February 5, 2016

Being a Woman & an Ashtanga Yogi.

author's photo - not for re-use (Mariela Cruz)

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Ashtanga is a very Yang practice.

Today I thank my moon days for a well-deserved break—space to meditate and have a deeper understanding of the effects of what I do.

I see at the shala here in Mysore and 80 percent are women. This is why it is so important to understand the lineage from the female’s point of view, and study with women who have experienced this practice on many levels. Not only in terms of asana, but of life.

One of my wise teachers in this path once told me that one has to practice thinking about longevity. We women have to contemplate if we want to have a family, and consider the effects of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood in our sadhana.

I know several advanced practitioners here who are approaching 40. Several of them have approached me to share their questions about motherhood. The biological clock is a reality, but it’s so hard to detach from an intense practice. We’d have to let go our physical Ashtanga practice for at least two years with each baby. 

Unfortunately, many women I’ve encountered contemplate things in the short term, and they deprive themselves of the most beautiful experience of a new life for vain images of spectacular yoga postures. However, sustaining postures is only temporary, so that’s really not the best way to make a decision.

For some of us, children will come—for others, they won’t. It’s not always our decision to make. However, I firmly believe that we must listen to our intuition. If you feel the desire to bring a soul into this world, you have to make space and prepare for that possibility. If that day arrives, great—and if it does’t, that’s okay too. That’s where Santosha works wonders in our path. That’s where we can see the real effect of our practice in life.

Practice without attachment to the results.

I hear stories of practitioners around here who do not respect their moon days. It makes me so sad. I see the ignorance of their teachers for not guiding them properly. The problem is that many teachers are men, and they may not understand the implications of going against nature. The female body is a universe, and as such, it has its sacred rules. The flow of energy in our bodies allows us to be givers of life, axles of our families and perennial caregivers—agents of change and evolution. Our flow demands resting during the moon days. It asks us to respect the internal rhythms—to listen, to be still and turn inward—to refresh our batteries.

It requires total rest from asana, and a mental break from the daily routine.

These breaks allow the body to function better afterward. They help to sustain a pregnancy later, if we do decide to receive a little soul, they will give us great pleasure in breastfeeding and a healthy postpartum. Female rhythms are like water flowing underground that deserves to be heard and taken care of. Otherwise, it has harmful effects on our psyche short and long term.

In indigenous cultures, women retire in the company of other women during those days of the month. They leave their children, work, the kitchen and all their obligations. They retire, because in those days we clean all the blood in our body. It has been scientifically proven that the uterus is an excretory organ. That’s why it’s not a good idea to go against the flow of apana. Apana is the energy that eliminates all waste from our bodies and minds all. During the month we clean our physical tissues, our emotions move—we sweat and cry. The moon days are a time for releasing. To practice goes totally against this natural flow of our bodies.

Here in India, it is also a sign of respect for the teacher to not enter the shala in these conditions. I have been to several ceremonies with shamans where they also ask not be present in those days. The energy of the master breaks down. The feminine energy is very powerful.

Besides “Ladies’ Holidays,” as they say here, and the prospect of pregnancy, it is important to know that this practice puts the body in a fertile mode. Of course, all the organs and tissues are rejuvenated, the digestive system, endocrine- reproductive system: everything is at its maximum potential. This is also important to know, so we can careful if we are not ready to procreate.

Guruji said that this practice culminates with the family: the Seventh Series. I’ve seen that during my years of practice, family allows us to get out of ourselves—our mindset, our asanas—and really implement what we do on the mat. I have beautiful examples of colleagues who really inspire me through their motherhood.

What more of a gift can we share from our bodies, from our energy from being pregnant, than the vibration of yoga with our little ones?

What a beautiful gift for us, and for them, to be a little more awakened every day.

The Bhagavad Gita says that of all the souls who embody evolution, the most advanced are the ones seeking families where yoga is practiced. It has been my experience in life, with my seven beautiful children, each a master in and of itself to me. I know that my practice of asana gives me many gifts, but it does not compare to their presence in my life.

I had to drop my “Third Series” three times with the last three pregnancies. Yes, it was a wait of nine years. But now my Series is more entrenched than before—I have more patience, humility and respect for my body, more mental strength and inspiration. I know my body is alive because I’ve seen and felt it bleed miraculously to life, and I know that its scars are trophies of the battles that I have given in my deliveries. Its wisdom is infinite, and I have learned to appreciate and thank deeply.

I always remember the story of an African culture where the woman wakes up in the morning with labor contractions. Without waking her husband or family, she goes to the river. She gives birth to her baby alone at dawn, and cuts the cord with her own hands.  She cleans her child, and she cleans herself and walks back to the village in triumph with her newborn in arms. She is received as a hero. But there is no drama and no fear—only celebration. This is the image of a warrior who has inspired me in my 25 years of motherhood. It is very sad to see how natural childbirth is falling into disuse in the newer generations—much fear, doubt and confusion.

This practice, I can assure you, gets rid all the conditioning that comes from a hospital system run by men, if that is what we desire. Here in India, for generations, babies were born at home. That is how Guruji was born. That is how souls have to enter into this world, through courageous mothers who leave their fears hanging outside. That’s what this practice prepares us for. It’s not comfortable at all—it is painful and piercing, but life is like that. It is full of paradoxes, and it’s a miracle—and we have the great privilege to have this opportunity to give life. It is a karma which opens a powerful ritual of initiation that there is no way to imagine until you live it.

Sharath said in his last conference: “Many ashtangis are in showing bones, they are not eating thinking about Marichyasana D. Or they are not eating thinking about a stereotype of how they should look or with the idea of coming to shala looking for a boyfriend.”

He said very clearly: “We must eat. You have to be healthy. We must be full of life and enthusiasm to give.”

And if life has it in our destiy to have a baby—a life that chooses us, because he knows we are ready—we have to say, “yes.”

A big “yes” to faith and detachment—and that is where all will come.


Author: Mariela Cruz

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Author’s own.

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