written by Anna Lewis CYT, who teaches in Midhurst, Haslemere and Hampshire
Yoga is above all a path of personal transformation and the way to that place in each of us is different. So often I come across women who are depressed, suffering with anxiety or just lost – not sure who they are or aware of their power or beauty. Their age or background doesn’t seem to matter, we are so often looking externally for something to make us happy these days and we don’t realise that that something is already within us – we cannot be happy until we have an unshakeable relationship with ourselves and through our practice of yoga we can achieve this.
Often in our modern society we are living very much in our heads and not in our hearts, we give little awareness to the health of our bodies and we do not give ourselves time to really explore how we are truly feeling. For hundreds of years women have been subject to controls because of our sexuality and beauty and this power has been so misunderstood that men’s fear of being inadequate has meant governance has been put in place to manage the power of women. Obviously this is far from the truth and all being well we should live in a world of balance, of male and female, of night and day of Yin and Yang but sadly our approach to society has been misguided. This fear has resulted in the removal of women’s power and authority – until relatively recently (1880’s) women where not legally permitted to own property, attend medical school or university, vote and in many countries to this date are still not allowed to drive or learn to read or write. How can it be possible that we live in a world where it is still socially acceptable to mutilate female genitals in order to maintain control over women? Whilst the world is slowly getting up to speed and recognising the equality of women, this need to control and have power for generations has deeply impacted the very essence of being a woman and how we feel about ourselves. I meet so many women who believe they are not good enough, are not beautiful or are just not happy with themselves. The need for constant comparison to other women, the social pressures to look a certain way and the modern requirement to be everything to everyone and do it all perfectly – mother, partner, lover, friend, daughter, colleague mean that we are constantly under pressure and very often forget to take the time to truly understand who we are, to recognise our beauty and most importantly to own our power.
We live in a world where it is socially acceptable and even normal to change the shape of our bodies through plastic surgery. Breast enlargements are now the most common form of plastic surgery and young girls commonly change the shape of their vagina to look more ‘socially acceptable’ – often impacting sexual pleasure. Why do we live in a culture where this is not questioned? The use of the contraceptive pill and implant means we are not in tune with our body’s natural cycle and the constant feed of social media, advertising and pornography means that we now believe you have to look a certain way to be happy. ‘To be a sexual woman in our culture now is to be a woman who looks a certain way in order to elicit sexual desire in others. It has nothing to do with the inner arising of our own feelings and experiences. With all this focus on cosmetics and depilation, on surgical remodelling, on primping and preening, and on the consumption of synthetic hormones to render us easily available without the need to recognise our own cycle of sexual responsiveness, the true source of the inner power of female sexuality has been utterly neglected. It is as though we have re-painted the front door of the house whilst inside the whole place is falling apart, derelict, neglected and cold, with no fire in the grate’, Dinsmore Tuli (2014, p286).
So how does yoga help us overcome all of this?
Yoga is a tool that allows us to go back to our true selves, allows us to work through our life kleshas or toxins which clog up our system both physically and emotionally. We are in need of a tool that allows us to return to a state of physical and mental fitness and yoga is this tool. It gives us physical and mental strength and a well body. It provides us with space to be present and to take time out from the constant demands of our world – allowing us to explore what we really think and who we really are, not what we are told. It allows us to question social behaviours and expectations and what we really think of them. It allows us to master our mind – a truly powerful servant if mastered but a cruel master if not. It allows us to explore and understand the power of inner peace and this peace allows us to understand that we are all connected, that we are not living as individuals but are all united as one and through this understanding we can start to be kind not only to others but also to ourselves.
Yoga is a tool for women to take back their own power, to take back their own wisdom and choices, to accept and celebrate their own shape, colour, age and size – creating a fertile soil for women to move forward as the strong, sexual and beautiful creatures that we truly are.
Yoga postures for empowerment
Surya Namaska or Sun Salutation A is a brilliant way to start introducing the practice of yoga. It can be practiced several times a day, building strength throughout the body, opening the hips, improving back flexibility, lengthening the hamstrings and quietening the mind. The practice of pranayama or breathing through this series helps gain awareness of the breath, filling the lungs properly, filling the body with fresh oxygen, calming the mind and allowing the practitioner to begin a moving meditation and become present. This is a sequence of movements or asanas which can be practiced at varying levels of awareness, ranging from that of physical exercise to a deeper practice of pranayama and meditation. This is a great place to start as the series can deepen as your practice deepens.
Warrior 1 & 2 or Virabhadrasana 1 & 2
The Warriors are empowering postures. They are ironic in a sense as they are named after an enraged Shiva who after the loss of his wife threw one of his dreadlocks down to earth to create a warrior demon – Virabhadra. But yoga is about Ahimsa or non-violence right?! Well yes but the Warrior postures allow us to be a Warrior against ourselves and the damage we do to ourselves. They are challenging when held for a long time and are difficult to find the
balance between strength and flexibility. Tim Miller, director of San Diego’s Ashtanga Yoga Centre, agrees. “Virabhadrasana’s a humbling Warrior 1 posture,” he says. “If you attempt to stay in it for any length of time, you’ll confront your own bodily, emotional, or mental weaknesses. Whatever limitations you have, the pose will reveal them so that they can be addressed.”
The pose, in other words, is about the triumph of spirit, a universal theme in yoga.
Lions Breath – Simhasana
Lions Breathe is a fantastic posture for empowerment. It stimulates the platysma, a thin flat rectangular shaped muscle on the front of the throat and helps to keep this firm as we age. It also stimulates the bhandas or internal locks helping us lock prana or life force into our system. Most importantly this posture allows us to blow away our negativity, our anxiety, our stresses and pressures, relieving ourselves of toxins from the body and empowering us to feel better and stronger both physically and mentally. Try and do this posture and not feel happy afterwards – not possible!!
In summary – yoga is an incredibly powerful tool to allow us to become present, to love ourselves and others, to find acceptance in who we are and to empower us to be our absolute best – the incredibly strong, beautiful and powerful women that we are.