Yoni Shakti

I was lucky enough to attend a workshop on Womb Yoga recently with Uma Dinsmore-Tuli and was inspired to write a post about it.

The Book

Uma is the author of the epic book Yoni Shakti, painstakingly researched, anchored in the ancient teachings and 700 pages long, it addresses the much ignored needs of the female body, mind and soul that pervades current traditions and lineages of modern yoga.

Image of the book cover

The Environment

As a yoga teacher since 2001, Uma observed an implicit disrespect or exclusion of menstruating, menopausal, premenstrual, pregnant or lactating women simply because their physical and emotional needs are disregarded, or seen to be inconvenient and disruptive to the general flow of teaching in many yoga environments.

 

The statement of inclusion given for the workshop sends a very really powerful to women at all stages of life who want to attend.  Uma makes it explicitly clear that “menstruating women are offered suitable practices to support their bleed time, menopausal woman are given opportunities to rest and/or adjust room temperature as necessary, and pregnant women are provided with the props and time and space they need to be at ease in the learning/retreat environment. Lactating women are welcome to express milk, and/or to feed their children in comfort in the main class space if they chose, or to be provided with an alternative comfortable and appropriate space to do so”.

The statement went on to say something that really resonated with me: “the cyclical fluxes of menstrual and menopausal experiences are neither recognised nor honoured by many yoga teaching approaches, and this disempowers women by encouraging a disconnection from their naturally arising flow and change at emotional and physical levels”.

Interestingly, my interest in conscious menstruality, which I discussed in a previous post, actually started because of this but not for the reason stated above.  I went through a short phase of practicing Ashtanga Yoga a few years ago.  This tradition prohibits women from practicing for the first three days of menstruation and on moon days.  It was the first time that I’ve ever stopped to honour my cycle and taking that time to rest and revitalise myself was a complete revelation.  Soon after I had to give up Ashtanga Yoga because I found it was too much of a yang practice and I needed to focus more on yin energy.

The Practice

Uma describes Womb Yoga is being “all about reconnecting with the deep blood wisdom of womb cycles throughout the whole of a woman’s life, from pre-menarche to post-menopause. The practice of Womb Yoga enables us to access the inner guidance of our source wisdom so that we may more readily reside in wellbeing and peace with our experiences as women”.  It includes breathing (pranayama) techniques, bandhas and mudras (energy locks and special gestures), practices to refresh and revitalize pelvic organs and sequences of postures to support self-discovery at all female life and menstrual cycles.  There are lots of resources on her website, book and YouTube for further details.

Shakti Power

However, what’s most interesting is the opportunity take this practice a step further and recognise our own wombs as a microcosm of the hiranya garbha, or the golden cosmic womb of universal consciousness, within which we are all safely held.  This re-connection with the profound power of Shakti, the feminine life force that animates the universe, offers a positive, empowering feminine approach to healing and support.

References

Featured image of Shakti by Romanus_too vis Flickr. Used under non-commercial Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The future isn’t only female

In recent a video message (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q1hfXgocQ8) for the 2017 MAKERS Conference, Hillary Clinton stated:

“Despite all the challenges we face, I remain convinced that yes, the future is female.”

In recent months, “the future is female” has became something of a rallying cry, a hashtag and an advertising handle among women and feminists.

This is a slogan that was originally invented in the 1970s as a reaction to misogynist, racist and patriarchal culture.

Although we all owe the feminist movement a huge amount of gratitude for many of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today, I believe that in order to achieve a shift in society, we (men and women) need to go a step further and work within ourselves towards seeking a balance between and appreciation of our male and female aspects.

Regardless of our gender, we all have male and female energy, yin and yang.  Both energies are essential and neither is better than the other.  Given the greater emphasis on male energy in modern society, balance requires developing the female side.

The future is more female, not only female.  The future is balance.

Some techniques that I have found useful in searching for this are:

  1. Yoga & Meditation – The philosophy of yoga, as expounded in “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali“, is a science “dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit… making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole“.
  2. Dance – The practice of 5Rhythms (Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness) is the map that enables us to explore these polarities within the container of the dancefloor.
  3. Tantra – I did a really interesting exercise called the “Dance of Shakti and Shiva” at a tantra festival a couple of years ago, where we – fully clothed and on an individual basis – tuned in to the sensation of the linear male energy flowing vertically through our own bodies from the ground up to the sky.  Then we switched and spent some time feeling the waves of female energy pulsing around our bodies.  Then we spent time feeling both of the energies modulating within ourselves at the same time.  I found that building a conscious somatic connection helped me to appreciate this much more tangibly.

