Lakshmi the Goddess of Abundance and Good Fortune

In my latest blog on the wisdom goddesses of yoga I introduce Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance. If you would like to read about the background on invoking wisdom goddesses in yoga, please go to my blog on Kali.

In this blog, I introduce Lakshmi:

  • describe her qualities; where we can see her in our lives, her boons and why we invoke her.
  • unpack the mythology in her imagery, including the symbology of her 4 arms (Dharma, Artha, Kama Moksha) as a model of human and spiritual evolution.
  • share some personal stories of how she has been a nourishing medicine for me and for one of my students.
  • give you 7-practices to awaken and embody Lakshmi’s qualities in your life.

Lakshmi’s qualities and how to invoke them

Lakshmi represents abundance in all forms – abundant beauty in the inner and the outer world. In mythology Lakshmi incarnates all of the qualities of the auspicious feminine. One of her names Shri (pronounced Shree) which means auspiciousness and signifies good fortune, loving kindness, purity of motive, material prosperity, physical health, wellbeing, energy, vitality and every kind of radiance and beauty (Kempton, 2013).

We see Lakshmi in our lives in all forms of wealth including material and spiritual wealth.  As material wealth, when Lakshmi’s energy is flowing in your life, money comes easily as well as it flows out generously to others. Lakshmi can be seen in precious jewels, in beautifully crafted objects, art and elegant fashion and delicious food as well as sweet music.

Lakshmi can be found in the abundance of the natural world. The abundance of mother earth: the land the water, the plants and animals. She is the benevolent force that causes the seed to grow into a tree, the sperm to fertilise the egg and flowers to fruit. Her power nourishes life on earth. She is a goddess of sustainability.  It is said that Lakshmi shows up for those who are stewards of the land, cultivators of the earth.  If we provide and care for all the Life around us, then Lakshmi will bless us with abundance

When we embody Lakshmi, we have everything, both inner and outer, for a beautiful life. Lakshmi is invoked for peace and prosperity, sweetness and harmony. When you call her into your life, you invite every form of blessing. Good fortune, fertility and beauty.

Lakshmi gives the gifts of worldly abundance, wealth, food, high social position, spiritual luster, beauty in all its form (Kempton, 2013)

You can invoke Lakshmi to cultivate all forms of abundance in life including:

  • support in the worldly life, including money and material wealth
  • bridging the mundane and spiritual worlds
  • greater health, wellbeing and vitality
  • gratitude and being content with what you have
  • allowing yourself to receive and also to give generously
  • beauty and pleasure in life
  • opening your heart.

Lakshmi’s Shakti is cooling and nourishing, infinitely sweet. I find that Lakshmi, along with her sister goddess Tripuri Sundari, can be a beautiful balance to the more fiery energy of Kali and Durga.

Lakshmi can put an end to outer seeking, instead spend our precious energy on the evolution and unfolding of ourselves and the universe. Lakshmi (and Kalamalitka in particular) offers us a bridge between the material and spiritual worlds. She nourishes and supports whatever we aspire to. She is Divine grace for our spiritual and worldly goals.

The Mythology of Lakshmi

Mythology, and the stories of these goddesses, can be a powerful map of understanding ourselves as well as universal patterns. One tool is to understand the symbology of the icon/image. One powerful Tantric embodiment practice is visualise ourselves as the god or goddess and so  we can examine in detail and attempt to get a ‘felt sense’ of the image and the symbols commonly associated with Lakshmi we can embody her abundance.

When we look at a mythological image we look to everything in image including the character and the objects are aspects of our Self. Chameli Ardah points out it is important to remember that mythology is not a fixed theory, rather it is a the map that is alive in you as you, around you and right now in every moment.

Below is a summary of some of the more common interpretations of Lakshmi’s image.

kamala__the_lotus_goddess_pg11Lakshmi is depicted as a beautiful woman of golden complexion, standing gracefully on a lotus flower. She is dressed in red, which represents continuous creative activity. She is adorned with gold ornaments and jewels, indicating prosperity and fulfilment.

Her animal consort is the elephant or sometimes she is pictured with an owl.  Elephants and owls both represent wisdom.

Two elephants are often shown standing next to the goddess and spraying water. A symbol that ceaseless effort, in accordance with one’s dharma and governed by wisdom and purity, leads to material and spiritual prosperity.

An owl, as a night bird represents darkness, which can represent Lakshmi’s ability to remove darkness from our lives, including poverty and stagnation. The owl can also point to the shadow aspects of material wealth. At a personal level greed and ignorance and at a societal, humanity level, how the current imbalances in the larger financial/economic system are not sustainable.

