Tibetan Knowledge on Birth, PPD, Motherhood, and Childcare
This week on BellaOnline I reviewed The Tibetan Art of Parenting, and while I focused on the Buddhist-oriented knowledge in the review, what really interested me was the info on mother’s and children’s subtle energies and energy systems. As some of you know I have an interest/obsession in the sacral or 2nd chakra, and have written before on its relationship to childbearing and raising (among other things.) Along those lines, here is some of the information I found the most intriguing, and thought some of you might also (and none of this is meant to be a recommendation of any type, although I do have great respect for certain aspects of Tibetan culture):
- Keeping a mother warm just prior to, during, and after childbirth is considered essential, because it is believed that giving birth takes up so much of a mother’s lifeforce that she doesn’t have enough left to keep herself warm. Although the book itself doesn’t specifically mention chakras (some Tibetan lineages utilize chakra techniques and others do not), this little tidbit was interesting to me because the kundalini, or energy that rises through the chakras when they are open, is often called ‘heat’, and many people experience an energetic heat when doing chakra techniques. So a deep or chronic coldness is never just physical, but also energetic, and can indicate blocks or lack of energy in the chakra system and associated subtle energy channels.
Tibetan mothers are kept warm with blankets and warm broth during childbirth. Of course, in most Western hospital settings, the temperature is frigid and birthing mothers are not allowed any food, even broth. This shocked one Tibetan mother who gave birth in the U.S. As she put it, “I told the nurses I was cold and thirsty and they gave me ice chips!”
- Tibetan medicine does recognize post-natal/post-partum depression, and views it as a “deficiency of life-sustaining winds”. First off, it is interesting to find PND/PPD recognized at all, because there are those in homeopathic/holistic medicine communities here in the West that view PND/PPD as a uniquely modern Western condition, exacerbated by the ‘alienated’ way we birth and raise children, as compared to the past or other cultures. But Tibetans generally have strong family support systems, birth naturally, often at home with family attending, nurse, sleep in a family bed, etc. all methods that some believe lower the incidence of PND/PPD. And they absolutely may help, but clearly the fact that this ancient medical system recognizes it shows that it has been with us for some time, and there is a lot more going on.
The ‘life-sustaining winds’ are essentially kundalini/life force (lots of different terms for referring to this in different traditions), and upon doing some further research on Tibetan views of PND/PPD (beyond this book), I found that it’s believed that in cases of PND/PPD either the mother’s energy was depleted prior to birth more than normally for some reason, was blocked because of energetic issues prior to becoming pregnant, or was not sufficiently recovered after giving birth. In other words, for whatever reason, so much ‘heat’ is lost during birth that it is the last straw, and the mother can’t recover her own energy enough to meet her own physical and psychological needs. The Tibetans use herbal treatments, energy practices/rituals, massage, acupressure, steaming and other methods as treatment.
I do know some yoga teachers that specifically advocate kundalini/chakra work for PND, particularly teacher Gurmukh (whose pre and post natal yoga DVDs I used in both my pregnancies and loved) but hadn’t really come across it within an alternative medicine system before. For me, it really supports my belief that the 2nd chakra is of special importance in women, the seat of their entire personal power really, and requires special care. (And for the record, I personally utilize both mainstream Western and alternative medical methods for myself and children, so this is NOT meant to discredit or judge the use of hormonal treatments for PND, as I know women who have benefited greatly by this.)
- In Tibetan medicine, when a nursing infant/child is ill, the mother is often treated with herbs, energy cleansing techniques and rituals, even if she is healthy. It is believed that both herbs/medicine and energy streams are transmitted through the mother’s milk to the child. This includes a mother’s moods and any external energy influences. In other words, the mother’s entire state is transmitted to some extent to the nursing child, especially young infants.
- Children are believed to retain past life memories to some extent up until the age of 8 years old. They are also considered extremely intuitive and sensitive energetically until this time. Children under 8 are believed to have a purity and openness of mind (regardless of their past-life karma) that connects them to energetic sensations and spirits that most of us lose after this. Young children’s intuitions and sensations are taken extremely seriously – both positive and negative experiences. On the negative side, there are 24 ‘spirit disorders’ that children are believed to be especially susceptible to, from night terrors to various levels of possession. Tibetans therefore use a variety of ‘protective’ methods for their children, especially before this age, and Lamas are consulted if disturbances are recurrent.
- Formal schooling usually starts around 6, and schooling outside the home has long been a part of Tibetan culture. In Tibet, this was a major function of the monasteries, and part of the reason they flourished there. I was interested to find that in the Tibetan exile community in Dharamsala, most of the schools are now Montessori schools. I stumbled upon Montessori quite by accident with my own children, and have loved it, partly because many of its tenets meld so well with my own beliefs on consciousness that have been shaped by my own spiritual journey. Upon researching Montessori more, I discovered that founder Maria Montessori was very involved with the Theosophists, and was asked to come to India and found several Montessori schools there, and as a result, Montessori is very popular throughout India. (And as I noted in an old post on Indigo/Crystal children, Montessori is also one of the recommended education methods for them. BTW – my own views of the Indigo/Crystal theories has been undergoing a shift and perhaps I’ll post on it again soon…)
- In family units and in relations amongst children, harmony is emphasized above individual feelings. Although I hate to stereotype, I do think this is a distinction that holds for most Eastern cultures vs. Western ones. Here in the West, a lot of parenting philosophy orients around respecting individual children’s feelings, and acknowledging and respecting all party’s feelings when resolving disputes. But in Tibetan culture, there is usually some kind of judgment made by whatever adult is around regarding which child is the one causing the disruption, i.e. who is responsible for the lack of harmony, and the problem addressed that way. So if a child takes a toy from another, or won’t share, he/she is made to give the toy back or share, no discussion. This is a very basic example, but interesting to contemplate when you expand it out to other scenarios. As the authors of this book put it, “In Tibet, demanding your own rights is not valued, because it doesn’t fit into the concept of being a part of the family.”
- Tibetans spank, and the Dalai Lama was hit with a switch by his parents. I have to admit, I was thrown by this one. I am pretty anti-spanking, especially in our hyper-violent culture, and this didn’t seem to fit with a culture where children are taught to delicately carry spiders and other insects outside when they get in the house. But Tibetans consider discipline essential, and spanking to be a suitable punishment for them. Interestingly, it is often carried out after dinner, much after the event instead of at the time, which at least means it is not just done out of anger in the moment. Overall, I think it reminded me that in parenting perhaps technique and philosophy is less the issue than intent and relationship, which is something that has come up over and over in the last 2 weeks (my karma perhaps for my judgmental mini-rant of parents who drug their children for ADD/ADHD??) And along those lines, if you have not yet read Mon from Holistic Mama’s post ‘When I See a Mother, I Will Assume‘, check it out.
As always, I welcome all thoughts and questions regarding any of these topics….