Welcome to my latest blog. Following my recent trip in India, I share with you some of my photos and key yoga learnings and experiences I had in my training and travel.
Overview of my travel and yoga training
I spent just under a month in India. A short time in Delhi, with the majority of my time in the north east state Uttarakhand and the small city of Rishikesh which is known as the Gateway to theHimalayas and the ‘yoga capital of the world’.
Rishikesh, on the banks of the River Ganges or Gangawas the perfect place for my training, opening me to the deep wisdom of yogic teachings whilst on the sacred land of India.
I stayed in the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, an organisation doing a lot for humanitarian and environmental peace and education.
The training was a postgraduate course into the depths ofJnana and Bhakti yoga. Chinnamasta as the goddess of self inquiry represented the teachings of Jnana yoga, and Matangi is the goddess of devotional or Bhakti yoga.
I am very grateful to my teacher Lorraine Taylor for holding space for yet another transformational journey into yoga. And thanks to Maryz Helene (for her dance and voice work) and her partner Pierre (of the kirtan duo SuryaChandra) for the Bhakti and Kirtan.
It was wonderful to journey with a small group of women from all around the world from Australia (yes two of us!), Chile, Colombia, China, Russia, Germany, USA, Poland, England and Canada.
In addition to my yoga training, I had the opportunity to attend the International Yoga Festival, in the week before my training. One of my highlights for me (as a baby of the 60’s) was singing ‘Imagine’ in the Beatles ashram! The Beatles being a part of yoga’s journey to the west, and the west to Rishikesh! And to sing this with Lorraine, who comes for Liverpool added an extra joy.
I also had 4 days of travel in ‘less touristed’ Haridwar nearby to Rishikesh a sacred city with many Devi temples. I travelled here on my own, intrigued to understand more about goddess worship. Haridwar offered me an interesting contrast to the yoga teachings I received in Rishikesh compared to Hindu religious devotional practices.
Ganga Ma Sacred River: Fire, Water and Flower Rituals
Most of my time was spent on the banks of the sacred Ganga river, revered as the goddess Ganga Ma. I felt instant peace and ease the moment I saw her, and sat by the waters. I thought at first it was because I had come from our dry arid summer, knowing that flowing water is so important for my Pitta nature.
Ganga River at the Vasishta Caves, 1/2 hour out of Rishikesh town.
But over my time by the Ganga, I saw and took part in many rituals (including fire, water and flower rituals) along the banks of the Ganga. I came to understand and feel the deep and profound sacred energy that exudes from this river and the centuries of devotional workshop that pilgrims have given to its waters.
Fire rituals are an inherent part of Indian life. For example, fire is a part of many Hindu rites-of-passage ceremonies including celebrating a birth by the lighting a lamp, at weddings by the bride and groom circling fire, and at death by cremation. Fire from a yoga perspective, is one of the elements of our bodies, so prayers and practices with fire can help awaken the Agni within our bodies and our lives.
Har ki Pauri in Haridwar
Man Praying with Aarti Lamp
The Aarti (fire) lamp is used for both individuals prayers as well as the large gathering such as the Har ki Pauri in Haridwar.
The waters of the Ganga are considered very sacred and pure. The river is considered the personification of the goddess Ganga.
Ganga Ma with Shiva
Ganga Ma is worshiped by Hindus who believe that bathing in the river causes the remission of sins and facilitates Moksha (liberation from the cycle of life and death).
Personally I found the Ganga to be profoundly healing. Water is such an important element for us with our bodies being made up of mostly water. I feel inspired to include water rituals in my yoga practice to bring greater balance to the water element.
I have always used flowers as a part of beautifying my home, and in my yoga practice and teaching in the creation of Altars. It was wonderful to see flowers as an inherent part of Indian life, and the devotional ceremonies in temples and on the banks of the Ganga.
Flower Stall in the back streets of Haridwar near to the Ganga River
Flowers adoring statues and deities including thecircle of gods and goddesses outside my ashram room (who were also included in the Holi celebrations of colour!) and the Shiva Lingham and Nandi the Bulls seen throughout temples and by the sides of the river.
Goddess statue on Holi
Nandi the Bull
I also found so much beauty in the dying flowers and petals in the waters of the river or in the temples, the physical remains of the sacred prayers of so many souls.
As a part of the opened ceremony for my training, each woman took our intention for our yoga journey together, to the river and whilst chanted ‘Ganga Ma’ we set down our flowers with a ghee flame to the flow of the river. My intention was to Open to Love.
Chinnamasta: Goddess of Self Inquiry
Ever since I was a little girl I have always asked and loved reflecting on ‘Who am I?
It is interesting, of the 10 Mahavidya goddesses, it has been Chinnamasta energy that I have most feared. Well her imagery is quite formidable!
(Apologies for the quality of this photo which was in the Maya Devi Temple in Haridwar, where the Mahavidya Goddess artwork were enclosed within glass boxes which I assume was to protect them from damage)
Chinnamasta literally means ‘severed head’. To be without a head is symbolic for going beyond body consciousness or attachment to the thought composed mind.
Through embodying Chinnamasta we do not literally take off our heads. Rather through meditation and self inquiry we release our attachment to the limited mind so that we can access universal consciousness. Dissolving our minds into pure awareness brings us transcendence. When we are free from the limitations of the mind, we can realise our true nature, beyond duality.
We need not fear losing our bodies or losing our heads. They are mere restrictions on our deeper reality (Frawley, 1994 p 114).
I find that non-duality can be a difficult word and concept to grasp or to explain. Jeff Foster simply describes non-duality as ‘…something we all know very deeply in our hearts: we are all One, all made of the same ‘stuff’, and separation is the greatest illusion of all.”
We attended different Satsangs with different spiritual teachers including Mooji and ShantiMayi. I also visited Anandamayi’s Ashram in Haridwar. Through these and the meditation practices I learnt in the training, I had the opportunity to deepen my meditation and spiritual inquiry to new and profound levels. I look forward to sharing some of these teachings and inspiration in workshops and classes.
I like to reflect on where the goddess shows up in our lives. On the Chinnamasta day, when we walked as a silent meditation on our way to a Satsang with Shanti Mayi, I saw this sacred cow and her calves which reminded me of the symbology of Chinnamasta feeding her ‘companions’ from the fluid that stream from the Ida and Pingala Nadi’s, who for me I see as my children (twins!), my students and the people I serve. Through the central channel (Sushumna) she is feeding her own head.
There is One unchanging indivisible Reality, which, though un-manifest, reveals itself in infinite multiplicity and diversity. That one – the Supreme Truth is ever present everywhere in all circumstances. Anandamayi
Matangi Goddess of Bhakti Yoga the Yoga of Devotion
Matangi is the goddess of the utterance of the divine word (Frawley, 1994). She was the Bhakti component of the training where we explored and embodied devotion through dance, voice work and Kirtan.
Matangi isconsidered to be the Tantric form of Saraswati as she governs speech, music, knowledge and the arts. Unlike Saraswati who represents the knowledge and virtue of the Brahmin or learned class, Matangi is the outcast who goes against the norms of society (Frawley, 1994). Lorraine fondly calls her the punk cousin or sister of Saraswati.
As an outcaste she is offered left-over or partially eaten foods, which is considered to be impure in classical Hinduism. In this way she is seen as the goddess of pollution. We included dead flowers and banana peels on our Altar in the training!
Tantra embraces all as sacred!
On the Matangi day I walked past this wall of rubbish in Rishikesh , which was not uncommon in the streets of India. The opportunistic monkey foraging for food.
Deities of Yoga
Many evenings we sat in circle chanting to the gods and goddesses of yoga. Check out the huge Saraswati that adorned the yoga hall! Some nights we opened our circle to the Rishikesh yoga community, chanting with up to 100 people. Listening to some of the recordings of these chants takes me right back there.
Matangi relates to the ears and our ability to listen. It was wonderful to practice the traditional call and response Kirtan, which requires us to deeply listen.
One of the greatest teachings I received from the training and my travels (which I am still integrating as it was so profound!) was the understanding of the difference between religious and yogic / spiritual devotion.
Visiting the Devi temples in Haridwar I was struck by the 1000’s of Hindu pilgrims visiting and making offerings and praying in the temples with alters of statues and images of the various gods and goddesses, including Durga, Ganesha, Lakshmi and Ganga Ma. Some people handing over large sums of money to Lakshmi, and red flowers to Durga.
In contrast, devotional yoga is focused more on spiritual experience and realisation at the individual level than the externalisation of a god or goddess.
When we call in the goddess or god energy in our yoga practice, we are embodying and embracing their divine qualities within. Practicing yoga with the goddesses and gods bring the practitioner to union, to the realisation that a deity and the practitioner are in essence the same, that they are non-dual.
In this way we are Ganga Ma, and Ganga Ma is us!
In addition, in my ongoing quest to understand more about the Mahavidya Wisdom Tantric Goddesses I was struck by the stark contrast between the Hindu goddess temples that had 1000’s of devotional visitors, and in the same grounds, but a different building, a temple for the 10 Mahavidya goddesses which had few or no visitors!
The stunning Mahavidya Temple at Dakshewara Mahadev temple, Haridwar
Kirtan and chanting
One of the profound teachings and healings I received from Maryz was that each of us have a unique voice, a unique sound resonance, which has great power to heal. She offered us this simple mantra, which you may also like to use.
I love my voice. My voice heals me.
Ganesha, is the elephant headed God, is one of the best known and most worshipped deities in the Hinduism and widely revered as the remover of obstacles.
Ganesha worship can be in the more traditional ‘religious’ way, where we praying to the god who is external to us, to help remove obstacles or we can turn inward, more as a spiritual practice.
As a yoga practice, we can use the symbolism and mythology as a way to draw attention to Ganesha’s symbolism. Turning inwards to our own lives becoming aware of what obstacles are in our path of liberation and freedom.
This training offered me the non-dual lesson and understanding that obstacles on our path are a part of being human, and from these obstacles we can learn and grow.
Maryz and Pierre follow the tradition of chanting to Ganesha at the beginning of Kirtan. As the god of beginnings, he is honoured at the start of rites and ceremonies. At the beginning of the journey (be it a yoga or kirtan session) chanting to Ganesh can help grounding ourselves with the energy of Ganesha in whatever it means to us.
Here is Maryz and Pierre (SuryaChandra) and one of their Ganesha chants, which you can listen to for free, or purchase it if you like it. I particularly like to play it at the warm up beginning of yoga asana practice. It is a beautiful chant, for warming up the body, and becoming aware of tensions, and blockages in the body, and gently releasing.
On my graduation day, which happened to fall on Holi celebration, a festival of forgiveness, I spent the late afternoon and evening walking along the banks of the Ganga joining different international groups singing and chanting including Osho chants in English and more traditional Sanskrit mantra chanting.
We sang the Gayatri Mantra, which is traditionally sung at sunrise and at sunset.
If you like, you can listen or chant along with this version of the Gayatri Mantra by Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda.,who I was lucky enough to chant with on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh!
You can either Chant without knowing the meaning. Sanskrit is a devotional language, so simply by saying the words we can tap a collective human devotion. And for those of us who like to have an understanding of what we are saying see the words below is an example or look it up, there are many interpretations. Here is one that I like by Douglas Brooks in yoga Journal
The eternal, earth, air, heaven
That glory, that resplendence of the sun
May we contemplate the brilliance of that light
May the sun inspire our minds.
Much of the yoga that is practiced today, particularly in the west, is grounded in a more masculine style with their focus on strength, alignment and physical challenge. More recently there is a rise in more feminine styles of yoga. See my previous blog: What is Feminine Yoga and why do we need it?
I have practiced a range of styles of yoga over 35 years. In my early 40s I discovered Tantra, in particular Shakti, which was incredibly healing for my burn out from years of working in a patriarchal, and distorted masculine corporate world. Interestingly, within this new wave of Feminine yoga, I have also observed in some schools and practices a very one sided, and distorted feminine approach to yoga, that in its own way, disregarded the masculine.
More recently I have been bringing both the masculine and the feminine into my personal yoga practice and teaching.
In this blog I retell a story from Indian mythology of Shiva and Parvati and unpack the meaning of Shiva and Shakti and what wisdom it can bring to our yoga, our individual growth to wholeness and our relationship. I include some simple yoga practices for you to do at home to awaken and embody the divine masculine and feminine within.
Shiva and Shakti
Shiva and Shakti are personifications of the great powers of Yoga which reflect the higher realities and energies that are behind, and beyond, all universal forces. They are the manifestations of divine consciousness where the ‘whole’ is made up of two opposed but complementary forces. Like yin and yang, they represent the duality behind all energies in the universe. These energies are present in our internal worlds as they are in the external cosmos: as reflected in the aphorism:
“As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul”
It is said that at the advent of creation there was a splitting of the primordial principle, and so duality within our lives came into being, together with a strong force that is constantly striving to re-unite the different parts of us.
Shiva and Shakti can be seen as the guiding deities of yoga offering us the power of transformation and liberation. They are the great God and Goddess; also known as Mahadeva and Mahadevi. Importantly, they are not just abstract principles, rather they are the archetypes of Yoga within us. and can offer us a perspective on our personal reality.
Shiva, the Divine Masculine, represents consciousness and awareness; and Shakti, the Divine Feminine, represents activating power and energy. Shiva and Shakti represent the primary complimentary forces in nature, including mind and emotion, mountains and valleys, the sun and the moon, fire and water and all other innumerable variations within a dualistic world.
Shiva and Shakti exist as personal potentials within us as well as the cosmic powers outside of us at every level of consciousness, from the macro to the micro: yang and yin, the masculine and feminine; steadiness and dynamic change; awareness and bliss; stability and transformation; being and becoming. Together these energies complete and complement each other.
In Indian mythology the story of Shiva and Parvati is an archetypal romance that is rich in symbolism and meaning and provide us a window into understanding the energy and wisdom of Shiva and Shakti.
Shiva and Parvati’s marriage is the great cosmic partnership: the union of Shakti, in the form of Goddess Parvati, the supreme yogini with Shiva her yogi husband.
The Story of of Shiva and Goddess Parvati
As the story goes, Shiva is supposed to be functioning in his cosmic role as the great destroyer, bringing about endings so that there can be new beginnings. However, after the loss of his first wife, Sita, in mourning, he retreated to his Himalayan mountain cave, and immersed himself in a state of unbroken, deep meditation. Living the life of a recluse, Shiva immersed himself in the stillness of the void, revelling in absolute freedom, that he became utterly unconcerned with the affairs of the cosmos. During this time, his cosmic tasks are not done and his teachings are not heard.
The other Gods realised that something needed to be done to reengage Shiva into his cosmic role. So they asked the great goddess to incarnate again, to bring Shiva back to the world. The eternal Shakti took on the form Parvati, or daughter of the mountain.
She is divinely beautiful, cosmically adorable and from the moment she can speak, she talks about Shiva. When she is 16, she goes to the grove where Shiva sits in meditation. She brings him food that he never eats, she lights candles that he never sees, and she longs for him to open his eyes to see her.
Brahma, the creator god, recognised that Shiva’s desire needed to be awakened, so he enlisted the help of Kama, the god of pleasure and desire. Kama, sent soft spring breezes with the scent of jasmine to the grove that Shiva and Parvati were. Parvati becomes more enchanted and her love for Shiva grows.
Kama waited until Parvati was directly in Shiva’s sight of vision, and holding his bow, he let loose the irresistible arrows of love: the Inciter of Desire, Inflamer of lust, Exciter of Infatuation. As they strike Shiva’s heart, he is aroused by the most un-meditative feelings of desire. Shiva opened his eyes and saw Parvati and a stirring arose in his heart. When the sensations moved down to his groin, Shiva realised what had happened, and opening his third eye, he sent out a beam of fire that incinerated Kama. Shiva returned to meditation.