 

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Featured Image “Looking forward/ Regard vers l avenir” by alain tremblay via Flickr and used under non-commercial Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

Stoicism is overrated, self-care is the solution

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Stoicism is undergoing something of a revival.  The The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Guardian have all recently suggested that the 2000 year old philosophy offers an antidote to the current unsettling times that we live in.

So what is stoicism?

The definition of stoicism is “the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complain”. Stoicism is an ancient philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in 3rd century BC.  It was named after Stoa Poikile (meaning Painted Porch), the location where Zeno taught philosophy.  The most famous Stoicism practitioners were Cato the Younger, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.

Why is stoicism is enticing?

Stoicism was a form of practical philosophy designed to overcome stress and anxiety and attain inner calm or tranquility. Stoics distinguished between instinctive reactions or passion and eupatheia  (“feelings resulting from correct judgment in the same way as passions result from incorrect judgment”[Source:Wikipedia]).  This was with the goal of achieving apatheia, (peace of mind resulting from clear judgment and maintenance of equanimity in the face of life’s highs and lows).

According to the Stoics, the key to achieving this goal consisted of cultivating the four cardinal virtues of : wisdom (to navigate complex situations), courage , justice (to treat others fairly), and temperance (self-control).

A central component of stoicism is the concept that some things are under their control and some are not and thus the goal of stoicism is to recognize that they can only control their own will and behaviour but not the eventual outcomes of such actions.

Indeed, Epictetus, was born a slave and wrote extensively on how Stoicism helps to accept one’s fate of oppression.  In a recent interview, the philosopher, Sandy Grant of Cambridge University suggested that “Stoicism was a philosophy for a time of slaves and when women were chattel, of fixed hierarchies”.

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My concern is that this sounds a lot like the myth of the “strong black woman” trying to endure her emotions and tough it out against intersectional oppression.

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Recently black feminist writers have exposed the poverty of this narrative and the damaging psychological effects that it is having on women. In Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman, Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant interviews 58 Black women to explore the concept  of the “Strong Black Woman.”  She “traces the historical and social influences on normative Black femininity” and argues that the idea that “the idea of strength undermines its real function: to defend and maintain a stratified social order by obscuring Black women’s experiences of suffering, acts of desperation, and anger”.

“Not only does the expectation of strength creates a distraction from broader forces of discrimination and imbalances of power, the pressure to appear invulnerable laves a significant physical and emotional toll on many Black women, leading to eating disorders and chronic depression”.

What about the importance of emotions?

The problem with attempting to follow the Stoic doctrine and enduring or attempting to not allow these painful emotions to arise, is that often the energy of the emotion doesn’t disappear.  For example, unprocessed or suppressed anger can either turns inwards and be expressed as depression (as depicted in “Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman” or can turn outwards and be expressed as violence.

In The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You (2010) Karla McLaren suggests taking the opposite approach of:

  1. actively identifying your emotions
  2. accepting your right to have these emotions
  3. attributing the root cause of the emotion
  4. taking whatever actions are possible within your locus of control or indeed acknowledging that no action is possible so that the emotion can dissipate rather than cause further harm.

In other words, taking the subtle power approach of prioritising self-care over stoic endurance and recognising that:

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[Image: Eleanor Brownn via http://www.eleanorbrownn.com/blog/self-care-in-not-selfish%5D

Sources:

Featured image – Creative Commons by Penny Lam via Flickr
https://qz.com/877914/401k-vs-pension/
https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism
https://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1919_reg_print.html
http://the-toast.net/2015/07/08/bree-newsome-myth-strong-black-woman/
https://www.salon.com/2015/07/03/oh_girl_get_up_you_got_this_why_the_%E2%80%9Cstrong_black_woman%E2%80%9D_stereotype_is_an_albatross/
https://bitchmedia.org/article/precious-mettle-myth-strong-black-woman

From goddesses to being grabbed by the pussy

A core value of ancient Kemetic civilisation (‘Kemet’ was one of the ancient names given to country that later became known as ‘Egypt’) was the concept of ma’at – harmony and balance in all aspects of life. The entire universe was made up of masculine and feminine elements, maintained in a state of perfect balance by the goddess Ma’at. As a result, Kemetic religion honoured male gods and female goddesses, each with their own areas of expertise.

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Rameses III offering Ma’at to Osiris. Scene from tomb of Ramses III. (KV11)

[Image source (http://www.thebanmappingproject.com) via Wikipedia].

There were at least seven female pharaohs, including Merneith (whose reign is dated to around 2970 BC), Khentkawes I, known as the mother of Egypt (who died c 2510–2490 BC), Sobeknefru: the crocodile queen (died c1785 BC). Hatshepsut who (ruled c1479–1458 BC) who is considered to be one of the most powerful women of the ancient world and among the greatest pharaohs of Egypt, Nefertiti, who ruled alongside her husband and may have succeeded him as sole ruler, Tawosret the last known ruler and the final pharaoah of the 19th Dynasty (12th century BC), Arsinoe II who died in 268 BC) and Cleopatra VII (c. 69-30 BCE), the last queen of Egypt before it was annexed by Rome.

