Sarah Hummer didn't let her experience with infertility define her. Instead, she drew from what she learned and flipped the script of her entire life. Read on to learn how Sarah turned adversity into an opportunity to encourage others and create a life she loves.
About this time two years ago, I spent many mornings at the fertility clinic as I underwent IVF treatment--my last hope for getting pregnant after nearly four years trying other unsuccessful avenues. The waiting rooms were filled with anxious-looking women (me included) and some men. I always left thinking how isolating infertility and the treatment process felt, but also confused by this, considering so many others were in the same boat.
Infertility is a tricky thing. While millions of women experience infertility—6.1 million says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))—it is a private issue that generally is not talked about openly. It is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting, compounded by uncertainty and pumping hormones into your body multiple times a day during treatment. This is a journey that requires a support system, preferably with those who’ve been there before or who are going through it, too.
At the time, I was a healthcare consultant and taught yoga in the evenings and on weekends. Yoga was my refuge. It helped me stay healthy, strong, calm, and connected with myself through the stresses of infertility, work, and life in general. While I also received support from my family, friends, and acupuncturist, I didn’t have anyone to talk to who was in or had been in my shoes, which would have been incredibly helpful.
Fast forward to today, we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday on March 25. Yoga is now my full-time job. Shortly after my daughter’s birth, I started Yoga with Sarah Hummer, specializing in fertility, prenatal, and postnatal yoga. I also continue to teach workplace yoga, one-on-one yoga, and hatha yoga classes at Yoga Del Sol in Georgetown. Practicing and teaching yoga has been critical in helping me through my journey to and into motherhood and I feel empowered and obligated to share my experience with other women. I have candid conversations regularly with women who are trying to get pregnant, undergoing fertility treatment, or pregnant through fertility treatment, helping to provide that support system I was seeking.
Women’s bodies and minds go through the gauntlet from infertility treatment through the child’s first year. National Infertility Awareness Week is a great reminder that there is too much that is not talked about, maybe because it’s uncomfortable or personal, but this leaves women to feel isolated and suffer alone. This does not have to happen. We need to look out for and help each other when we can, simply by sharing our experiences.
Among the questions I hear most often from women who are struggling to start a family is, "How do I know what I am supposed to do?" The diagnosis of infertility carries with it so many complicated choices. Medical intervention brings along physical, emotional, and financial stress - not to mention moral dilemmas. Researching complementary therapies can be overwhelming. Pursuing adoption seems fraught with an impossibly long timeline and so many unknowns... We all want a miracle baby, but how does that happen?
If you find yourself in this position, let me be clear: yoga is NOT a miracle. But there are significant tangible benefits in reducing physical and emotional stress, connecting with others who are facing similar challenges, creating a healthy relationship with your body and gaining an appreciation for what it CAN do, and learning tools to help you through this complicated and challenging process. Over the past four years I have experienced and seen firsthand how yoga can be an incredible source of healing for women who have been unable to conceive and/or carry a baby to term, and I am pleased to again be offering a Yoga and Fertility workshop series beginning Tuesday, June 7.
This Yoga and Fertility workshop series brings together women who are sharing the infertility journey - from those who are beginning to explore their options to those who have been struggling for years. Seasoned yogis and newbies alike come together to learn from one another and help facilitate the healing process. The combination of a therapeutic asana practice, time for meditation and reflection, and an opportunity to create community has helped dozens of women find healing and release from the burden of infertility. If you live in the DC area, I invite you to join me. If you are live outside DC or are otherwise unable to attend, send me a note. I would be happy to connect via Skype to help you develop a healing home practice and tap into a virtual community to support you along the way.
In recent weeks, the babe battled the typical, lingering cough and stuffy nose that marks the change of seasons in our fair city. The symptoms were persistent, and after a few days I picked up something to help ease her discomfort. As with seemingly every product geared to the toddler set, the remedy came hidden in a sweet, fruit flavored syrup, the appeal of which was immediate and strong...
After her first few doses she began asking for medicine when offered the option of a dessert or special treat. No matter how many times I tried to explain that medicine is something we take to help us feel better, not because of its taste, she was undeterred. Throughout these deliberations I couldn't help thinking we are losing the context of what it means to "take your medicine." The grumpy voice on one shoulder muttered in my ear, "By removing every small inconvenience and unpleasant experience from our children's lives, we miss valuable opportunities to teach larger life lessons." The kinder and gentler voice on my other shoulder reasoned, "If the goal is to help our kiddos feel better and heal, why add an unnecessary struggle?"