Parvati, now deeply in love with Shiva, knew that he is touched by her but not willing to give in to his feelings. She knew that she couldn’t ‘have’ Shiva unless she cultivates in herself the qualities of stillness, stamina and devotion. She realised she will need to earn his love through yoga.
Parvati goes to the mountain and for a long time (hundreds of celestial years!) she dedicates herself to her yoga practice. Eventually the fire of her yoga begins to penetrate the upper worlds. Shiva in his meditation began to feel the heat, and remembering Parvati’s beauty, he sensed his unwavering devotion to her. He recognised that whilst solitary mediation has its own joy, he was now awakened to the bliss that comes from relationship. and he realises that she is his eternal lover.
Shiva and Parvati
And so Shiva and Parvati marry and consummate the divine marriage. After years of marriage and lovemaking, the teachings of yoga emerge from their spiritual conversations. In their domestic bliss and love for each other, and in their arguments that arise, Parvati and Shiva maintain a tension of opposites.
Parvati asks Shiva questions and in doing so draws out Shiva’s insights. Her presence inspires him to turn into himself to find words and to express truths that come from the place beyond words. In making love with Shiva, Parvati draws the transcendent formless absolute down to earth. The endless conversations are consciously offered as a gift to human beings who long for the secrets of enlightenment.
Ardhanarishvara as the Inner Archetype
The two primal powers of Shiva and Shakti are also represented in the androgynous deity Ardhanarishvara who is depicted with one side as female, and one side as male. Ardhanarishvara represents the ultimate union of Shiva and Parvati into the one unified ‘being’.
Ardhanarishvara Illustrator Ekabhumi Charles Ellik
The right side of this androgynous ‘being’ wears a tiger skin, has matted locks and carries a trident. The left side has sinuous curvaceous belly, full breasts, wearing a delicate skirt lotus flower. In this way, the left side of the body represents the feminine (Shakti) and the right side the masculine (Shiva).
Symbolic Meaning of the Mythological Archetypes
The mythology of Shiva and Parvati can be understood at many different levels as an inner archetype and as a role model for relationships. In this way the stories offer us an understanding of wholeness, completion and union within ourselves, as well as a model for understanding dynamics within relationships. As the guiding deities of yoga, Shiva and Shakti gift us the power of transformation and liberation. They offer us a path to union whether we are looking at it from the individual path of the yogini/yogi, or the path of relationship.
Balancing the Masculine and Feminine within
The Parvati and Shiva love story and Ardhanarishvara deity symbolise a powerful stage of embodied enlightenment. They represent the inner journey to wholeness. It is a metaphor for the cosmic truth that reality is a duality and that in unity it is a dance of polarities.
Ardhanarishvara: Union of Shiva and Shakti Art work from Exotic Art India (www.exoticindiaart.com)
Shiva and Parvati (Shakti) represent the ‘divine masculine’ and ‘divine feminine’ as cosmic energies that are within us, both men and women. The ‘concept’ of Shiva and Shakti can take us beyond the polarities of gender as well as the limited and skewed cultural definitions of masculine and feminine. It can take us beyond gender wars to understanding the divine feminine and masculine within men and women.
It shows that if any one side of ourselves remain in the shadow, we do not live a life of fulfilment. As many of us know, when we fall in love, there can be a mirroring of falling in love with those qualities that we haven’t as yet discovered or grown in ourselves. If there are imbalances in the masculine and feminine within, the potential is for this to play out and project into our relationships with others.
The Divine feminine – evolutionary power.
Tantra, unlike the majority of contemporary religions, has a deep respect for the feminine as a spiritual authority. Interestingly, Shiva is often referred to as the ultimate man, symbolising the ultimate masculinity. However, Ardhanarishvara shows us that half of him is a fully developed woman, showing that it is essential for men (and women) to consciously nurture and celebrate the feminine (and the masculine) (Sadhguru, 2014).
The Parvati and Shiva love story shows that Parvati (Shakti) is Shiva’s capacity to express himself in action and that without her, he is inactive, inert. She is the divine feminine that is behind action – the force of evolution in the cosmos as well as internally in our own bodies and lives. Without Shakti, the awareness of Shiva remains transcendent, and does not engage nor help us in the ‘worldly’ plane. His spirituality has no role in worldly affairs. Parvati on the other hand is grounded in the world.
Shakti is the transformative energy behind all evolution. Shakti is fluid, flowing and powerfully flexible. Shakti energy can be wildly sensual, raw and expressive. In the process of transformation, Shakti takes form as a passionate urgency that inspires us to step beyond apparent limits and expand our consciousness.
Shakti can play out as thoughts, emotions, ideas and inspirations. In mediation, she manifests as visions and insights and feelings of bliss. It is Shakti who helps us embrace (not suppress!) our human desires and our sexuality as an important aspect of our spirituality.
Shakti not only compliments Shiva, she completes him.
The divine masculine: conscious awareness
Shiva represents Absolute Consciousness or Absolute Reality. He is the transcendent aspect of consciousness. Shiva, remains outside and beyond all worldly affairs, and is the unchanging knower, the witness-awareness that both observes and contains the dance of life.
The nature of Shiva energy is steadfast, stable, peaceful, strong and totally unmoved with complete presence. Shiva represents the state of being unmoved by pain or suffering brought on by the external world. He is centred, grounded and compassionate.
Shiva’s consciousness can bring us the divine masculine qualities of stability and calmness, inner strength and spaciousness, direction and freedom. When we sit in meditation, cultivating clear presence and purpose, we are resting within our inner Shiva nature.
Shakti without Shiva is uncontrollably wild. Shakti’s energy is focused by the masculine qualities of awareness. Awareness allows the feminine to see herself and give containment and direction to her energy. Without Shiva, the power of Shakti has no support or receptacle to hold its energy within us.
Balance and union of the masculine and feminine
If we don’t see how to make both the masculine and feminine find equal roles to play in our lives (and society) we will live incomplete and unbalanced lives. Shiva and Parvati stand for the union of stillness and power, wisdom and bliss – the yogic merging of energy with spirit.
It is only when the masculine and feminine are in balance within can a human being live a life of fulfilment. For full creative empowerment the masculine and feminine polarities need to come together. Only when Shiva and Shakti combine can action, movement and creation arise. Shiva holds space for Shakti to move through; Shiva gives direction to Shakti’s shape-shifting energetic flow. We need the stability of linear focus of the masculine to merge with the inspiration and aliveness of the feminine.
When the god and the goddess come together in the individual and the collective psyche we experience the inner sacred marriage: the integration of spirit and feminine heart; intellect and feeling; freedom and fullness.
Awakening the Shiva and Shakti, the God and Goddess, the Yogi and the Yogini within us, we can set in motion all the dynamic currents of inner growth and transformation allowing their energies to spiral within us along their natural ascent into the Infinite. Frawley, 2008: 37-38
A Role Model for Relationships
Shiva and Shakti offers us a role model for contemporary relationships. This can be important as for many of us we do not necessarily have role models of successful relationships in our lives. It also offers a model for those who want to live a spiritual life in partnership. It is not limited to heterosexual relationships. It can be can be lived out in same-sex couples and in relationships where partners interchange their masculine and feminine roles.
The Shiva Parvati story represents the union between the fully realised feminine and the fully realised masculine. When Shiva and Shakti are alive and well in our internal world, when two people meet, they don’t need to project their life force (Shakti) or their consciousness (Shiva) onto the other.
The story highlights an important outcome for romantic love. It describes a relationship in which yoga, inner knowing, and self-cultivation are natural to the lovers. Both are complete in themselves, yet they also complete each other. Free to come together from a place where the masculine and feminine, awareness and energy, are incarnated and embodied equally. This in turn allows for deeper relationship and for greater fullness in each individual.
The story also tells us that the task of the inner life is not to separate spirit from its body and the world, as many mystical and religions traditions teach.
In traditional Indian life there has been an opposition between the ascetic yogi and spiritual seeker who withdraws from the world in order to realise his nature as spirit versus the householder who entangled in domesticity. Traditionally the demands of the world, epitomised by family life are diametrically opposed to the spiritual path and the path of the artist. It is often said that the mystic and artist need solitude and disengagement for the practice of their discipline.
In traditional religions, sexuality has not only been not embraced, it has been actively suppressed. Unlike these duality-based spirituality, where the human and the divine are separated, Tantra holds that both body and soul is made of the divine and thus embraces all of our bodily desires.
The story of Shiva and Parvati is a tale of learning to live a spiritual life in unity with another, whilst dancing out the ecstasy of relationship, an ecstasy that is a rhythmic dance between unity and separation, passion and detachment, movement and stillness. The ultimate marriage of spirit and body, wisdom and love, detachment and adoration so that the spirit and body can exist in in harmonious balance and infuse divine awareness into the worlds.
Shiva is the eternal drive for freedom, the yogi/yogini’s need to disentangle him/herself from the world. Parvati/Shakti on the other hand is the drive toward expressive fullness- emotion, rhythm, endless creativity (Kempton 2013)
Tantra Yoga the Union between the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine.
Bringing a Tantric perspective to our daily life and yoga practice we can become aware of the dance of the divine masculine and divine feminine within and between us,
Ardhanarishvara: Union of Shiva and Shakti Art work from Exotic Art India (www.exoticindiaart.com)
The deities add a richness to Yoga practice, both in terms of knowledge and energy. Once we establish a connection with Shiva and Shakti as deities inside ourselves, they can become our inner teachers and can guide us directly along our path. We begin to see their workings in all of life and nature which can bring great healing and awareness.
Yoga practiced in this way can bring greater balance to the two sides of our whole nature. We can marry the Shiva/God/Masculine and Shakti/Goddess/Feminine within ourselves. Being aware of and awakening the Shiva and Shakti in our yoga practice enables us to unite the masculine and feminine qualities of our nature.
Parvati shows that if our desire is strong enough, we make a full commitment to a transformative practice. Her yoga practice is not just about personal attainment or self cultivation, its all about love!
Three Practices to invoke and embody Shakti and Shiva
1. Yoga asana practice
You can bring the wisdom of Shiva and Shakti in an asana yoga practice by being aware of and embodying the qualities of the divine masculine and divine feminine.
For the masculine, cultivate awareness of your bodies strength, structure and alignment. Observe the breath and awareness of your body in the poses.
For the feminine, a flow practice can awaken your sensuality, feelings of bliss and playfulness. Be creative, and allow the body to follow its own creative movements that awaken feelings of bliss and pleasure.
Play music you love to inspire your practice. Here is a Shiva Shakti Playlist with some Kirtan chants to awaken Shakti and Shiva in your practice.
If you would like to learn some specific yoga and tantric practices to cultivate Shiva and Shakti in your yoga and you life, please see my Shiva and Shakti workshop.
This is a really simple meditation to awaken the dance between Shiva (the stillness and presence) and the Shakti (the flow) of the breath.
Come to your comfortable sitting position for mediation.
Grounding your body, feel the connection of your base to the earth. Lengthen the spine. Feel the connection of the crown reaching up to the sky.
Bring your awareness to your breath. Begin to notice the space between the inhale and the exhale.
Hold your breath for a fraction of a second between the inhale and exhale focusing on the space at the end of the inhalation and end of exhalation.
Let go of the hold, and now meditate on the space/pause between breaths.
Relax into the flow, continue focusing on the space, the void, the stillness and the space between the breaths.
3. Savasana and guided relaxation
This guided imagery is adapted from the Shiva and Parvati mediation from Sally Kempton (2013) on Shiva and Parvati.
Lying down in Savasana, begin to observe the different sensations in each side of the body. Begin by bringing awareness to what is arising.
Now, begin to visualise the left half of your body as Shakti and the right half as Shiva.
Imagine that the left half of your body is filled by the divine feminine as Goddess Parvati. Sense the qualities of the goddess in that half of your body: beauty, devotion, playfulness,, charm, sweetness, nourishing love, erotic tenderness, gracefulness, feminine strength.
Imagine the right side of the body is filled with the divine masculine in the form of Shiva. Feel his energy in your body. Sense his qualities of stability, steadiness, penetrating intellect, clarity of vision, peace, vastness, ruthless swiftness, masculine strength.
Let you attention move from the feminine side to the masculine side of your body. Notice the difference. Feel these two sides of the divine nature held within you. Sense them held in balance in your own body. The masculine and feminine in union within your body. The balance of masculine and feminine in your own being.
Ellik E.C. (2015) The Shakti Colouring Book: Goddesses, Mandalas and the Power of Sacred Geometry.
Frawley, D (20018) Inter Tantric Yoga. Working with the Universal Shakti: Secrets of Mantras, Deities and meditation. Lotus Press.
Kempton, S. (2013) Awakening Shakti: the Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga. Sounds True.
Kempton, S (2013) Shakti Meditations: guided practices to invoke the goddesses of yoga. Sounds True.
Welcome to my latest blog on the Mahavidya wisdom goddesses of yoga. Today I introduce Dhumavati, the grandmother spirit, the old crone, and the elder of the goddesses.
In the post that follows, I will:
give an overview of the symbolism from mythology.
point out where we can see the presence of Dhumavati in our lives.
explore what she has to offer us on a path of yoga, including the blessings/boons that come from awakening and embodying this goddess.
share 5 yoga practices for you to do at home to awaken the gifts of Dhumavati.
If you would like to read my earlier blogs including the background of practicing with these goddesses of yoga, please see Kali and Lakshmi/Kamalamika.
But first, a background on what has lead me to explore this goddess
I didn’t plan to write my next feminine yoga blog on Dhumavati. To be honest, I have shied away from practicing and teaching with this particular wisdom goddess. Let’s face it, the old, lonely crone is not very appealing…at least at first glance.
In the recent months, Dhumavati (and her crows!) have flown into my life with what feels like a divine gift. Her presence has helped me navigate major life challenges, in particular the grief, that is arising from a few situations in my personal realm. Recently, I have been holding space for my 80 year old mother’s last stages of dementia as well as for my teenage son’s chronic illness and subsequent darkness of the soul.
These events have come on top of 6 years of major disappointments and losses for me and my family. In recent years, we have also suffered: my adrenal stress breakdown in a corporate career, my father’s death, my son’s diagnosis of Diabetes 1, and my husband’s diagnosis, treatment and recovery through cancer.
I have found practicing with Dhumavati to help me in many ways. Most importantly, she has helped me to navigate the layers of grief that are arising from my family’s trials. I felt a strong impulse to write this blog because of the profound experiences and support I have received from working with this goddess during this time. I have also begun to teach her wisdom in my yoga classes and workshops.
Dhumavati’s greatest gift is the transmutation of disappointment, failure, loss and grief. She is the goddess we can call on when we are navigating the ‘void’ within life’s disappointments. She is especially powerful during the big losses such as relationship breakups, chronic illness and death.
Dhumavati can help us not only ‘be with’ these challenges, but practicing with her can help transmute these experiences into wisdom and peace. In essence, through suffering we can learn compassion, patience, tolerance, perseverance, understanding and forgiveness.
I would like to add, whilst I have found yoga to be hugely beneficial to dealing with the pain and loss, it can at times be a journey. It is important to seek professional psychological support if you are embarking on exploring the terrain of disappointment, loss and grief as outlined in this blog. In the ‘yoga world’ we need to be mindful of the ‘spiritual bypass’ which can be the tendency to jump to spirit prematurely, usually in an effort to avoid the difficult shadowy aspects of being human in our earthly reality. It can of course be tricky to explore the shadow world on one’s own, as by its nature it is hidden, and has in my understanding been built up out of our our deepest fears, and a need for self-protection.
Who is Dhumavati, the Archetype, and Why is She Important to Us?
As with all of the goddesses, examining the iconography of Dhumavati can help us gain a better understanding and connection to her energy. We can then invoke her wisdom into our embodied yoga practice.
