The Death / Celebration of a Precious Child: Chanting ‘Om’ for Baby Sam I Am

Chanting ‘Om’ for Baby Sam I Am

Last Friday I had the incredible privilege of being a part of a memorial service for an 18 month super-hero who left this world too soon. He was the son of a school friend, and although I was never fortunate enough to meet little Sam, by all accounts he was an absolute legend. Judging from the turn out at the memorial service and the way in which people reacted on the day, this little dude really was something very special indeed.

As a mother of a 4 year old and a 2 year old, this whole tragedy was painfully close to my heart, and I confess that I spend the entire weekend that I heard about the accident in floods of tears, and spent more time at my meditation bench, with a candle lit for my friend and her husband and two remaining sons, than I recall doing in recent times. I cried when I woke up, I cried when I went to sleep, and the only thing I could do to start to make sense of this senseless situation was to meditate and to try to send love, light and acceptance to the bereaved family.

I wasn’t the only one  – as the news spread, friends kept contacting me, asking if it was true and whether I knew any further details. We all were grieving, not just for the family and the deadening loss of this vibrant child, but for every single parent that ever has to experience this despicable turn of the natural order – no sweet quotes can ever make up for a parent having to bury their child.

The memorial service was simultaneously the most moving, emotional, harrowing and uplifting experience I have had in my life. As I arrived, the late afternoon sunshine was twinkling diagonally across the field in front of the graceful old Cape Dutch house, the oak trees were dancing in the wind, and there was the sound of a piper on the breeze – anyone who has heard this before will know what a haunting and emotive sound this is. Upon seeing the beautiful shrine set up in front of the natural marquis, with framed pictures of the precious little Sam, the white candles, wind chimes and bouquets decorating the oak trees around the tent, it was immediately apparent that this was going to be something to be remembered. The parents had asked for people to bring a plant to remember Sam in a memorial garden, and the beautifully delineated garden was literally bursting at the seams with all the offerings. I love to think how that garden is going to thrive as the years go by.

The service started with the most beautiful song, ‘Precious Child’ by Karen Taylor Good, and it was at this point that I gave up trying to stem the flow of tears, and instead allowed them to stream down my face as everyone ached along with the incredibly brave parents.  We were all united through our floods of tears and an astronomical amount of respect for the family for how bravely they are handling this tragedy and what incredible support they are managing to provide to each other, even through their own personal pain.

The eulogy read by the mother – the beautiful, brave mother- brought everyone to their knees:

Our baby boy, our source of joy

Our brother and our friend.

We loved you then, we love you now

And this is not the end.

Your freckled nose, your cheeky grin

Your big blue eyes shone from within

Your joyous shouts of “gotta go!”

This world for you was just too slow

The way you lived, the way you loved

Was so intense and pure

And we hope that you felt treasured here,

Because, by God, you truly were

An old soul is what we called you

And that is what you are

We feel your love around us now

To help us heal these scars

You may not be here on this earth

But in our hearts you are alive

We are today, we’ll ALWAYS be

A family of five.

Love you always, Mommy, Daddy, Jack and Alex

We cried, we wept, we admired everyone who made a beautiful speech, and we applauded the farm labourers who showed their love for the baby himself, as well as a deep love and sense of respect for the parents. When hundreds of balloons – white (to symbolise all the spaces that will be left behind by this beautiful baby) and blue (to symbolise all the tears we will all shed that will be sent up to heaven rather than falling to the ground) – were released, we all watched them rise high into the sky and then drift off with the wind over the Overberg and into the great unknown. This was possibly the most heartrendingly beautiful part of the whole ceremony.

I have nothing to offer to the mother and father of this precious child, gone too soon. I am not religious, but my sense of spirituality deepens with each passing year, and especially with each passing person. So many people have written such beautiful things, and I can’t compete. So, simply, a few words:

When my precious granny passed away on 2 August 2012, I feel that I was fast-forwarded into the realm of pondering what’s beyond the here and now. My granny, Patricia Brink Langley, was not only the most stylish babe one could ever meet but the most wise, humorous and calm person you can imagine. She practiced yoga from her early days in then-Rhodesia, and she is most definitely the reason that I fell in love with the practice myself. For months since she died, I have felt that every time I ended a class and led the class in chanting ‘Om’, it was all about Patrish – that’s who I hold in my mind’s eye, and I as I bow my head down as the class ends, I see her face and can almost hear her saying in her gentle voice ‘Hello darling’. But now, every single time I prepare to get up off my yoga mat, she shares that precious moment with Sam, who is also front of mind when I turn my attention to the beautiful universe and trust that all is happening as it should.