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She has 4 arms. In two of them she holds lotus flowers. Her third hand is lowered, palm down, with cascading gold coins. Her fourth hand is held upright, in abhaya mudra, an ancient gesture that dispels fear.

The continuous stream of gold coins pouring out from Lakshmi’s hand representing the unending flow of abundant prosperity and wealth in all forms, including material wealth and money.

The Lotus flower is also a prominent and powerful symbol for Lakshmi. The Tantric equivalent of Lakshmi’s is called Kamalatmika, (kamala = lotus).

Lakshmi sits on a lotus flower that emerges out of the lake, as well as holds two in her hands, sometimes one closed and one open. The lotus flower can represent purity, fertility and inner unfolding. The lotus is also a symbol of growth and spiritual transformation. The lotus flower grows from the shadow, muddy water. It roots itself in the mud and then grows up, through the murky, stagnant waters toward the light and blossoms into perfection.

Four Arms as a Map of Human Evolution

Lakshmi’s four arms symbolise different aspects of manifestation. They can offer us a framework to understand spiritual development and human embodiment.

  • Dharma: ‘righteous’ living your unique vibration
  • Artha: worldy and spiritual wealth
  • Kama: pleasure as a spiritual portal
  • Moksha – liberation and freedom.

The 4 arms are a part of her body, they are not separate. Each ‘arm’ is equally important and a part of the whole. In our practice we can tune into these 4 arms and identify which aspect of our life is needing more conscious awareness and practice, at any point in our evolutionary growth.

Below I provide a brief overview of each of these arms. I share more on these arms and specific yoga practices, in my Tantra Flow Yoga workshops and transition coaching programs.

Dharma: ‘righteous’ living your unique vibration

Dharma is the law of the universe. It is the righteous order of ALL things. In the personal realm, righteous living can be seen as the alignment to our unique vibration, our unique dharma,  and the alignment of this vibration with the larger vibration of the universe.

We each have a unique place in the world: a unique thread in the grand scheme of life. It shows that we are each unique, but not separate.

The practice is to align ourselves with our unique vibration – your unique Shri. The closer we can come to this vibration the more fulfilled we will be. We experience genuine fulfilment when living true to our dharma. When our unique gifts are aligned with the bigger cosmic intelligence we not only find our unique place in the whole, but you also receive great support from the universe (see Artha below).

This does not mean your life is wholly pre-destined or pre-determined. Instead, we are born with an imprint, and then our life experiences and circumstances influence and mould us. We are continuously moving and evolving.

Recently, I have noticed that dharma is increasingly used by yoga teacher career coaches in their branding and marketing of coaching offerings. dharma can offer us a meaningful way to make decisions about our work and career. It is important to remember that dharma is more than a job, as dharma is expressed in all areas of our lives.

I see so much suffering in the world when people are not aware or are misaligned with their dharma. Many are caught up in a material world of consumerism. I know I was for many years working in the city in corporate role that felt like it often clashed with my deeper values and beliefs.

“It is better to strive in one’s own dharma
 than to succeed in the dharma of another. 
Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma. 
But competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity.” Krishna from The Bhagavad Gita

The more aware of, and the more aligned I am, and the more conscious and connected I am to my dharma, the happier and easier life becomes.  It is one of my deepest passions, that more people (including myself!) live life according to their dharma.

Artha: worldly and spiritual wealth

Artha is the resources we need to fulfill our dharma. Artha is most commonly associated with wealth. Currently in our western and ever developing world, Artha is most visible as money.  Artha is far more than just money. It includes all aspects of physical, emotional and spiritual wealth, health and wellbeing. It includes the skills, physical well-being and circumstances that will support you to live your dharma.

Most, if not all of us, are bound to a large extent to live and operate in the current systems and processes that require us to have money to live a good life. For example we need a home to live in, we need to pay rent or a mortgage. We need nourishing food for a healthy functioning body. More and more of us are now choosing to buy organic food, which is often more expensive. Increasingly we need money to pay for good health care, particularly so here in Australia if you choose preventative or natural medicine. It costs money to live a good healthy life.

Many of us have a shadowy relationship with money. Money can reflect beliefs about our inherent value; our self-worth.  For many of us these can be Self-limiting beliefs. It is important that we become conscious of these beliefs and to clear up issues we have with money, so that we can have a freer and more creative relationship with ‘wealth’.

I know so many women and men who feel trapped in work and lifestyles that are not fulfilling and that it is because of money that they do not feel free to be doing more of what they love to do.