Dhumavati is the grandmother spirit, the crone, the widow. She is the elder amongst the 10 Mahavidya goddesses and is an ancestral guide for the other younger goddesses. Here she is pictured as the 7th Goddess from the left in a stalled chariot with her crow.
Each of these goddess archetypes are a part of our psyche and lives. Some are more prevalent during different ‘seasons’ of our lives and some may be laying latent and unexpressed waiting for us to discover their power when the time is right. I want to point out that we are able to awaken any of the goddesses regardless of our own age and stage of life. We do not need to be older women to invoke and receive the boons of practicing with Dhumavati, just as we do not need to be sixteen to invoke the goddess Tripuri Sundari!
In the next section, I will unpack some of symbolism and meaning of Dhumavati including: her name ‘the smoky one’ and the portrayal of her as the crone – an old ugly widow who is alone, with just a crow for company, sitting on a stalled chariot with a winnowing basket.
Dhumavati – ‘The Smoky One’
dhum means smoke, hence, Dhumavati means ‘smoky one’, the one who is composed of smoke. The symbolism of smoke is paradoxical, as is the power of Dhumavati.
At one level, the experience of hardship and suffering, or the ‘smoke’, can cloud our vision and understanding. Her smoky darkness can take us into the clouds of pain and difficulty that accompany disappointment, loss, ageing, illness and death. These circumstances can seem to block out the light causing us to feel lost and bereft.
On another level, her smokiness is a gift. Dhumavati’s gift is obscuration. By obscuring all that is known, she reveals to us the depth of the unknown and the un-manifest. The smoke offers us the capacity to reveal a deeper truth beneath the illusionary world of our current state of awareness. Dhumavati helps us to let go of attachments to perceptions by looking through the smoke screen and revealing what is underneath or beyond. When we can finally see what is hidden, it can bring us great freedom and a sense of deep relaxation.
Uma Dinsmore-Tuli reflects that Dhumavati can help us to see all angles of a situation, and through cultivating a sense of detachment and perspective we can gain a deeper insight. We can “see the light in the cloud… and can appreciate the power of time as a healer” p414
The Symbolism of the Crone, a Lone Widow with a Winnowing Basket on a Stalled Chariot
Most imagery of Dhumavati portray her as old, ugly, disheveled, and skeletally thin. Half of her teeth are missing, her wild hair is matted, and she wears dirty old rags. There is a sharp look on her wrinkly face. She is, in essence, a bag lady.
Below are some images of Dhumavati that I share in my yoga classes. I find using black and white images can be helpful in minimising any cultural overlay of meaning.
Dhumavati’s ugly, fearful appearance is not intended to frighten us, but instead to reveal the danger of considering sensory pleasure as bringing fulfilment. She teaches us to look beyond apparent beauty to inner truth. Teaching us the negative side of life, she liberates us from the attachment and unfolds the inner reality Frawley, 1994, p126
Dhumavati and her crow. Artist: Rabi Behra (www.exoticindia.com)
As Kempton (2013) describes, Dhumavati is seen sitting on a stalled chariot which represents “the stillness of the eternal present.” Here Dhumavati exists as a potential force until the experience of suffering awakens our consciousness and provides us with the motivating, directional focus to release her immense energy.
One of Dhumavati’s hands is held in cin mudra, the gesture of knowledge. In the other hand she holds a winnowing basket. This represents the power of discrimination whereby we can separate the grain (the ‘real’) from the chaff (the ‘unreal’). As Frawley points out, the winnowing basket represents the need to discern the inner essence from the illusory reality of outer forms.
Without passing through Dhumavati’s winnowing basket, we remain trapped by our dreams of success, our fear of loss… With her grace, we can mine the exquisite wisdom hidden in the heart of life’s most difficult moments. Kempton, 2013, p222
The basket represents her power to teach us discrimination through suffering, and how we come to understand what really matters in life. As Uma Dinsmore-Tuli describes, at the end of the sorting process we discard the chaff in the same way we learn to discard thoughts and beliefs that no longer feed life and the growth of spirit.
Dhumavati is Kali as an old woman. She is time that has passed. She gives us the wisdom to recognise that change, transience and impermanence are the only constants in life. She give us the power to live with our presence, and the focus on what truly matters free from attachment.
In the mythological stories, Dhumavati is portrayed as a lone old woman, a widow with no male consort. She represents the power of solitude. As Sally Kempton says, Dhumavati brings great comfort in being alone, so much so that we can find that we crave time alone. It is an aloneness that is not gripped with loneliness, rather an aloneness that brings a kind of solitude that is very happy to stand outside from the game of life.
When I was 45 years old, I first experienced the wisdom of Dhumavati in my yoga teacher training. I felt the comfort and peace in being alone, holding the many deep emotions that I was experiencing with my husband’s cancer diagnosis. I also observed that the younger women in the course (I was the oldest) did not seem to embrace this particular goddess. As Sally Kempton reflects, most young people have too much bubbly energy and an urgent desire to surrender to a path of giving up and letting go.
Dhumavati is a widow, with no male consort. This has significant meaning. In Tantra, goddesses are understood to be half of the Shiva/Shakti pair representing consciousness (Shiva) and energy (Shakti). Dhumavati, on the other hand, is solitary. She is the only goddess of the 10 Mahavidya wisdom goddesses who does not have a male consort. In this way she can represent the unsupported feminine.
“Dhumavati is the feminine, devoid of the masculine principle. She is Shakti without Shiva, as a pure potential energy without any will to motivate it. She contains within herself all potentials and shows the latent energies that dwell within us” Frawley, 1994 p122
Traditional practices in India advise that married or household devotees should not practice with Dhumavati. I assume that it is believed that invoking her power will dissolve marriages and relationships. However, it makes me wonder if this is yet another aspect of patriarchal culture that represses the wisdom of the wise woman.
By denying or suppressing this archetype, we sadly miss out on her profound teachings. Now that contemporary tantric texts are available to us (including David Frawley (1994), Sally Kempton (2013) and Uma Dinsmore-Tuli (2014), the teachings of this crone goddess are readily accessible. We can more readily awaken and embrace the wisdom of the grandmother/crone into our lives and society.
The crow is Dhumavati’s animal emblem. The crow can be seen either sitting beside her or as portrayed on a flag attached to her chariot. In Hindu belief, crows are considered ancestors as seen during the practice of Śrāddha- the ritual that is performed to pay homage to one’s ‘ancestors’, especially to one’s dead parents. This imagery has personally brought me great meaning during this time of holding space for my dying mother in her long and drawn out experience of dying from dementia.
Below is an overview of symbolism of the crow from shamanist traditions, including that from my medicine cards (Sams and Carson, 1988). I am struck by its parallel symbolism with Dhumavati and how the archetypal symbolism of both crow and crone from different traditions bring a similar medicine and message.
The crow is associated with life, mysteries and magic. Crows are considered to be the keepers of the Sacred Law/Lore. Nothing escapes their keen sight. Just like with imagery of Dhumavati, they are often portrayed with sharp, clear eyes. Crows are also symbolic of hearing the ‘unheard’ sounds, as they can hear very low sound frequencies, that which the human ears cannot hear.
The crow can be seen as the archetype of the trickster. If you see a crow, it is thought that you should be aware of deceiving appearances. Again, we see a parallel with Dhumavati’s ability to see through the smokescreen of illusion.
Other traditional meanings associated with the crow include: death, inauspiciousness, darkness and decay. The crow can also be a deeply powerful symbol of transmutation or transformation through death as well as the void or core of creation.
When we meditate on the crow and align with it, we are instilled with the wisdom and knowledge beyond the limitations of one-dimensional thinking and laws.
Where Can We See Dhumavati in our Lives?
As with all the goddesses, we can see Dhumavati in different aspects of our internal and external world. The more we practice with these wisdom goddesses, the more we come to see and feel their Shakti energy everywhere. In the recent months as I have practiced with Dhumavati, I have been astounded by how visceral and real the imagery has become.
I have seen crows each and every day in different circumstances, calling me to reflect deeply on this medicine. I have journeyed with crow medicine through a number of shamanic drum journeys. Each day I see crows in my garden or whilst driving through the countryside. I see them sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, and oftentimes in groups. I have seen them eating dead kangaroo carrion on the side of the road. And if I am not seeing them, I often hear their call, “CAW!”
I have been harnessing the wisdom of these shamanic messages by reflecting on my thoughts or what is arising for me in the moment when I see/hear the crow, which brings greater consciousness to the moment.
Despite seeing so many of them, I have found it very difficult to take a clear photo of the crow. I have heard this from several bird photographers as well. This demonstrates to me the transient nature of this medicine, the surrendering and the letting go.
Because she is an old woman, we most obviously see Dhumavati in the elderly. We can also see her in homeless people, in the ill and in the dying. We can see Dhumavati en masse in old age homes. I have been contemplating this deeply in my recent visit to my mother’s old age home dementia ward.
My Mum, Jenny Mallick, at St Annes Nursing home, April 2018, 80 years old (Photo by Jane Mallick)
As I have been immersing myself in my practice with Dhumavati, I was struck on two occasions by how the physical manifestation of this goddess can present in our body. First, I started to feel the growth of a small clump of wiry hair growing on my chin. It felt to me as if I was growing a hairy wart on my chin, conjuring up the symbolism of a witch. Whereas in the past during my days in the corporate world I would have been horrified, I have become quite fond of this growth during these months of practice with Dhumavati.
Secondly, one of my regular students, on the night of the Dhumavati class, messaged me to tell me that she had broken a front tooth and that she was very embarrassed so she would be slipping in and out of class unseen. At the end of the class, I caught a glimpse of her after the meditation with her beautiful toothless cheeky grin beaming across her face! In this moment she was to me the perfect embodiment of Dhumavati.
We can also see Dhumavati in the natural world. In the cycle of the moon, she is represented by the end of the moon cycle – the Dark Moon. We can tune into the energy of Dhumavati in the blackness and the void on these moonless nights. She is further represented by the season of winter and the coldness, darkness and bareness that it brings.
Oak Tree in Taradale
Our Nashi Pear Trees in Winter
Winter trees in Taradale. Photos by Jane Mallick
On an emotional level, we can feel Dhumavati in our lives when we experience loss or disappointment. She shows up especially in areas of our life that we are very ‘attached’ to. Dhumavati represents the negative aspects life: disappointment, loss, frustration, humiliation, defeat, sorrow and loneliness. She is the ‘dark night of the soul’. When all that we know is gone and we can no longer see a path forward.
It is often through external forces like illness, disappointment, endings and death that we are introduced to Dhumavati. She shows up in our bigger losses when we are in mourning and in states of depression and hopelessness. We can also experience her at any point in our own lives. All of us, at some point will experience disappointment, loss and suffering. It could happen at an early age or all at once and ultimately, all of us will meet the Dhumavati energy when we face our own deaths.
You may ask why invoke this goddess? At the surface, it hardly feels enticing. But if you look deeper, you will see that she has subtle and profound boons to share.
As Sally Kempton says in her Dhumavati Shakti Meditation:
Dhumavati might not be a goddess you choose to turn to and awaken and embody. You may not need her, nor identify with her energy right now, but know that she is here and that you can call on her as and when you need her.Kempton, 2013
Dhumavati Medicine and Boons
I will now describe some of the gifts and boons of practicing with the goddess Dhumavati, including examples from my personal journey and that of some of my students.
The Art of Surrender
Dhumavati offers us the gift of letting go. Whilst Kali is also a goddess of letting go, in my experience Dhumavati’s medicine can be felt much deeper. Kali helps us navigate the blockages in our path and is often expressed in ferocity and anger. Dhumavati’s energy, on the other hand, is expressed in stillness and surrender.
There can be so much tension and anxiety in trying to control aspects of our life. Dhumavati can show us that when we let go of control of expectations and outcomes, we can experience a profound sense of peace.
As a highly anxious person, I have spent many years of my life trying to control many aspects of my life. This all changed during my mid-life crisis, where a whole series of events, one by one, called me to let go and surrender. I have found that the only way through these challenges has been to let go of expectation.
The first time I experienced the power of letting go is when I left my corporate job and I had to release the identity that I had spent years building. In the end I found peace in letting this identity fall away to a point where all that remained was my deeper self.
More recently, practicing with Dhumavati has helped me let go of anxiety as well as control of my son’s health. I know intellectually that it is part of his rite of passage as an adolescent to navigate his own life journey, including his chronic health challenges. But, as a mother it is one of the hardest things to see our children suffer. My practice with Dhumavati has been a key medicine for me to navigate this time of transition in our relationship.
After my yin yoga class with Dhumavati, one of my students (M.W.) shared with me how she experienced the goddess’ medicine. As an older woman practicing with the archetype of the crone goddess very much resonated with her. She described how in the week prior to the class, she had had a really difficult week, one in which she had held herself to unrealistic expectations.
Our practice with Dhumavati helped her to recognise and accept her own wisdom, whilst helping her to let go of the expectations and subsequent punishing thoughts. In doing so, she felt a greater acceptance of what is, as well as a deep peace and understanding. She described feeling more room for acceptance of herself and others, and for life in general.
Dealing with Disappointment, Loss and Grief
Dhumavati is the goddess that helps us navigate the ‘negative’ aspects of life. She represents the good fortune that come to us from misfortune – the auspiciousness that can arise from inauspiciousness.
“Disappointment is a multilayered teacher. Not many of us would choose to apprentice with her, yet sooner or later, most of us do. People disappointment us, luck runs out, status declines, strength fails us. Then the goddess Dhumavati flies into our awareness, accompanied by her crow, a harbinger of worldly misfortune, who ironically also bestows the inner gifts of detachment, emptiness and freedom. Kempton, 2013, p221
To be able to receive the gifts of disappointment and loss is a rare skill and not something that we are necessarily willing or choose to open to. This is where Dhumavati is a valuable guide, a helpful medicine for us to invoke in our yoga and our lives.
All of us have experienced disappointments and loss in some way or form: relationships break down, we or our loved ones suffer from illness and people around us die. All too often, the grief associated with loss gets tucked away, often pre-emptively, and we move on. We are often encouraged (or required) to return back to the functioning world. Grief can become lodged and stuck. This can limit our ability to grow and move forward in life. It can limit our ability to love.
Yoga asana can be a powerful tool for connecting with these deeper emotions that are held within the body. As we open the energy in the body, emotions can be free to move.
I often find that emotions are unlocked through my yoga practice. In my early days of practicing yoga at an ashram in London, I recall a class where practicing Cobra/Bhujangasana opened a huge amount of tears and emotional release for me. I also remember there was no acknowledgement nor checking in with me from the teacher, which for me established the tone that the expression of tears and emotions were not welcomed into the yoga.
Since then, after practicing many styles of yoga and feminine embodied practices, I now embrace and move with the emotions as they arise adapting the practice to what is needed in the moment. Practice with Dhumavati has further helped me to be with and enter further into the layers of grief. Dhumavati can bring a reverence to the sorrow and disappointment that we can feel.
I have found as I surrender to the feelings of grief and sadness, the wave of tears flow. The tears last for few minutes, followed by a sense of peace and stillness that arise after emotion has fully moved through. I also notice the attachments and perceptions in the stories of these past experiences begin to dissipate.
Seeing Truth Beyond the Illusion
Dhumavati as the ‘smoky one’, helps us see through the illusionary world, taking us inward to reveal a deeper truth. She invites us to be with the deeper inner reality, and can help us transmute desire leading us to experience deeper truth and wisdom.
This year, I burnt a massive bonfire for Samhain, from trees and branches that had fallen during a ferocious storm last summer. Samhain is a traditional Northern European festival that marks the beginning of winter. I made a Dhumavati ceremony of it.
As I burnt the bonfire, I was alone calling in and meditating on Dhumavati to hold me, in my holding of my mother’s dementia, my son’s illness, and the layers of grief that were coming up for me. I drummed my medicine drum. I spent time gazing into the smoke. I watched the smoky translucent layers that dance around. I watched as they disappeared and then reappeared. I saw the dance between the flames of Kali, burning away the old, and the smoke of Dhumavati.
