The Healing Power of Flowers

As it is spring here in the southern hemisphere, I feel inspired to share with you my passion and practice of healing with flowers.

  • I share some of my photography of the beautiful flowers that grow here in the gardens of TARA as well as some simple flower arranging ideas for your home including creating an altar for a devotional yoga practice.
  • I introduce the healing wisdom of these flowers, the language of flowers and flower psychometry as a way to bring more awareness and healing power to flowers.
  • I describe how to make your own healing posy, as well as simple ritual ideas for you to cultivate your own healing relationship with flowers that you can do in your own home and garden.

First a little background as to how I came to be writing about the healing of flowers

In my transition out of the corporate world I was fortunate to receive career change coaching to assist me in the big changes. When I allowed myself to expand out into ‘blue sky’ dreaming of what I would like to be doing with my time, ‘Florist’ kept popping up, along with my already known passions of teaching, yoga and cultural and social change.

I remember being very surprised by this, as a florist had never been on my career trajectory before. My path up to that point had been a social researcher in health and education and organisational change.  However, as a little girl I remember how I loved growing flowers and herbs and making and creating endless craft items and potions with flowers and herbs.

It did not appeal to me to ‘train’ to be a florist, my desire came purely from my love of growing, picking and arranging flowers.

All my adult life I have enjoyed visiting gardens, particularly flower gardens, and having fresh flowers in the house. For my 40th birthday, just ahead of my health crisis, my husband gave me the beautiful book Fresh Cut Flowers by Gregory Milner, a book which continues to inspire me, my garden and home flower arrangements.

At my mid life crisis, it was my garden and flowers that came back as a core healing for me along with my pathway into feminine yoga. The fresh organic fruit, vegetables and herbs feed me and my family, and the flowers nourish and heal my feminine soul.

“A flower garden is a symbol of the feminine in nature, a specially devised womb for the conception and growth of living forces” McIntyre, 1996

More recently the health researcher in me has become fascinated by the history and practice of healing with flowers.

Flower Healing Modalities

Plants and flowers have long been associated with healing, not just for our physical ills, but also imbalances in the realms of the mind and the spirit that many give rise to bodily symptoms.

There are many forms of healing modalities that use flowers: Homeopathy; Aromatherapy, Flower Essences; Bach Flower and Australian Bush Flower remedies etc. I love these modalities and have drawn on them at different times in my life from wonderful therapists and teachers.

For my own self-care and healing, I enjoy the very simple and natural intuitive healing power of growing and arranging flowers which is readily available to all of us.

As I am sure you know if you are reading this blog, there is something very healing about being with flowers which explains the worldwide love of growing flowers in gardens and displaying flowers in homes, workplaces, hospitals and places of worship.

I recently discovered the term Flower Psychometry. Psychometry, as in the Oxford English Dictionary is the ‘divination of facts about events or people etc. from inanimate objects associated with them’. Making ‘Flower psychometry’ the intuitive resonance and relationship of the person’s ‘psyche’ to a flower.

As many lovers of flowers know, a flower can be a powerful expression of emotional sentiment. There are common emotions, feelings and qualities associated with different flowers which has led to a shared ‘language of flowers’.

Anne McIntyre provides an interesting overview of the history of the language of flowers and how it was a common form of communication in China, Egypt and India and further developed in Turkey and then England in the 18 Century.

Flowers have the ability to express life of the Spirit where they can express the intangible religious/spiritual concepts that are not easily expressed through verbal communication (McIntyre, 1996)

There are many Language of Flower ”catalogues’ easily available online that provide common meanings that have been passed down culturally over time.  Equally, a flower can arouse a very personal response. I enjoy looking at the shared meanings and asking the question “does that meaning resonate with me?”

Personally I have found flowers to be healing on so many levels.  Simply being in the garden and observing flowers with all my senses is a powerful grounding and uplifting practice.  Awakening the sense of smell with the alluring scents; the sense of sight with the vibrant and diverse colours. I love listening to the hum of bees pollinating a plant in flower. Some flowers are edible, so bringing them into the kitchen and our food only deepens this connection through taste and digestion. Flowers can also be a powerful way to awaken the sensual bodily self for example, flower petals floating in a bath.

Growing flowers and bringing them into the home has the important benefit of connecting me to the season. As both Ayurveda and the Five Element Theory have taught me, when we are aligned with the seasons we can more easily achieve greater health and wellbeing.

Flowers are a wonderful symbol of the cycle of life through the different stages of a flowers development: from planting the seed, to growing and developing, to blooming and then eventually withering and dying and lying dormant or seeding for the next years cycle of rebirthing into a new cycle.

My Healing Flower garden

My flower garden here at TARA could be described as wild cottage garden. It is also quickly becoming a collectors garden of healing flowers and herbs. In this blog I focus on flowers. I will be writing more blogs in future on herbs.

