Strong, Vulnerable, Women
March 8, 2013 § 8 Comments
Sometimes I wonder if the Ashtanga asana sequence is too masculine for women. Too hard. Too energetic. Too rajasic. Usually these doubts arise the week before my holiday when everything else feels hard anyway. And then it dissipates and I get reacquainted with the versatility of this practice, with the myriad ways that one can use this tool to work with the body in a way that’s suitable for a particular period of time. Fewer vinyasas perhaps, or longer holds, anything that helps me to flow through the sequence in a way that’s either nourishing or challenging, depending on the day.
The practice builds strength. It took me a while to realize that this strength isn’t just physical – it’s also mental and emotional, the latter coming from learning to embrace one’s weaknesses and vulnerability. Women are vulnerable, yet somehow we’ve learnt that it’s not cool to show our vulnerability, that in order to be taken seriously in this world we need to put up an armor, be like one of the boys, wipe off those tears and meet life head-on. That’s the message I grew up with anyway, being raised by a plethora of strong female role models both at home and in school, all of them adherents to the mantra of “get on with it”. I recognize that my Asian heritage – where we (men and women) are raised to hide our emotions and be annoyingly opaque – has something to do with this, but I also have a suspicion that it’s also an unintended result of the suffrage movement – “You want to work? Sure! Just don’t complain!”.
The Ashtanga corollary to this is the “push push push” mentality among really driven Ashtanginis. That ambitious drive to do xxx-asana just as well as that dude on the next mat or to progress as far (or even further than) men. Yes, we certainly are just as capable as men in many ways, but I think it’s a little misguided to expect that we can get all “bootcamp instructor” on ourselves, ignoring (or pausing) our cycles, in the name of “progress” on the mat, and expect our bodies to be just fine with that. It sounds more like a denial of what it means to be a woman than an affirmation of it, and I suspect that this is partly due to a lack of conversation around what it means to be a woman doing Ashtanga today. It’s difficult, I know, because we’re built differently with unique constitutions, but surely there must be a big enough pool of women practitioners with stories to share? I’m talking about stories like: practicing with endometriosis/PCOS, practicing with (despite) menopause, practicing after pregnancy and losing all that weight, and so on. Am I missing something? Perhaps there’s a blog or community out there that currently does this? Please share in the comments if you know of anything.
Anyway. I am off to start a weekend with Nancy Gilgoff, who would know a thing or two about practicing Ashtanga as a woman and using the practice to meet your needs. I guess this was a long-winded way of wishing all the women who read this blog a happy International Women’s Day. Rock on.