Photos by Jane Mallick. Samhain 2018: Dhumavati ceremony.
Through this practice I experienced deep and gentle waves of grief that moved through me, followed by deep feelings of peace. At the end of the ceremony a rainbow appeared. To me awakening the deeper beauty that lies beyond our illusionary world.
Finding Peace in the Void
Dhumavati is the void, where all forms have been dissolved and nothing can any longer be differentiated. When what we have known no longer applies.
As Sally Kempton says in her Dhumavati Shakti Meditation “In any creative, growth process or change process, there is a difficult but necessary stage of void. All efforts have been fruitless, nothing is working. You know there is further to go, but you don’t know how to get there”.
The void is often felt or described as darkness, as is the Dhumavati energy. However as Frawley points out the void can be a Self-illumining reality, free of the ordinary duality of subject and object. It is not just emptiness, but rather it is the cessation of the movements of the mind.
The Black Void. Photo by Jane Mallick I ‘accidentally’ took this photo during my recent Samhain ceremony.
Practicing with Dhumavati can help us to sit and be ‘with’ the void, the not knowing. She can help us to look within, into the darker, shadowy, more painful aspects of life. Her form is not pleasant or appealing, but rather shows us the dark shadow of the world so that we are no longer entranced by its superficial joys.
When we sit in the unknown, in the void, what can arise is a knowing from a deeper place of wisdom. Dhumavati can reveal to us the imperfect, the transient, unhappy and confused state of ordinary egotistic existence so that we can then transcend it.
As both Frawley (1994) and Kempton (2013) point out, if your goal is to move deeply into meditation consciousness, Dhumavati is an essential part of the journey to awakening.
From Dualistic Thinking to Greater Wisdom and Freedom.
We live in largely a dualistic world. Dualism is defined as the conceptual division of something into two opposed or contrasted aspects, or the state of being so divided. (English Oxford Living Dictionary). Dualistic thinking can contribute to great suffering in our modern world.
Non-duality, on the other hand, is a state of consciousness in which the dichotomy of I-other is transcended. Non-dualistic teachings and meditation/contemplation practices can be seen in many eastern and western spiritual traditions.
Dhumavati offers us a powerful window into the transcendence of duality. In my yoga teacher training, I recall being so inspired and awakened by the Dhumavati practice and my experience of the embodiment of non-duality through the yoga asana, meditation and contemplation practices. I had a clear vision of how much of a struggle and how exhausting the dualistic western mindset had been on me, my body and my life.
Through meditating and invoking Dhumavati, we can cultivate a sense of detachment from our possessions, relationships and identities so that we can experience a deeper truth. We can cultivate a ‘birds eye’ view from the perspective of the higher self, looking down at the parts that play out in our lives. Just like the crow’s sharp and wise perspective!
Dhumavati can also give us the paradoxical wisdom of forgetting. I was struck when I last visited my mother in her last stage of dementia, She can no longer talk nor move and her functional memory was lost years ago. Whilst this may seem a very scary existence, on this visit I found peace in how free she was from attachments to the world.
This can be a refreshing viewpoint for us as we age, and find our sharp mind and or memory fading. In later life, when we review our many decades of accumulated experiences, we can choose to let go of or forget the aspects of our lives that bind us to a limited understanding of who we really are. We acquire the discriminative power to choose to forgive and forget those experiences and people who distract us from a purer state of being.
Summary of Dhumavati’s Boons
On the path of awakening, there will be many times when we are called to ‘die’, to let go of someone, or something. At these moments she is there, holding out her hand to guide us through disappointment, loss and grief and showing us that there can be peace and freedom on the other side.
Dhumavati takes us down into a cave of the soul, and when we follow her, she shows us the spring that bubbles up out of the empty places of the heart. Kempton, 2013, p 227
So I would like to finish with a reflection from one of my students in her recent discovery of the archetype of Dhumavati.
“From the moment I saw an image of her, I felt a strange connection to her. I liked that she was alone, and often seen riding on a crow. Perhaps it was because I often walk alone, only accompanied by crows.
Unlike the other goddesses, she was ordinary looking (with 2 arms!) – and not beautiful like Lakshmi, or fierce like Kali or talented like Saraswati. She is the goddess of misfits, freaks, losers and outsiders, which in a time when social conformity and conservatism seems rife, sits and suits me well.
She is sometimes seen holding a winnowing basket, to sort the grain from the chaff. I enjoy this no-nonsense approach – her age and wisdom giving her the ability to cut through the crap! At this stage in my life I have found myself without any elders, and this is an absence I am keenly aware of. Dhumavati, to some extent, fills this space.
I have been through many struggles and challenges in the past decade, which seem never ending. Dhumavati taught me, that instead of asking ‘Why Me?’ or ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ or ‘How can I change these things?’ that when everything else around me break downs or is taken away it may be better to surrender and yield and instead focus on caring for my inner equilibrium.” L.D.
5 Practices to invoke the wisdom of Dhumavati
The repetition of a mantra can be a way to invoke the energies of the goddesses. I know that some feel uncomfortable with repeating a Sanskrit mantra, so maybe you would prefer the English mantra:
Letting Go can be Dhumavati’s simplest and deepest medicine.
If you would like to use a Sanskrit mantra, here is an easy and accessible mantra:
Dhum dhum dhumavati svaha
Dhum as ‘smoke’, to obscure. This mantra can obscure or darken our perception and any false light. And then as we ‘see’ through the smoke we can gain access to a deeper inner truth. Smoke can also invoke a protective smoke that shields us from any negativity.
Smoking ritual: Create some form of a ritual around fire and smoke. You could burn a fire, if you have a place to do so. Create smoke or smudging. Or you could simply light a candle and observe the smoke.
The practice could include gazing into the smoke and gently holding in your mind the sorrow or disappointment you feel.
3 Yoga asana practice
Yin Yoga is a wonderful practice for working with Dhumavati. You may like to include any of the lung and large interesting meridian postures with a focus on looking inward, surrendering and letting go. For example, open wing/scorpion pose, sphynx or seal pose, and full forward fold/caterpillar pose.
4. Exploring the imagery of Dhumavati
Find an image of Dhumavati. Maybe one of the images here in this post, or search and find an image that resonates with you.
Print this out and put it on your alter, or a place at home or work that you will see the image often. Be curious…
what do you see?
what is invoked when you see and feel into the image of Dhumavati?
5. Yoga nidra practice
We can awaken and embody Dhumavati when we practice yoga nidra, savasana and deep sleep, whereby we consciously practice letting go, surrendering and entering the void.
Yoga nidra is a particularly powerful Dhumavati practice. It is, in essence, an awake and conscious sleep where we are guided back through the layers of consciousness to the pre-creation experience of pure bliss, to a time before our consciousness became identified with names, forms, distractions and illusions. Yoga nidra can give us the capacity to detach from all that is extraneous and irrelevant and instead connect us with a deeper truth and reality.
Uma Dinsmore-Tuli suggests that including the Dhumavati energy in our yoga nidra practice can help us to face our own mortality, and in essence to prepare for our death.
You can use the following instructions next time you settled down to a yoga nidra practice, savasana, or you can even practice this before going to sleep at night. I personally have found this profound practice to cultivate relaxation, and an embodied peace and acceptance.
Instructions: (adapted from Uma Dinsmore-Tuli)
Imagine that you are laying down your bones for the last time.
As you experience the heaviness, sense your dead heavy bones returning down to the earth.
As you experience lightness, sense your lifeless body going up in smoke, wafting high into the sky.
Now, spend some time alternating between these two experiences.
Through this process you may like to reflect on the reality that no matter how strong and healthy your body is, at some point we have to leave aside this physical vehicle.
It makes sense to bring this awareness of being in deaths anteroom to consciousness, and to get intimate with the inevitability of death and of our mortality.
Frawley, D. (1994) Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses. Lotus Press.
Kempton, S. (2013) Awakening Shakti: the Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga. Sounds True.
Kempton, S (2013) Shakti Meditations: guided practices to invoke the goddesses of yoga. Sounds True.
Sams, J and Carson, D (1988) Medicine cards: the discovery of power through the ways of animals. Bear and Company.
Taylor, L (2014) Notes from Sacred Journey into Yoga Teacher Training. For More information go to Lorraine Taylor Yoga for her 200 hour Sacred Journey into Yoga for Women, a month long ashtanga vinyasa yoga teacher training journeying with the Ten Mahavidya Goddesses.
Uma Dinsmore-Tuli (2014) Yoni Shakti: A woman’s guide to power and freedom through yoga and tantra. Yoga Words.
In my latest blog on the wisdom goddesses of yoga I introduce Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance. If you would like to read about the background on invoking wisdom goddesses in yoga, please go to my blog on Kali.
In this blog, I introduce Lakshmi:
describe her qualities; where we can see her in our lives, her boons and why we invoke her.
unpack the mythology in her imagery, including the symbology of her 4 arms (Dharma, Artha, Kama Moksha) as a model of human and spiritual evolution.
share some personal stories of how she has been a nourishing medicine for me and for one of my students.
give you 7-practices to awaken and embody Lakshmi’s qualities in your life.
Lakshmi’s qualities and how to invoke them
Lakshmi represents abundance in all forms – abundant beauty in the inner and the outer world. In mythology Lakshmi incarnates all of the qualities of the auspicious feminine. One of her names Shri (pronounced Shree) which means auspiciousness and signifies good fortune, loving kindness, purity of motive, material prosperity, physical health, wellbeing, energy, vitality and every kind of radiance and beauty (Kempton, 2013).
We see Lakshmi in our lives in all forms of wealth including material and spiritual wealth. As material wealth, when Lakshmi’s energy is flowing in your life, money comes easily as well as it flows out generously to others. Lakshmi can be seen in precious jewels, in beautifully crafted objects, art and elegant fashion and delicious food as well as sweet music.
Lakshmi can be found in the abundance of the natural world. The abundance of mother earth: the land the water, the plants and animals. She is the benevolent force that causes the seed to grow into a tree, the sperm to fertilise the egg and flowers to fruit. Her power nourishes life on earth. She is a goddess of sustainability. It is said that Lakshmi shows up for those who are stewards of the land, cultivators of the earth. If we provide and care for all the Life around us, then Lakshmi will bless us with abundance
When we embody Lakshmi, we have everything, both inner and outer, for a beautiful life. Lakshmi is invoked for peace and prosperity, sweetness and harmony. When you call her into your life, you invite every form of blessing. Good fortune, fertility and beauty.
Lakshmi gives the gifts of worldly abundance, wealth, food, high social position, spiritual luster, beauty in all its form (Kempton, 2013)
You can invoke Lakshmi to cultivate all forms of abundance in life including:
support in the worldly life, including money and material wealth
bridging the mundane and spiritual worlds
greater health, wellbeing and vitality
gratitude and being content with what you have
allowing yourself to receive and also to give generously
beauty and pleasure in life
opening your heart.
Lakshmi’s Shakti is cooling and nourishing, infinitely sweet. I find that Lakshmi, along with her sister goddess Tripuri Sundari, can be a beautiful balance to the more fiery energy of Kali and Durga.
Lakshmi can put an end to outer seeking, instead spend our precious energy on the evolution and unfolding of ourselves and the universe. Lakshmi (and Kalamalitka in particular) offers us a bridge between the material and spiritual worlds. She nourishes and supports whatever we aspire to. She is Divine grace for our spiritual and worldly goals.
The Mythology of Lakshmi
Mythology, and the stories of these goddesses, can be a powerful map of understanding ourselves as well as universal patterns. One tool is to understand the symbology of the icon/image. One powerful Tantric embodiment practice is visualise ourselves as the god or goddess and so we can examine in detail and attempt to get a ‘felt sense’ of the image and the symbols commonly associated with Lakshmi we can embody her abundance.
When we look at a mythological image we look to everything in image including the character and the objects are aspects of our Self. Chameli Ardah points out it is important to remember that mythology is not a fixed theory, rather it is a the map that is alive in you as you, around you and right now in every moment.
Below is a summary of some of the more common interpretations of Lakshmi’s image.
Lakshmi is depicted as a beautiful woman of golden complexion, standing gracefully on a lotus flower. She is dressed in red, which represents continuous creative activity. She is adorned with gold ornaments and jewels, indicating prosperity and fulfilment.
Her animal consort is the elephant or sometimes she is pictured with an owl. Elephants and owls both represent wisdom.
Two elephants are often shown standing next to the goddess and spraying water. A symbol that ceaseless effort, in accordance with one’s dharma and governed by wisdom and purity, leads to material and spiritual prosperity.
An owl, as a night bird represents darkness, which can represent Lakshmi’s ability to remove darkness from our lives, including poverty and stagnation. The owl can also point to the shadow aspects of material wealth. At a personal level greed and ignorance and at a societal, humanity level, how the current imbalances in the larger financial/economic system are not sustainable.
She has 4 arms. In two of them she holds lotus flowers. Her third hand is lowered, palm down, with cascading gold coins. Her fourth hand is held upright, in abhaya mudra, an ancient gesture that dispels fear.
The continuous stream of gold coins pouring out from Lakshmi’s hand representing the unending flow of abundant prosperity and wealth in all forms, including material wealth and money.
The Lotus flower is also a prominent and powerful symbol for Lakshmi. The Tantric equivalent of Lakshmi’s is called Kamalatmika, (kamala = lotus).
Lakshmi sits on a lotus flower that emerges out of the lake, as well as holds two in her hands, sometimes one closed and one open. The lotus flower can represent purity, fertility and inner unfolding. The lotus is also a symbol of growth and spiritual transformation. The lotus flower grows from the shadow, muddy water. It roots itself in the mud and then grows up, through the murky, stagnant waters toward the light and blossoms into perfection.
Four Arms as a Map of Human Evolution
Lakshmi’s four arms symbolise different aspects of manifestation. They can offer us a framework to understand spiritual development and human embodiment.
Dharma: ‘righteous’ living your unique vibration
Artha: worldy and spiritual wealth
Kama: pleasure as a spiritual portal
Moksha – liberation and freedom.
The 4 arms are a part of her body, they are not separate. Each ‘arm’ is equally important and a part of the whole. In our practice we can tune into these 4 arms and identify which aspect of our life is needing more conscious awareness and practice, at any point in our evolutionary growth.
Below I provide a brief overview of each of these arms. I share more on these arms and specific yoga practices, in my Tantra Flow Yoga workshops and transition coaching programs.
Dharma: ‘righteous’ living your unique vibration
Dharma is the law of the universe. It is the righteous order of ALL things. In the personal realm, righteous living can be seen as the alignment to our unique vibration, our unique dharma, and the alignment of this vibration with the larger vibration of the universe.
We each have a unique place in the world: a unique thread in the grand scheme of life. It shows that we are each unique, but not separate.
The practice is to align ourselves with our unique vibration – your unique Shri. The closer we can come to this vibration the more fulfilled we will be. We experience genuine fulfilment when living true to our dharma. When our unique gifts are aligned with the bigger cosmic intelligence we not only find our unique place in the whole, but you also receive great support from the universe (see Artha below).
This does not mean your life is wholly pre-destined or pre-determined. Instead, we are born with an imprint, and then our life experiences and circumstances influence and mould us. We are continuously moving and evolving.
Recently, I have noticed that dharma is increasingly used by yoga teacher career coaches in their branding and marketing of coaching offerings. dharma can offer us a meaningful way to make decisions about our work and career. It is important to remember that dharma is more than a job, as dharma is expressed in all areas of our lives.
I see so much suffering in the world when people are not aware or are misaligned with their dharma. Many are caught up in a material world of consumerism. I know I was for many years working in the city in corporate role that felt like it often clashed with my deeper values and beliefs.
