By Katie Manitsas
Ancient rituals for modern times
As a long term yoga teacher and practitioner, when I became pregnant with my first son I was very interested to learn about what the teachings of yoga had to offer, beyond the benefits of preparing my physical body for birth. Two children later and I’ve discovered the philosophical teachings of yoga and Ayurveda have an abundant wealth of support and nourishment to offer pregnant women. In my own experience, I found the rituals practiced around birthing and particularly those surrounding the 120th day of pregnancy and the 40 days after birthing, very beautiful and nurturing. I’d like to share with you some ideas around those rituals here and offer some suggestions for how they may be adapted to suit your lifestyle.
‘Sadhana are the wholesome everyday practices observed in accordance with the cyclical rhythms of nature. They are spiritual practices that awaken the power of awareness and health and promote a joyful response to life.’
Mother Maya (Swamini Mayatitananda)
The word sadhana simply means ‘conscious spiritual practice: A sadhana is any practice that is done for the upliftment of self and others in a mindful, meditative way. Pregnancy is a particularly beautiful and pertinent time to practice the art of sadhana. Many modern women are disconnected from the impending birth of their child but sadhana can help to heal this disconnect.
120 day blessing … Welcoming a new soul to the world
According to yogic tradition (particularly in the Kundalini Yoga communities), the 120th day after conception is a very important time for the baby in the womb, when the soul will enter the growing baby and a shift in consciousness takes place. If you know when your 120th day is, be sure 10 celebrate and keep it as a special day for honouring the soul you are nurturing within, or as close to the 120th day as you can. There is a special mantra which can be chanted throughout your pregnancy, but particularly around and on day 120, to encourage health and happiness for you and your baby:
Adi Shakti Adi Shakti Adi Shakti Namo Namo
Sarab Shakti Sarab Shakti Sarab Shakti Namo Namo
Prithum Bhagwati Pritum Bhagwati Pritum Bhagwoli Namo Namo
Kundalini Mata Shakti Mala Shakti Namo Namo
Primal power, all power created through Divine Grace; I feel the Mother Goddess and her primal protective, life generating energy.
There are many beautiful recordings of this mantra available. If you have a circle of like minded friends invite them to a small gathering where you can chant together and honour the baby before his or her arrival. I have done this 120 day ‘ritual’ gathering for both my children and found it to be a beautiful and precious sadhana that I will never forget. Friends can bring a small gift for you or your baby; you can chant together and share a sacred meal. For me this has been a wonderful alternative to the traditional baby shower.
Staying in the nest … Reflections on the ancient ritual of keeping your home a sanctuary for 40 days after your son is born
In many traditional cultures the ritual of families staying at home for a number of days after a new baby is born is followed. Practicing Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Hindus and many other Asian cultures all have their versions of this ritual and is a widely practiced rite of passage across the world. It seems a little odd to me then that the Western approach after having had a baby is to pressure the new mother to ‘get out into the world’ as quickly as possible. It’s almost as if we are in some kind of competition to see who can get back to ‘life as normal’ with the greatest speed. I’m sure there is a link between this ludicrous expectation and the high rates of postnatal depression in our culture. We just put ourselves under so much pressure as new mothers!
Of course the yogic tradition stems from India and all the major faiths that are practiced in India (amongst them Hinduism Homeblrth Access Sydney and Sikhism), encourage a 40 day rest at home period after birthing. This practice is also referenced many times in various Ayurvedic texts.
In Vietnamese culture, it is encouraged and known as the’laying in: The Vietnamese particularly emphasis that by staying home with a new baby and resting, the mother is rebuilding her energy in such a way that will serve her all the way into old age. The Orthodox Christian Church recognizes that after giving birth, both mother and baby need a rest and some time to bond and recover their strength. That is why they are both excused from attending services for the next 40 days and encouraged to stay home and rest.
‘In our families, as given to us from the ancient teachings, we observe forty days of sacred privacy and quiet for mother and baby. It is a time for rest, rejuvenation and bonding. In this time the intimacy of the magnetic field between mother and child is confirmed and the deepest core values of security are transmitted. These forty days can be an incredible time in your family’s life. In the Old Testament it rained for forty days and forty nights. It took Noah forty days to build the Ark; the Christians observe forty days of Lent. There are forty days of Ramadan in the Muslim faith. The physical body renews all the cells in the bloodstream every forty days: Gurmukh (Kundalini Yoga teacher).
My own personal experience was that I had a double motivation to stay home for 40 days after having my son. Firstly, my son’s father is Greek Orthodox and I married into that church when I married him. I was strongly encouraged (and very much supported) to follow the 40 day ritual by both my husband and his mother. Obviously I also endeavour to live my life according to the teachings of yoga philosophy, so I was keen to observe the 40 day ritual for that reason too.
40 days at home may simply not be practical for many new mothers. For this reason I often suggest that even staying home for a few days is better than not staying home at all. It is absolutely vital that you have lots and lots of support measures in place for this time. It’s not supposed to be a time when you silently struggle on your own, trying to figure out how to care for a newborn baby. You should not feel isolated or lonely and if you do, I would suggest seriously reconsidering your choice to stay home. This time should be restful, nurturing and gentle in it’s vibration.
Your new baby is already used to the sounds and vibrations of your home, from the time in the womb. Your newborn is even immunized to a certain extent to your home environment (again due to indirect exposure in the womb). For example If you have cats or dogs, your new baby is adapted to being around animal hair via you! So your home really is the safest place to be for the first few weeks of life. If you have a home birth – even better – there is no need to cause any disruption or go anywhere. There are many different ways of following the 40 day ritual. In strict Orthodox and yogic culture the new family will have no visitors at all for 40 days and will live in a relative ‘bubble: I personally found this idea a little restrictive so we chose to compromise. I encouraged visitors and had lots and lots! I was concerned about getting bored when I planned my 40 days at home, but my experience was far from boredom. Between sleeping a great deal, spending time with visitors and getting to know my son, the days passed effortlessly and I remember these days as very precious moments in my life.
I just felt a very special bond developed between us by not being separated at all during this time.
Here are some tips for making whatever variation of the ritual you choose to work well for you:
- Be prepared: before your baby arrives, prepare your home for your 40 day ritual. Buy items like washing powder and food staples in bulk. Do some cooking in advance and preserve or freeze some of your favourite meals.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help. Take the time to explain to friends and family what you will be doing when the baby is born and why this