Yoga as an outward display has always been problematic to me. When I first began to practice yoga, although I didn’t necessarily realise it at the time, it was often a way to escape from the negative perceptions I felt about myself and my body and a tool in order to break free for just a short amount of time from some of the self-destructive patterns I was caught in. It is because of this that when asana practice becomes perceived as being for one body type or culture, or when it actually leads us more towards this detrimental judgement of ourselves then we may have to question if what we are surrounding ourselves with is leading towards our liberation or contributing to creating obstructive spaces and energy blocks in our lives. This doesn’t necessarily always relate to our own actions but also to where it is that we are practising, who we are communicating with and the media that we are consuming. Sometimes, we do not have a choice in this but we do have the option of awareness, of observing and of not participating.
Whilst social media and other marketing and ideas often presents us with a very rosy image of the yogic lifestyle, for me it is these external pictures that are preventing us from getting closer to the heart of our practice. Several years on from first stepping on the mat, my practice is about sensations; the feeling of lengthening, of creating space in my body, of surrendering to wherever I am on any given day and becoming aware of and accepting my limitations. The more I have learnt to move with and focus on my breath, the more profound my practice has become.
Without excluding anyone from this piece, as women this constant battle between the outward display and the inward experience feels especially difficult. Through many channels, we are constantly conditioned to identify primarily with our bodies and rather than using our practice to celebrate our femaleness, it merely becomes another layer in our attempts to live up to the image of perfection we are taught to strive to be. We are led to believe that we must fit into boxes, types, and more often than not in the mainstream world of yoga which now pervades, that we must be young, slim, white and drink smoothies and celery juice. Whilst I am in the minority camp of people who does not actually mind the taste of blended celery, it is these ideals that seem to be leading us far astray from what it really is that we are attempting to connect to through yoga.
Through the philosophy of Yoga, we can take a different view of femaleness and perhaps use this notion to form more empowered feelings towards ourselves and our bodies. In Vedic, Tantric and other Eastern philosophies, it is the female aspect that everything in this world is centred around, which each and every thought and action is a part of. Here, there is dualism between the masculine and feminine, both of which are forces present in all of us. The female principle in this thought is Shakti, responsible for creation and all of the dynamic forces within the universe. Shakti, the divine feminine, is power; energy, movement, change and nature. We reflect these aspects each day of our lives and so we should begin to embrace Shakti and not allow ourselves to be led into thinking that our individual sense of being a woman is something we should feel shame or disillusion with. We have waves of emotion, fluctuations of confidence, changes in energy levels and cycles in our bodies. This is all a part of the experience that we are living and it is our yoga practice which we can use to remind us of this essence when we return to the breath and the present moment, away from negative thoughts and judgements and what it is that we may be led to believe we are supposed to look like in triangle pose. Not only on the mat but in every other aspect of our lives, we can begin to feel Shakti as a profound encapsulating energy. We can work towards embracing this and to start to honour our bodies and everything that they can do. It is this force moving both throughout the entire universe and within ourselves, connecting us to one another which we must begin to recognise, to embrace and in turn stop comparing, judging or putting ourselves or each other down.
I cannot say I am fully there encompassing all of these aspects yet, nor have I reached a level of expertise in interpreting and conveying beautiful and inspiring yoga philosophy, but I am proud to say that I am a working progress. Yoga allows me to step away from the drama and return to something more honest and sacred. It has also enlightened me to the realisation that if it is what you really need, then chocolate cake always comes before smoothies 🙂
You can read a little more about the philosophy of Shiva and Shakti here:
© Hannah Laura Lee