“This project is but a microcosm of what we all encounter in life: Challenges and our inherent ability to overcome them. Our hope is that this short piece serves as inspiration to anyone anywhere immersed in a challenging transition. May we all strive for and ultimately achieve the same success as Ashleigh. Omn Shanti…Omn Shanti…Omn Shanti…”
(Note: Further down in this post is more explanation about this video project.)
If you liked this video please take a moment to leave a comment for Ashleigh below.
As powerful a media as video is, no single avenue can tell an entire story. Here is a bit more about what was going on behind the scenes. After all, is it not impossible to encapsulate ten months or so of human life into but ten minutes of video.
The seed idea of making a pregnancy video first came to mind around 16 months ago when a much-loved student of mine performed a beautiful side plank in one of our strength and fitness yoga classes when she was 6 or 7 months pregnant. Actually, at the time, all I wanted to do was take a picture (not make a video), and indeed we planned on it, but the opportunity never presented itself. The impression remained in my mind: Show what a practitioner can do when pregnant. That was the spring of 2010.
Right around that time, Ashleigh started coming to class again – she was not yet pregnant so obviously I had no idea she and I would ever engage in such a project. In brief Ashleigh had come with a friend to some of our classes a year or so earlier, let’s call it the summer of 2009; and then there was a long gap until she started up again that spring, April 2010. As I would learn much later, Ashleigh re-entered our classes in the wake of having been through a miscarriage.
During the spring and summer of 2010, Ashleigh was extremely regular in her practice – attending 4 classes per week – and we quickly became reacquainted and the relationship grew. She and her husband Matt attended our Eating Healthy seminar (June 2010) & Matt also came to class when his schedule permitted. In addition, during those summer months, Ashleigh and I would often do loads of arm balances after class on Fridays.
Early that fall Ashleigh wrote me and apologized for having been remiss in coming to class and informed me that she had some personal / medical issues. I soon learned she was pregnant and that her doctor had initially instructed her to rest. In due course, after getting clearance from her physician, we discussed her return to class and how we would proceed. By “proceed” I mean what precautions and modifications we would take to ensure her comfort and safety in class.
I really have no idea when I first talked to Ashleigh about the prospect of making a pregnancy yoga video with her as the subject. But it became quickly evident that she would be a great candidate – for many, many reasons on many different levels.
So there we were: A great candidate with a never-done-it before camera guy. Here I should probably say that I did in fact shoot all of the footage and did conduct all the audio interviews; but the skill, expertise and magic of putting it all together rested solely upon the shoulders of my trusted videography team – Halaja Productions.
Since I’ve mentioned filming – let’s go down that road. As Ashleigh’s pregnancy progressed, I made sure to always have my video camera around. But the main problem was that I was teaching all the classes as well. How was I to do it – teach class and film? Well, on occasion, as I was able, I would shoot (and, er, teach) during class. This increased especially in the latter months of her pregnancy. But to be honest, it was extremely difficult to do: Both physically and psychically. While I tried to do it as discreetly as possible and while everyone else in class was always extremely supportive, it just was not feasible to shoot much during class. Mostly I would think, “Oh, if only I could have gotten that on film.”
Hence, Ashleigh and I would plan to shoot afterwards. That meant after she had already been through a moderately engaging or quite grueling yoga class, Ashleigh and her pregnant body would be called upon to re-do all the poses which I had wished I could have filmed during class. Ashleigh, in essence, was doing double-duty. But like everything else, it rarely phased her. On occasion, she had to attend to other life callings, but most of time she was completely up to the task.
Actually, she carried on in her pregnancy and with yoga with such a presence of calm. She had great trust, confidence and I dare say courage. She came to class very regularly and performed at an extremely high level. I cannot forget how in month 8 or so, some new people entered our strength and fitness yoga class and I was explaining to them beforehand what to expect and if they got tired they could do child pose etc. One person promptly set-up her mat next to Ashleigh, who was very big bellied; and I could tell the new person was thinking, “How hard could this be. If she (Ashleigh) can do the class, then certainly I can too.” Well surprise, surprise – things are not always as they seem. Indeed that new participant and I talked and joked about this later.