Women were free to work, travel and own property. Women did not require the supervision, consultation, or approval of a man in order to pursue any course of action. Marriages were not arranged, so women could marry and divorce as they pleased. Reliefs, paintings, and inscriptions depict husbands and wives eating together, dancing, drinking, and working the fields with one another.

Most significantly, women were important members of the clergy. “Birth control and abortions were available to married and unmarried women”

Now no culture is ever perfect and significant divisions existed in Kemetic society at the time based on class and wealth BUT ….fast-forward to 2016…

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[Image Source: NEW YORK DAILY NEWS]

So what happened?

Women’s status began to decline in Egypt with the rise of Christianity in the 4th century CE due to the belief that original sin had entered the world through Eve’s disobedience, thus women were of less value and less trustworthy than men. The Arab Invasion of the 7th century CE brought Islam to the country now known as Egypt. It’s now believed that sometime during this period, the original inhabitants of Kemet migrated south and dispersed across other regions of the African continent.

It seems unbelievable that a woman living 3000 years ago in Kemet could have had more rights than so many women living in the present day.

Yet in 2016:

  • the ordination of women is considered a controversial issue.
  • women risk being imprisoned for 14 years for buying abortion pills online.
  • a woman who spent her life working as a children and families lawyer, as an educator, as a senator and then secretary of state runs for President of the United States and is beaten by a man who boasts about sexually assaulting women and who views pro-choice as a criminal act.

We live in a world dominated by male culture – pussy grabbing, porn, rape culture, gamergate.  Women are taught that adopting even more of this culture (eg Lean In) is the only way to succeed.

As I will explore in later posts on this blog, I believe that a spiritual interpretation of these problems is that they stem from a lack of ma’at – balance – in society and often at a personal level.

There’s a similar concept to ma’at in traditional Chinese culture – Yin-Yang  – where all phenomena is comprised of two opposite yet interdependent energies.

ying_yang_sign

[Image source: Wikipedia].

Yin is associated with the qualities of the sacred feminine (the moon, darkness, cold, damp)  and Yang is associated with the qualities of the sacred masculine (the sun, light heat, dryness). Both qualities are equally necessary and important and it’s normal and harmonious for the relative levels of Yin-Yang to fluctuate over time, but when one or the other gets significantly and chronically out of balance sickness and other problems ensue.

What we’re seeing in the world is a reflection of excessive yang energy and David Revoy depicted this brilliantly in the illustration below entitled “The Yin and Yang of world hunger“.

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[Image by David Revoy via http://www.davidrevoy.com/article43/yin-and-yang-of-world-hunger]

Encouraging women (and men) to foster more yin energy to get back into balance isn’t about weakness, it’s about recognising and reclaiming a power – subtle power – which is equal to that of the dominant culture.

Women seem to have forgotten the true power of the ‘cunt’, a word that was originally a term of respect and reverence for a powerful, spiritually enlightened woman. Amongst other meanings, ‘cunt’ derives from ‘Kunda’ or ‘Cunti, the Oriental Great Goddess. She was the Great Yoni (Sanskrit = Source of all life) of the Universe, where all life came from and to where all life returned for renewal.

And the final word goes to Betty White:

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[Image by T4C via https://www.theburningplatform.com/2014/03/30/things-that-take-balls/]
References:
[Featured image source: @alfarman via Flickr under Creative Commons license]
The role of women in Kemet: representing power and divinity by Dr Sally-Ann Ashton http://kemetexpert.com/the-role-of-women-in-kemet-representing-power-and-divinity/
“Women in Ancient Egypt,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Joshua J. Mark, http://www.ancient.eu /article/623/
From Warrior Women to Female Pharaohs: Careers for Women in Ancient Egypt by Dr Joann Fletcher http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/women_01.shtml
The female ‘kings’ of ancient Egypt http://www.historyextra.com/article/premium/female-kings-ancient-egypt
Women’s Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt (2002) by Janet H. Johnson http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777190170/
Vonny Moyes: How can I explain the women of 2016 to my daughter http://www.thenational.scot/comment/14974083.Vonny_Moyes__How_can_I_explain_the_women_of_2016_to_my_daughter_/
Yin & Yang in Chinese Medicine https://www.sacredlotus.com/go/foundations-chinese-medicine/get/yin-yang
Origins of the word ‘Cunt’ https://cherishthecunt.com/2013/02/10/origins-of-the-word-cunt/