Lately I’ve ramped up my yoga practice, going to hot yoga two times a week for the past month or so. The net result is that I feel stronger in my body, my muscles are lean and toned, and there is a sense of embodiment that carries me through my attempts at graceful movement on and off the mat.
The sense of accomplishment that accompanies the discipline it takes to chaturanga-up-dog-down-dog my way through a 90 minute yoga class two times a week is a sense that continues to serve me when I do things like write a blog post for this, my virtual home.
During class I remind myself of lessons from my distance swimming days: There is a long way to go. Pace your energy output with mind to incrementally raise it. You will sprint at the end of the race. Remember that.
In swimming we’d warm down with a few hundred yards of calm freestyle after the race. Yoga’s approach to rest is much more blunt. We do nothing. Savasana. We lay on our backs and release ourselves completely. Gravity takes us. Every single benefit of every single movement and its accompanying breath is stored within us by this act of utter yin surrender. When we complete corpse pose, we have symbolically come back from the dead. We are fully revitalized.
Calendar of Moons
When to sow my seeds
when to wax
tend to the garden
by your light alone
always gently guiding
This gently imparted knowledge of activity and repose becomes more profound the more I deepen my yoga asana practice. We can notice that yoga is an effective discipline because it echoes the cycles of nature. There is a rich mine of wisdom in the science of yoga, but what I want to hone in on here is the cycle of the waxing and waning of the Moon. I want to talk about woman.
Over the course of my yoga adventure I have become aware of the difference in energetic quality of holding space when a man is leading the class, and the same quality contrasted when a woman is leading the class.* Women seem to be able to hold open a markedly present invisible yet palpable energetic space for the deepening of the subtle spiritual process that happens during a yoga class. In astrology, this relates to the Moon’s association (rulership, really, but that’s too hard a word for a curved topic) with women. Women are born with the physical capacity to hold and develop budding life within the womb.
Down and pulling are the direction and sensation associated with birth, which happens in the space of the lower chakras. In savasana, the message is the earth receives what you give it, unyieldingly. The earth as a symbol of femininity is the vessel within which we are able to reach the depths of our souls.
When we constantly privilege the higher chakras over the lower ones without periodically checking in with ourselves, which by the way is another cycle mandated by physiological femininity*, we may begin to assign values which urge us to always be moving toward the head without acknowledging the need to take refuge in the lower part of our bodies, where life develops.
Taken too far, we may begin to lose touch with our instincts, our sense of rootedness, “the ancestral root from which we emerge and the spiritual source to which we return.”**
However, if we begin to meditate on these ideas we will notice that as we recognize the importance of how we are rooted and sustained by our lower chakras. So, our understanding grows and with it our reverence for our lower parts, through which we enter the world.
In my second yoga class this week, the female teacher opened the class by directing us to sit cross legged, sit bones sinking into the floor, and to put our right hand over our heart and left hand on top of it. She asked us to craft an intention for the class, anything we like, didn’t have to be yoga related. She guided us to imagine that intention as a seed being planted in the dark of our hearts and to rub our chests in small circles with the palms of our hands as we imagined that seed taking root.
When we met once again in our cross legged seats after savasana, she guided us to put our hands back over our hearts and to imagine that the seed we planted was beginning to grow a green sprout, then more green shoots, until it became a luscious plant of realized intention. We warmly massaged our chests and our seeds as she told us that the practice we just completed was benefiting all beings. I imagined all the other yogis who practice when I am not practicing, and how their practice benefits all beings too, and I was grateful for that.
p.s. That I have alluded to and yet excluded a full discussion of men’s capacity to hold space in a way similar to what I have described above is not lost on me. I intend to revisit this idea. The reader is invited to take up this line of thought in the comments.
*You will forgive me my ignorance on the gender discussion here. I aim to be increasingly studied in that area. If you know something about this and want to help me expand my horizons on the field of gender by sharing your knowledge or recommending an article or book, I invite you to e-mail me at atlas astrology [at] gmail [dot] com.
** quotation from Origin of House Meanings part II by Deborah Houlding
second image: Denis Bocque on Flickr Commons : https://www.flickr.com/photos/66944824@N05/6347080221
third image: Bird Lady, “Brooklyn NY Nov-2005 0023 7” by www.ancient-egyptian.com. Licensed under Copyrighted free use via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_NY_Nov-2005_0023_7.jpg#/media/File:Brooklyn_NY_Nov-2005_0023_7.jpg