I can’t imagine how you would ever make sense of the loss of this little/huge person. I see Sam everywhere. I keep you in my mind all the time, J and P, and that’s all I can do. See below for why Sam is ever-present in my yoga classes xxx

Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and/or end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe.

Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell.

Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.Image/

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Yoga

I just had an enquiry from someone who has been diagnosed with acute Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It prompted me to read a bit about this condition, which gave me some really interesting information as well as reminding me to give thanks for every passing day that sees all my bits keeping working optimally. I taught 2 yoga classes tonight and I’m ready for my beautiful, cool and comfortable bed, so forgive me for not paraphrasing but rather pointing you directly to the articles. I’m sure that they give you the facts better than I could ever hope to!

Read on for more info about yoga and IBS:

http://life.gaiam.com/article/do-you-have-ibs-mayo-clinic-s-rx-eating-guide-yoga-remedies

http://www.yogajournal.com/health/781

 

Life Lessons Learned from Riding a Bike

I’m busy going through the wonderful, if harrowing, rite of passage of starting to teach my 4 year-old how to ride a proper bicycle. Harrowing for me, that is – he is as fearless and plucky as can be. I have it on good advice from my sister (mum of 4 and, along with my BFF Cath – another mum of 4 – my go-to person in most questions in the child-rearing department) that the 2 or so years he’s spent on his ‘balance bike’ (otherwise known as a JD Bug, or a ‘Lady Bike’ as my Danny fondly and misguidedly refers to it) will ensure a smooth and painless transition to a proper bike, and that the stabilisers / training wheels supplied with the bike are wholly unnecessary and will in fact have the undesired effect of making him question his balance and start to rely on them instead. We’re both willing to try this theory out and so far so good, in that I’m spending long afternoons running up and down the driveway and path outside our house, hanging onto the saddle while I push him along, his little legs pumping up and down like pistons but not doing very much in terms of actually propelling him forward. I’m getting fit, he’s having a ball, and I’m confident that it’s just a matter of time before he gets the hang of it.

This whole experience has made me think about some very simple similarities between riding a bike and living a happy life. Indulge me, if you will, this is hardly rocket science.

You need to have a good idea about where you’re going, and you need to keep your eyes on the road, but at the same time you’ve got to expect, and be prepared for, obstacles to crop up when you least expect, want or need them to.

When they do, inevitably, occur, it seems that there are two ways of dealing with them. One is to tighten your grip on the handlebars, squeeze your face into a tight ball, hold your breath, speed up and try to blast through whatever is in your way. You may get through to the other side but you may well get hurt, and it’s not going to be much fun. The other is to loosen your grip slightly, slow down, take a few deep breaths, and have a good look for detours or ways around the blockage. Maybe even stop and take stock for a while. Perhaps put your bike down, lie back against a tree and listen to the birds for a while. Maybe go back to where you came from and try again from a slightly different angle. But go easy and go gentle.

I guess it’s all about not being too hell-bent on staying on a chosen course, but being prepared for things to change along the way, and finding a way to adapt so that you still get to your destination. Or choosing a new destination altogether.

Balance is an obvious one that is hugely beneficial. Not going too far one way or the other, but finding a middle ground that works for you. Or even if you’re not a middle ground kind of person, at least knowing where it is so you can get back to it if you need to.

The ability to recover, to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle if you hit a tree. As many times as necessary. Although if it’s the same tree you keep hitting, maybe it’s time to take a good long look at the path you’ve chosen and trying to figure out why you keep making the same mistake over and over.

It all makes me realise how this parenting thing is just so much more complex than going through the motions of getting the kids to eat, drink, brush teeth, bath, ride a bike, walk, talk etc but that ultimately you are their role model for much more important lessons. It simultaneously terrifies me and thrills me. The pressure! – especially when I am still learning so many lessons myself each day and have a semi-infinite number more to learn. And then I remind myself to loosen my grip slightly, show a little more flexibility, and instead of focusing solely on the destination, to live in the moment and enjoy the beautiful ride.

