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Everyone assumed that it would be easy for AcroYoga teacher Deven Sisler to have a baby. After all, she was a healthy 35-year-old who had been practicing yoga and meditation for 12 years and eating organically for 20. So when she miscarried at 9 weeks in June 2015, it came as a big shock to her and her husband. “It was the single most painful, empowering, and transformative time in my life,” she reflects.
Sisler took the rest of the summer to sleep, eat well, and take care of herself, and by October she was pregnant again. Once again, she miscarried at 9 weeks. “In mid-December I just started bleeding. I curled up by fire and cried my heart out,” she says. The doctor later confirmed that it was a non-viable molar pregnancy. Her emotional recovery was more complicated this time — just when she was starting to feel better after her second miscarriage, she got hit with postpartum depression. “I didn’t know you could have that without a baby. My legs were knocked out from under me,” she reveals.
Around the time that she started recovering from the depression with the help of family, friends, and restorative yoga, Sisler learned she had a rare precancerous condition called gestational trophoblastic disease as a result of her second pregnancy — a condition that can be deadly if not treated immediately. “I had to get a shot of Methotrexate — a form of chemotherapy — once a week for 8 weeks. I responded really well to treatment, but the fatigue was really, really high for me in beginning and I lost a lot of appetite. Everything was a struggle.”
Finally, after the treatment wrapped up in April, Sisler started to feel a little bit better every day, and by the end of May she felt like herself again. “I’m really grateful every day to have my uterus, to be alive, to have my hair,” she says. “I think about how amazing my husband is, my family and friends who dropped parts of their life to cook for me and support me, how much I love my job.”
Along the path of her journey to healing, Sisler found she could do restorative yoga, sometimes just one or two poses, and it would help her relax. “Restorative yoga allowed me to still be in my practice. It’s really important when you’re going through anything physically or emotionally wrenching to have a restorative strategy, to create a little bit of space for healing. Something you can do when you feel like you can barely do anything.”
And while Sisler is not ready to start trying to get pregnant again just yet, she recently started dreaming about having babies. “We definitely want to have a family so we’re confident that’s going to happen. I’m open to the fact that I have no idea how that’s going to happen.”
She also helps hopes that sharing her story about miscarriage will help reduce some of the stigma and shame surrounding this common and painful experience. “Through sharing my story, women from all walks of life are saying ‘me too.’ After my first and second miscarriage, a number of people went out of their way to look me in eye and say, ‘You didn’t do anything wrong.’ A lot of women need to hear that.”
A Healing Restorative Yoga Sequence
Sisler recommends using the following restorative sequence, which contains a healing meditation for each pose, as a launching point to find your own healing flow whether you’re recovering from a miscarriage or any other traumatic experience. “This sequence is an offering of relaxation, so your body and your nervous system can hit the reset button and help you restore equilibrium. Change into your favorite pajamas, put on your coziest socks and favorite relaxing music, and just relax,” she says.
YOU WILL NEED A bolster and 2 pillows or 2 blocks.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Meditation: “I feel the support of the earth under my yoga mat rising up to support me. My feet are supported, my legs are supported, my spine, my skull, my body is supported. I am supported.
Place the bottoms of your feet together; your pillows or blocks can slide under your knees. Place a bolster lengthwise along your mat. Lie down on the bolster so your head, heart, and back are elevated, and close your eyes. Settle your left hand over your heart, the other over your belly. Feel your heart beating and listen to your breath. Invite your breathing to become even and steady.
Grounded Crescent Moon
Meditation: “As I inhale I invite calm, as I exhale I let go of anxiety and tension.
Stretch your hands overhead with arms long as your legs straighten and extend away. Elongate your left side body by leaning toward your right, bringing your right pinky finger and right pinky toe toward each other. For a deeper stretch, cross your left foot over your right. Focus your attention on 10 long breaths, opening through the left side of the lungs. Switch to the other side.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Meditation: “In this moment, I am safe. I am protected. I am free from harm and injury.
Take your knees as wide as your mat. Begin to bow your head toward your mat and walk your hands forward. Place a block under your forehead or hips, wherever you need more support, so you can stay here for 2 minutes. Lengthen and extend each inhalation, then match your exhalations. Observe your breath as you count to 3, 4, or 5, and match your exhalation to your inhalation while breathing out.
Reclining Hero Pose (Supta Virasana)
Meditation: “I am present. I listen to the sound of my breath. I feel the beat of my heart. I listen.
Place your bolster lengthwise in the middle of your mat with one block perpendicular to the bolster. Place your feet on either side of your hips, with another block under your sitting bones if there is any pressure in your knees. If this creates too much tension, you can straighten one leg and take this as a two-sided pose. Lean back onto the bolster. Let your head rest on the top block and your arms extend out to either side. Allow your breath to fill into the top, middle, and bottom of your lungs. Hold at the top of each inhalation for a moment and repeat the meditation.
Meditation: “I am equanimity. I am balance.
Constructive rest is a pose of optimum equilibrium that allows the muscles of the body to relax, the craniosacral fluid to find its natural rhythm, and each vertebra to rejuvenate. Lie down on your back with your feet just in front of your knees. If it feels uncomfortable to keep them parallel, allow your knees to knock together and rest. Focus on the inner and outer edges of your feet melting into the floor. Inhale and allow the floor to take a little more of your weight. Breathe relaxation into your whole body while you let gravity do the work of supporting this pose.
Gentle Reclining Twist
Meditation: “I am grace. I gratefully accept this moment.
Lie down on your back. Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle and let them fall to one side. If a shoulder lifts off the ground, support it and your knees with a pillow or block. This allows the body to fully relax into the benefits of this twist. This pose can help alleviate stiffness and back pain from sitting or lying down too long. Focus on extending each exhalation to more deeply release stagnant air from the bottom of your lungs, while relaxing on your inhalation. Repeat on the other side.
See also Kathryn Budig’s Healing Meditation
Join Deven Sisler and the largest group of AcroYogis October 3–10, 2016, in Portland, Oregon, for the AcroYoga Divine Play Festival.