Sometimes when I name my emotions I feel like the wheelbarrow in the picture above. Loaded down with the years, lifetimes perhaps of what that feeling means to me and has meant in the past. This post shares a simple exercise you can try to get under the accumulated weight of meaning attached to your words.
The way we use these words makes a difference to our experience. We can make positive affirmations to support our intentions. We can explore and name our emotions and journal our thoughts to help ourselves move through challenging situations. Or we can use them to metaphorically beat ourselves up with a stick.
Even the very words themselves have a strong energetic field. Some words can feel uplifting and strengthening, others may feel heavy and pull us down. Some words may feel heavier than lugging excess luggage around an airport on a trolley with a dodgy wheel.
When the gargantuan reality of the luggage is totally belied by the innocently light label it is attached to, I have often wished I could wave a magic wand and magic away the luggage entirely.
Whilst I am thinking figuratively this also brings to mind our family holidays to my husband’s native home, The Gambia...
...I brace myself, bend my knees keep my back straight and pull swiftly upwards swinging yet another bag onto the conveyor belt to be weighed. I am nervous. Will we be over the limit? We are getting some curious stares. Most people on this flight to The Gambia are English tourists. They have the lightest of bags suitable for a winter sun destination. Some look like they only have hand luggage.
We on the other hand have not one but two trolleys piled high with bags of every size that have been carefully weighed at home to get as close to the maximum limit as possible. We have something like 85 kilos of luggage wobbling around on the overloaded trolleys. I am also carrying a toddler in my arms and a baby in my belly. I can barely be seen beneath all this stuff.
Fast forward thousands of miles and a couple of days later the hot and dusty baggage makes it to its destination having survived the aeroplane, taxi, boat, bus roof and even wheel barrow rides. A knife rather than a magic wand cuts loose the tattered luggage labels but it nevertheless magically seems to release more than the kilos and kilometres our aching muscles have endured. Minus the extra luggage we had brought for the local school and for my husband’s extended family I feel free and light as a bird.
Whereas on holiday we had to physically carry heavy bags attached to our luggage labels, in life we are not beholden to the past history of the words we use to describe our emotional state. As we journey through life our brains attempt to make sense and categorise our varied experiences. When we encounter new situations it tries to work out if we are safe or not based on previous experience. Sometimes that’s ok. Sometimes it’s a bind.
Sometimes our words can be concealing heavy excess baggage that we may have been lugging around for years. The weight of the word may be like trying to lift a Mary Poppins bag of just in case items.
When we say we feel fear, do we mean the kind of fear that we get when we are nearly run over by a bus? Do we mean the kind of fear we feel when under pressure in an exam? Do we mean the kind of fear we feel when we are about to jump from an aeroplane for our first parachute jump? Are we responding to the current fear or to all the times we ever felt fear, particularly if we squashed it down and forced it to be stored in our cells?
Whenever the emotion is out of proportion to the situation in hand there is an invitation to do some inner healing work. If you sense that the label you have assigned to your emotion is part of the problem; If you feel that underbelly of consciousness that has got tangled up in the word is getting in your way and muddying the waters, here is a simple exercise to support you to open freshly in the experience.
It’s called “Take the label off.” It’s kind of self-explanatory and it goes like this.
1. Name your experience or emotion and notice how you feel as you do.
2. Take the label for your experience right off and throw it away. It may help to imagine getting a big pair of scissors and to cut the cord that attaches the label to the body of energy consciousness.
3. Tune in again and notice how your experience differs when you are simply experiencing what is arising without and reference points. It may help you to make sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor and you are breathing deeply and steadily into your body as you do. Have an intention to allow whatever arises and stay still in the centre of that. Be open and curious.
Without the label I experience a pure connection with the energy of the situation, a little like the connection I can feel to a stranger when participating in silent meditation together.
This exercise works well on emotions such as fear and it also works very well with concepts like Pain. Pain is one of the most quoted worries of labour- Will I be able to cope with the pain? I feel like I am splitting in two? I am not good with pain… are common refrains.
Pain in labour is not the same as pain from an injury but we use the same word to describe very different experiences and we may trigger our body into reacting as if we were in danger rather than in labour.
What happens when you take the label off and just feel what is actually happening? For me that was totally freeing. I could feel each muscle in my body working, I questioned what each sensation meant to me now I was not using the word pain. I got very interested in what I was actually experiencing in the here and now. My body felt heard and appreciated. I felt freedom even as I was feeling what in ordinary direct language pain is still the closest adjective I can find to communicate. The full story of how I was able to cope with intense pain and move smoothly through transition is the subject of a whole other post.
For now I will leave you with a quote from Ina May Gaskin that illustrates this exercise very well. In response to a woman’s question about labour she replies;
“Don’t think of it as pain, think of it as an interesting sensation that requires all your attention.” *
This quote could also expand into a whole post on the nature of life and the freedom of focusing on present moment awareness but I think you probably get it so I’d rather leave you to go off and play with the idea.
Let me know in the comments how you get on and I will be back soon with some more discussion about how to manage fear and other tricky emotions that may come up in labour.