We have a range of perennial flowers that emerge again and again year after year, expanding and thereby offering us divisions to extend the garden beds, and to pot up for others to enjoy. Many of the annuals readily self seed offering new creative displays in the garden.

I am continually on the look out for new and interesting flowers that grow well in the extreme climate here in Central Victoria, where we can get summer temperatures as high as 47 degrees celsius, and frosty winters as low as -7 degrees. We grow according  principles of permaculture and companion planting, using the flowers and herbs to benefit all the garden, in particular our food production.

We have distinct seasons and with this a great diversity of flowers so we get to experience the wonders of beautiful floral displays throughout the year.

Below I showcase through photos some of the late winter and spring flowers that are blooming here in the gardens of TARA and I share with you some examples of the ‘Language of Flowers’ and common symbolic meanings of these flowers.  Please see the bibliography at the end of the website for the sources of these meanings.

Pink Camellias 

We have an abundance of beautiful Pink Camellias through the winter and spring.  The Camellia flower speaks to the heart.  Some of the most common meanings of Camellia are: Desire or Passion; Refinement; Perfection & Excellence; Faithfulness & Longevity.

Jonquils and Daffodils

The first sign of Spring comes with the Jonquils. The meaning of Jonquils are many, including ‘Desire for Affection Returned’. For me, the Jonquils and Early Cheer offer the their uplifting visual display and scent of Hope and Joy.

The Jonquils are soon followed (or overlapped) with many varieties of daffodils. While the Daffodil’s primary symbolism is that of new beginnings, rebirth and the coming of spring, it has many others including Creativity and Inspiration; Renewal and Vitality; Awareness and Inner Reflection; Memory; Forgiveness.

Calendula

Calendula flowers readily self sows throughout the vegetable and flower gardens through most of the year. We now have Orange and Yellow single petalled and the wonderful multi petaled orange petal. A wonderful flower in a vase! And this year I have just planted some seeds of a new variety from the Diggers Club, Pacific Apricot, which I look forward to enjoying this summer.

The healing properties of Calendula or marigold has been well known to herbalists for centuries (McIntyre, 1996). The flowers are edible and so it is a great bright colour addition to a salad. See my fresh edible ‘Pot-pourri’ salad recipe ideas.  I also use it to make our own nourishing moisturising cream.

A common flower meaning of calendula is “Despair and Grief and “Prophetic Prediction”. As the flower of the sun, it is a comforter of the heart and spirits.

Healing properties of the Calendula Flower

Orange Calendula Flowers readily self seed and flower throughout the year

The Poppy

Each year through the spring, summer and autumn, we have amazing displays of a variety of poppies, many of which pop up now from seeds from the previous year.

Diverse Poppies in the gardens of TARA 

The symbolism of the Poppy varies greatly from country to country. The opium poppy can be known as ‘the flower of the underworld’.

Some of the most common language of flower meanings include: ‘Restful sleep/Eternal Sleep’; ‘Messages delivered in dreams’; ‘Oblivion’; ‘Imagination’. The Poppy can also symbolise ‘Beauty and Success’/ ‘Extravagance and Luxury’.

The Poppy, particularly the red poppy, can symbolise ‘Consolation’ for a loss or death and is used at Remembrance day celebrations to remember the fallen of various wars and armed conflicts.  Other meanings of the Poppy can be ‘Peace in death’ and ‘Resurrection and eternal life’.

The poppy can be a symbol of the ephemeral pleasures of life… here one minute and gone the next! (McIntyre, 1996)

The Opium Poppy flower essence is used to help find a balance in daily life between activity and rest, the spiritual and the physical, evolution and being (McIntyre, 1996).

As the Opium poppy has potentially addictive qualities, the Californian Poppy offers a non addictive substitute and can be a gentle balancer to the emotions in times of stress.

Crab Apple Blossom

We have two big flowering crab apple trees which give us an incredible show of spring flowers that can be seen from our property for miles.

Whilst the crab apple is not such a good cut flower (as they tend to drop their petals quickly), they are visible through the windows from within the house.

Whilst I could not find a language flower meaning of crab apples, interestingly it is the Bach flower “remedy for cleansing” and was included in the original crisis remedy cream. (The Bach Centre)

The Flowers and the Birds and the Bees 

And finally, it is important to remember that growing flowers is not just healing for us as humans but for the garden and the ecosystem as a whole. Flowers and their seeds are an essential addition to a permaculture garden, as it brings in the birds and beneficial insects for pollination. It is healing in itself to experience the wildlife enjoying the flowers!

Bringing the healing power of flowers into the home.

