women's health worldwide
Ingrid Lewis is a qualified Public Health Consultant, therapist and yoga teacher. Her public health work with BaYaka hunter-gatherer women in Congo inspires her work in reproductive and women’s health. Combining indigenous knowledge about reproduction and birth, a wide range of therapeutic approaches and yoga with scientific research Ingrid aims to help women to be in charge of their bodies, to create the environment most conducive for them to become and be pregnant as well as birth in dignity and enjoy motherhood. She is a Trustee for Dr. Francoise Barbira Freedman’s Birthlight Trust – UK’s first perinatal yoga training provider and helped to set up what is now called Doula UK writing and implementing the training/mentoring programme of doulas. Her yoga journey began in 1989 in Varanasi, India where she took initiation into Kriya Yoga. She trained as a Sivananda Yoga and Birthlight Yoga teacher & tutor and with Donna Farhi. Ingrid offers weekly yoga (pregnancy, postnatal, baby) classes, holds regular birth preparation courses for couples and offers private therapy sessions for men, women & children.
Ingrid has worked in Germany, the UK and Central Africa in both, allopathic and complementary medicine for 28 years. While living in Congo (Central Africa) she was initiated by BaYaka hunter-gatherer women into their secret knowledge and ancestral rites. It is vital to reconsider ancient knowledge about the unique female power of reproduction & birth if we are to change the current trend towards intervention during pregnancy, labour and birth. The BaYaka women have allowed Ingrid to share their wisdom with women in the West to help them birth well. Ingrid's aim is to enable women to be in charge of their own bodies and birth in dignity. Ingrid feels passionate about helping women at all life stages to rejoice in their femininity.
"It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has", Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC).
Working with people of all ages, nationalities and walks of life made me understand the importance of Hippocrates' observation and inspired me to study and practice a range of different approaches to treatment. I began my professional life as a physiotherapist in 1987. One striking experience happened whilst I was working in a hospital specialising in neurology. I cared for a young violinist in a 'wake-coma'. The hospital had kindly given her desperate parents permission to invite an unusual 'healer' to help treat her. He not only succeeded in waking her from coma but also managed to walk up and down stairs with her long before we, her medical team, could replicate the same using physiotherapy techniques. Witnessing how important it is to address the whole person rather than just the symptoms for effective healing led me to also study unconventional therapeutic approaches. The longer I worked with people the deeper my search for solutions to the health problems they presented with became. Over the years I have studied a wide range of therapies with renowned therapists as well as shamans and healers.
When I became a mother for the first time in 1990 I was astonished to learn that I was one of only four women in a group of twelve that had experienced a beautiful, natural and straightforward birth. I also became aware that this was the norm. The knowledge that much illness and human suffering has its root-cause at the beginning of life started my enquiry into what enables women to birth well.
In 1994 I spent three years living in the rainforest in Congo with Yaka Pygmy hunter-gatherers. Whilst carrying out medical research into the incidence and prevalence of current, endemic and epidemic diseases among the Yaka I also studied their traditional healing practices as a pupil of two healers. Besides major physical and logistical obstacles such as inaccessibility and nomadic movement, the second most important reason for the failure of delivery of health care to the Yaka is discrimination. In order to provide the Yaka with a health service which neither resulted in the deterioration of their health status, nor in the destruction of their culture and right to a distinctive way of life, the healers and I set up a mobile clinic combining traditional medicines as well as western ones. Living and working with these extraordinary people allowed me to see the possibilities and limitations of traditional medicine, as well as its strengths.
Yaka women do not have access to emergency obstetric care. Their vast knowledge of female reproduction and birthing, their extensive knowledge of healing plants and the unique egalitarian society they live in is what they rely on. Yaka women have just the same feelings and thoughts about birth as western women do. What differs is the support they are given during this very important time. Yaka mothers are celebrated by their community for their unique ability and contribution to the continuity of life. Western women in contrast are frequently led to believe that they cannot give birth without medical intervention and are endlessly assessed for risk factors saturating the birthing environment with potential danger and consequent fears. Sheila Kitzinger's birth-crisis network is living proof to the rising number of women feeling traumatized by the care they received during their pregnancy and birth experience. The Yaka women kindly permitted me to share their wisdom with women in the West to help them birth well.
I learnt from tribal societies such as the Yaka that the transition from woman to mother is an initiation into a different way of being in the world. The success of this initiation depends on the safety of the environment provided to do so.
Already in the 1930's Omraam Aivanhov, French Philosopher and Pedagogue, wrote that human society can be changed in a few generations if mothers are given adequate support and access to environments that are nurturing. Dr. Joseph Chilton-Pearce developed this in his enquiry why children that are loved and nurtured have a larger neocortex, capable of more complex loving, thinking and feeling, than children that are unwanted or born into violent environments. Yaka people reproduce a non-violent society of equals who live in mutual respect and support of one-another and nature. It is vital to reconsider this ancient knowledge about female reproduction and birth if we are to change the birthing environment, and as Dr. Odent puts it: develop our capacity to love.
Dr. Michel Odent's lifelong research about the correlation between the primal period and health and behaviour in later life clearly documents the negative long-term effects medical interventions such as deep forceps and C-section births can have on a person's life. Despite Dr. Odent's and other eminent authors' well-researched and detailed books published about the significance of pregnancy and mode of birth on the future health and mental well-being of a child as they go through life, our public health system seems hardly to have registered this.
This and my experiences in Africa prompted me to study for an MSc in Public Health in Developing Countries in 1999 at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where I had studied Tropical Medicine three years earlier.
In 2001 Dr. Odent inspired a group of mothers to found a network of mothers to help other women to birth well. I helped to set up what is now called Doula UK, drafting and implementing the training and accreditation programme for new doulas. Organising the training courses for new doulas and working as a doula gave me an even deeper insight into ways to empower pregnant women, and thus help prevent some of the excessive amount of medical intervention they are too often subjected to.
At the same time I started to work closely with Dr. Francoise Barbira-Freedman whom I had known since 1990 in her capacity as a medical anthropologist. Here, at Birthlight, I found a wonderful tool to change the common trend that medicalises birth and women's birthing bodies. Working as a teacher, tutor and trustee with Birthlight I can say Birthlight does achieve what it set out to do: to build a sound, positive and healthy foundation for life that nourishes individuals and families.
My initiation into Kriya Yoga in Varanasi, India, in 1989 had made me understand the depth of Patanjali's teachings: 'Yoga is NOW - in the energy of the presence of life and not in the past or future. These are the residences of mind. It is the settling of the mind into the original silence that is the real aim of yoga.'
Combining indigenous knowledge about reproduction and birth, a variety of therapeutic approaches and the yogic wisdom of the ancient sages with scientific research I aim to help women to be in charge of their bodies, to create the environment most conducive for them to become and be pregnant as well as birth in dignity and to rejoice in their femininity and motherhood.
I offer weekly Birthlight yoga classes, hold regular courses and workshops (see training & schedule) and offer private therapy sessions. As a Public Health Consultant I hope to share research with other countries including ones in Africa where the ancient female knowledge about reproduction and birth is still alive today. Since our obstetric model is being implemented in the developing world it is important to share the lessons learned.