“It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma. But competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity.” Krishna from The Bhagavad Gita
The more aware of, and the more aligned I am, and the more conscious and connected I am to my dharma, the happier and easier life becomes. It is one of my deepest passions, that more people (including myself!) live life according to their dharma.
Artha: worldly and spiritual wealth
Artha is the resources we need to fulfill our dharma. Artha is most commonly associated with wealth. Currently in our western and ever developing world, Artha is most visible as money. Artha is far more than just money. It includes all aspects of physical, emotional and spiritual wealth, health and wellbeing. It includes the skills, physical well-being and circumstances that will support you to live your dharma.
Most, if not all of us, are bound to a large extent to live and operate in the current systems and processes that require us to have money to live a good life. For example we need a home to live in, we need to pay rent or a mortgage. We need nourishing food for a healthy functioning body. More and more of us are now choosing to buy organic food, which is often more expensive. Increasingly we need money to pay for good health care, particularly so here in Australia if you choose preventative or natural medicine. It costs money to live a good healthy life.
Many of us have a shadowy relationship with money. Money can reflect beliefs about our inherent value; our self-worth. For many of us these can be Self-limiting beliefs. It is important that we become conscious of these beliefs and to clear up issues we have with money, so that we can have a freer and more creative relationship with ‘wealth’.
I know so many women and men who feel trapped in work and lifestyles that are not fulfilling and that it is because of money that they do not feel free to be doing more of what they love to do.
Through working with Lakshmi’s dharma and artha arms, we can be guide and supported to find greater alignment to our true Self and to open to universal abundance, in all its forms.
Kama: pleasure as spiritual portal
Kama is pleasure, love, sensuality, desire, beauty. Kama is very much alive, particularly in recent years with the upsurge in divine feminine embodiment practices and teachers that are available to us now.
In the recent past, patriarchal religions including many eastern yoga schools, have created systems and practices to suppress and repress kama, so that we can be free (see moksha below). Many of these approaches see pleasure and sensuality as a distraction, and that we need to cultivate detachment from the ‘material’ to cultivate spirituality. I love it how Chameli Ardagh reminds us that “You are never free if you have to continually push something away!”
The kama arm shows us that a spiritual path does not have to be dry and that in fact pleasure, desire and beauty can be a powerful spiritual portal to Shri. Lakshmi shows us that not only do we not have to reject ordinary experience, including a sensuous pleasurable life, but that the material life can offer us a portal to the inside offering worldly enjoyment and spiritual freedom.
Lakshmi is the keeper and beautifier of mundane life. She shows us that cultivating an aesthetic life is a spiritual practice. She can awaken pleasure and desire. Chameli Ardagh describes desire as spiritual heat, that with conscious practice, becomes a portal of awakening. Pleasure can be a doorway to Presence. Our senses open us…they feed us… they nourish us.
Moksha: Liberation and Freedom
Moksha is the freedom from the small ‘I’ to the greater scheme of things. It is the ability to see all experiences as a part of the bigger tapestry of life. To do this we need to let go of control. We need to slip into the slip-stream of life. When we do this, we can align ourselves with the collective evolution. This can provide tremendous support and creativity.
We can sometimes fear to let go – to trust. We can be afraid of the void. Lakshmi helps us relax the grip on trying to control everything and instead offers faith so we can surrender into infinite abundance. Chameli Ardagh describes when we align with the evolution of dharma, and slip into the outpouring of creativity and resources, we can manifest anything we dream of!
Lakshmi’s shadow can often arise when we get tastes of how good it can be, and we get attached to these moments of Artha.
“Moksha is not a process in time, nor is it an experience you once had, or a goal for your to reach later. We live Moksha in moment-to-moment surrender”. Chameli Ardagh.
Personal Stories and Experiences of Lakshmi’s energy
Below are some personal experiences of how Lakshmi has shown up in my life over the recent years as well Laura, one of my students.
My first experience with Lakshmi
I first met and experienced Lakshmi energy at my yoga teacher training in Bali in 2014. I experienced the most heart opening experience (so far!) in my life. In our last Puja (ritual) for the month-long training, we invoked Goddess Kamalamika/Lakshmi. Together the 20 women on the course brought gifts of abundance to the alter (money, food and presents), with the intention that we would take these to the local primary school children who we had become fondly familiar with over the course of our training as their playground overlooked the yoga studio. We climbed the rocky slope adjacent to the studio to reach the school children whilst singing the Gayatri Mantra. The children sang along with us. We gave the gifts to the children, and they received them with joy and gratitude. One little girl came to me and gave me a big hug. She asked me my name, and I her. She responded Lakshmi… my heart cracked so wide open!
Since then, in my personal practice and through teaching yoga with the wisdom goddesses, I continue to learn, grow and experience the power of these amazing wisdom goddesses. I recently joined a 21-day Lakshmi Sadhana with Chameli Ardagh which opened my life even further to her boons.
I have found that practicing with Lakshmi has helped me transition from my corporate career in the city, to yoga teacher. Her medicine has helped me transition from the secure, and relatively high income, to being self-employed, living in the county on a very low income as a yoga teacher and as a steward of the land.
Financial insecurities and unexpected gifts
There have been times when deep fears arise around my, and my families, financial security. I as many of us do, hold deep fears around money, particularly in relation to self-worth, which are intergenerational, in my case from my mothers blood line. These fears particularly arise when I step forward or take a risk in growing my business or aligning more to my dharma path of teaching yoga and growing a small farmlet. I have experienced Lakshmi many times in unexpected financial windfalls affirming and confirming my dharma.
For example, when I made the bold step to end my contractual tie to my corporate role to fully commit to being a yoga teacher, an unexpected deposit of $7,000 arrived in my bank account from my employer, which helped me pay for training and set up my business.
More recently I was doing a 21-day Lakshmi Sadhana. I experiencing great fears arising as my partner and I embark on the development of our property into the TARA Healing and Education centre. It was feeling like the more we were committing to this large investment there were tests from the universe, including the breaking down of our car, large dentist bill which were testing my confidence in our plans and vision. Daily I was practicing gratitude, asking and letting go (see practice No. 4 below) where I asked for money to support our vision.
Over the next few days I experienced a series financial gifts, including my dentist wavered a $150 bill for my son’s dentistry, and the local bank wavered a $15 fee for issuing a check to buy our new second hand car. Whilst these might seem small, it felt like Lakshmi was present whereby I received powerfully supportive messages assuring me that everything is going to be ok, and that the world will provide for me on my dharmic path.
Daily I experience Lakshmi in my garden in the abundant fruit and vegetables, herbs and flowers. The garden nourishes me and my dharma to continue moving forward to our investment into developing TARA. I will share more stories over the coming year of Lakshmi and the garden.
Early summer posies for alter
Summer light in the back paddock
Laura’s Fertility story
In my Tantra Flow classes and workshops I so love observing women awakening to the different goddess energies and receiving her boons. Laura has been attending Tantra Flow Yoga classes for several years now and has found Lakshmi to be particularly healing through her fertility journey. Lakshmi spoke to Laura in many ways and has been a powerful medicine for her.
Lakshmi Card (Doreen Virtue, 2004)
In one class, Laura felt the Lakshmi energy strongly in her heart which she felt awoke her awareness of the ability to manifest abundance in her life. At the end of the class she drew the Lakshmi goddess card from the Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards (Doreen Virtue, 2004) which was an external reinforcement and reminder of her presence.
After this experience, Laura consciously brought Lakshmi into her life, particularly as the goddess of fertility, as Laura had experienced many difficult years of fertility challenges.
Laura felt that Lakshmi was with her during the IVF process. In the hormonal stimulation process Laura created more eggs than were expected at her age. She felt the abundant life within.
When Laura learnt of Lakshmi’s other name Kamalatmika, she realised she had for years had the image of her tattooed on her back. Previously she had thought of the tattoo as a Thai angel having got the tattoo in Thailand years ago. The Thai script written under her image is ‘Kamla’, the nickname that Laura’s friends gave her. The angel goddess is holding a lotus flower.
It was so incredible to realise that I had Lakshmi tattooed on my back, and that she had been with me for so many years already. She literally has ‘had my back’! Laura
Lakshmi has been there to support Laura in times where she needed to believe in her fertility to create a child. She surrounded herself with beautiful, loving wise women to be held and supported through the journey. When she and her partner where offered the donor embryo option, she knew this could be another arduous journey, with stress, difficulties and long waiting periods. Miraculously out of the blue, an old friend contacted her to offer them an embryo. She was so moved by the hope of new genetics and the loving kind generosity from her friend. It felt like an unexpected abundant gift, that came with grace and ease from the universe.
“It felt like a precious gift – a chance of bearing a child” Laura
Although it has unfolded that Laura has not had children, she feels the journey has been so much smoother to feel guided and supported by Lakshmi. Laura describes that even without her ultimate dream coming true, her life is filled with abundance in so many other ways.
7 Practices to invoke Lakshmi in your life
I would encourage you, if you are feeling drawn to Lakshmi energy, to practice with 1 or more of the practices I share below. I also include a few tips on how to establish a devotional home yoga practice.
Decide on how much time you have in a week or in a day to dedicate yourself for a set period of time e.g. 5 minutes a day every day for the next month or choose the time and length that suits your schedule and life.
One tip is that practicing with the goddesses, as it is with any yoga or health practice, a little + often = a lot
Even if you only have 5-10 minutes a day, choose one practice, and then show up for your set period of time.
In my experience I have found that having a devotional feminine yoga practice it has been easy and a delight and that rather than being drudgery or a chore, you will probably find you want to spend more time with your practice. Especially with Lakshmi!
1. Flowing vinyasa asana practice
Practice a flowing vinyasa, with the intention to opening to the flow of bliss and receiving and gifting abundance. Include heart opening postures as well as any feminine practices that awaken pleasure. Play music you love to inspire your flowing movement, and music that opens your heart to joy. Here is a playlist with some Lakshmi music including Kirtan chants to awaken Lakshmi in your practice.
If you would like to learn some specific yoga and tantric yoga practices for your yoga practice, please check out one of my workshops or if you live locally weekly yoga courses.
2. Clear, clean and create an alter in the home
Lakshmi is seen in the cleanliness and order of a home. Spend some time clearing out old or unused items. Ask your Self does this give me Joy? If not, give it away to a charity/good will shop for someone else to choose and enjoy.
Once the space is clear and clean, bring in fresh flowers and light a candle. You can also set an intention of inviting Lakshmi into your house.
Create an Alter. It could be small, or more elaborate. Make it a space that you are drawn to daily, spending some quiet time connecting to your Self. Make offerings (flowers, gifts etc) and do some of the other practices listed here, yoga, meditation, poetry etc.
3. Meditation: cultivating receiving and giving
This meditation is adapted from Meditation secrets for women (Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche, 2001).
Begin by bringing your awareness to your breath.
Breath in – cultivate the feeling of receiving.
Breath out – cultivate the feeling of giving
Continue for a few moments. Once you have established a connection to the breath, and the feelings associated with receiving and giving, repeat the following quietly to yourself:
On the first breath: breath in, I receive breath, exhale:,I give breath.
On the second breath: breath in, I receive life, exhale, I give life
On the third breath: breath in, I receive love, exhale, I give love
4. Practice of gratitude, asking and letting go
Adapted from Chameli Ardagh’s 21-day Lakshmi Sadhana.
Bring your awareness to all that you are grateful for
Open your heart in gratitude and say your thanks either aloud, or speak quietly within.
Ask for what you desire – that which your heart longs for. Ask with innocence, like a child
Put your desire and longing into words. Speak out loud or within, or whisper softly to yourself
Release your prayers
Open your hands as if you are letting them go. You can make a hand gesture, of opening your hands and releasing your request into space around you
Whisper, or gently speak out loud: “I surrender, I give it to you”
And then imagine handing it all over to the universe, letting go of any expectation!
5: The practice of giving generously
When we fear or feel a lack of anything in our lives (e.g. money, friends, love) we can go into contraction which cuts us off from the flow of abundance from the universe.
One of the simplest ways to shift his energy is to share and be generous with what you have. For example, to share with those less fortunate than us, particularly those who are suffering in the material world. Also share your unique gifts to the world and observe the abundance that can come in response.
“In order to attract Lakshmi, to bring her grace into our life, we need to become Lakshmi” (Kempton, 2013)
6: Cultivating beauty in your life – a garden sense meditation
Notice beauty in your life. Seek out and cultivate beauty through nature, arts and music etc. Remind yourself as you open to the external beauty, that the outer is a reflection of the inner beauty that resides in the heart.
A garden is a wonderful place to invoke Lakshmi. Visit a garden, maybe your own garden, at the peak of its production. Spend some time opening your senses to the abundance in the garden: the fruit, the vegetables, the flowers, the birds and insects etc. Start with the following:
Smell the intoxicating fragrance of the flowers
See the vibrant colours in the flowers, the leaves. Notice the changes over the seasons
Taste the fresh fruits or vegetables, the bitterness of leafy greens, the sweetness of the berries etc
Listen to the sounds, the birds, to the wind rustling through trees.
Feel the warmth of the sun, or the gentle breeze
As you practice with the 5 senses, begin to notice and sense the subtle vibration of Shri and the pure abundance which is everywhere
Spend some time reading your favourite poetry, or find some new inspiring and beautiful poetry.
Rumi’s poetry can be wonderful for awakening Lakshmi:
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground” (Rumi, Spring Giddiness, 13th Century)
Another favourite of mine is Lorin Roche’s Radiance Sutra poetry, which I find to be so nourishing and awakening of the senses.
Radiance Sutra 42,
With one sweep of attention, gather in the whole universe, and remember it as the body of bliss.
The deep rhythms of life, pulsating. Stir an ambrosia. Flowing and overflowing everywhere.
Drink the Nectar of all-pervading joy from the radiant cup that is this very body
Roche, L (2014) The Radiance Sutras: 112 gateways to the yoga of wonder and delight. Sounds True: Bolder Colorado.
Taylor, L (2014) Notes from Sacred Journey into Yoga Teacher Training. For More information go to Lorraine Taylor Yoga for her 200 hour Sacred Journey into Yoga for Women, a month long ashtanga vinyasa yoga teacher training journeying with the Ten Mahavidya Goddesses.
My latest women’s yoga blog introduces the ten Mahavidya Goddesses of Tantra and describes how their powerful archetypal energies can be embodied into our yoga practice and lives, bringing us great boons, including greater Self-awareness, empowerment, creativity, joy and abundance.
As this is my first blog on these deep mystical and profound teachings, it is rather chunky with a lot of the background including:
my personal discovery of Goddess archetypes
who are the Mahavidya Tantric Wisdom Goddesses and why include them in your yoga practice
what is this thing called Tantra?!
the importance, particularly at this point in human history, of awakening and empowering the Divine feminine
what is shadow and how to embracing the dark and the light
I then cover in more detail the first of the Mahavidya’s – Kali, the Goddess of transformation. I share seven practices for your own home yoga practice. I also include some personal reflections of working with this powerful Goddess of yoga, from one of my students as well as my own life journey (so far!).
My discovery of Goddess archetypes
I was first introduced to the goddess archetypes in the 90’s through Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book Goddesses in Every Women. I discovered how the goddess archetypes, in this case the Greek Goddesses, can represent energies in our lives. I loved how the mythical symbolic realm played out in the synchronous weaving of my conscious and unconscious worlds, bringing me greater awareness and significant healing and growth.
Tara, the Goddess of compassion
More recently I have had the delight to discover the eastern goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, initially through Sally Kempton book Awakening Shakti and then in my yoga teacher training Sacred Journey into Yoga with Lorraine Taylor. I learnt that through the practice of yoga we can embody the wisdom of the Tantric Mahavidya Goddesses. I have found that practicing with these goddesses can lead to profound healing, transformation and awakening. I was so inspired by these teachings that I now include them in my own devotional home yoga practice as well as my Tantra Flow Yoga classes and workshops.
