“Everything grows rounder and wider and weirder,” wrote the late actress and screenwriter Carrie Fisher to her unborn child, “and I sit here in the middle of it all and wonder who in the world you will turn out to be.” Indeed, wonder and uncertainty often go hand-in-hand during pregnancy and childbirth.
Even prior to the onset of the current pandemic, the process of becoming a mother has typically brought a tenuous hope that can be accompanied by uncertainty, fear, and trepidation. Now that the coronavirus has taken hold, expectant parents face additional unknown elements. At the time of this publication, there is no reason to believe pregnancy is associated with greater susceptibility to the virus. Yet other factors related to the pandemic, such as an increased risk of infection in hospital wards, have led to an uptick of home births. What has emerged, then, is an acute need for greater support of expectant mothers.
One person in the iRest community who has long been providing such support is Clearlight Gerald. As a Certified iRest Teacher, certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT), and a yoga teacher (E-RYT500/RPYT), Clearlight specializes in women’s health and well-being with a focus on pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. She has been teaching wellness principles and practices for more than two decades, offering her skills as an iRest Mentor and Certification Supervisor since 2007.
Please tell us about yourself and your work.
I am a yoga therapist, iRest meditation teacher, and yoga teacher who specializes in women’s health and well-being, with a focus on pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. I’ve been teaching full time since 1999, and have been integrating the nondual wisdom teachings and principles of iRest since studying with Richard Miller and Joan Ruvinsky in 2004. In 2007, I started supporting the iRest Certification Program as an iRest Mentor and Certification Supervisor, delighting in the incredible sangha we share.
I live in the Montréal area with my husband Eric and twin girls.
How did you first encounter iRest, and what compelled you to share the teachings with expectant mothers?
When I was working as a program assistant at the Kripalu Center in the early 2000s, I started to feel that something fundamental was missing. Boredom began to creep into my practice and teaching. I remember one program well, as a teacher who had worked with Richard read one of his yoga nidra scripts, and this initiation to yoga nidra fundamentally changed my life.
It was both a beginning, and an end: It was the beginning of a journey that brought me home to myself, to my beloved teachers and mentors Richard Miller and Joan Ruvinsky, to a community of practitioners that is now a second family, and to recognition of the ultimate home of the ground of being and awareness. It was a complete end of boredom. The nondual teachings and iRest practices have breathed inquiry, wonder and perspective into everything I live and teach, and it has been such a gift.
I had been working with pregnant and new mothers since I first began teaching, and as I dove into an intensive study of nondual wisdom teachings, the iRest practices and teachings began to touch all parts of my life, including my work with pregnant mamas. In this work, I discovered that iRest is a perfect fit for this part of a woman’s life.
As we all know, the nature of life experience is that it is always changing… with peaks and valleys… ups and downs. In pregnancy and postpartum, everything takes on a new intensity. The peaks are typically extra high and the valleys extra low, and navigating these waves is one of the challenges built into the journey of becoming a mother. And, there is an initiation that happens somewhere along the way, in pregnancy, in birth, in parenting, the universe is sure to let us know that you are not in charge. The iRest teachings and practices provide such a powerful way to navigate this journey and to reclaim the ground of well-being independent of the details of the unfolding of becoming a mother.
Which of the iRest tools do you find most consistently useful for pregnant women, and why?
There is nothing in the iRest toolset I do not use. That said, certain tools for pregnancy and childbirth are foundational essentials. For instance, the Inner Resource is particularly effective. Once established, this can both deepen a connection to ease and be used to navigate challenges in pregnancy, childbirth, and baby-land. It is helpful to establish Inner Resource in advance, so it becomes familiar.
However I remember once introducing it for the first time to a woman whose birth I was attending. She had become overwhelmed with fear, but when I guided her to help her locate an inner sanctuary, she was able to reconnect with a felt sense of well-being in moments. It was incredible to witness her panic melt into softness, ease, and welcoming.
