I learnt a new word today, it's 'hyperlexic' and I totally relate to it. I am hyperlexic. I have been glued to books from a young age. I clearly remember my big sister Lucy telling me that she thought I was old enough to try chapter books, and that I could manage The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and that if there was a long word like 'Macready' I could split it up to work out what it said. And I've never looked back.
So I love author events, and I love hearing authors speak about their creative processes, and I was so delighted to find out that Elle McNicoll was going to be at the Southbank Centre and that I could go, and that my daughter would be willing to come with me. My girl also loves reading but it was me who bought Elle McNicoll's books and read them first, so she hasn't yet had chance to get fully into them.
Having a child who is willing to attend events with you is really helpful, because it turns the event from being an indulgence for yourself (which I struggle to justify) into a fun day out and a magical, educational and inspirational experience for your child.
Not only did Elle McNicoll say that she was hyperlexic as a child, but she explained that the magic in her latest book Like a Charm is 'intuitive' rather than magic that you have to learn how to perform.
And it made me sit up straight. I'd noticed this when reading the book, but it hadn't quite sunk in. It really struck a chord with me and made me think about... pregnancy yoga. Yes, really.
Elle McNicoll is dyspraxic and talks about how she spent her childhood going to workshops and occupational health sessions and being told what she could and couldn't do. I wonder whether making her characters intuitively magical was a way of kicking back against the structures and rules that people have tried to impose on her all her life. No you don't have to learn how to do this. The knowledge is already deep inside you, if you just trust and let it out.
So here's how it relates to pregnancy yoga. I have always found that the western medical approach to the human body is that it is somehow defective and can't function without interventions. I grew up feeling defective because of my asthma, and I believed that the human race would die out if it weren't for modern medicine, saving the lives of women in childbirth. No doubt modern medicine is amazing and does save lives, but there is a feeling among birth workers that it is somewhat overused and that women should be allowed to feel more empowered when birthing, rather than like invalids.
I approached my first pregnancy like a medical student, reading up on all the possible outcomes and what decisions I should make in each scenario. I asked my midwife at what stage in my pregnancy I should stop running and was astounded when she said "Listen to your body." It was the first time anybody in my life had suggested that I could trust my own body and what it was telling me.
In pregnancy, I feel that our natural instincts come to the surface more strongly and we know what our bodies need - hence the strong cravings for unusual food. Pregnant women know what they need but often are told that they don't know best, that they need medical interventions and to be monitored, measured and assessed for their own good. I had to throw a tantrum when birthing my daughter because I was told to lie back and be monitored, when I knew I would be more comfortable, not need drugs, and have a more efficient birth if I could go on all fours and let my baby slide out downhill.
The knowledge of what we need is primitive and doesn't reside in the rational, calculating part of our brains. It's in the more animal part which we often suppress because we think it is less advanced and therefore less sophisticated. The best way to access this rich mine of knowledge is through breathing slowly. Slow, relaxed breathing using the diaphragm is the way to get your mind into the present moment, focus on what is going on in your body right now, and block out all the worries, anxieties, plans that are to do with the past and future rather than the here and now. Slow breathing helps you to tap into your intuition and let your body get on with what it knows how to do.
I think that being able to regulate our own breathing rate is our own magic. I recently learned that other animals can't do it - their breath changes speed depending on their state of mind, but they can't influence their state of mind by changing the speed of their breathing. Slowing down your breathing tells your brain that you are safe, there are no threats, you don't have to be hyper-alert or physically tense, ready to run or fight... you can just be. What a wonderful power to be able to carry around with us at all times. Trust your ability to use your breath and trust in what your body is telling you.
I feel it's OK to make this random connection between Elle McNicoll's wonderful book and pregnancy yoga, because during the event she and her interviewer (the lovely Anna James) said that people tell them all the time about how clever they are to have made a particular connection in their work, and they just nod and smile and say "Oh yes, that's exactly what I meant when I wrote that." And they commented that once you've written a book and sent it out into the world, people can make whatever connections they like. So this one is mine.