I decided the latter voice had the stronger argument. Yes, it is important for our children (and ourselves) to encounter small challenges that prepare us for the larger and more consequential battles we will face in the future, but we needn't make things unnecessarily unpleasant.
We see this in our yoga practice, as well. At times we face discomfort when exploring our physical edge, which can help us grow and strengthen our bodies and minds. But just as often, we may realize we are making ourselves miserable for no reason and see that a simple shift in alignment or the use of a prop can help us more fully experience the benefits of a pose.
At some point everyone needs a bit of medicine. Often it comes in the form of a bitter pill - but occasionally it is sweet. What bitter pill can you replace with a sweet syrup? Try shifting your focus to the end goal you want to achieve and give yourself permission to choose the most pleasant way to get there...
This month marks the 10 year anniversary of the first yoga class I taught. I was fresh from my teacher training program and eager to share what I had learned. I would spend hours mapping out class plans, preparing for every possibility, double- and triple-checking that I had remembered to bring my music (on a CD!), my lavender oil, and the quote or reading I wanted to share to set the theme for the class. Every time I stepped through the door of the classroom I had to remind myself to breathe. I repeated over and over to myself that I was qualified to be here, I had knowledge to share, and this is something I wanted to do (even if I couldn't remember exactly why in the moment...).
At different points during those early classes I would nervously scan the faces of students to see how it was being received. This wasn't necessarily helpful. If I glimpsed a grimace, I would wonder whether the student was exploring his edge or passing judgment on a poor playlist selection. An audible sigh from the back of the room would cause me to question whether someone was enjoying a deep stretch or exasperated by the very idea of the pose. It wouldn't be until the end of a class, when someone would come tell me how much better they felt or thank me for helping them work through a challenge that I could breathe a sigh of relief.
But somehow, despite the early anxiety, I kept teaching - and learning. Over time, my perspective shifted: I stopped being worried about how my teaching was being perceived and started focusing on what I was offering. I discovered how to read the energy of the room - whether students were exhausted and in need of support and encouragement, or whether they were eager for a challenge that could help them channel their restlessness. I gained the confidence to set aside my carefully crafted class plan and instead respond to the individuals I saw in front of me. I became comfortable creating a signature style and voice rather than simply echo my own mentors. And when I finally learned how to trust myself, teaching became not just rewarding, but also fun!
No matter your profession or relationship it is important to observe and listen to your students/clients/friends/colleagues. It is wise to be well researched and prepared and follow the guidance of your mentors but there comes a point at which you also need to recognize what you bring to the table and trust that you know what you are doing. After a decade of teaching, I still create a plan for my classes. I still double-check my bag of teaching materials. But I have stopped holding my breath. And as a result, I am having a lot more fun.
Whether you are a brand new yoga teacher or veteran Hill staffer - first time parent or wise Great Aunt, you have a unique perspective, a valid voice, and something to contribute. Someone needs to hear what you have to say. Take a deep breath, step forward, and let your light shine!
The asana of the month at the studio where I teach is a tricky arm balance. The pose is one I work with rarely - if ever. It doesn't come to mind during a home practice, and it isn't often sequenced into classes I attend. But this month it has been part of EVERY. CLASS. I. HAVE. TAKEN.
In the first week of the month, I struggled to hold it for more than a few breaths. The following week, long archived muscle memory kicked in, and I stretched the hold a bit longer. Little by little I began to feel stronger and more confident, and while I won't be asked to model the pose for a magazine cover anytime soon, I am continuing to gain confidence and an appreciation for what our bodies (and minds) are capable of with persistence.
Some trials we face require strength. Some require flexibility. And some just need us to persevere. What challenge can you overcome with a little persistence?
Part of the fun of being a wandering yogini is the opportunity to work in a variety of interesting settings. From a beautiful garden solarium to a historic church narthex to downtown office buildings to homes that range from cutting edge modern to cozily traditional, my work takes me to a wide and inspiring array of settings from day to day.
Last week, when I arrived at the empty office suite in which I had been working with a client for more than a year, I was startled to find an unfamiliar face sitting at a desk where her yoga mat previously had been rolled out. I paused, stepped back, and found my client, who ushered me to a new room. She explained recent office shuffling had reallocated our former space, and this would be our new yoga home. As the session began, it was clear she was frustrated by the disruption to routine and still struggling to find her bearings.
Objectively speaking, the new space is superior. The room is larger, brighter, and less cluttered. The layout provides greater opportunity to take advantage of wall space and various furniture can easily be re-purposed as props. We flexed our creativity muscles by exploring the new possibilities (handstand!!), and by the time she came out of savasana, she acknowledged the benefits of the new room.
As is so often the case, our yoga practice serves as a mirror of how we respond to challenges in all areas of our life. This particular session provided an opportunity to explore aparigraha (non-attachment) by letting go of our attachment to the familiar and recognizing new opportunities for discovery.
Next time you find yourself resisting a new environment or other change, take a deep breath and assess the situation without judgment. You just might discover some unexpected benefits...
Among the things I love most about teaching yoga is that I live in a constant dance between the roles of student and teacher. This path has given me an incredible appreciation for human strength and frailty - and the importance of compassion for life in all its forms. In any given week my clients include toddlers, high-powered professionals, retirees, full time mamas, and everyone in between. I teach in homes, offices, studios, churches, and shelters. We meet early in the morning, in the middle of the day, and late at night. Through these disparate settings and populations, one thing is clear: we are not really so different from one another. We all have good days and bad days. We all suffer injury and need rest and recovery. We all come to places in which we need to be challenged. Our yoga practice (and our lives) need to be flexible if we are to survive - let alone thrive.
When an elderly client becomes frustrated about forgetting a basic pose, I can remind him to be kind to himself and make a mental note to do the same when faced with my own episodes of forgetfulness. When I witness a student whose practice is compromised by injury, I can counsel ahimsa and remind myself to be equally compassionate when my husband complains of a sore back. When the little ones in my tots class are bursting with uncontainable energy, I can encourage them to take a deep breath and exhibit the same patience when my own toddler is acting out.
We all encounter highs and lows in our interactions. How can we learn from these experiences and apply the lessons to better care for our loved ones and ourselves?
The moment I read about Lauren Rubenstein's service in Haiti on a local yoga blog, I knew I wanted to learn more. Her beautiful reflection on her seven (!) service trips to the disaster-stricken nation acknowledged the seeming triviality of teaching yoga to children who do not know whether they will receive a hot meal on a given day while at the same time espousing hope in the mission and long-term benefits of her work. To learn more about what inspires Lauren and why entering a new situation before you know all the facts isn't always a bad thing, read on...
I had the good fortune to meet Rebecca Bly during a yoga teacher training nine years ago. Her beautiful practice and authentic quest for knowledge suggested great things to come, and her journey has delivered nothing less! After some serious soul searching, Rebecca quit her career as a software developer to become a full time yoga teacher and wellness coach, founding Live Beyond The Mat to help people to find peace and balance in their day to day life. Rebecca describes trading in her pencil skirts and a windowless cubicle for yoga pants and sunny studios as the best decision she ever made, and four years later she’s proud to say she’ll never look back.
In the latest installment of our Trailblazers interview series, Rebecca shares her story and encouragement for fellow travelers...
A new year provides a new opportunity to renew our commitment to dreams, plans, and passions. If you are dreaming of starting a family but facing challenges, consider joining us for an upcoming four week workshop on yoga and fertility. As someone who struggled to become pregnant – and one who has studied the therapeutic benefits of the practice, I have experienced and seen firsthand how yoga can be an incredible help for women who have been unable to conceive and/or carry a baby to term.
The Yoga and Fertility workshop brings together women who are sharing the infertility journey - from those who are beginning to explore their options to those who have been struggling for years. Seasoned yogis and newbies alike come together to learn from one another and help facilitate the healing process.
The combination of a therapeutic asana practice, time for meditation and reflection, and an opportunity to create community has helped dozens of women find healing and release from the burden of infertility. If you live in the DC area, I invite you to join me beginning next Wednesday, January 14 for the fertility yoga workshop series I am offering at Tranquil Space Studio.
If you live outside DC, send me a note. I would be happy to help you find a resource in your area and/or develop a home practice and virtual community to support you along the way.