Towards Dancing with the Opposite

By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | May 25, 2024

COMMENTS

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In response to my last blog When Masculinity Dominates Women’s Yoga Practice, a few of the comments suggested that strong practices could be feminine depending on how you define that term – which is accurate. Particularly if you are equating feminine with Shakti – the powerful force of nature.

So, just to be clear, I do not equate women with passivity and men with strength, rather those are traditionally, in the western world at least, considered feminine and masculine polar qualities – regardless of gender – which manifest as a spectrum. I don’t think deciding whether a practice is masculine or feminine is so much about specific poses, rather it’s about the bhavana, the intention, behind the approach to the practice.

The largely unconscious cultural worldview that values strength, effort, pushing, and increasing physical performance and devalues relaxation and inner exploration has dominated the discourse and practice of westernized yoga for about 30 years has left little room for other approaches. I say this as someone who has been out there at classes, workshops, conferences, and trainings in the west since the mid 70s (well, classes since the mid 70s, I didn’t start doing trainings and workshops till the 90s and that’s when I started noticing the shift).

After living in Asia for 4 years in the early 90s, I came back and started taking classes in the US. And what I experienced kinda blew me away. When I practiced yoga in the 70s and 80s, it was mostly slow and internal. Admittedly, the poses were a bit sloppy and there was no fashion or spandex – just lots of oversized t-shirts and white cotton pants – and as much focus on pranayama and meditation as there was on asanas.

It was hippie-fied.

I loved it and I wanted more, so I went to Japan for a few years so I could make enough money teaching English to travel to India to study, which I finally got to do from 1994-1995. And when I got back to the U.S. things had changed dramatically.

There was now fashion involved, yoga “studios” (previously the studios were dance or aerobics), mirrors, and body image issues. The focus had shifted to an intense level of precise asana practice with little or no breathing or meditation. The fitness culture had taken over.

It made me question what had happened to the old style and why this new approach was getting so popular so fast.

In retrospect, it was simply plugging into what was happening culturally at the time, and continues today – the valuing and celebration of more, bigger, better. Fortunately, over the past 5 years or so, there’s been some pushback and other approaches have been at least acknowledged. Still, the spotlight of attention largely remains focused on the effortful, accomplishment-oriented stuff.

a woman in a pigeon pose with spotlights shining down on her

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Masculine and Feminine

Cosmologically, in the Hatha, Raja Yoga and other Vedic traditions there is a fundamental polarity in the expressed universe – usually it’s called Shiva/Shakti or Purusa/Prakriti, the Vaisnava’s call it Krishna/Radha. Ontologically or microcosmically it’s expressed as ida/pingala at least in the Tantric traditions.

a line drawing of Shiva and Shakti next to a line drawing of the ida and pingala in a meditator

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Those poles are also often defined as masculine and feminine. The point of yoga practice is to break down the polarities and bring the two together – the ha and the tha, the sun and the moon, the masculine and the feminine.

Necessarily, they are imbalanced within us (otherwise what would be the point of human existence?), and the imbalance is also reflected across the social systems – the world is an imbalanced place. We see that playing out all the time through wars, oppression, domination, subjugation, politics, and the imbalance of resources.

I would suggest that the world needs more people to practice yoga with the focus on prama (balance), and more education externally to support the transformation of the dominant worldview which values individual accomplishment and the accumulation of resources over interdependence and community support and care.

I believe yoga teachers can be integral in helping to create greater balance in individuals and society through teaching the system of yoga.

But in order for us to be able to focus on balance, we have to first acknowledge that there’s an imbalance. In terms of yoga practice, I’m not so concerned with labeling particular poses, like a handstand, as masculine or feminine, rather, I’m concerned with a more balanced approach to practice.

an image of the author leading a group in a yoga practice. They are standing with arms held out to the sides

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Over the past 30 years or so in the west, the approach has largely been about the domination and subjugation of the body. The body is seen as another territory to conquer. Some call this worldview “toxic masculinity.” And, in this worldview, the body fits neatly into the “conquer it” category.

My work is about helping folks subvert that paradigm and learn to value the practice that helps them approach the body with curiosity, exploration, and friendship – you can do that, depending on who you are, in just about any pose you wish. If you like, you can call that a more balanced, or even feminine approach.

I’m not saying that masculinity is inherently toxic, it’s only toxic when it obliterates its polar opposite rather than dancing with it towards balance.

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Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

Doors will be opening to the Subtle Yoga Resilience Society next month. Join the waitlist now and if you choose to join us, you’ll receive a bonus class from my online teacher training course.

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