Ashleigh would march through those classes as if being 8 months pregnant was but a piece of cake. Around that time another one of my longtime students informed me that she too was pregnant, but warned me, “I know I can’t keep up with Super Pregnant Yogini Ashleigh!”
Really speaking, there is no such thing as “keeping up” in yoga. We do what we can given how we feel – pregnant or not. But the spirit of her comment was well-taken: Ashleigh seemed to be moving through the classes with the ease of one who was not really pregnant – somehow that was what was natural for her. She was mindful, careful, yet extremely active & energetic.
Certainly her consistency in coming to class (3 x per week) had a lot to do with it, as did her overall level of fitness, and most definitely her “can-do” mind-set.
Here I just want to say that there is a tremendous difference between starting yoga when one is pregnant and continuing yoga when one is pregnant. These days so many seem to start yoga upon learning they are pregnant. And that is a great thing: Breathing, gentle stretching, and meditating. It is certainly beneficial for both mother and baby. That said, on the more physical plane, I think only one with an already established yoga routine can expect to maintain a more challenging level of practice through pregnancy.
Ashleigh was able to do just that. Though in one of our audio sessions, she commented that she felt she even “expanded” upon her practice during pregnancy. And it is probably true!
On the point of consistency, Ashleigh’s attendance was like clock-work: Every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday morning, plus our extra sessions after class for filming. On the rare occasion she missed class, she came for make-ups. One time she came for a make-up at a different site where the other students did not know her. They only saw she was quite pregnant. When it came time for some arm balances, they were a bit surprised to see Ashleigh kick up into forearm balance without a moment’s hesitation. All along for Ashleigh though, it was always always about practice and engagement, and never ever about any type of display per se. She just took it all as a matter of course and would do what the day provided.
Speaking of her consistency, in fact in her last week, which at the time we did not know would be her last week, Ashleigh came to class on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. And on that Friday, April 22, she even renewed her monthly pass. She left class that morning and I clearly recall thinking what we might video next week. But alas, the very next day (Sat April 23, 2011), after being at the birthing center for a mere 21 minutes, Ashleigh delivered Eliza Jane (7 lbs, 21 inches) at 3:09pm.
Ashleigh sent me an e-mail Sunday morning and I was totally surprised – even shocked. I think part of me was thinking that she would be pregnant forever and I would just keep on filming! In fact her due date was May 8, but by the way she was developing, medical professionals told her long before that she would be on the early side.
While there is much more to say – just as there was much more video and audio footage which could not be included in the above piece – there is one more thing I would like to share.
Ashleigh’s husband, Matt, is a helicopter pilot in the Air Force and he was called away on duty the entire 8th month of pregnancy. Being a military couple, they moved to Maryland from out of state and had no family local to the area. I told Ashleigh if she needed anything (from the store or whatever) while Matt was away that either I or one of the other students could help, but she just carried on just fine. She came to class, worked at the veterinary hospital, and we filmed.
Since her birth, Eliza Jane has been to class many times. She is very quiet and usually sleeps in her carrier next to Ashleigh’s mat through most of the class only to make a grand appearance (and sometimes performance!) afterwards, which of course we all enjoy. And we all joke how she already knows the routine since she did upwards of 80+ classes while in the womb!
So that is some of the background of this project – at least my perspective anyway.
The theme however is much more simple: In life we all face challenges and periods of transitions, may we aim to meet such circumstances with courage, joy, and composure. May we have respect for our bodies and minds and carry on the best we can, accepting our limitations, while striving for greatness.
Please do share this video with friends and family, with expecting mothers as well as with doting grandfathers, with anyone you wish. If this human story serves as a bit of inspiration, that will be true success.
Here is further reading: