Despite the gender we identify ourselves with, we are actually both—man and woman.
When we fail to acknowledge our vast energetic system, we may feel chronically out of balance. Besides working on our physical health through conscious eating and fitness, it’s equally important to pay attention to our subtle energies if we desire to live a healthy life.
I’m assuming we can all agree on the fact that we came from a man and a woman. Despite certain chromosomes expressing themselves as predominantly male or female, we come from both—equally.
According to yoga philosophy, the male energy is known as Shiva and the female energy is known as Shakti. The male energy is symbolized by the sun and the feminine by the moon. These complementary channels on either side of the body are known as Nadis (the word meaning a stream) though which Prana (life force) circulates.
The feminine channel, known as Ida Nadi governs the left side of the body. The masculine channel known as Pingala Nadi governs the right side of the body. One of the goals of yoga is to bridge the gap between the masculine and feminine and reach the central channel which is called Shushumna Nadi that provides us a clear and joyful mind for meditation and self-realization.
Regardless of gender, each of us contains masculine and feminine energy. Logic, planning, and structure fall under the masculine. Ways of being such as rigor, discipline, and control also fall under this category. The masculine is a necessary trait, for it supports the growth of a balanced ego, financial stability, family, shelter, and organization. I like to visualize the masculine component of ourselves as a giant perfectly shaped glass container. Too much container results in a hardening or stiffness and lack of flow. This can manifest as tight muscles, digestive trouble, holding grudges, and unreasonable anger.
The feminine part of ourselves is perhaps more subtle in a society that is highly ego driven. It is governed by intuition, receptivity, dreams, and emotion. This is a necessary counterbalance to the masculine. I like to visualize the feminine part of ourselves as a watery liquid—it flows, and it must be contained otherwise it is dispersed. Dispersed feminine energy may feel like being out of control, ungrounded, irritable, and lonely.
When we operate primarily from our masculine side, we may feel tired, stressed, overworked or unloved as a result. When we feel overworked, moving about life on autopilot, too much in our heads and not enough in our bodies, and/or we are experiencing a lack of intimacy in our lives, it is likely a re-fuel of the feminine is in order.
The reason I am passionate about this subject is because I was living so deep in my masculine energy for so many years that I actually mistook it as my feminine! For nearly 10 years of my adult life, I lived alone. I chose to move across the country by myself, build my own business and pay my own rent, regardless of various opportunities I had to be in relationship or work with others. I was committed and independent, and to me, I was a strong feminine woman. I followed a very strict eating regimen and checked my weight at the same time each day. I practiced yoga at the same time every morning and felt very successful in doing so. I was celibate and proud.
Perhaps I was strong or courageous in one sense, however I was severely lacking in my ability to receive. I was constantly thinking, doing, planning, and the idea of softening never crossed my mind, and if it did, my logical mind would laugh at it. That laughter, I later realized, was fear—fear of my own ability to truly feel into each moment. I was in self-isolation mode and full-on denial.
I remember at one point I felt like I had lost all of my emotions. My mind was a one-track mind, and I was so identified with it that almost nothing could penetrate it. I experienced high levels of anxiety, an eating disorder, and insomnia as a result.
Knowing that yoga urges the cohesion of the sun and moon parts of ourselves so we can experience our true nature, I decided to start learning more about my feminine side. I didn’t just wake up and choose it; I’ve experienced a great deal of support and inspiration from friends, mentors, life experiences, books and most importantly, my current partner.
Here are some of the practices to establish Shiva and Shakti balance:
Laughter is the highest form of spirituality, in my opinion. The heart is wide open, the belly is filled with oxygen, and it is a complete cleanse for the energetic system. Laughter softens us and allows us to be more present and therefore receptive.
2. Own your sensuality.
Do you even know how you like to be touched? What smells do you love? What is your favorite food? What do you love to look at? What music entices your ears? Bathe yourself in all the things that excite your senses. Give yourself the gift of sensuality. Be slow and feel.
3. Get into nature.
Nature is the perfect example of masculine and feminine balance. Just look at a tree. Those roots are pretty deep and are essential otherwise the tree will not be able to stand. The leaves, however, are dancing around. They are contained by the branches which are contained by the roots. All parts are equally necessary.
4. Move into relationship.
Being in relationship has been my greatest teacher—I had to surrender and pretty much destroy my former self in order to be in it fully. Instead of subscribing to the mental thought wave that I am “losing my freedom” by being in relationship, I chose to focus on what I’m gaining. I have learned more about myself, my habits, my fears, and my desires by being with someone than I had by being alone. We are wired to be connected with other people and other people serve as a mirror.
The feminine aspect of relationship comes when two people pay attention to the relationship’s energy instead of rushing to label it. I recently overheard a couple on a first date talking about marriage and kids. Relationships have a frequency of their own, and slowing down and tuning into that is a skill only the feminine can allow.
Travel takes us out of our routines and out of our minds. Be spontaneous. I don’t suggest on partaking in a pre-planned tour for this exercise. Go somewhere you have never been and don’t stay in a hotel. Rent an Air B & B or stay with a local family. Eat the local food. Go out and make new friends. Trust your intuition as you find yourself in a new place.
6. Alternate Nostril Breathing.
Alternate nostril breathing, otherwise known as Nadi Shodhana, is an uplifting and calming breathing practice that works in just a few minutes. This practices works directly with the right and left sides of the body and brain to cultivate harmony and mental clarity. It helps us clear blocked energy streams in the body.
Sit comfortably with a tall spine. Place your left hand on your lap, palm face up or face down. With your right hand, fold down your index and middle finger so they are gently touching the center of your palm. Place your ring finger on your left nostril and softly close the nostril. Take a deep slow breath in through your right nostril. When the breath is full, then gently switch and release your left nostril and close off your right nostril with your thumb. Close your eyes. Take a long, slow exhale through your left nostril. When the lungs are empty, keep the hand as it is and take another deep breath in through your left nostril. When you reach the top, repeat by switching to exhale through your right. Inhale again through your right nostril, switch fingers, and exhale through your left. Repeat. Five minutes per day is all you need.
Both energies—masculine and feminine—are vital for our health. We must create a strong container and also tap into our ability to flow and adapt to change. We must learn to be open to opportunities that we may not have pre-planned in our minds.
We must see the big picture, soften into the mystery, and breathe as we go about our daily tasks.
It is quite a beautiful dance when you catch a glimpse.
Author: Shayna Hiller
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Angela Marie Henriette/Flickr