Yoga & Woman Power

Optimistically, I might say that a pink paradigm shift is showing. A wave of woman power.

It’s all over the news and the net right now, thanks to the young woman who asked about equal pay for equal work during the Presidential debate.

Even yoga is all about the women these days: with a flood of classes, books and products. And also new conversations such as Awakening as Women, with my yogini friends and teachers Anne Cushman and Janice Gates, talking “about sex, money, creativity, body image, and changing the world.” And I’m developing groups and workshops, as well, related to gender, sexuality, health, mindfulness, movement and embodiment.

This is good, right? I feel elated. I do! And I also feel cautious. I came up, and out, as a young feminist in the ’90s when we were reviving 70’s-style women’s self-help groups (yes, the speculum) and wearing that purple button with the fist inside the woman symbol.

Here’s a mini-rant about why the caution, especially related to yoga and woman power. First, we are easily consumed by the marketplace. I don’t think I even need to say much more, except that women are the biggest consumer group for yoga-related products. Second, although I’m an anatomy geek and fan of the parasympathetic nervous system myself, physiological explanations for our behavior too easily slip into biological determinism. (Really, don’t get me started on this one. I recently had to put down Naomi Wolf’s new book, Vagina, out of irritation with this. Not to mention how awkwardly she skips out on lesbians and bisexual women.) Speaking of that, let’s talk about whether yoga’s focus on woman power can avoid the mistakes of early waves of feminism, which buckled under other forms of oppression by marginalizing women of color and queer women. Also clear from the Presidential debate: human rights related to immigration status, marriage status and family structure, race, and class require our attention and activism.

How can our values, intentions and actions in the world — and in our yoga and meditation communities — support genuine transformation and liberation?

I want to mention two women activists who live their values and have talked about the ways contemplative and body-based practices have inspired, grounded, and kept them alive.

Powerful words about the connections between activism and body-based practice come from Julia Butterfly Hill, in The Sun Magazine: “Wounds on the external landscape exist in the internal landscape first. We re-create those inner wounds on the outside, on the planet. So being a vegan, practicing yoga, and taking time to exercise and do things that nourish my heart and spirit are all vital parts of my ‘activism.'” She also encourages us to use the body as a guide to action. “If we think of what we love to do, what we’re inspired to do, what we believe in…. Our chest area opens up; our head lifts; our shoulders drop back down. Our body literally expands.” (I love this! It is so true!)

And recently Smithsonian magazine included an article about Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi that tells how vipassana meditation helped her endure two decades of house arrest in Myanmar, as well as supporting her return to public life. As she tells the author, “[Meditation] heightens your awareness…. If you’re aware of what you are doing, you become aware of the pros and cons of each act. That helps you to control not just what you do, but what you think and what you say.” (Check out the link, there’s a clip from her Nobel Prize acceptance speech about human rights here, too.)

Who are the powerful activists and practitioners that bring you hope, expand your vision of the possible, raise your fist, and awaken your heart?

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