What is Tantra?
Kandariya Mahadev Temple
Most people in the west when they think of Tantra think sex! Whilst Tantra does embrace sex (unlike, in my experience, most religions and yoga traditions) it is only a small proportion of what it is.
There are many translations of the Sanskrit word Tantra. One common definition is: Tan: ‘to expand or develop’; tra: ’to liberate or redeem’. This definition embraces my personal experience of Tantra as an art and practice of transformation and liberation.
A core feature of Tantra is the principle of non-rejection, where nothing is considered outside of the Divine. Another meaning of Tantra is ‘weaving’. Tantra embraces the world as a tapestry of energies, all of them aspects of the energy of the Divine, and all of them sacred. Thus Tantra can be a powerful path for ‘householders’ looking for a path that merges spirituality with life in the ‘real’ world.
One of the unique aspects of Tantra is how it recognises, acknowledges and embraces the power of the Divine feminine. Goddess practices are a key means of doing this. Tantra perceives the Divine feminine as the source of power, life force – Shakti in contrast to the Divine masculine – Shiva, which is consciousness.
Tantra offers us a framework to understand the energy and the dance between the Divine feminine and masculine, both within our bodies and lives and with others in relationship. Tantra also helps take us beyond the limitations of the duality of gender, whereby men and women can embrace both the Divine feminine and masculine within their lives.
I believe that there is a great upsurge of Tantra teachings and offerings in the west as we are living in time where we need to heal and reawaken the Divine feminine, in both men and women.
These teachings and my writings, are not limited to women, although this is currently who my classes and workshops serve as there are many women in need of a safe space to heal and awaken the Divine feminine.
Who are the Mahavidya Wisdom Goddesses?
The Mahavidyas are a special group of goddesses that arose in certain Tantric circles in the Middle Ages in South Asia. These Deities represent Divine consciousness at all levels of the universe, including our inner and outer worlds, as energies in culture, body and mind. They include 10 goddesses, who each represent a particular approach to self-realisation.
The Mahavidya Wisdom Goddesses are known, respected and in some cases feared, for their wild, independent, liberated, sexually empowered and autonomous expressions of consciousness (Frawley, 1994)
Below is a list of their Tantric names and some key aspects of each goddess. For some of the more commonly known goddess I also include the more commonly known Hindu goddess names.
Kali: the Goddess of transformation and liberation. Later in this blog, as I describe in more detail Kali, the first of the Mahavidya’s, including 7 yoga practices to support change and freedom.
Tara: the Goddess of compassion, sound and breath
Tripuri Sundari: the beauty of the ‘three worlds’, pure perception, and the Goddess of erotic spirituality
Bhuvaneshvari: the Goddess of infinite space; the queen of the universe
Bhairavi (Durga): the warrior Goddess of protection, courage and inner strength
Chinnamasta: the Goddess of radical self-transcendence, consciousness beyond the mind
Dhumavati: the crone Goddess of disappointment and letting go
Bagalamukhi: the power of hypnotic silence and stillness, self-observation
Matangi (Saraswati): the Goddess of creativity and the spoken word
Kamalatmika (Lakshmi): the Goddess of abundance and good fortune, including material and spiritual wealth
Whilst the 10 Mahavidya’s are traditionally listed in the above order, Uma Dinsmore-Tuli (2014) discusses how these Goddesses energies are cyclical, and can shed light on and support the different life stages of a woman life. For example, Tripuri Sundari celebrating Menarche, Bhuvaneshvari supporting pregnancy and birth, Bharavi embracing our power, and Dhumervati welcoming the wisdom years.
Whilst all of the goddesses are always present as a part of our energy fields, some are more familiar to us, some less, and some we might not even be aware of, in our ‘shadow’. At different times of our lives different goddess energies can awaken and bring their gifts or boons to you.
Shadow: embracing the dark and the light
The shadow, is the unknown ‘’dark side’ of our personality. Dark because it tends to consist of negative, primitive, socially or religiously depreciated emotions and impulses, including sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage. These aspects of ourselves are often obscured from consciousness.
Essentially everything about ourselves that we are not conscious of is shadow. Aspects which we don’t like about ourselves, pains and traumas that are buried. It can also the hidden potentials, that may have been or not nurtured, or even actively suppressed, in our childhood.
Jung saw that the failure to recognise, acknowledge and deal with our shadow is often the root of problems for individuals as well as within groups, organisations and society as a whole. Therefore any healing, growth and self-realisation work needs to include the incorporation of our shadow natures.
Becoming familiar with the shadow and integrating the dark’ ‘negative aspects’ of our selves and the ‘positive’ un-lived potential of our higher Self is an essential part of growth and individuation and of becoming more rounded, more whole.
The Goddesses archetypes can help us to explore the hidden aspects of our psyche. Through meeting ALL sides of these Goddess energies we can to embrace and integrate the dark and the light aspects of our Selves.
At a more superficial layer of Goddess practice, we can be tempted by the allure of the qualities of the different Goddesses such as bliss, wealth and power. Whilst Goddess practice can be approached to gain health, wealth, fame of other more ordinary goals in life, it is important that we are aware of any selfish or egotistical intentions.
Anyone working with these archetypal energies, need to remain cognisant of the shadow aspects of these Goddesses – each have within them deeper layers and energies that we need to be be willing to open to. It is the integration of the shadow and the light of these goddesses offer greater freedom and liberation.
There are specific shadow practices for each particular Goddess. As a general invocation I find it helpful to set an intention to open to the wisdom and teachings from the Goddess for the greatest good of my highest self and the greatest good of others.
Why include the Goddesses archetypes in a yoga practice?
Gods and Goddesses are ‘real’ in that they exist in eternal forms of energy in the subtlest realms of consciousness. Within the human psyche, these beings exist as psychological archetypes.
An archetype is a subtle blueprint that both transcends individual personality and lives in it, connecting our personal minds to the cosmic or collective mind. (Kempton, 2013)
The Goddesses can personify energies that we feel but may never have thought to name both in our selves and in our worlds. They offer a powerful means of understanding the capacities of our own psyche as well as the world around us. And by actively practicing with the goddesses, we are in effect, working to bring parts of our psyches/Selves into consciousness.
Yoga practice with the Goddess is a form of Self-inquiry, a means of acquiring knowledge. Practicing yoga with these Goddesses help us embody the subtlest power of the universe which can affect us psychologically, spiritually and physically, and collectively.
Deity meditation has powerful psychological benefits. When a practitioner invokes these Goddess energy through asana, meditation, visualisation, mantra we can uncover psychological forces that can transform and awaken. It can help unlock psychological blocks, including issues with power or love. Invoking the appropriate Shakti, as represented by the ten Goddesses, can open up, heal or transform stuck energies.
As a spiritual practice, it opens up transpersonal forces within your mind and heart. Practicing with these Goddesses gives us direct connection to an inner life force that can powerfully transform consciousness itself.
The transformative power of the Goddess energies can untangle psychic knots, calling forth specific transformative forces within the mind and heart. It can cleanse our mental and emotional bodies, put us in touch with the protective powers within us, and deeply change the way we see the world. It can shift the way we see ourselves, giving us the power to see the Divine qualities we already hold (Kempton, 2013)
The ‘Kali Chop’, Tantra Flow Yoga workshop, Seven Sisters 2017
Including the Goddesses in asana practice has the added benefit of embodying these energies. Women’s health and vitality is very much governed by our cycles, our monthly menstrual cycles, the moon as well as our life cycles, of Maiden, Mother, Maga and Crone. Yoga when practiced with these Divine archetypal energies honours the changes in our cycles, calling us to be more present in our womanly bodies, and in my experience has brought a whole new dimension to yoga.
Collectively, we live in a time where there is a great need for the re-emergence of the Divine feminine. Goddesses come alive when they are invoked and worshiped. Human consciousness and imagination are so powerfully creative, our attention to these forms can have a powerful effect on our own life experience, and can also affect collective consciousness.
Awakening and Empowering the Divine Feminine
These Goddesses offer us great wisdom for our current times. Many of us can feel disempowered by the current structures, governments and systems.
Many contemporary writers have pointed out that our survival as a species may depend on our ability to re-engage with the feminine (Sally Kempton, 2013). And that despite women (particularly in the modern world) enjoying more freedoms and opportunities than in the past, very few of us actually live from our intrinsic feminine strength and intelligence.
Goddess practice is a form of sacred feminism. In contrast to political feminism, sacred feminism it is a feminism for the soul. In the west we are used to seeing the feminine as essentially receptive… even passive. The wisdom Goddesses offer us a much wider and more diverse (and even radical) spectrum of feminine possibility. Sacred feminism looks at true feminine power. It embraces everything that is beautiful in the feminine, as well as everything that is terrifying.
Tantric sages have always seen, respected and revered, the power of the feminine. In Tantra, the feminine is the life force, the Shakti, behind all evolution and change.
I have personally found that practicing yoga with these Divine feminine energies has been deeply healing and empowering, awakening my innate and fuller range of feminine qualities.
Goddess practices are not merely an adulation of feminine forms or qualities. It may start with the image of the Goddess, but reaches far beyond the limits of name, form, and personality to the impersonal, the Absolute (Frawley, 1994)
Personal reflections of practicing with the goddesses
One way to demonstrate the power of practicing with these goddesses is through personal stories and experiences. In this blog, as I cover Kali in more detail, I thought I would share with you a couple of personal Kali stories from myself and one of my students.
Over the 4 years of practicing and teaching with these Goddesses I have experienced many times over Kali’s power of transformation and liberation. Kali has certainly been a Goddess of my 40’s! (which I have observed can be for many women during peri-menopause). Practicing with Kali has helped me through my (multiple!) midlife crises including my and my families health, relationship and career crises. I have experienced profound transformation on many levels including a transformation in career identity from working in leadership change roles in the corporate work world to now teaching yoga.
A couple of years ago, on a full moon night, I held a bonfire ritual in my back paddock where I burned four large boxes of documents that I had been holding onto from my last job as a change manager in the state education department. This role was the final undoing of me and my health and a dramatic and traumatic end of my working for big organisations.
I felt it was time to let it go of these physical boxes, and my intention through the ritual was to burn the documents, and transform them into something new. I held a lot of grief, shame, regret and confusion (and attachment) to this work, and was lost (confused and angry) as to how all the hard work, both in the job and all my years of study and qualifications, was a waste of time. I needed help to transform my passion and vision for change in organisations into my world now as a yoga teacher.
Kali full moon ritual, Taradale 2015
So I burned it all, bit by bit, calling on Kali and her power to let go and transform. The papers took 2 days to burn, as a researcher there was a lot of dense reports and data! My dog joined me by the fire. I recall him barking ferociously around the perimeters of our property, which is unusual, as he is such a friendly happy dog. It felt like a powerful ceremony.
A week later, possibly unrelated, however powerfully related in my world and change process, the State government began a corruption inquiry into this department. After 6 long weeks, the inquiry found two of the leaders who I had worked for and with, had been stealing millions of dollars from state schools system for their own and their families gains. This inquiry is ongoing as the ‘corruption’ runs far deeper and wider in the culture of the system than these two individuals. This ritual and the subsequent unfolding of the Truth of what my change ‘role’ was up against, was incredibly liberating for me and a turning point for me in letting go of my identity in these roles and moving more fully into yoga teaching.
Kellie one of my students, works in a role in the not-for-profit women’s health sector. She recently shared with me that upon hearing that there was additional funding to continue her contract, whilst her colleagues were all relieved and happy, she noticed and felt she was not overjoyed. By listening more deeply, she recognised her Kali energy. As a young working mum, with little time for her own creative pursuits, she actually wanted more time to follow her creative path of writing. Through listening to this energy, she negotiated with her workplace a reduction in her working hours, giving her more time to follow her love and passion of writing.
Kali: the Goddess of transformation
Doreen Virtue, Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards
Kali as the Goddess of transformation is strong, dynamic and powerful. She is a Goddess of revolution, of rebirth and teaches us in order to bring about the ‘new’ we must first let go of the ‘old’.
Her great power is the power that comes with acceptance and change, and the willingness to let go in order to grow. Her gift is in the dissolution of outworn structures, be they ego, thought, or relationships.
Kali is death. She is the ending of the inessentials, that which no longer serves us. In this way, Kali brings about freedom.
She is often referred to as the black Goddess: dark, destructive and unpredictable, and so is feared my many. Frawley (1994) describes Kali as dark blue in colour, wearing a garland of skulls. She has her tongue sicking out and is laughing. She has four arms and hands, and in one she holds a sword and another a severed head dripping with blood. With her other two hands she makes mudras of bestowing boons and dispelling fears.
The severed head represents the cutting away the ego and her tongue represents the power of yogic will to eat up desires and throughs so that our essential Self and awareness can reveal itself.
Kali is also the benevolent loving mother, the Divine mother Ma. She embodies Mother Nature, the goddess of life, death, transformation, destruction, endings and beginnings.
The literal meaning of Kali is time. Time is the power of change that forces all living things to grow and develop. Kali teaches us that if we give up our attachment to the events of our lives, we gain mastery over time itself. When we drop the limitations of who we think we are, we can experience limitless potential of what we can become.
Kali also offers us a doorway into our wild passionate energy. Embodying her in our yoga practice and meditations assists to awaken our kundalini energy.
Kundalini shakti, the secret yogic power of transformation within us, works through Kali’s grace and motivation. Kundalini ascends and dissolves all the chakras, or energy centres within us, back into the state of pure unity consciousness that is Ma Kali’s ultimate abode. (Frawley, 2016)
An emotion commonly associated with Kali, is Anger. As anger can be a difficult emotion, particularly for women to embrace and express. I have found the Kali practice to be a wonderful support to access and express the emotion of anger. I recommend this TED talk the Fierce Face of the Feminine, by Chameli Ardagh to my students, for her passionate sharing of myths and contemporary stories of Kali (approx 18 minutes). Showing us that anger is not a ‘bad’ emotion, and how Kali can help us embody the power, beauty and necessity of feminine rage.
You can recognise Kali in sudden changes in life, especially those that involve disruption. Kundalini awakening is also very ‘Kali’. She is represented by storms including lightening, tornados, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions I have noticed that in the week that I teach a Kali yoga class there are often local lightening storms. I have also found that when we open to these Goddess energies we start to see them everywhere. I love hearing my students experiences, and hope to share more of these through my writing.
On a bigger picture, some contemporary writers suggest we are living in a time of Kali.
Kali is the Yuga Shakti or the power of time that takes humanity from one world age to another. She works to sustain the spiritual energy of the planet through both the ages of light and darkness (Shambhavi Chopra, 2007)
As the transforming power of time, she can usher us into a new era of global peace and understanding.
Seven Yoga Practices to awaken and embody Kali
Set an intention before you begin your yoga practice. Think of an area of your life where you are stuck, you need to change, let go of or move on from something. Consciously invite Kali into your practice. It can be helpful to visualise an image of her, or visualise a fire or flame.
A helpful Pranayama to include is the lion’s pose / simhasana, where you can feel into the embodied sensations of Kali’s tongue. For instructions of this general pranayama practice go to yogajournal. You can also practice this in vajrasana or rock pose, sitting on your heals.
To invoke Kali into your asana practice, adopt a more vigorous ‘fiery’ vinyasa flow, compared with the more gentler Goddesses. She can be a wonderful Goddess to move with as she teaches us to release constriction and stuckness, blockages and any suppressed emotions.
Practice with some devotional or kirtan music. Here is a suggested Kali Yoga play list. If you like the music, please follow, share and support these musicians.
In Savasana (as well as before going to sleep at night) you can practice deep surrender to the end of your yoga practice/the end of the day. Empty your mind, embracing endings/‘death’, as if it is your last day. To die each day is Kali’s daily worship, allowing for the birth of each new day as the first.