Below I share with you some of the ways that I bring the flowers from the garden into the home, including the creation of devotional alters; Tussie-mussies or healing posies (including edible posies); and simple flower arranging with the fresh flowers grow in the garden.

I hope that some of these inspire you to pick some flowers and bring them into your life.

Creating a devotional altar

An ‘altar’ is a table, shelf or surface that is used as the focus for a religious or spiritual ritual, especially for making sacrifices or offerings to a deity.

I have numerous altars around the home, including my main altar where I meditate and practice yoga which and is the consistent place for me to go to for my personal devotional yoga practice.

Flowers have become a key part of my home self-care rituals more broadly, not just at the yoga mat. I always have fresh flowers displayed on various shelves and surfaces around the home and often include other symbolic icons including deity statues and or seasonal things I find in the garden. So as I move around my house these devotional altars and flowers bring me great peace, joy and connection to my feminine spirit.

As my students know, I also always bring fresh flowers to create an altar when I teach my yoga classes and workshops. Sometimes selecting a flower that represents a goddess that we are practicing with that week, for example red roses and/or red chrysanthemums for Durga. I love to share the abundance of the diverse spring flowers particularly in the Lakshmi class or in the ‘Second Spring’ self care for menopause workshop. For my Seasonal Yin Workshops I bring in anything from the seasonal garden to help connect us the the seasonal elements.

Tussie-mussie and healing posies

I love the name Tussie-mussie which is the name of a small healing posy.  Tussie-mussies were originally popular in the 16th Century as a bunch of fresh herbs and flowers that were used as a practical way to mask the stench of rubbish and chamber pots emptied on the street!  Tussie-mussies were also used as a form of disinfectant and protection from infectious disease. (Shipard, 2003)

Tussie-mussies now have more general definition and use as a small flower and herb posy that holds a healing intention. You can make a Tussie-mussies from a a specific selection of flowers and herbs to express the unique language of those flowers and herbs.

Tussie-mussie for a lapel

Lapel Tussie-Mussie: White Rose, Granny bonnet and French lavender

Tussie-mussies are a simple and wonderful way to bring healing flowers and herbs into your life and share them with others. They can be a beautiful gifts for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries as well as a get well gift. When I make a Tussie-mussie for a friend, I intuitively tune into the garden and select the flowers and herbs specifically for them.

I love making many little Tussie-mussies for small vases for those narrow shelves, corners, or the bathroom shelf.

Tussie-mussies can also be made up entirely of edible herbs that can then be used when needed in cooking or making a cup of fresh herbal tea. An edible Tussie-mussie can be a wonderful small gift to give a friend not only for the language of the posy, but for them to eat or drink.

Here are two summer Tussie-mussies made with a selection of flowers and herbs. Edible posies such as this, are wonderful placed on a kitchen shelf where you can for example use the spearmint to make cooling drinks through the summer.

Displays of flowers around the home

I love the larger displays of the fresh flowers from the garden through the year.  I find the larger flowers can be very simply displayed oftentimes just one variety to make the seasonal statement!

Camellia’s make a beautiful arrangement floating in a water bowl inside or outside in a garden bird bath.

Jonquils and Daffodils are easy to display and it is a great way to bring spring into the home. I love the large vases full of bunches of amassed Daffodils and mixing the many varieties growing here in the garden. Here are the daffodils we had at our first Spring Open Garden this year.

In the spring/early summer garden we have purple irises which on their own are beautiful.  And I love the buddleia displayed here with rough and random green foliage of scented geranium and lavender stems.

In the late summer garden we have an abundance of the vibrant golden yellow of the Jerusalem Artichokes and in the autumn around Mothers Day, the deep red chrysanthemums, which are classic flower for Mother’s day.

How to create your own Healing Posy

Flower selection and creating a posy can range from a very simple intuitive process to a deeper ritual. I share with you some ideas to get you started.

A very simple healing ritual is to set an intention when picking or selecting the flowers and when putting them together and placing them around the home. This is the main style of flower arranging I do in my home each week which fits more easily around our often busy schedules.

I do it more intentionally on special occasions, including at new and full moons, and when making a posy as a gift for a friend.

Intentional practice can include meditation or a shamanic drum journey, or any practice that essentially takes you away from the rational mind, connects you deeper into your intuitive and creative self, and grounds and connects you to the earth. A meditation that awakens the senses is also beneficial, although I find this naturally happens when connecting with the flowers.

You can simply make the posy, or if you want to deepen the process and ritual, you can them research the language of the flowers in your posy from links below.

Trust the process and Enjoy!

Putting together your posy.

You can either just randomly select flowers in an intuitive order. Or you can be more structured and systematic with the following instructions.