Trying to conceive? Already pregnant? Give yourself and your unborn baby the gift of prenatal yoga.

If you are reading this, the chances are good that you are either pregnant (congratulations!), or hoping to be soon. Even if you’ve never done yoga before, starting it when you are pregnant can be one of the best things you could do for yourself and for your baby. When paired with a cardiovascular exercise such as walking, yoga can be an ideal way to stay in shape during your pregnancy. This age-old practice keeps you supple, tones your muscles and improves your balance and circulation, with little, if any, impact on your joints.

Another reason that yoga is beneficial is because it helps you learn to breathe deeply and relax, which will come in handy as you face the physical demands of labour, birth, and motherhood. In fact, one of the first things I will teach you in a pregnancy yoga class at my Stellenbosch yoga studio is how to breathe fully.

Different breathing techniques (pranayama) can help to prime you for labour and childbirth by training you to stay calm when you need it most. When you’re in pain or afraid, your body produces adrenalin and may produce less oxytocin, a hormone that makes labour progress. A regular yoga practice will help you fight the urge to tighten up when you feel pain, and show you how to relax instead.

Medical experts at the Mayo Clinic have even touted prenatal yoga as “a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages stretching, mental centering and focused breathing.” Along these same lines, according to a report in the April 2009 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, rigorous studies have found scientific proof that yoga helps the body deal with stress by slowing heart and breathing rates and lowering blood pressure –  which can benefit new mums after the baby’s born, too.

The benefits of yoga aren’t limited to your physical well-being. Taking a prenatal yoga class is a great way to meet other pregnant women — to become part of a community of like-minded people who are going through a similar experience. Being in a positive, supportive environment with others like you can give you a regular emotional boost and keep you motivated to continue exercising.

Whether you have been practicing yoga for a while or are a beginner, it is extremely important to seek out a yoga instructor who is specifically trained in prenatal yoga, someone who knows what asana are safe and what to avoid, and how to advise you to modify your practice according to your own pregnancy.  As far as I know, I am the only yoga teacher in Stellenbosch who is qualified to teach pregnancy yoga, having completed my advanced PTT module at Ananda Sanga in 2011.

I kept going with my regular yoga practice with both of my pregnancies but only once I had done a one-on-one prenatal yoga class with Anne Combrinck at Ananda Sanga  where she taught me how to adapt my practice to pregnancy. For those who have never done yoga before, I strongly advise that you attend the prenatal classes that I offer at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch (once you are past 12 weeks), but for those of you that already have a strong practice, you are also welcome to join the regular classes, but be prepared to adapt and modify when we are doing twists, belly work etc. I also offer one-on-one classes  just to show you the basics of how to do this, if that’s what you’d prefer.

“Nicci completed her Yoga Teacher training with distinction, in 2011. She has subsequently gone on to complete a Pregnancy Yoga Teacher training also and is a confident, competent and wonderful Yoga Teacher. ” Anne Combrinck – Principal Educator at Ananda Sanga.

Please contact me for more information and / or class times.

For more information about why prenatal yoga can be so beneficial, read on…

Five excellent reasons to do pregnancy yoga at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch! (Source: Amy Lynch, MindBodyGreen.com).

Looking specifically at a pregnant woman’s body, yoga can specifically work the areas with the most need in a class geared toward pregnant women. Below are some of the most important pains, areas of interest and common pregnancy issues yoga can safely and gently alleviate and improve.

1. The Breath: Breathing is not something we often think about throughout the day. It is a mechanical function of the body. We never really have to remind ourselves to breathe, but we should, especially to prepare our body for the process of labour. Breathing is a very important part of delivering a baby, it helps to relax the body and take your mind from the pain and strain.

2. The Pelvic Floor: The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles that form a bowl attached to the pelvis. This muscle supports the vital reproductive and digestion organs, as well as the baby during pregnancy and plays a vital role in sexual intercourse for both men and women.

During pregnancy it is especially important to exercise your pelvic floor muscle as it has to support a greatly increased load at this time. Although pregnancy is not the only factor for a weakened pelvic floor, aging and inactivity can play a role; it can weaken from pregnancy and childbirth. Although not the cause, a weak pelvic floor can be the start of some health problems. That is why it is very important to work with these muscles, especially after childbirth. Like any other muscle in the body, the pelvic floor can be re-strengthened. The symptoms of a weakened pelvic floor include urinary or stool incontinence, constipation or incomplete bowel or bladder emptying, diminished sexual satisfaction, painful intercourse, inability to reach orgasm, sagging or prolapse of the uterus, bladder, or rectum, and low back or lower abdominal pain.