Through working with Lakshmi’s dharma and artha arms, we can be guide and supported to find greater alignment to our true Self and to open to universal abundance, in all its forms.

Kama: pleasure as spiritual portal 

Kama is pleasure, love, sensuality, desire, beauty. Kama is very much alive, particularly in recent years with the upsurge in divine feminine embodiment practices and teachers that are available to us now.

In the recent past, patriarchal religions including many eastern yoga schools, have created systems and practices to suppress and repress kama, so that we can be free (see moksha below). Many of these approaches see pleasure and sensuality as a distraction, and that we need to cultivate detachment from the ‘material’ to cultivate spirituality.  I love it how Chameli Ardagh reminds us that “You are never free if you have to continually push something away!”

The kama arm shows us that a spiritual path does not have to be dry and that in fact pleasure, desire and beauty can be a powerful spiritual portal to Shri.  Lakshmi shows us that not only do we not have to reject ordinary experience, including a sensuous pleasurable life, but that the material life can offer us a portal to the inside offering worldly enjoyment and spiritual freedom.

Lakshmi is the keeper and beautifier of mundane life.  She shows us that cultivating an aesthetic life is a spiritual practice. She can awaken pleasure and desire.  Chameli Ardagh describes desire as spiritual heat, that with conscious practice, becomes a portal of awakening. Pleasure can be a doorway to Presence. Our senses open us…they feed us… they nourish us.

Moksha: Liberation and Freedom

Moksha is the freedom from the small ‘I’ to the greater scheme of things. It is the ability to see all experiences as a part of the bigger tapestry of life. To do this we need to let go of control. We need to slip into the slip-stream of life. When we do this, we can align ourselves with the collective evolution. This can provide tremendous support and creativity.

We can sometimes fear to let go – to trust. We can be afraid of the void. Lakshmi helps us relax the grip on trying to control everything and instead offers faith so we can surrender into infinite abundance. Chameli Ardagh describes when we align with the evolution of dharma, and slip into the outpouring of creativity and resources, we can manifest anything we dream of!

Lakshmi’s shadow can often arise when we get tastes of how good it can be, and we get attached to these moments of Artha.

“Moksha is not a process in time, nor is it an experience you once had, or a goal for your to reach later. We live Moksha in moment-to-moment surrender”. Chameli Ardagh.

Personal Stories and Experiences of Lakshmi’s energy

Below are some personal experiences of how Lakshmi has shown up in my life over the recent years as well Laura, one of my students.

My first experience with Lakshmi

I first met and experienced Lakshmi energy at my yoga teacher training in Bali in 2014.  I experienced the most heart opening experience (so far!) in my life. In our last Puja (ritual) for the month-long training, we invoked Goddess Kamalamika/Lakshmi. Together the 20 women on the course brought gifts of abundance to the alter (money, food and presents), with the intention that we would take these to the local primary school children who we had become fondly familiar with over the course of our training as their playground overlooked the yoga studio. We climbed the rocky slope adjacent to the studio to reach the school children whilst singing the Gayatri Mantra. The children sang along with us. We gave the gifts to the children, and they received them with joy and gratitude. One little girl came to me and gave me a big hug. She asked me my name, and I her. She responded Lakshmi… my heart cracked so wide open!

Since then, in my personal practice and through teaching yoga with the wisdom goddesses, I continue to learn, grow and experience the power of these amazing wisdom goddesses. I recently joined a 21-day Lakshmi Sadhana with Chameli Ardagh which opened my life even further to her boons.

I have found that practicing with Lakshmi has helped me transition from my corporate career in the city, to yoga teacher. Her medicine has helped me transition from the secure, and relatively high income, to being self-employed, living in the county on a very low income as a yoga teacher and as a steward of the land.

Financial insecurities and unexpected gifts 

There have been times when deep fears arise around my, and my families, financial security. I as many of us do, hold deep fears around money, particularly in relation to self-worth, which are intergenerational, in my case from my mothers blood line.  These fears particularly arise when I step forward or take a risk in growing my business or aligning more to my dharma path of teaching yoga and growing a small farmlet. I have experienced Lakshmi many times in unexpected financial windfalls affirming and confirming my dharma.

For example, when I made the bold step to end my contractual tie to my corporate role to fully commit to being a yoga teacher, an unexpected deposit of $7,000 arrived in my bank account from my employer, which helped me pay for training and set up my business.

More recently I was doing a 21-day Lakshmi Sadhana. I experiencing great fears arising as my partner and I embark on the development of our property into the TARA Healing and Education centre. It was feeling like the more we were committing to this large investment there were tests from the universe, including the breaking down of our car, large dentist bill which were testing my confidence in our plans and vision.  Daily I was  practicing gratitude, asking and letting go (see practice No. 4 below) where I asked for money to support our vision.

