Monday, May 08, 2017

Women in yoga

 Take any yoga class and you will find that more women are into yoga practice than men. Of course, at the ashrams or institutes where yoga is treated as a profession or a career choice it is different (sorry guys, I cannot help taking a dig here). Or if there are more male gurus than women (ostensibly). But as far as personal practice is concerned the proportion of women doing yoga for their own self-growth is world over greater than men. So, here was an article I wrote a decade ago about women yoginis. 

There is a tale of an Alwar bhakti poetess from South India on a pilgrimage to her beloved Lord Shiva's abode. She decides that walking on feet up the holy mountain would be sacrilegious. So she decides to walk on her hands instead, going all the way up to mount Kailash in the difficult inverted pose, called adho mukha vrikshasana or the downward facing tree. In this pose the entire body is balanced on the hands and in the advanced version, which our Alwar poetess had adopted, the hands are used to walk upon, instead of the legs. It calls for tremendous skill and strength and is among the most difficult poses even for yoga adepts.

Skeptics may dismiss this yogic aspect of the story as a mythical exaggeration. But it may not be so far-fetched to believe that in ancient India women were just as skilled, if not more, than their male counterparts in yoga of the mind and body. Somewhere along the history of mankind women were   relegated to background. But if you analyze women's position through the yogic myths of India, it is clear women were given indisputable importance. In fact, the equality  was best emphasized by Lord Shiva's choice of his first disciple into yoga – it was his wife Parvati. In yoga, symbolic transcendence is accorded to women be it in the rising of the Kundalini, the serpent power represented by goddess Kundalini or attaining Spanda_Shakti or the Bliss-consciousness that is every practitioner's goal. And the secret of attaining this, explained in the compact Tripura Rahasya, gives in detail how women often attained the highest goal, of God-consciousness, often ahead of the men, as with the self-realized Hemalekha who initiates her husband Hemachuda. She leads him out of the maze of human delusions with her clarity of thinking and sparkling intellect. In Yoga Vashistha too, it is the wife, the self-realised Cudala, who leads her confused husband King Sikhidvaja into god-consciousness. To counter his inhibition from learning such supreme knowledge from a woman, she assumes the form of Narada's son Kumbha Muni.

The Bihar School of Yoga's must-have book on yoga for women titled  Nawa Yogini Tantra, authored by Swami Muktananda, underscores also how a progressive and liberal attempt to provide women with rest   during menstruation had, over centuries, mutated into an archaic and chauvinist custom that isolated them during this period as impure. Swami Muktananda narrates how Sri Ramakrishna flouted such archaic customs by refusing to eat food cooked by anyone else but his wife during this time.

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