When practicing with Kali, it is important to be aware of Kali’s shadow. Anger can be a common emotion for Kali, and as many of us have grown up in society that does not embrace healthy anger, we can often see it presenting in Kali’s shadow. Shadowy Kali anger can be passive aggressive patterns in your life, both in your self and in others around you. If you are angry, notice if you are projecting it out into the world, onto others, or circumstances, and instead, try to bring the energy of anger inwards for inner transformation and clarity.
Puja fire ceremony can be conducted ideally with a fire. You can also substitute with a candle or visualisation of a fire. Write down or verbalise some personal qualities that you are wanting to let go of and visualise yourself physically throwing these into the fire. Imagine Kali dancing in the flames, receiving what you are letting go of, invoking transformation.
Kali Fire, Taradale 2015.
Sally Kempton (2013) Awakening Shakti: the Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga. Sounds True.
David Frawley (1994) Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses. Lotus Press.
Shambhavi Chopra (2007) Yogic Secrets of the Dark Goddess: Lightning Dance of the Supreme Shakti, Wisdom Tree Books.
Uma Dinsmore-Tuli (2014) Yoni Shakti: A woman’s guide to power and freedom through yoga and tantra. Yoga Words.
Lorraine Taylor (2014) Notes from Sacred Journey into Yoga Teacher Training. For More information go to Lorraine Taylor Yoga for her 200 hour Sacred Journey into Yoga for Women, a month long ashtanga vinyasa yoga teacher training journeying with the Ten Mahavidya Goddesses.
Winter is the season of introspection, hibernation, and surrender. It is a perfect season to practice Yin yoga. In this winter yoga blog I share with you my love of Yin yoga: what it is; it’s benefits and a short 30 minute practice for you, that is beneficial for the water element and the Kidney/Bladder meridian.
Wintertime … the call to more Yin time
Winter is the time of year of shorter days and longer nights. It is generally colder and can be wetter and damper (depending on where you live). Our natural inclination will be to slow down, become less active, and spend more time indoors. We find that we need to spend more time resting.
Sadly, the developed world has got out of balance with the seasons. The ‘ON’ button is often permanently switched on. The use of unnatural lighting, to extend our ‘productivity’ means our body’s clock gets confused and does not get to respond to natures call to rest.
Most of us are overworking, if it’s not our jobs we are often spending long hours on devices and social media. We are not giving ourselves enough ‘yin’ – receptive, quiet, passive time.
Adrenal exhaustion is a common and a growing problem in modern life and is largely unrecognised by the medical establishment, despite stress and adrenal exhaustion becoming a ‘21st Century epidemic’.
My journey into teaching Yin yoga
I discovered Yin yoga at a time of my life that I was suffering from adrenal fatigue/burn out and it has been a profound practice for balancing my over active, over functioning, adrenaline charged body and mind.
I was blessed to be introduced to Yin yoga during my yoga teacher training with Tina Nance, whose knowledge and passion for yoga, meridian theory and women’s health is inspiring (www.tinanance.com).
I learnt how Yin yoga sequences can focus on particular meridians and how these meridians are governed by one of the five elements. I have found these sequences to be helpful to align my body with the seasons which, as Ayurveda teaches us, is a foundation for optimal health.
I find the practice of Yin yoga according to elements, meridians and the seasons is a beautiful and profound practice that aligns my body and spirit to nature’s rhythms bringing me greater health and vitality on all levels.
I now share this practice with women in seasonal workshops throughout the year, where women come back each season for deep relaxation and to connect to and nourish, the body, mind and spirit to align with the energy of each season.
Jane’s Yin yoga workshops offer a deep connection with not only yourself, but the seasons. They allow contemplation, opening and deep relaxation and a melding of the mind, body, spirit and the environment. For me, they have become anchor points in the busyness of the year. Lisa Eastley, Naturopath
What is Yin yoga?
Yin yoga was first developed by Paul Grilley, and has at its foundation ancient Yogic and Taoist Meridian and Acupuncture theories. Students of Paul including Sarah Powers and Bernie Clark have continued to develop and spread these teachings.
Yin yoga is a relatively new yoga that is growing exponentially in the western ‘yoga world’. I believe this is because our society has been so out of balance, predominantly operating in overactive, switched on, predominantly ‘yang’ way.
Most forms of Yoga that have been practiced in the West can be seen as more “Yang” (e.g. Ashtanga Iyenga, Hatha etc) with an emphasis on muscular movement and contraction. In contrast, Yin yoga targets the deeper connective tissues of the body.
Yin Yoga is designed to calm, rather than energise, enabling the parasympathetic nervous system to relax, heal and repair the body. In contrast to the more ‘Yang’ styles of yoga, which tend to target the more superficial, soft tissues of the body, such as the muscles, and tend to be more movement oriented, dynamic, rhythmic, repetitive and stimulating of the sympathetic nervous system (Tina Nance, 2014)
Yin yoga uses long passive holds to work on the deep, dense connective tissues of the body, the tendons, ligaments and cartilage, which can often be difficult to engage and open.
There is increasing evidence that the network of connective tissue corresponds with the meridians and nadis and therefore the opening, strengthening and stretching of the connective tissue of the body may be critical for long-term health (Paul Grilley, 2007)
Connective tissue responds best to gentle engagement over a long period of time, so Yin postures are held for longer, usually for 3-5 minutes, so as to stretch the deeper layers of the physical body, and to stimulate the flow of chi through the meridians.
Yin yoga is also different to Restorative yoga. In Restorative yoga the body holds positions that relax ALL parts of the body. It is generally used to help an ‘unhealthy’ or injured body restore itself back to ‘normal’ health. In Yin yoga the muscles are soft, but the deeper connective tissue is engaged in order to open up the meridians and to affect the flow of chi in the body.
Benefits of Yin yoga
Like all yoga, Yin yoga can benefit us on all levels: physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. As the poses target the meridians, our organs by virtue also benefit, which benefits all levels of our health, wellbeing and vitality.
On the physical level, Yin yoga can help increase flexibility. The main target areas of Yin yoga are the hips, pelvis and lower spine where many of us can hold deep-seated tensions.
Many of my students find Yin to be a wonderful compliment to their more ‘yang’ yoga practices as it helps increase flexibility and mobility. In addition, as many of the postures work with the hips, Yin yoga enables us to be able to sit more comfortably, and for longer, benefiting our meditation practice.
Energetically Yin yoga stimulates the flow of chi/prana or life force through the meridians of the body that flow through the connective tissue, enabling the energy system to move towards its own natural equilibrium, balance and harmony. This explains why after a Yin yoga practice it can feel like you have just had an acupuncture or shiatsu treatment.
Yin yoga is very empowering, where through our own personal practice we can support and open our energetic body, helping release blockages along the meridians, allowing our organs to function more efficiently. This helps to raise the level of chi, which raises our vitality.
Yin yoga can be very beneficial emotionally as the practice invites us to sit with emotions as they arise and to cultivate mindfulness whilst deepening into the posture. We are invited to remain present with any emotions as they arise allowing the emotions to rise and fall, open and change. Challenging emotions related to the meridian or season can often be activated, for example grief (Lung/large Intestine), fear (Kidney/Bladder) and anger (Liver/Gall Bladder). Yin Yoga helps let go of old emotional patterns that are stored deep in the body and is a way to develop equanimity.
Whilst Yin yoga can be hugely challenging for some people when they first try it, as engaging with buried parts of us can be confronting, we can learn that releasing any deep holding within can bring great benefits.
Yin yoga helps develop our mental faculty and our capacity to concentrate. Through focusing our attention and cultivating an awareness of what is arising Yin yoga helps us access our deeper states of consciousness and insight.
Yin yoga is a body-centered meditation. Through deep and still postures we can access a deep meditative state. In the past I struggled with many meditation approaches, particularly ones that attempted to still my active mind or practices that separated me from my emotional body. I have found Yin yoga to be a key for helping me develop and deepen my meditation practice.
Yin yoga facilitates the cultivation of patience, endurance, mindfulness, contentment, equanimity insight and the art of being with what arises and letting go (Tina Nance, 2014)
Yin yoga for Winter
The gift that Wintertime offers us, with the darkness and stillness surrounding us, is the opportunity to rest, look within, and reflect on our lives. It is a time of year to review where we are physically, mentally, and spiritually and consider where it is that we want to be going when the time for movement comes. Our Truth can be revealed when we allow ourselves to surrender to this natural cycle of finding stillness. Yin yoga is a wonderful practice to help us do this.
In Meridian Theory the season of winter relates to the water element, which governs the Kidney and Bladder meridians. Their function is to store, balance, and distribute our bodies’ fluids and maintain our energy reserves.
The Kidney/Bladder meridians and organs in Chinese medicine, are the foundation of Yin and Yang balance for all the other organs. They are the storehouse of vital energy and need to remain balanced for all the other organs to function well (Sarah Powers, 2008). When the water element is depleted we may experience exhaustion or feel overwhelmed as we struggle to cope physically and emotionally without healthy energy reserves to fuel us.
Below is a Yin Yoga sequence that is gentle and nourishing for the cold winter months ahead and will help tonify the Kidney/Bladder meridian.
Winter Yin yoga sequence
IMPORTANT! Please read the Yin yoga practice tips below before attempting any of the postures. *
Disclaimer. As I am not present to guide you through the practices, if you choose to perform the following yoga postures, you are agreeing to the following:
that you take full responsibility for your wellbeing while performing these practices and you will read and follow all instructions carefully to avoid injuries.
that no responsibility will be taken by Jane Mallick, for injuries from, or as a result of, your practicing any of the yoga postures shared.
for any serious health concerns or medical conditions you may have, that you consult you doctor or health practitioner to gain permission to practice.
Important practice tips for Yin yoga
Yin yoga, in the main, is practiced on the floor, either sitting or lying down. The practice uses gravity to assist the body to surrender deeper into the posture. The emphasis is on ‘passive stretching’ or surrendering to gravity. It is not about pushing or forcing oneself into any posture.
Be mindful while slowly and gently moving into a posture.
Find your appropriate edge. Don’t go straight to your ‘maximum’ in the pose and never stretch so far as to cause pain.
Safety warning!! If you feel at any point a hot sharp burning sensation that continues (i.e. does not change), gently ease out, to lessen the depth of the posture. With practice, you will be able to distinguish between the potentially injurious intense sensations and those that are beneficial for opening the body.
Come to stillness. Begin to consciously release into the pose. Cultivate a mindful awareness of the sensations as they arise, and fall, evolve and change. Use the exhale of your breath to gradually, and effortlessly, surrender to gravity.
Props, such as a bolster and folded blankets can used (if needed) to support the body, and allow it to surrender more fully.
Hold the position: start with holding a pose for 1-3 minutes and progress to 5 minutes.
Rest in stillness and become aware of the sensations in your body. Breath into the various parts of you body that are opened within the posture, especially the target areas suggested, or the areas where you experience the strongest sensation.
Some postures can be challenging at times, creating an intense physical or emotional response. The invitation is to stay present to the intensity and observe it change and release in time.
Take your time transitioning between poses, staying quiet, and aware as you do.
Rest (approx. 5 breaths) between each pose, in the suggested resting poses. Observe the effects of the practice on the body and the mind.
1. Sphynx Pose
The Sphinx Pose stimulates the Kidney meridian-organ as it flows through the sacrolumbar area and the ligaments along the lumbar spine. (Powers, 2008)
Lie on your belly. With bent elbows and hands out in front of you on the floor. Gentle lift your upper body, and rest on your elbows, which should be shoulder-width apart and an inch or so forward of the shoulder line.
Your back will arch in a gentle sway, that creates length along the anterior of your spine and a gentle compression on the posterior side.
Allow your buttocks and legs to relax. Allow your belly and organs to drape towards the floor and relax your buttocks and legs.
Hold for 1 minute and then slowly lower yourself down. Repeat for 2-3 times.
Rest: Lie on your belly, with your head gently turned to the side, for 5 breaths.
Childs pose can be a beautiful counter pose to open the lower spine.
Come to kneeling, sit back with buttocks on the heals, and fold you upper body forward to rest over your thighs.
Place our hands to rest by your sides, or stack them like a pillow under your forehead.
Close your eyes, and rest 3 minutes.
2. Full Forward Bend
Forward bend is one of the most basic and important postures. It stretches the legs and the entire spinal column. It stimulates the Bladder meridian as it flows down the back of your body and the backs of your legs. (Powers, 2008)
Sit with both legs stretched out in front of you, feet just under hip width apart.
Drop your chin to your chest, so the muscles and ligaments at the base of the skull are stretched.
Lean forward and clasp you ankles feet, or shins, wherever you have easy reach. Keep your legs straight but don’t work too hard, a slight bend of the knees is fine as long as you still feel the stretch.
Relax the muscles of the legs and spine and feel the stretch move up through the legs and hips and the spine.
Hold for 3-5 minutes.
Rest in Pentacle for 5 breaths
Lie on your back, spread arms and legs out to the sides in a comfortable and open position.
Close your eyes and let your physical body to relax and surrender your weight into the floor.
Feel into the different sensations around the body, noticing the parts of the body that were opened or activated during the previous posture.
3. Reclined spinal twist
This pose benefits all of your internal organs which are gently massaged by the twisting motion. It stimulates the Kidney and Bladder meridians along both sides of your spine and the Kidney Meridian along your inner legs and torso. (Powers, 2008)
Lie on your back, hug your right knee into the chest, keeping your left leg straight.
Allow your right knee to lower to the floor to left, whilst keeping the right side of your upper back and shoulder weighted toward the floor.
If you shoulder is not resting on the floor, place a small cushion/folded blanket under the shoulder. If your knee does not rest on the floor, use a folded blanket or bolster to support the weight.
Rest you arms on the floor by your side. Stay in the pose for 3-5 minutes.
Lie on your back, feet hip width apart, toes falling out to the sides, arms by your sides, hands facing upwards or slightly inwards. Move your head gently from side to side, allowing the neck to let go, and to find a balance of weight on the back of your head.
Gently and gradually allow your body to relax. Bring your awareness to your natural breath, flowing in and out of the nose. Imagine with each exhale, you let go and relax. Rest for 5-10 minutes
Tina Nance (2014) Teaching Notes. Sacred Journey into Yoga, 2014
Sarah Powers (2008) Insight Yoga. Shambhala, Boston.
* The health information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice or a diagnosis provided by your medical or other health professional. Do not use this information to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or health condition. If you have, or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your physician or health care provider.
Commonly associated with hot flushes, erratic menstruation, insomnia, exhaustion, dry skin, angry outbursts, and more, menopause tends to be a life event that we dread rather than look forward to. Not all women experience symptoms, some women have many, or more extreme, symptoms. Only a minority of women sail through with little or no side effects.
Whilst I have experienced and continue to experience many of these ‘symptoms’, I can also say that menopause has been, and continues to be, the greatest healing and awakening period of my life.
Menopause is defined as the absence of menstruation for 12-months and peri-menopause refers to the transition preceding this phenomenon. For the purposes of this article, I will be using the term menopause to include both the peri and the menopause stages. As I write this, I am currently menopausal, having not bled now for 2.5 years. I am still very much navigating this awesome transition.
Menopause is a significant rite of passage. Similar to the adolescent transition, where a girl enters womanhood with her first bleed, when a woman stops bleeding, it is both the end of the reproductive phase of her life and a significant entrance into the second half of her life.
At her first period a girl meets her wisdom, through her menstruating years she practices her wisdom, and at menopause she becomes her wisdom
– Native American saying
For some women the passage can be smooth sailing. For others is can herald a time of great change. Regardless of our individual experiences with this inevitable journey, self-care is absolutely critical during this time.
A Time of Crisis and Awakening
Menopause can be a time of crisis. This doesn’t necessarily make menopause a terrible thing. The Chinese name for crisis is Wei-Chi and is depicted as both a danger and a time of opportunity. Viewed from this perspective, menopause can also be seen as an opportunity for growth.
