This is the first of two pieces for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. #timesupnow #internationalwomensdayesup
In the run up to International Women’s Day 2018 in Women’s History Month, it seems an apt and potent time to reflect on the rise of the #metoo campaign, the forward-looking women’s movements, and how this practice and life path of yoga is interwoven in many ways.
In that week in October, the social media world exploded with a cacophony of ‘me toos’, in response to the cases unravelling in the news. Stories of all kinds – from rape to harassment on the street – spread loud and clear, opening doors for voices (predominantly female) to be heard and questions to be asked – ‘how can we help?’ came from many. Other voices criticised, turning tables on victims, justifying behaviours of perpetrators, and undermined the whole campaign. It became a movement in its own right (actually initiated over 10 years ago by Tarana Burke), and, arguably, one of the most powerful on social media, contributing to the ongoing efforts of UN Women, and the more recent Time’s Up which continues to spread and make ground.
The yoga world spoke up, too, through the initiative of Rachel Brathen and her collation and publishing of the #MeToo Stories and subsequent articles in the big hitters like Yoga Journal. These stories were at the very least disturbing and concerning and at the other end of the scale completely horrifying and distressing. How could a world, a path, a practice priding itself on serving physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and well-being be so implicated in the undoing of that? Not just an undoing but an outright abuse of what yoga as a life path and practice stands for.
Amongst heard voices are many still silent, hidden, unheard for reasons varying from shame and embarrassment to powerlessness and confusion. Women and girls struggling to come to terms with what has happened to them or even to understand – both inside and outside of the yoga world. It’s strange to think that on one level I feel grateful that nothing extreme has happened to me, and yet there are times that I still try and fathom past experience of what I call emotional abuse on the rare occasions that I speak about it.
This year of 2018 is said to be the year it all changes, that women are empowered to stand up, to speak out, and, perhaps most of all, to feel supported by one another and by men, too. Yoga has a huge role in this, not least in its ability to self-empower and to cultivate self-love, and, importantly, for the yoga world to rise above its abusive individuals. It might once have been solely the realm of men, but now yoga is a path and practice enabling all these movements to happen and to thrive – in all corners of the world and for women as much as for men.
Here are six different ways yoga serves us and these campaigns through nurturing self-empowerment and self-love:
- Asana (the physical practice): simply by moving the body we can begin to free ourselves from constraints (anything from blame and shame to inadequacy and failure) placed on us by our own minds, by others in our environment or wider social and cultural settings. Whether it’s a Restorative practice or a Vinyasa Flow, the postures and transitions can tap into strength, resilience, openness, acceptance and so many other things. Warrior postures and Goddess stance, in particular, relate directly to ideas of self-empowerment, love for oneself and a deep sense of respect.
- Pranayama (the breath work): connecting as deeply as possible with the breath is a critically important part of centring and grounding the body, both of which feed directly to inner strength, security and stability. The breath can also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, thus calming and restoring the body and mind from stressful or anxiety inducing situations and enabling a return to a more centred and grounded place. It enables us to stand in our own power and exist as we are, unburdened by the outside influence of others.
- The Chakras: connecting to these energy centres through asana, pranayama or other body and/or spiritual work can be yet another way of nurturing self-empowerment and self-love and associated states. The Root, Solar Plexus, Heart, Throat and Third Eye Chakras are arguably the most valuable in that they connect directly with areas which cultivate the above. Working with the Throat Chakra, for example, can help unlock our voice or what we’ve been afraid of speaking about.
- Meditation: by making space within the mind we create openings for the things we most need and remove blocks which are inhibiting us. It’s not always a simple practice, but even a few minutes meditating brings forth the elements of ourselves we most need to tap into our strength, to be vulnerable, to speak up, to stand in our truth.
- Ahimsa (Non-harming or Non-violence): the first of the Yamas (or Observances) can be interpreted in many ways, but addressing non-violence or non-harm towards ourselves is essential if we are to live with empowerment. Removing our own harsh voices (and sometimes self-harming actions) and committing to serving ourselves in the best way we can is vital.
- Satya or Truth(fulness): the second of the Yamas, includes our own truth. That is, living our truth, speaking our truth, acting our truth (experiences, feelings, concerns and so much more). If we can value our own truth (part of which is that we are all powerful and loving beings already) and can share it with the world, we nourish ourselves and we pave the path for others like ourselves to do the same. And what is more empowering than that?
What aspects of yoga helps you to feel empowered and serve yourself up with love? Thoughts on the #MeToo or Times Up movements? I’d love to hear them.