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Let's Hear It For The Laydeez: Yoga and Women

What keeps you coming back to Yoga? What is it about Yoga that contributes to your experience as a woman?

Yoga is a Sanskrit word which literally means to bring things together, to yoke. This gives our understanding in the West that the word Yoga means union. For me, spanning at least a decade of yoga practice, and half a decade teaching, this spiritual practice of union reminds me to accept and honour all the aspects of myself that in my opinion, form my experience of being a woman.

My first forays into the world of Yoga were far from enjoyable. When I wasn’t feeling overstimulated by the fast paced ‘cues’ of speedy vinyasa flow class, I felt overwhelmed and agitated by the stillness of slower asana classes. Not to mention some particularly harsh teaching styles, unsolicited and unconsented physical adjustments and do not even get me started on Hot Yoga.

Yoga? Don’t believe the hype. I thought.

Solace came when thanks to embodied and kind teachers I learned to practice yoga with an autonomous, fluid, patient attitude. I was encouraged to be conscious of all my stuff: my present moment experience, my body, my combination of both feminine and masculine energy, my menstrual cycle, my emotions, my thoughts, my ancestry and the trauma that has resided in my body and influenced my emotions, thoughts and relationship with spirit (insert your own word here: source, universe, higher power, God, bananas).

Granted, it has taken me a long while to realise that my womanness absolutely influences my Yoga practice and Yoga shapes my ongoing, one step forward two steps back of healing to embody my female body.

Why has it taken a long while?

How about the performative, patriarchal, proprietorial, competitive veil that through commodification of a spiritual practice, hides what Yoga really is.

Through the 8 limbed path including physical movement, breathwork, meditation, ideas for ethical behaviour, sensory withdrawal, contemplation and moments of enlightenment Yoga anchors my sense of enoughness. It’s a feeling of remembering over and over that I am enough, to know when I have had enough and when there is room for more or an appropriate amount of challenge. And what a gift this is for a woman, because it’s only for millennia that woman have walked around believing that we are both too much and not enough.

Yoga soothes the societally injected habit of needing to compete with other women. You know the script; not pretty enough, not clever enough, not lovable enough, not flexible enough, not rich enough, not a good enough mum/daughter/ partner/ businesswoman. And so it goes on.

Yoga talks about satya (truth) which is truthfulness to know what is right for us which is a relief in a patriarchal world.  I continually learn to be truthful about what is right for my body and when. Plus it’s truthful autonomy, so just because I don’t like doing headstands, or hot yoga or Kier Starmer it does not mean that somebody else is not allowed to like these things!  And thank F I have the privilege to practice Yoga because I live in a country which does not stifle the rights of women, countries where oppression and patriarchy stamp on women on the regular. I believe it’s my duty as a woman who gets to live free (and we all have different interpretations of being free) to know the abuses of women around the world and to offer time and money to raise awareness of this. (check out charities Too Young To Wed and the Orchid Project)

Sadly, many woman (and others) have been abused by power hungry self-proclaimed Yoga gurus and their cults. These are typically men who proclaim to have magic powers, psychic abilities and that their brand of Yoga dogma is the only one worth dedicating one’s life to. Being wrapped in the ‘only’ way and other dogmatic approaches is the antithesis of wat women need. We need variety and freedom to choose how we practice from day to day, no rules opposed upon us but to make up and shake up our own rules. We need practices that maximise our voices and choices, to at best celebrate and as start point accept ourselves and the context that we show up within; race, culture, disability, sexuality, trauma history, financial, body image, illness.

Dogmatic rules and guru veneration do not serve the cyclic nature of the Feminine, a woman’s needs which shift from week to week.

BUT the consistent practice of working with Yoga in ways that work for us, can illicit a state change in which we find new levels of courage, calm, discernment, strength, self compassion, self respect, awareness, realness, embodiment (see Cox and Tylka, State to Trait model).

I want to give a shout out to the women who stepped out of their Yoga cults to call out sexual abuse:

Karen Rain who broke the silence of abuse in the brand of Ashtanga Yoga, particularly perpetrated by founder Patabhi Jois.

Pamela Sahara Dyson who exposed Yogi Bhajan of the oh so popular Kundalini Yoga.

Larissa Anderson and Sarah Baughn who like many others suffered at the hands of abuser Bikram Choudhary in his cult of Bikram Yoga (many of his teachings still exist in today’s hot yoga).

And the thousands of others who have survived abuse in Yoga cults under false gurus both male and female.

Yoga is a practice so fit for women to help us uncover our power and peace which resides deep in our bodies beneath societal noise, comparisons, abuses and needlessly expensive yoga clothing.


Further reading

Enough! Healing from Patriarchy’s Curse of Too Much and Not Enough by Sarah Wheeler

Premka, Bird in a Golden Cage by Pamala Sahara Dyson

Practice And All Is Coming, abuse in Ashtanga Yoga by Matthew Remski

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