Have you heard of womb yoga? Yogini Dewi Chen describes it as “yoga therapy to support women through their life stages – from the first menstrual cycle to pregnancy to menopause”.
By her confession, the 35-year-old used to have a “very divorced relationship” with her womb. “From my early 20s, I was on the pill to regulate my menstrual cycle as my periods were irregular and extremely painful,” she says in an interview with Young Parents.
“When I got off the pill, my periods took a while to return and I was on a lot of medication for heavy bleeding. I sought TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and other alternative methods to help me, and practised yoga frequently.
“It was only when I chanced upon womb yoga did I finally understand why I was in so much pain: I was trying to get rid of the pain messages without even listening to what the messages had to say.”
Of the yoga teacher-trainings she had completed in India, Bali, and London, those of womb yoga had the most profound impact on her.
Today, Dewi is a trained doula and founder of Terra Luna Yoga, an all-women only studio which offers womb yoga.
“I also wanted to provide a safe, trauma-aware space for women to practise in. I, along with many other women across the globe, have been sexually assaulted by yoga teachers and it is time that we start to do something about it,” shares Dewi, who was an urban planner for eight years before committing to her calling full-time last year.
Here, she tells Young Parents more about womb yoga, which she also credits to have helped calm and prepare her body to conceive a baby. Her daughter, Lea, is now three years old.
What is womb yoga?
Dewi: Womb yoga, created by Dr Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, is an embodied practice of listening and honouring the feminine body. Designed as yoga therapy to support women through their life stages – from the first menstrual cycle, to pregnancy to menopause. The practice includes dance-like flows, embodied movement, meditation as well as sound and breath practices.
How is it different from other forms of yoga?
There are no other systems in current yoga lineages, like Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga, that honours the woman’s anatomy. If I were to look at yoga as just an activity, aside from its philosophy and spirituality, I would say that when the forefathers of yoga came up with the practices, they were based on the male anatomy.
Unlike other systems of yoga which tend to see menstruation, pregnancy and menopause as conditions that limit what you can practice, womb yoga meets you where you are in your cycle and in life in general.
We breathe better, sleep better and are less stressed. At a deeper level, we may be able to heal deep emotional and physical wounds.
There is more awareness about taking care of our heart, skin or even hair, than our womb. Why is it important to pay more attention to this organ?
We should view the womb as playing more than just a reproductive function. At the physical level, the womb brings balance within the pelvis as it sits between the bladder and rectum.
It shares a deep connection with the gut, given its location. Think about why nausea, diarrhea and loss of appetite are common menstrual and pregnancy symptoms.
Some researchers also have found that it plays an important role in maintaining cognitive function given its neurological connection with the brain.
You mentioned earlier about being a victim of sexual assault. What happened back then?
I was in London. I had wanted to find out more about all these different schools. At this course I attended, I was in a chair pose, looking towards the main teacher who’s at the front. His assistants, his senior teachers, were roaming around.
From behind me, I felt someone come, scoop my waist back, bring his hands in front of my belly, and sat me on his thighs. So he’s doing the same pose as I am — we look like lightning bolts, if you can imagine. And he put my buttocks directly on his genitals. I needed to keep my awareness to the front, so I didn’t make a sound.
He was wrapping his arms around my waist a lot tighter and I remember thinking to myself how embarrassing it is for others to be looking at me. I wasn’t even concerned about how I felt about my body. And after he left, I kind of shut it out.
It was only when I went to a women’s circle where someone shared her abuse story from her male yoga teacher. I remember feeling a lot of pain. Coming to terms with that assault started to open the floodgates of what I had experienced as a young yoga student since 2010.
What’s your advice to a woman who is being touched inappropriately in a yoga studio?
You need to call out and say, that does not feel appropriate, could you please take your hands away from me. Do not be silent. I think it is the silence that perpetuates the behaviour.
One of the reasons you started an all-women yoga studio is to provide a safe space for your daughter. How do you juggle motherhood and a business?
Drawing up work-home boundaries and being disciplined with the boundaries are the biggest challenges for me. And then there’s the guilt of being away from your daughter when she’s in the next room.
And how do you overcome these challenges?
Reminding myself that the work I do is purposeful and serves my daughter, too. It’s helpful that she’s at an age where she is able to understand when Mummy needs to work. So I tell her before I set off for work where I’m going, how long I will be gone for and what we will do when I return.
It’s an intention-setting exercise for me, and for her, she just loves that she’s kept updated and is involved.
What is a typical day like for your family during the circuit breaker period?
I teach online via Zoom most days, have video calls with my doula clients and then it’s ‘mummy and me’ time most of the day. It hasn’t been the easiest nor has it been the most joyful, but I count my blessings.
I sometimes find myself staring blankly into the wall from the fatigue, much to the annoyance of my daughter. When she’s busy playing, I read up on the Covid-19 crisis and keep myself updated on the latest. I also take afternoon naps with my daughter, which is such a blessing.
In the evening, I prepare and cook dinner. After dinner, if I’m not busy taking Play-Doh and slime out of my daughter’s hair, I’m (hopefully) with a book and some herbal tea. Night time is usually spent catching up on work as I am with her most of the day. It’s been a big shift for our family, but I am thankful to have a roof over my head and hot meals at home.
What are your current priorities?
As a mum, I want to be able to be present for my daughter in whatever way that arises for me. I’ve stopped saying that I want to ‘prioritise’ her because she isn’t a task in a to-do list.
I used to fall into the parenting trap of following development milestones and making sure I’ve got enough ‘face time’ with her (when I was in a corporate job) without thinking about my own needs.
When I saw how this paradigm depleted me, I knew I had to change my perspective on parenting. Now I know when I take care of me, I take care of her. This has been a game changer for me.
Also, with Covid-19 impacting businesses like mine, what is being asked of me right now is to continue to be of service to the women we are committed to support. Terra Luna Yoga is women-focused and trauma-aware space that is built by a real community of women. They have often shared that no other space like ours exist and that alone keeps me going every single day.
How would you describe your parenting approach?
I don’t particularly adopt one parenting approach, but I am trying to adopt more respectful parenting methods.
When your child throws a tantrum, how would you deal with it?
I am a big believer in connection before correction. I’d ask her why she is feeling that way and acknowledge her verbal and non-verbal responses. I don’t expect an answer, and not one immediately. I will give her time and speak to her about it later in the day.
By no means am I an expert at this, but I’ve seen the benefits of such an approach. She throws fewer tantrums now and will sometimes remind us what she did before and how she reacted, before breaking into giggles.
(Also read: 9 ways to praise and encourage your kid)
What are your top bonding activities with your child?
I think the best bonding activities are the ones adults enjoy doing as well. We like to gather sticks and leaves and make little homes for insects we see on the ground.
Now that we’re indoors, we try to bring the outdoors in. We look out for birds, worms in our plants, and other insects that find their way into our homes.
Any advice for mums who are balancing work and family commitments?
Self-care is the best child-care! A lot of us look for rituals, like going to a spa. But sometimes, self-care comes from telling yourself that you are important. It could be during the five minutes when you are brushing your teeth, you tell yourself: “My skin looks really good today.” Thoughts become beliefs; beliefs become actions.
Work out with us – Fit Mum Special
Young Parents and Shape Singapore want to celebrate mums, mums-to-be, and all the strong women around! Join us in this Fit Mum Special lineup of yoga, family workout and talk – and yes, Dewi will be leading us in one of these sessions.
(Photos: Dewi Chen’s own)