Over the next few days I experienced a series financial gifts, including my dentist wavered a $150 bill for my son’s dentistry, and the local bank wavered a $15 fee for issuing a check to buy our new second hand car. Whilst these might seem small, it felt like Lakshmi was present whereby I received powerfully supportive messages assuring me that everything is going to be ok, and that the world will provide for me on my  dharmic path.

Daily I experience Lakshmi in my garden in the abundant fruit and vegetables, herbs and flowers. The garden nourishes me and my dharma to continue moving forward to our investment into developing TARA. I will share more stories over the coming year of Lakshmi and the garden.

Laura’s Fertility story

In my Tantra Flow classes and workshops I so love observing women awakening to the different goddess energies and receiving her boons. Laura has been attending Tantra Flow Yoga classes for several years now and has found Lakshmi to be particularly healing through her fertility journey. Lakshmi spoke to Laura in many ways and has been a powerful medicine for her.

Lakshmi card

Lakshmi Card (Doreen Virtue, 2004)

In one class, Laura felt the Lakshmi energy strongly in her heart which she felt awoke her awareness of the ability to manifest abundance in her life. At the end of the class she drew the Lakshmi goddess card from the Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards (Doreen Virtue, 2004) which was an external reinforcement and reminder of her presence.

After this experience, Laura consciously brought Lakshmi into her life, particularly as the goddess of fertility, as Laura had experienced many difficult years of fertility challenges.

Laura felt that Lakshmi was with her during the IVF process. In the hormonal stimulation process Laura created more eggs than were expected at her age. She felt the abundant life within.

When Laura learnt of Lakshmi’s other name Kamalatmika, she realised she had for years had the image of her tattooed on her back. Previously she had thought of the tattoo as a Thai angel having got the tattoo in Thailand years ago. The Thai script written under her image is ‘Kamla’, the nickname that Laura’s friends gave her.  The angel goddess is holding a lotus flower.

It was so incredible to realise that I had Lakshmi tattooed on my back, and that she had been with me for so many years already.  She literally has ‘had my back’! Laura

Lakshmi has been there to support Laura in times where she needed to believe in her fertility to create a child. She surrounded herself with beautiful, loving wise women to be held and supported through the journey. When she and her partner where offered the donor embryo option, she knew this could be another arduous journey, with stress, difficulties and long waiting periods. Miraculously out of the blue, an old friend contacted her to offer them an embryo. She was so moved by the hope of new genetics and the loving kind generosity from her friend. It felt like an unexpected abundant gift, that came with grace and ease from the universe.

“It felt like a  precious gift – a chance of bearing a child” Laura

Although it has unfolded that Laura has not had children, she feels the journey has been so much smoother to feel guided and supported by Lakshmi. Laura describes that even without her ultimate dream coming true, her life is filled with abundance in so many other ways.  

7 Practices to invoke Lakshmi in your life

I would encourage you, if you are feeling drawn to Lakshmi energy, to practice with 1 or more of the practices I share below. I also include a few tips on how to establish a devotional home yoga practice.

Decide on how much time you have in a week or in a day to dedicate yourself for a set period of time e.g.  5 minutes a day every day for the next month or choose the time and length that suits your schedule and life.

One tip is that practicing with the goddesses, as it is with any yoga or health practice, a little + often =  a lot

Even if you only have 5-10 minutes a day, choose one practice, and then show up for your set period of time.

In my experience I have found that having a devotional feminine yoga practice it has been easy and a delight and that rather than being drudgery or a chore, you will probably find you want to spend more time with your practice. Especially with Lakshmi!

1. Flowing vinyasa asana practice

Practice a flowing vinyasa, with the intention to opening to the flow of bliss and receiving and gifting abundance.  Include heart opening postures as well as any feminine practices that awaken pleasure. Play music you love to inspire your flowing movement, and music that opens your heart to joy. Here is a playlist with some Lakshmi music including Kirtan chants to awaken Lakshmi in your practice.

If you would like to learn some specific yoga and tantric yoga practices for your yoga practice, please check out one of my workshops or if you live locally weekly yoga courses.

2. Clear, clean and create an alter in the home

Lakshmi is seen in the cleanliness and order of a home. Spend some time clearing out old or unused items.  Ask your Self does this give me Joy? If not, give it away to a charity/good will shop for someone else to choose and enjoy.

Once the space is clear and clean, bring in fresh flowers and light a candle.  You can also set an intention of inviting Lakshmi into your house.