Other tools include BodySensing, which develops a relationship of deep listening with the body. Although cognitive learning is super helpful in orienting the mind, the body already “knows” and “has” everything it needs. The wisdom of pregnancy and birthing is innate to the human animal. Part of connecting to that wisdom is learning to trust the body and process, and to invite the mind to “get out of the way”. By cultivating deep listening through movement and yoga nidra, the wisdom-messengers of the body are so much more accessible. These are the very messengers that convey a perfect response to whatever is coming up in pregnancy, in childbirth, or with a new baby.
The practice of welcoming opposites is another standby tool, and in the application of experiencing pure sensation in the body it is very helpful in supporting women in disidentifying with intense sensation and pointing the way towards recognition of themselves as the unchanging ground of presence in which the sensations come and go—already whole, always okay. Of course, this is a tool that is also used to meet emotions and core beliefs in this landscape of enhanced intensity. The list goes on!
What are some of the impacts of the current pandemic on pregnancy and childbirth?
I think it is fair to say that none of us anticipated this new landscape of human reality. Yet here we are. I can’t imagine navigating any of this without the orientation of the teachings and practices that comprise iRest. Pregnancy is already a time of incredible transition—of a woman’s body, relationships, identity, and priorities. The pandemic has only added to the uncertainties and changes that a woman already encounters, so it has definitely brought up more anxiety and fear for many women.
Another impact has been isolation. Women tend to feel stronger, more confident, and happier when sharing their journeys amongst other pregnant and new moms. We need each other, and the experience of humanity is one of community. This has been a challenge to address, and one way I’ve been doing this is to provide a little time before livestreaming pregnancy classes and mama-and-baby classes for women to virtually gather to share and talk about their feelings and experiences. We are fortunate to have this option of connecting virtually, although it doesn’t replace the in-person contact, and so we are all working with what we have.
Another very real impact has been the changing landscape of the context of labor and delivery. Certain things we’ve taken for granted, such as the presence of a partner and/or doula, are no longer given meaning a woman’s inner toolbox of coping strategies is that much more relevant and essential.
We are living through challenging times, yet the invitation and opportunity is here to reclaim a sense of unshakeable well-being. It’s been here all along.
Are there any policies you'd like to see in place that could better support alternative childbirth?
No doubt, there are many changes to the usual, mainstream approach of supporting birthing women that would be beneficial. So this is important work. The culture of “management” and fear that often surrounds childbirth is not an ideal match to support a process that relies on the hormones of safety, security, connection and love.
That said, in my experience of working with thousands of women, I have observed that a positive childbirth experience is not related to whether a woman had an epidural or not, or whether she birthed at home with a midwife, or whether she was at the hospital birthing center with an obstetrician, or whether she had a vaginal birth or a belly birth. The real factors seem to depend on a women’s inner orientation, how she is able to navigate the challenges (whatever they are) and her capacity to fully process the experience and transition. They depend on whether she feels supported and loved just as she is, and whether she canunderstand the big picture and the mystery living through us.
So I focus my attention on equipping women to navigate the life-changing transformations of becoming a mother in all circumstances of childbirth, while greatly supporting all who work for positive change on the policy front.
What advice do you have to offer expectant mothers during this unusual time in our world?
If you don’t already have a regular iRest practice, now is the perfect time to establish one! You can refer to a pregnancy iRest practice, but you will also benefit from practicing any iRest practice. Many of the benefits of iRest are subtle and accumulate gradually to provide a fundamental shift of perspective that is transformative, and will support you well during the months and years ahead.
Life has always been unpredictable. We never were in charge of the unfolding, and this particular moment of unfolding is a great reminder of this truth. The collective illusion of predictability is less compelling than usual. Pregnancy offers an incredible opportunity to explore and awaken to what is most meaningful in your heart and your life, and to remember the big picture to bring perspective to the day-to-day dramas. This perspective and inner direction is also an incredible aid in parenting.
These teachings and practices orient us to feel back into that which is not changing, including the core and essence of simply being, to feel back into that which doesn’t need any particular circumstance to know well-being, while simultaneously honoring whatever action we may need to take to respond to any given situation. As parents, we are warriors, and the iRest practices invite us to be warriors of love.
Learn more about Clearlight's work, and discover more resources for pregnancy and childbirth, here. To join Clearlight for a special practice supporting expectant mothers and parents, explore our recent Meditation Monday offering.