I love yoga. I love the way it exercises the entire body. I love that it makes me feel simultaneously both more alert and more relaxed. I love that it helps with my insomnia, backaches, and migraines. I love that it makes me flexible and strong. I love what it does for my posture. I love that it is social, but introspective; challenging, but not competitive.
However, there is much about yoga that makes me roll my eyes and laugh: the crystal-sucking, sage-burning, flaky, New Age-y fluff that so often accompanies the actual exercises. In the abstract, I believe there is a great deal of value in practicing mindfulness, in learning to quiet the mental static and be in the moment. In reality, I am really, really not good at it, and honestly, I’m skeptical and even a little bit scornful of that side of yoga. I’ve never been able to meditate, to focus my inner eye, to set an intention, to visualize a result. Maybe I’m just undisciplined, or maybe my mind just doesn’t work that way. Maybe my mind doesn’t work that way because the second yoga instructors start getting New Age-y, my Inner Child shoves a finger down her throat and pretends to gag and choke.
Of course I know that yoga is not just a fitness fad, that it is also a spiritual and mental discipline rooted in ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions. As my Auntie Anne pointed out to me, “What you see as all that new-age-y stuff might be sincere attempts to carry on that [non-Christian spiritual] tradition.” Of course she is absolutely right, but I have to confess — sincerity of spiritual practice does not make the sage-burning and fire breathing any less goofy to outside observers. Maybe that is part of the nature of any spiritual practice, at least for me. I am sincere in my Christian faith; I attend church services weekly, I believe in Christ’s redemptive love and in the kingdom of God, I try to live my life according to Christian values — but when I try to find quiet moments of contemplation and prayer, to actually speak to my Creator, it feels every bit as kooky and uncomfortable and superstitious as any of the New Age-y traditions that accompany yoga.
Skepticism aside, I’m trying to get pregnant, and in addition to the fertility drugs and ovulation predictor kits and countless doctor’s visits, I’m open to anything that might help. For the first time in my life (outside of church or situations of life-threatening fear or stress), I’ve been praying: intentionally, sincerely, frequently, fervently. For weeks, I’ve been drinking herbal tea full of stuff like chasteberry (to stimulate ovulation hormones), raspberry leaf (to promote fertility), and ladies mantle (to regulate the monthly cycle and tone the cervix). I’ve kept a journal charting my menstrual cycles and the cycles of the moon. I bring baby clothes to my insemination appointments as a talisman of good fortune and fertility.
And starting today, with the arrival of a brand new yoga-for-fertility DVD, I’ve been practicing yoga. Not the yoga-for-strength-and-flexibility that I have been practicing for years: the kind of yoga that would ordinarily make me roll my eyes so hard it hurts. This DVD is divided into four different series, one for each phase of a woman’s cycle: menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. The narrator’s soothing voice notes that the follicular phase is a time of growth and hope, and gently urges me to set the intention of preparing my uterus to nurture a healthy baby. There are poses designed to massage and stimulate the ovaries and uterus. There is a lot of Breath of Fire (a breathing exercise I find particularly goofy). This DVD has a drum soundtrack, for Chrissake. Penelope had to leave the room while I was practicing, because she couldn’t stop laughing.
About halfway through my practice, Hank suddenly developed an intense interest in what I was doing. He patted my back during downward-facing dog, leaned heavily on my plank pose, crawled under my warriors and over my cat-and-cow, lay on top of my bow pose, and bounced on my belly throughout my savasena. I can’t say that I was able to quiet my inner static and concentrate much on inner peace, but he was a better, more present and inescapable reminder of the intention to nurture a child than any mindfulness exercise yet dreamed up, and I am so grateful for him.