Being a Woman; Doing Yoga
November 18, 2011 § 4 Comments
More than half the yoga practitioners I know, are women. In the past few decades, since its popularization in the West, yoga has gone from being a masculine practice, to being a subject of study for all people. This makes me wonder if Arjuna’s questions to Krishna, and Krishna’s answers to Arjuna, might have been slightly different if Arjuna had been a woman? It also makes me ask, what part of my yoga practice is specific to my gender? Being a woman, doing yoga: how do these two basic facts in my life relate to one another?
Obviously there are gender differences in the expectations placed on us students by our teachers. In my lineage, Iyengar yoga, the teachings prescribe a monthly vacation for every woman from an otherwise fairly non-gender specific four-beat calendar of standing poses, forward bends, backward bends and restoratives. This fifth beat in a woman’s calendar, this pause, requires a woman to meet her female reality, in practice. It gives rise to deep questions about women, yoga, and time.
My experience of yoga, interlinked with my hormonal shifts over months and years, makes me believe that a woman’s experience of time is not the same as that of a man.
My female experience is about creativity and procreation, enclosure and membranes, myself and other, spirit and blood, health and Self. When I was a new mother, during the fifth beat, the fifth week, I would sometimes feel like I was floating in the ocean. Perhaps I confused my body memory of floating in my mother, womb in womb, and being just a membrane’s breadth from her, with true union. As a woman who does yoga, I feel I am asked in my practice to discriminate between primary sensations of universality, and the penultimate experience of liberated unity (moksa), which yoga offers for women, as well as men, to seek and perhaps, to find.
I wonder how the physical configuration of women’s bodies, and the ailments to which we are prone, affect our path through yoga? At each of my woman’s milestones—menstruation, pregnancy, menopause—I have dealt with female ailments. My wide hips and female pituitary-pineal dynamics may have as much to do with my Tadasana as do more commonly credited aspects of my consciousness. The large number of neural links across my brain’s medial membrane, a feature of the female brain, sparks a yoga mind which seems to me to start from a field, not a point.
Whether or not each of us women practitioners have children, the design of our wombs to hold and embrace another and of our brains to internalize and recreate a field of experience, profoundly affect our practice of yoga.
Now the fifth beat of my practice is about to change—how, I do not yet know. As I say farewell to this phase of my life and prepare to enter another, I look forward to discovering yoga practice, yet again.
We women who draw up in our chariots on the field of battle, might turn out to have the same questions as Arjuna. Our questions may arise from a deeper source than our lunar cycles. But it’s equally likely that we female warriors may turn out to practice differently from the men. What we see, we should note and develop, to benefit humankind.
Copyright 2008 by Jacqueline Austin. All rights reserved. Originally published in Yoga Vidya, The Journal of Iyengar Yoga of Southern California, Spring 2008. Jacqueline Austin, a long term practitioner of Iyengar yoga, was for eight years the editor in chief of Yoga Vidya.