Christiane Northrup, a medical doctor and menopause expert, refers to menopause as the “mother of all wake up calls” whereby anything that a woman has “swept under the carpet” will surface as an opportunity to heal and resolve. Midwife and women’s mysteries expert, Jane Hardwick Collings (2016), refers to menopause as “a labour and a birth” – a rebirth of the new wise version of a woman.
“After working with thousands of women going through this process, as well as experiencing it myself, I can say with great assurance that menopause is an exciting developmental stage—one that, when participated in consciously, holds enormous promise for transforming and healing our bodies, minds and spirits at the deepest levels” (Christiane Northrup, 2012)
Whilst menopause in its most basic definition is a change in reproductive hormones and the subsequent cessation of menstruation, these hormonal changes can have significant affects on all areas of our lives including our physical health, emotional life, relationships, careers and spirituality.
Personally, as well as professionally with women I have worked with, I have found menopause to shine the light on what is no longer working or is no longer aligned with a woman’s truth. It can be a turning point where we re-evaluate the first half of our life, looking to choose how we will live the second half. This manifests differently for each woman. I have known women who started to see their relationships break down either to end or to transform into deeper levels of intimacy; women who suddenly recalled childhood sexual abuse; women who have suddenly found their careers to be unappealing and move on to a more meaningful journey; and many women after years of prioritising others start prioritising themselves, their self-care and their interests.
My own menopause was most certainly a significant personal crisis, calling me to review every area of my life. Peri-menopause started for me in my early 40s. It was heightened, I am sure, by the adrenal overload caused by a very stressful change management job in the city. My manager, who herself had tried natural methods of managing her menopause, suggested that I would need to “go on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to be able to keep up with the boys”.
This moment was a key turning point for me. As a life long advocate of natural medicine, I was never going to consider taking HRT. The feminist in me was shocked that I would need to pharmaceutically drug myself to maintain a career in the patriarchal establishment.
This was nearly 10 years ago. Looking back I can honestly say that my menopause transition was one of the greatest gifts for helping me to live a more authentic and empowered life.
Medication and Menopause
In the recent past, we have been led to believe that medicating menopause with drugs is necessary. HRT was first available in the 1940s and became widely used in the 1960s for the management of menopause. Many women in my mother’s generation were medicated through their midlife rite of passage. I believe that in my mother’s case, HRT had significant consequences to her health and wellbeing.
HRT is used to alleviate the ‘negative’ symptoms of menopause, including hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, psychological issues and genito-urinary problems, as well as for the prevention of osteoporosis. On a societal level, HRT has created a way to control the natural process of a woman’s body to fit in with the societal demands and pressures.
In 2002, results from a large Women’s Health Initiative clinical trial found that HRT increased risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer. There continues to be controversy around the safe use of HRT with studies now refuting these concerns.
Many women are now questioning and looking for other ways to support their menopause naturally. We are fortunate to be living in a time where we have access to information and choices that allow us to care for ourselves holistically during the transition. Rather than simply masking symptoms, we have the tools to reclaim our lives and transition with conscious awareness into our ‘second spring’.
Yoga for Menopause
Yoga has been crucial to riding the changes in my own menopause. Because of yoga, I have been able to experience the journey with elevated consciousness and without the use of pharmaceuticals. I have turned to complimentary health practitioners several times during my transition, including Naturopathy and Chinese Medicine, but the more I develop my own personal practice and self-care routine, the less I find myself needing to rely on others for support.
I have found that the key to a healthy menopause is to support our body’s natural tendency to maintain homeostasis, as our bodies are always trying to stay in balance. The yogic sciences including asana, pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation and Ayurveda all offer an amazing array of wisdom and practical self-care practices that can create balance during the unsettling changes that menopause can bring.
In order to maintain balance, I recommend establishing a regular daily routine that includes a selection of yogic self-care practices. You may find some more effective, more enjoyable, or easier to implement than others. The key is to start and to find in time, what works best for your body and your lifestyle.
It is important to keep in mind that self-care during menopause is not only limited to this transition. How we care for ourselves during this time sets up our habits for personal health that will carry us to the second half of our lives and into old age.
Simple Yogic Self-Care Routine
1 Align Your Sleep Cycles with the Sun
Living in tune with nature’s daily cycles and circadian rhythms is central to Ayurveda. Circadian rhythms are endogenous (internal to our bodies), but are also impacted by our local environment and external cues like day and night and seasonal changes. Aligning our own circadian rhythms with Mother Nature’s rhythms is crucial for realising optimal hormonal health. It is no wonder that western societies experience so many hormonal complications – the constant bombardment of stimuli from unnatural light, screens and devices most certainly disrupts our natural circadian rhythms. Learning to live in sync with nature’s cycles can help de-stress the mind and body and balance our over-stimulated systems.
One of the most effective changes I have found during my menopause has been to be in bed and asleep by 10pm and arise at sunrise.
A few tips for syncing your circadian rhythms with nature:
Try to avoid staying up past 10pm. There is an important stage of body restoration and detoxification that happens primarily between 10pm-2am.
It can be helpful to turn off any devices and to only expose yourself to natural light at least 1 hour prior to bed.
Try to wake each day with the sun and to start your day with your own self-care routine. It is best to focus on yourself before getting caught up into daily to-do lists and/or caring for others.
Meditation has become an essential part my morning practice. It allows me to sit and tune in deeply to my truth and essence. Daily meditation sets me up to approach each day from a centered and connected place.
If you don’t have a meditation practice, I would recommend exploring different approaches through classes, workshops and online until you find something that works for you.
For years I struggled with meditation, as I found many approaches to be overly prescriptive or mind-centered. When I discovered a tantric approach to meditation, I felt like I had arrived home in my womanly body. The focus on breath has been a gateway into a sensual, blissful state of consciousness, which has been key for my personal healing throughout menopause. Further, my meditation practice will shift with my cycles, some mornings I will simply just sit and observe the breath moving in and out of my body.
A few tips for meditation:
KISS – Keep it Simple Sweetheart!
Practice regularly – practicing a little and often can be more effective than going to a weekly class.
If I am particularly distracted or agitated when I sit to meditate, I will do 5-10 minutes of nadi shadhona (alternate nostril breathing) to settle my nervous system. This pranayama technique is a very powerful stress-reducing practice and is highly recommended for menopausal women.
3 Gentle Asana Practice
Some of you may already have a yoga asana practice or some may be thinking of starting some sort of physical practice. You may find that during menopause you move away from the stronger dynamic rigorous yoga practices and are drawn more to gentle yoga styles. During menopause we are moving into the more Yin phase of our life.
A few asana practices that can be useful during menopause:
Vinyasa flow can be a wonderful practice for menopause to get the body moving and flowing. The strength and dynamism of the practice can vary according to how you are feeling each day and in each moment. It can be lovely to practice to feminine music to help feel the sensual flow of the body.
Yin yoga can be a wonderful practice for women in menopause. The stillness of the postures is a meditative practice in itself. In addition, many of the postures work with the liver and kidney meridians, which can be beneficial to support menopause.
Your asana practice can vary day to day. If you are no longer bleeding it can be useful to tune into the cycles of the moon, to practice a more dynamic flowing practice near the full moon, and a quieter stiller practice during the new and dark moon.
Whilst we can be drawn to more gentle styles of yoga during our menopause, it is important to remember that the more dynamic postures particularly standing postures build bone density, which is important for the prevention of osteoporosis.
4 Abyanga – Self Massage with Oil
Abyanga, the practice of oil self massage, is one of the most beautiful and profoundly grounding self-care practices I have found during my menopause. In abyanga, a generous amount of warm oil is gently massaged into the entire body before showering or bathing. Part of the beauty of this practice is that you don’t need to go out and buy special products – you can use commonly available oils, like sesame, coconut, olive etc. Choose organic oils where you can.
Women’s hormone expert, Claudia Welch, states that Abyanga is one of the simplest and surest ways to nourish yin energy and support hormonal balance:
“Abyanga has a profound effect of nourishing the body and calming the nervous system. The regular application of oil to our bodies can significantly allay many of the stressed and dry symptoms that can be present during menopause. Abyanga regulates sleep patterns and decreases the effects of ageing” (Welche, 2011)
On the days that I do an abyanga self massage, I feel deeply nourished, grounded and centered, and this feeling carries me through the day. Give it a try!
If you are experiencing extreme imbalances, it can be beneficial to see an Ayurvedic practitioner to determine which oil is best, and also to add prescribed ‘medicated’ herbal oils to the base oil, deepening the nourishing experience of the practice.
How to practice Abyanga:
Warm up a small amount of oil in a small bottle in a cup of hot water.
Let the oil stand for a few minutes to warm.
Apply the oil all over you body, starting at feet, up to your face and head.
Massage the oil into your entire body, beginning at the extremities working into the middle of the body. Rub vigorously in sections, with love and patience, shins and calves, knees, thighs, focusing on joints until the whole body has been massaged. Keep it up for approximately 5 to 10 minutes -the longer the better!
Rug up in a gown (or I like to use a Onesie!) and leave the oil on your skin for about 10 -20 minutes. I find it best to rest during this process. If I can, I will lie down and read some inspiring text. If it is a busy morning, I will make breakfast while the oil is soaking, to be ready to eat at the end of my self-care practices.
Enjoy a warm bath or shower. Don’t soap off the oil, just rinse with hot water.
Talking and connecting with others, particularly supportive women, can be very important during menopause.
A few meaningful ways to connect with others:
Sit in circles with women, including older women who are also experiencing menopause, can help us realise that we are not alone and that many of our experiences are shared.
You may find that you need counselling or therapy to deal with specific issues arising for healing and resolve.
Talk with your partner. Particularly if you are in a heterosexual relationship, it is important to help educate men about menopause. Let them know what you are going through, what your needs are and what to expect during your transition.
Jane Hardwicke Collings (2016) Menopausal Madness. Seven Sisters Workshop, Mount Martha.
Northrup, Christiane. (2012) The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health during the Change. New York: Bantam.
I often get asked to define the style of yoga that I teach, yet it is a difficult task to describe what I do succinctly. Like all of life’s journeys, the path that has led to me to becoming a teacher of women’s yoga is layered and complex. While I have been practicing yoga since I was 15, I discovered feminine yoga after experiencing a traumatic midlife health crisis that was rooted in a toxic patriarchal work environment. What I learned from these hardships inspired me to deepen my feminine yoga practice and to share this with other women as they navigate their own life challenges. This may surprise you, but, just like much of our daily lives, yoga is deeply rooted in masculine philosophies. I have found that for me, taking a feminine approach to yoga to be a necessary counterbalance to these predominant influences.
History of Yoga and Gender Roles
Traditionally yoga was a male oriented practice and yogic teachings were passed on from male master to male student. If there were women teachers and gurus, they taught mostly in private, and not in the public sphere. If we examine the lineage of today’s most popular yoga teachings, we find that most originate from a male creator. This fact inevitably impacts how we experience, teach and practice yoga.
When we look back at the spread of yoga from the East to the West beginning in the early 1900s, we think of Sri K Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyenga, Swami Satyananda and Swami Sivananda. Interestingly, these teachers are all heads of a particular school of yoga and are all male. It is therefore arguable that these ubiquitous yoga lineages were not created with a woman’s body in mind.
This may seem strange to you as yoga as we know it today is thought of as primarily an activity for women. The recent Yoga Alliance Ipsos survey (2016) shows that 70% of yoga students in the US are women. Similarly, in Australia 85% of yoga students are women, compared to only 15% of men (Yoga in Australia Survey, 2008).
Despite the recent historical roots of yoga being the domain of men, early history shows that women played a key role in the community and practice of yoga. For example Vicki Noble’s research shows that women actually invented yoga around 7 BCE and that it was the increase in Brahminical laws that brought restrictions to women’s roles and social status.
Uma Dinsmore Tuli suggests that women’s involvement remained strong through the Tantra and Bhakti traditions. Importantly, one of Tantra’s key features is an emphasis on the power of female deities and practitioners.
Luckily, with our expansive access to information via the Internet, some of the more feminine teachings, including a whole range of healing art practices from the east, are beginning to gain more exposure.
When discussing feminine yoga, I want to be careful not to convey the traditional Oxford English definition of ‘feminine’:
having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness
Instead, I prefer to look to the concept of feminine as presented by eastern philosophies, through the lens of Yin and Yang, where the qualities are viewed as a continuum.
All men possess feminine qualities and all women masculine qualities, none of which are inherently good or bad. The key is balance. For example, the positive masculine qualities of clarity and decisiveness can be very useful, but if out of balance can turn into overconfidence or inflexibility. Similarly, the positive feminine qualities of flow and flexibility have the potential to manifest as indecisiveness.
I would argue that our society is largely out of balance and that the masculine qualities are given more weight overall. Glance into any corporate environment and we see qualities like control, power, lack of emotion and intense drive being valued and leading to career growth.
A more feminine approach to life in general, and yoga specifically, is where we cultivate and nurture the feminine qualities of connection, receptivity, fluidity, surrender and nonlinear thinking and behavior.
We are at a moment in time when now more than ever we need a yoga practice that acknowledges the feminine and recalibrates the balance between the feminine and the masculine in ourselves and our communities.
Feminine yoga is much more than yoga postures that are adapted for a woman’s menstrual cycle (though, these cycles are important). Feminine yoga is not limited to a particular style of yoga or series of asana, although there can be more womanly postures, particularly with a focus on the hips, which can be a great source of tension, as well as power for a woman.
Instead, it is more about a shift in how you approach your yoga practice. Feminine yoga needs to be fluid so as to be supportive of where a woman is in relation to the cycles that influence her life. The cyclical nature of a woman life is far more tangible than for a man and it simply makes sense to connect our bodies to the cycles of our lives, including the menstrual cycle, the moon cycle, our life stage, and the seasonal cycle.
One cycle that we are all familiar with is our monthly menstrual or moon cycle. If you are menstruating, you can take on a more dynamic flowing practice at ovulation and engage in yin, mindfulness and restorative yoga at the time of menstruation. If you are menopausal, your monthly cycle can be attuned to the moon. You can engage in more dynamic practices at a full moon and more inward and mindful practices at the new moon.
Your yoga practice will also be influenced by your current life cycle. Whether you are in the Maiden, Mother, Maga or Crone phase, this needs to be considered within your yoga practice. Maidens and mothers may be drawn to a stronger, more dynamic yoga, whereas women in the Maga and Crone life stages may require gentle slow flow, yin, mindfulness and restorative.For example, I have met many women who were focused Ashtanga yoga practitioners, who in mid life, experienced burn out from such an athletic strong practice.
How to Cultivate Your Feminine Yoga Practice
Honour all aspects of your emotional, physical and spiritual self as you are in the moment.
Adapt your yoga practice according to where your are in your cycle, including the menstrual/moon and life stage.
Listen to your intuition, allow spontaneous movement (or stillness!) to arise as you practice.
Acknowledge yourself as a sensual woman and cultivate your sensuality within your yoga practice.
Cultivate a devotional practice, connecting to the divine feminine. For example drawing from any of the worlds Goddess traditions that are meaningful to you.
In addition, some additional practical suggestions to cultivate the feminine into your yoga practice:
Wear comfortable layered clothes, particularly ones that make you feel more feminine, preferably made from natural fibres.
Create an altar and adorn it with candle(s), beautiful flowers and imagery.
Use your favourite essential oils.
Create flowing playlists with music that you enjoy and that makes you feel good. For example I enjoy Kirtan music to inspire and support my devotional yoga practice. Click here for a 30 minute Feminine Flow play list.
Uma Dinsmore Tuli (2014) Yoni Shakti: A woman’s guide to power and freedom through yoga and tantra. Pinter and Martin: UK.