Self-Awareness for Goddesses
I recently read this thought-provoking article entitled Dating a Yoga Goddess and it’s resulting comments. I couldn’t resist responding.
Right off the bat, let’s address the term ‘Goddess’. In many yoga classrooms throughout the West, women refer to themselves as ‘Goddesses’. As a political move, there is nothing wrong with this, it does the feminist work of reclaiming our bodies and celebrating them, denying traditional patriarchal control over them. However, remember that the use of this term is to remind us that everybody has a piece of the divine/universal love/cosmic within. This means that the limber ladies who do yoga everyday are Goddesses to the same degree as those outside the studio smoking and drinking a coffee. If we really want gender equality than we should be talking about ‘Gods’ just as much as ‘Goddesses’, and realise that neither is discriminatory.
This also leads us to the idea of following an Eastern Philosophy/yogic path within a Western world. If you believe you are leading an ‘authentic’ yogic life, or are a yoga ‘purist’, you may need to look into the history of yoga more. There is no and never was one true, authentic, pure form of yoga. The first yogis to pen their practice did so in the Upaniṣads (written between 800 and 400 BCE), Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras (between 500 and 300 BCE) and the Bhagavad Gītā (between 500 and 300 BCE). The Maitrī Upaniṣad details a six-fold yoga method, namely, breath control (prāṇāyāma), withdrawal of the senses (pratyāhāra), meditation (dhyāna), placing of the concentrated mind (dhāraṇā), philosophical inquiry (tarka), and absorption (samādhi). Five of these six elements (excepting tarka) are also found in Patañjali’s Sūtras. But Patañjali introduces three new elements: ethical conduct (yama), self-discipline (niyama), and physical postures (āsana). Mark Singleton is right when we says that modern yogis usually cite the Sūtras as the canonical text of yoga, but ‘confine their discussion of the text to the [incredibly brief] aṣṭāṅgayoga section (II.29–III.8) as if this were the sum of Patañjali’s message’ (Yoga Body 27). Meanwhile the Bhagavad Gītā lists only a three-fold path of yoga.
In fact, if you are a woman who jumped in a tardis-style time machine and found yourself practicing yoga in India 2000 years ago, you would likely feel very out of place. Yoga was a purely male practice until the 20th Century. The first women to practice yoga were not in India. They were in church halls and school gymnasiums in Britain. Caught up in the broader physical culture movement of the early 20th Century, colonialist Brits aided Indian men to bring the practice to the mother-land and meld it with calisthenics and gymnastics. This was also the first time that yoga was taught to groups of people, rather than one-on-one, guru-to-student style. At the time, the only other place that that happened was in Indian public schools, where the British introduced military-style group exercise, in a effort to raise the moral and physical ‘worth’ of the Indian ‘race’ through training young boys. Women first started to become yoga teachers only about 60 years ago, and only since 1970s feminism has it become a popular and acceptable profession.
And yes, I do mean acceptable. In her article, Alex Smith claims that yoga ‘Goddesses’ ‘don’t like societal rules and conventions. And most of us don’t adhere to them and have dedicated our lives to living outside boxes in some way or another.’ I am afraid to point out the obvious, but if you have a reasonably stable income, take money from your students/clients as they enter the door, pay rent and wear lululemon you are smack bang living within societal rules and conventions. You may have rebellious streaks which deny certain restrictions/conventions but please open your eyes enough to realise that most people do this in some way, not just people who practice yoga. Smith pins the tail on the donkey when she says that yoga ‘Goddesses’ are material girls who have grown up on a diet of fairytales featuring prince charmings. There is nothing wrong with that, they are conventional ideas but that doesn’t make them more or less valid (or feminist) than the yogic path you aspire to.
Finally, in addressing the main thrust of Smith’s article, that yoga ‘Goddesses’ challenge men in such a way that relationships become difficult, I would like to respond both yes, and no. Yes, I see many self-identifying yoga ‘Goddesses’ who cook their partners dosha-balancing meals and ask them ‘Where do you feel it?’ and ‘Have you surrendered?’. But the only relationships I see where this works are when the ‘Goddess’ genuinely doesn’t think that their partner needs raising up to the same level of spiritual devotion that she has. This is simply a yogic take on trying to improve someone rather than accept them. A good relationship, like good teaching, is about meeting the other person where they’re at, having empathy, and thinking through the world in their terms. The best relationships are founded on the knowledge that neither person is better than the other, just different, but with common concerns expressed in different ways. This is another way of reminding us of two of Patañjali’s yamas, ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truthfulness). Practice the deepest form of non-violence by understanding the other person, and be truthful with yourself about who you are.
Posted on December 4, 2013, in Asana, Meditation, Philosophy, Reading, Writing and tagged dating, feminism, gender, honesty, men, relationships, self-awareness, spirituality, women, Yoga. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.