By Sonja Semion
When my daughter was just a few days old, I was startled awake by her cries in the dark of night. I picked up her tiny body and nestled her kicking legs against my chest. Whispering soothing words, I changed her diaper and tucked her next to my breast. She quickly fell back asleep. The next morning, I thought of how many painful stories I had heard about sleep deprivation in early motherhood. Yet I felt no deprivation. In fact, I was surprised at how little I minded being awakened. I felt that something greater was supporting me.
When she was six weeks old, her father left for a weekend trip that had been planned long before she arrived. On the last day of being alone with her, I found myself gasping for air, searching for any space where I could set her down without the incessant wail that followed me from every bassinet and spread of blankets.
Everywhere I looked was a disaster that I had left behind. Dishes were piled next to the sink. Laundry was wet and growing moldy in the washer. I had imagined it would be hard to keep things together, but I didn’t realize that it would be impossible. The weight of my expectations was heavy on my spine.
Later that night, my baby screamed from one end of the room while I cried from another. After some release, I regained my breath, picked her up and nursed her in silence. I saw that something greater was supporting me here, too. It told me that there were limits to what I could expect of myself, and I had better learn to respect them.
A container for life
I knew that pregnancy would mean that I was to spend nine months as a living container for my daughter. Everything I ate, she ate. Every breath I took, I shared with her. But when I became a mother, I learned that I would not cast aside this duty just because she was no longer inside my womb. Two years into it, I see that my role as a container for her life will never cease. I accept this responsibility with grace, but like any vessel, there is a point when things spill out. It gets messy if I don’t empty myself from time to time.
I discovered the Ayurvedic treatment of snehan when my daughter was eight months old. After my first treatment, I cried for an hour. As the tears flowed, I struggled to understand how lying on a wooden table while someone gently rubbed oil on my body for 90 minutes could create this kind of release. But it did, so I let myself swim in it.
I sank into the container I had created as a mother. I saw that the water inside was formless but strong. It cooled my skin and softened my hard places. Inside it, I was buoyant and light, but I was not free of the need for air. If I did not remember to breathe, panic would overtake me and I would begin to sink.
I eased myself out, wiping the salt from my eyes. The world had a new kind of clarity to it. My view was more honest, sharper and vibrating with the full experience of life. I saw what it would mean to anticipate this need to empty and breathe. I no longer needed to let it burst out in an explosive wave of pain.
Ayurveda is self-care
I hear a lot of talk about self-care for mothers. I talk a lot about self-care for mothers. But to practice it requires an honesty that can be challenging to admit. I love motherhood, but it can be incredibly lonesome to be the one with all the answers. Raising a child fulfills me more than anything else I have ever experienced, but it also exhausts me beyond words. I can lean on the God inside me for strength when I need it, but I cannot find this God if I do not allow my container to be contained.
I have learned many useful tools for self-care in my Ayurveda studies. Doing regular abhyanga nourishes me. Waking up before the dawn (and before my daughter) for pranayama, meditation and Yoga asana nourishes me. Eating meals at regular times nourishes me. But when the big pushes come, as they inevitably do, I need more than all this. I seek refuge in snehan.
When I traveled with my daughter alone on a six-hour plane ride last summer, I booked a snehan at my destination, and one again when I returned home. I booked one when vata shot up during the transition from summer to fall. And another when the aches of carrying a well-fed Ayurvedic toddler began to catch up with my joints. The dark, warm treatment room, filled with the musky scent of Ayurvedic herbs, is my container. It is where I come back into sync with my own heartbeat. Where I can be silent and still and touched in the gentlest way I have ever known.
I don’t cry every time I get snehan. But I do soften. After a treatment, no matter how many dishes there are to be done, how much laundry to fold or how many emails I have to answer, all I want is to be in the fullness of my experience. Here, I can rest in the expansiveness of my service as a mother, but see that my first duty is to myself. This is a comfortable place, an honest place. When I find it, I ease my daughter onto my lap, stroke her fine baby hairs and chant a sweet song of devotion.
Sonja Semion is a student of Ayurveda, Yoga and life. When she is not managing communications for Hale Pule or showing her daughter the beauty of Kaua'i, she is working on completing Hale Pule’s Ayurvedic health counselor program and 200-hour Yoga teacher training. Connect with her on Instagram: @semisonja.