Create an Alter. It could be small, or more elaborate. Make it a space that you are drawn to daily, spending some quiet time connecting to your Self. Make offerings (flowers, gifts etc) and do some of the other practices listed here, yoga, meditation, poetry etc.

3. Meditation: cultivating receiving and giving

This meditation is adapted from Meditation secrets for women (Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche, 2001).

Begin by bringing your awareness to your breath.

  • Breath in – cultivate the feeling of receiving.
  • Breath out – cultivate the feeling of giving

Continue for a few moments.  Once you have established a connection to the breath, and the feelings associated with receiving and giving, repeat the following quietly to yourself:

  1. On the first breath:  breath in, I receive breath, exhale:,I give breath.
  2. On the second breath: breath in, I receive life, exhale, I give life
  3. On the third breath: breath in, I receive love, exhale, I give love

4. Practice of gratitude, asking and letting go

Adapted from Chameli Ardagh’s 21-day Lakshmi  Sadhana.

Gratitude

  • Bring your awareness to all that you are grateful for
  • Open your heart in gratitude and say your thanks either aloud, or speak quietly within.

Ask

  • Ask for what you desire – that which your heart longs for. Ask with innocence, like a child
  • Put your desire and longing into words. Speak out loud or within, or whisper softly to yourself

Let Go

  • Release your prayers
  • Open your hands as if you are letting them go. You can make a hand gesture, of opening your hands and releasing your request into space around you
  • Whisper, or gently speak out loud: “I surrender, 
I give it to you”
  • And then imagine handing it all over to the universe, letting go of any expectation!

5: The practice of giving generously

When we fear or feel a lack of anything in our lives (e.g. money, friends, love) we can go into contraction which cuts us off from the flow of abundance from the universe.

One of the simplest ways to shift his energy is to share and be generous with what you have. For example, to share with those less fortunate than us, particularly those who are suffering in the material world. Also share your unique gifts to the world and observe the abundance that can come in response.

“In order to attract Lakshmi, to bring her grace into our life, we need to become Lakshmi” (Kempton, 2013)

6: Cultivating beauty in your life – a garden sense meditation

Notice beauty in your life. Seek out and cultivate beauty through nature, arts and music etc. Remind yourself as you open to the external beauty, that the outer is a reflection of the inner beauty that resides in the heart.

A garden is a wonderful place to invoke Lakshmi. Visit a garden, maybe your own garden, at the peak of its production.  Spend some time opening your senses to the abundance in the garden: the fruit, the vegetables, the flowers, the birds and insects etc.  Start with the following:

  1. Smell the intoxicating fragrance of the flowers
  2. See the vibrant colours in the flowers, the leaves. Notice the changes over the seasons
  3. Taste the fresh fruits or vegetables, the bitterness of leafy greens, the sweetness of the berries etc
  4. Listen to the sounds, the birds, to the wind rustling through trees.
  5. Feel the warmth of the sun, or the gentle breeze
  6. As you practice with the 5 senses, begin to notice and sense the subtle vibration of Shri and the pure abundance which is everywhere

7: Poetry

Spend some time reading your favourite poetry, or find some new inspiring and beautiful poetry.

Rumi’s poetry can be wonderful for awakening Lakshmi:

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground” (Rumi, Spring Giddiness, 13th Century)

Another favourite of mine is Lorin Roche’s Radiance Sutra poetry, which I find to be so nourishing and awakening of the senses.

Radiance Sutra 42,

With one sweep of attention, gather in the whole universe, and remember it as the body of bliss.

The deep rhythms of life, pulsating. Stir an ambrosia. Flowing and overflowing everywhere.

Drink the Nectar of all-pervading joy from the radiant cup that is this very body

(Lorin Roche, 2014)

Bibliography

Agrawal, P (2017) Shocking facts about goddess Lakshmi no on knows.

Ardagh, Chameli. 21 day Lakshmi Sadhana. Awakening Women.

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.

Maurine, C and Roche, L (2001) Meditation secrets for women, discovering your passion, pleasure and inner peace, Harper: San Fransisco.

Rajhans, G (2009) Ma Lakshmi’s symbols explained

Roche, L (2014) The Radiance Sutras: 112 gateways to the yoga of wonder and delight. Sounds True: Bolder Colorado.

Taylor, L (2014) Notes from Sacred Journey into Yoga Teacher Training.  For More information go to Lorraine Taylor Yoga for her 200 hour Sacred Journey into Yoga for Women, a month long ashtanga vinyasa yoga teacher training journeying with the Ten Mahavidya Goddesses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.