The Practice of Yoga Through a Feminine Lens

The Practice of Yoga Through a Feminine Lens

The Practice of Yoga Through a Feminine Lens

When I started practising yoga back in 1998, I knew nothing about yoga. I didn’t know there were different types of yoga. Back then yoga was mainly practised in church basements and community centres. There certainly weren’t many yoga studios, as there are now. I had taken yoga classes in university with my roommate, who was Indian and introduced me to eastern culture and vegetarianism. It was lovely, a very gentle form of yoga, but not what a student who spent most of the day hunched over a desk needed. I didn’t continue with the practice and over the years I turned to walking and running as a form of exercise. Actually, I turned to walking and running to clear my head (and because I was running away from myself!), which is why, in retrospect, I came back to yoga.

My second yoga experience was an Iyengar yoga class. It was nothing like what I had experienced in university. As many people do, I had been thinking about yoga for a long time before actually taking a yoga class. I got in my own way and told myself that I was too busy, and somehow I knew it would feel very awkward until it stopped feeling awkward! But I continued to feel drawn towards yoga and decided to answer the call.

When I first started practising yoga I was very unhappy with my personal life, I felt stuck and, during this time, I was working in male dominated organisations and found that I had to behave in a very masculine way in order to survive. I lost the very essence of being a woman that makes being a woman so special.  

My first experience of yoga through the feminine lens was when my teacher explained the importance of a modified practice during the time of menstruation.  I had no idea there was such a thing as modifying anything during this time of the month.  The origins of these concepts come from the teachings of BKS Iyengar and were further expounded upon by his daughter, Geeta Iyengar in her seminal book, Yoga, A Gem for Women.  

I learned to enjoy the modifications I was offered during my menstruation when I attended a general class and learned to get comfortable with everyone in the room knowing that it was “that time of the month” for me!  In my home practice, I also learned to love the specific menstruation sequence that was provided to us.  It contains a series of supported forward and backward extensions.  It created space for me to honour this time and became a welcomed monthly ritual.  As my practice and knowledge advanced I would also follow a sequence of poses post menstruation to support the health of the organic body.  

As the years passed, I had the wonderful experience of practising prenatal yoga through the guidance of my skilled teacher and the teachings of Geeta Iyengar.  Her book became my constant companion.  There were specific practices for each trimester and I felt safe and supported referring to it as I continued to progress in my pregnancy.  Fun fact, Sirsasana (headstand) was my absolute favourite pose to do because it took the weight of my abdomen off of my hips and actually made my centre of gravity much stronger.  I felt like I could stand on my head forever!  I actually felt my son move for the first time when I was in a supported Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) so, evidently, he likes the inverted poses too!

Post natal practice brought me back into my (different) body, encouraged lactation, much needed sleep and it encouraged me to carve out some dedicated “yoga and me” time during the intensity of caring for an infant.  It was during this time that my personal practice really blossomed, I was no longer able to go to whatever class suited my schedule as I had a partner who travelled extensively for work and, of course, a baby to put first. 

As the years and decades pass, I continue to weave the practice of yoga through a feminine lens into my personal practice and my classes.  Iyengar yoga teachers learn how to teach the menstrual sequence as part of their training and recently Abhijata Iyengar mentioned that it was important to do this practice once a week – regardless of what hormonal state you find yourself in as a much needed balm for modern yogis (of all genders). 

Other practitioners of various modalities, including other forms of yoga, may disagree with the concept of modifying your practice during menstruation and that is fair.  It is, afterall a very personal decision that lies solely in the hands of the practitioner.  Realistically, if you took the menstrual practice and placed it under a microscope or tried to look at it through a completely scientific lens, you may actually be able to dispute its efficacy.  But what a scientist or microscope cannot discern is the embodiment that occurs when we practise yoga.  Irrespective of what side of the fence you are on in regards to the menstrual sequence practice, what cannot be disputed is the power of personal experience and the benefit of taking time for self exploration and self care.  

Just like everything else in life, we never know until we actually give it a try.  I’d love to hear from you on this matter!  What are your thoughts?  To modify or not to modify?   If you want a copy of the menstrual sequence, please email me, I would be happy to send a copy of it to you.  

“It is your practice that brings the secrets to you.  No teacher can give you the secrets.”

Geeta Iyengar

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Lori Berenz began her own yoga journey almost 25 years ago when she started studying with senior Iyengar Yoga instructors in 1998. Yoga has transformed every aspect of Lori’s life and has allowed her to incorporate yogic practices into a modern and busy lifestyle. Over the years, Lori has deepened her understanding of Iyengar Yoga and her growing love of the practice inspired her to quit her corporate career in Human Resources and begin teaching in 2004 full time.

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