* From the book Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin, page 43.
This is the first part of a three part series on three tips for ease during pregnancy and labour that can be easily integrated into your every day activities and suggestions on how to do that. Today I am writing about squatting and how I found an effortless way to integrate the practice into my ordinary life to the benefit of my pregnancy and birth experience.
Bang! Crash! Ball after ball whizzes past my ears. I swerve matrix style keeping my eyes on my target, a foot above my son’s head, just out of reach of his fingertips. I take a deep breath in and throw with all my might watching in satisfaction as the ball sails easily past my son, down the corridor and with excited glee he trots away, out of sight after it.
Enjoying my brief respite I smile in satisfaction too. My hands fall to my belly and I gently stroke my now quite large bump and wonder what my baby thinks of this new game. As my son’s smile lights up the top of the stairs once more and balls renew their relentless downpour I reflect that my children are indeed, as the saying goes, my best teachers. Thanks to my son’s delight in the ‘stairball’ game I now have a regular squatting practice, cardiovascular work out and am getting toned arms to boot.
I was already aware that gentle exercise in pregnancy was beneficial, particularly given our overly sedentary lifestyle. I knew being fit was useful as labour can be a pretty intense experience that has been compared to the energetic output of running a marathon. I felt fairly fit and active. I had to be looking after my young son. I had been active in his pregnancy too, swimming, pregnancy yoga and lots of walking. I continued with these as they were all enjoyable activities I could do with my son. But I wondered about my core strength. I wondered if I was doing enough.
The words of Ina May Gaskin echoed in my mind, “Squat 300 times and you are going to give birth quickly.” Ina May is pretty cool and her results speak for themselves (Only 1.4% Caesareans and 68.8% Intact Perineum from 2028 births for example*) so taking her advice on squatting seemed like a good plan. But despite a strong, strong desire to ensure I was doing everything I could to promote a smooth labour and birth my resistance to actually squatting on a regular basis was huge. I bet there are many who struggled as much as I did to implement this simple, useful, and easily accessible piece of advice. I tried a few times but quickly got bored and found an excuse to do something else. On other occasions I simply forgot and would be reminded later with a twinge of guilt, not enough of a twinge to get me off the sofa though, Until the game…
Suddenly I was squatting for between 20 minutes and 2 hours a day. Not continuously for 2 hours, I cried off for breathers and I listened to my body, building up my stamina for this new activity gradually. But each time the balls came flying down the stairs I carefully bent my knees in a squat until I could reach the ball.
The barrier to squatting successfully broken I began to find other ways to incorporate squatting into my daily life. Where I’d been going wrong was to doggedly persist in the one solid session approach which just wasn’t working for me.
I found that on the rare days when ‘stairball’ game was not part of the curriculum I could use the stairs as a reminder and squat once at the bottom and top of the stairs each time I went up or down them. Which was fairly often given the state of my memory and the needs of my bladder during later pregnancy. I used the stool bought to help my son access the toilet so I could adopt a squatting position there too. I also replaced bending over with squatting whenever I needed to pick something off the floor. The repetition gradually sunk into my mind and body and I found I was creating a habit. I was remembering more easily that I was intending to do lots of squatting and each time I was reinforcing the habit some more. Not that I needed too much internal reinforcement when my son was around…
Since then I have applied these principles to other areas of resistance in my life to great effect. Such as my impromptu yoga sessions : I no longer wait to find a full hour slot. I do what I can where I can, shorter and more often. I add in random moves such as cat stretch whilst playing horses with my children, or even deliberate poses when the music stops in musical statues.
Thinking up innovative ways to maintain connection with much loved yoga practice and other facets of my former life has been lots of fun, once I broke out of my box. Just as the brainstorming exercise of finding 50 uses for a particular object helps break us out of creative stupor by forcing us to get creative in limiting circumstances, so I am no longer am I confined to my box of how I have always done it, now the box is a boat, a rocket, a hat, and suddenly a world of possibilities is opening up in seemingly unconnected areas.
Back to the squatting, did all this effort pay off in the way Ina May intimated? Well it was certainly not the only factor but my son was born easily at home in approximately 3 1/2 hours from start to finish, and my arms still look great. So I would count that as a resounding Yes!
Incorporating exercise into pregnancy in the context of our often sedentary modern lifestyle is a great and healthy thing but must be done appropriately to your individual fitness and health. When starting anything new and particularly during pregnancy be mindful of your body and start small and gently. Be kind to yourself, listen to your body.
Here are a three posts with more detailed information on how to squat safely and effectively and why it is useful in pregnancy. http://www.katysays.com/the-hunting-and-gathering-mama/
The suggestions in this post for exercise are not intended to replace advice by your midwife, doctor or other health professional. If in any doubt as to the suitability of any exercise please consult your doctor of other qualified health or fitness professional for advice. BirthEssence is not to be held liable for any injury or misadventure from following advice in this post and appropriate supervision and/or medical advice should always be sought.
* Information from Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin, 2003 Vermilion Appendix.