As, I get ready to teach a yoga workshop to teenage girls this month, I am reflecting on how my own practice started around that time in my life and planted to seeds of the most profound ride of my life.
I stumbled onto the path of Yoga while drinking in the East Village. I was fifteen. My friends and I were sitting on a stranger’s stoop when a group of college guys came out and, seeing a group of pretty teenage girls from the Upper East Side, invited us in to use their bathroom. Most people know that a teenage girl will probably pee five times before she gets through 40oz of malt liquor. They gave us beer that twenty year old guys could afford and fifteen year old girls couldn’t. My friends started flirting and I wandered back outside. I saw a free pile of books on the sidewalk and picked one up with a snake on the cover. I took it home that night. On the train ride home, I looked at my reflection in the train window and remember thinking that I looked dead with my translucent skin, huge blue veins, and pointy clavicle bones. At fifteen, my life was on a fast train towards burn out.
The next day I could barely get out of bed and luckily it was the weekend. I reached for the book I had picked up the night before and began to learn what a chakra is and that the essence of awakening is in arousing the power of the Kundalini, our vital energy which lies dormant at the base of the spine. The book was a poor translation of an early Tantric text, but it woke me up, at least for a moment.
As a teenage girl, I already knew that my body held power. I knew that if I wore a tight shirt, I could get into a club and that people would buy me drinks. In New York City, foreign businessmen proposed to me weekly. But, this was a revelation. Inside my body was also the potential for spiritual awakening and transformation. Not only that, but the divine energy that we wake up to in a Tantric Path is a feminine energy, often depicted as a sexy goddess with voluptuous breasts. Of course, she also has four to eight arms and carries various weapons, but it was a revelation to see an image of the divine that kind of looked like me, to enter a path that has a history of awakened practitioners that were my gender.
I had been told by the elder feminists in my life that my sex organs were something that would be used at will by men. I had two choices; to submit to the patriarchy or resist it. I was never taught that I could have an empowered relationship to my body or that my genitals could be seen as the most sacred part of my anatomy. This is why it was such a revelation to read that my potential for awakening, my kundalini shakti, or vital energy of awakening, was lying dormant at the base of my spine by my perineum. My divine essence was intimately connected with that same part of me that had always felt the most defiled.
It feels like I am coming full circle now and visiting some of the texts that called me to the path when I was fifteen. Beginning a spiritual practice planted a seed of a different possibility for my life, even if it was initially short-lived. My recent inspiration is a text called the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, which is written as a conversation between Bhairava, who symbolizes divine consciousness and Devi who symbolizes divine energy or creativity. This text offers one hundred and twelve meditations on the fundamental aspects of our life in a body. The breath, the taste of a ripe fruit, or the feeling of reuniting with a lover are all objects for meditation, opportunities to connect with our deeper nature through the vehicle of the senses.
I had the opportunity to immerse in study of this text with Paul Muller Ortega, a tantric scholar. According to him, in this path, our practices of yoga, self-study, and meditation are for the purpose of refining our physical and energetic systems so that we can express our innate divine qualities more fully. From a Tantric View, yoga practices and other forms of healing and personal growth serve to uncover and magnify our inherent wholeness, our inherent wisdom, our in inherent beauty.
Slowly, I am beginning to weave the rasa or essence of these teachings into my classes as I continue this amazing journey everyday that fills me with utter awe. Fourteen years later, I am diving headfirst into a path that called me in such a sweet way at a time that I could only dip my toes in.
Raia Manjula is a yogini and bodyworker living in the Bay Area with a deep love for joining the sacred and mundane in a practice that infuses all of life. Raia is currently working on a fictionalized memoir called Diary of a Spiritual Party Girl. See her website www.devihealingarts.com for more info on her work.