A strong pelvic floor muscle can enable a woman to carry a baby more comfortably during pregnancy and will help both the mother and baby during labour and delivery. Stimulating blood flow in the pelvic area after childbirth quickens recovery from any stitches or episiotomy. Women who have had Caesareans also need to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles as it is the gravitational pressure of pregnancy that weakens the muscles, not the physical event of birth.

3. The Posture: As the babies and bellies grow and change, so does the centre of gravity. One of the things that allow humans to walk upright is the balance between the lower back muscles and our four abdominal muscles. However, when our abdominals are weak, this can cause our lower back muscles to over compensate and over work, causing pain and strain in the lumbar area. When the belly moves more forward with growth, this stretches the abdominals beyond their original shape, weakening them and this causing lower back pain during pregnancy when none may have ever been experienced before, especially in the third trimester. Although pregnancy is not the time to do major core work, it is recommended to gently work all four abdominals to keep them a little strong. After your baby is born, it is common for women to find some separation has occurred between the right and left side of the abdominals, exercises that bring the belly toward the spine can help bring the abs back to pre-pregnancy shape.

Yoga can also help alleviate the pressure the lower back is under during the shift in gravity. By stretching the upper leg muscles and the lower back, tension will start to release. Partnered with the smart abdominal work, your body will feel less pain as it goes through the journey of pregnancy.

4. The Feet: Surprising to most, the foot actually has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. And although our feet get us around the entire day, we rarely take the time to take care of them, or check how we are using them, especially as that centre of gravity moves over the nine months.

With the shift of the centre of gravity in your body as your pregnancy progresses, this changes our stance and pressure in our feet and joints. The two most common problems become over pronation and oedema. These problems can lead to pain at the heel, arch, or the ball-of-foot. Correct alignment and awareness taught in a yoga class can help to alleviate these problems.

5. The Hips: Prenatal yoga can help bring back flexibility and comfort to the groups of muscles and bone structures in the front and back of the hips. Hormones released during pregnancy soften and relax joints and cartilage between bones in our pelvis to prepare it for child birth. However, getting the muscles ready is good to facilitate an easier birth for mom and baby.

In front, we have our hip flexors, which work to flex, or bend, the hips. This brings our knee and thigh up and in line with our hip joint and toward our chest. Lunges are a great example of the work of the hip flexors. It is imperative to keep these flexible so we can easily open our legs without too much strain for delivery, as well as bend the knees close to the chest to assist with birth. Yoga can also stretch the ligaments in the pelvis, hip and leg areas, all making the positions and pushing in labour easier.

Our muscles are, however, antagonistic, which basically means when one works, the other does the opposite to allow the action. So, in order for the hip flexors to contract, the back of the hips need to relax. This is why it is essential to work the front and back of the hips in stretching, relaxing and strengthening to find balance. Again, low lunges are the perfect way to stretch the hip flexors while contracting them on the other side and the same for the muscles in the back of the hips. However, your yoga teacher can give you many poses for this area of the body.

What else can yoga do?

Research suggests that prenatal yoga can have many benefits for pregnant women and their babies. Studies have suggested that practicing yoga while pregnancy can also improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth.

It can also decrease nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath, and decrease the risk of preterm labour, pregnancy-induced hypertension and intrauterine growth restriction — a condition that slows a baby’s growth.

But don’t forget, yoga is also a perfect workout after you have your baby as well. When you feel ready to move, starting out with gentle yoga, simple breathing and stretching is a great way to start your body moving again. As you may have already guessed, or experienced, finding time to practice as a new mum is hard. A good time to start is take 15 minutes while your baby is napping to work with a gentle yoga sequence each day can work miracles for energy and body strength. Also, as your baby feeds, try practicing pranayama, the relaxation from deep belly breathing and action of the muscles helps to speed up the recovery time.

As always, check with your physician before you begin any new exercise practice.  Please feel free to contact me for class times or if you have any questions. I hope to meet you soon!