taught me something about my tendency toward bull-headedness; I'm hoping it's a lesson I can take into my life as a parent as well.

Copyright © 2006 Amy Hassinger

Author Bio
Amy Hassinger is a graduate of Barnard College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She is the author of The Priest's Madonna (April 2006; $24.95US/$35.00CAN; 0-399-15317-9) and Nina: Adolescence. She teaches in the University of Nebraska's MFA Program in Creative Writing and lives in Illinois with her husband and daughter.

For more information, please visit www.amyhassinger.com