 

  1. Lay the flowers and herbs out by type on the table and, using scissors or your hands, strip all the leaves off the bottom two-thirds of the stem. Flowers will last longer without the leaves fouling the water.
  2. Choose a structural or large flower for the centre of the posy.
  3. Holding your central piece, choose a different and contrasting flower/herb to make the first ring around the centre. Add a piece, turn the posy slightly, add another piece and so on until you have a complete ring.
  4. Choose another flower or herb to repeat this process. Try to choose one that is a different colour, has flowers, or has different-sized leaves to provide contrast.
  5. Some herbs, like lavender, may need more than one ring added to create a bigger impact, so keep adding pieces to get the effect you like.
  6. If you are giving the posy as a gift, you will want to tie up the posy. You could use a rubber band around the top of the stems to hold in place, just where the leaves start. Use a ribbon or rustic string to make more pretty. Get creative with what you can use. You can even try grasses from the garden.
  7. Cut off the bottoms of the stems with secateurs (or scissors if stems are tender) so they have a neat finish.
  8.  You can simple enjoy the healing qualities of your beautiful posy OR
  9. Optional: if you wish to explore the meaning behind the flowers research and reflect on the meaning of the flowers. Start by looking at the ‘Language of Flower’ websites listed below, and reflecting if these meanings resonate with you. See what arises.

This is a beautiful posy my friend made with flowers from TARA last Christmas when we caught up for a drink.  It includes a large red poppy in the centre, with pyrethrum, dried poppy seed heads, lavender, cornflowers, sweet peas, queen annes lace and yarrow.

My Friends Healing Posie

My Friends Healing Posy made with flowers from my garden.

Bibliography

McIntyre, A (1996) The Complete Floral Healer. Gaia Books Limited, London.

Milner, G (2009) Fresh Cut Flowers, JoJo Publishing, Victoria.

Shipard, I (2009) How can I use Herbs in my daily life? 4th Edition. David Stewart, Nambour, Qld.

The Language of Flowers I reference in this blog, come from the following websites:

I invite you to use these to discover the meanings of the posies you make.

The health information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute for medical advice or 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. 

© 2018 Jane Mallick. All rights reserved.

 

Dhumavati the Goddess of Peaceful Surrender through Disappointment and Loss

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.

The Ten Mahavidyas

The Ten Mahavidyas Artist Rabi Behera (from http://www.exoticindia.com)

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

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

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, 80 years old

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.

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

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

1. Mantra

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:

Let Go

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.

2 . Meditation: smoking ritual and/or sound meditation

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.

Please note: if you don’t have a yoga nidra practice already, you may like to explore the many free practices on Insight App. I recently found this yoga nidra Healing Darkness for Sleep by Jennifer Piercy, that feels to me like a Dhumavati practice. 

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.

Bibliography

Brown, J (2014) 10 ways to bypass the realElephant Journal  21 March, 2014

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.

 

 

 

Embodying the Wisdom Goddesses of Yoga

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: Goddess of Compassion

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

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)

Kali the Goddess of Transformation

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.

burning the past away

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

Kali card

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.

Kali - Sangjay14

Kali Maa, Sanjay14

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Autumnal fires - buring away the old

Kali Fire, Taradale 2015. 

Bibliography

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.

David Frawley (2016)  http://www.dailyo.in/arts/hindu-mythology-goddess-kali-shiva-hinduism-yoga-spirituality/story/1/9920.html

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.

 

The Magic of Menopause and how Yoga can Support your Transition

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.

2 Meditation

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.

5 Connect

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.

Bibliography

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.

Women’s Health Initiative https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/whi/whi_faq.htm

Welch, Claudia. (2011) Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life: Achieving Optimal Health and Wellness through Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, and Western Science. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Lifelong.

What is Feminine Yoga and why do we need it?

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.dscn0727

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.

Defining ‘Feminine’

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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Bibliography

Uma Dinsmore Tuli (2014) Yoni Shakti: A woman’s guide to power and freedom through yoga and tantra. Pinter and Martin: UK.

Vicki Noble, Did Women Invent the Ancient Art of Yoga (http://www.lotusfertility.com/Yogini_Roots.html)

Yoga in America Ipsos study (2016) (http://media.yogajournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016-Yoga-in-America-Study-Comprehensive-RESULTS.pdf)

Yoga in Australia, Results of a National Survey  (2008) (https://researchbank.rmit.edu.au/eserv/rmit:6110/Penman.pdf)

This blog was also inspired by teachings from the following training and workshops I have attended:

  • Lorraine Taylor (2014) Sacred Journey into Yoga, Bali. The history of women in yoga
  • Tina Nance (2014)  Sacred Journey into Yoga, Bali. Sacred menstruation.
  • Jane Hardwicke Collins (2016) Autumn Woman Harvest Queen Menopause Workshop.   Melbourne.  The cycles that affect a woman life.

 

© 2017 Jane Mallick. All rights reserved.