As some might know, my Master’s degree is in Women’s & Gender Studies. I’m also unapologetically (and proudly) a feminist. This identity of mine seeps into my instruction of yoga–and it’s not scary, I promise.
The “F word” (Feminism, not the other ”F word”) is contentious for a lot of people, even some feminists. Many still think of feminism as a “woman thing” or a cult of “man hating.” Well, guess what? It’s neither.
Noted feminist scholar, bell hooks, states:
Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and practice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to love.
The above definition of feminism is quite good, even though it is a bit dichotomous in that it only discusses men and women. I would broaden this definition by including transgender individuals and genderqueer folks.
Yoga, like feminism, is also committed to self-actualization, self-reflection, and empowerment. Yoga at its current state is almost predominantly practiced by women, however, it was initially “built” and practiced only by men.
Blogger Natalia Thompson discusses this further:
In the words of one feminist blogger, “Historically, yoga has belonged in the domain of men. It was developed by and for male bodies, and often draws on the language of male experience,” referring to the Warrior series of yoga poses. But I believe there is something subversive about striking a Warrior pose. And there is something beautiful about finding power—and peace—within your own body, whether through a round of Sun Salutations or through a long Pigeon pose.
It’s definitely subversive for women to practice these postures with names like, “King Pigeon” or “Lord of the Dance” or “Warrior 1, 2, 3.” I see it as a way of making the posture fit our bodies–and what is more empowering than reclaiming something that was initially steeped in patriarchal and misogynist rhetoric?
When I say that my feminism “seeps into” my yoga instruction, I don’t mean that I give dharma talks on feminist theoretical perspectives (though, how cool would that be?!) Instead, what I mean is that I pull from from various feminist concepts. For example, the notion that we all have certain privileges and we need to be accountable to these privileges. Yoga also delves into this. If you are able to practice yoga, you have privilege.
For me, feminism and yoga go together like spaghetti and marinara (sorry, dumb analogy, but I’m Italian!). I believe my yoga teaching is strengthened, because of my feminist studies and beliefs. Feminists who educate ourselves (or who go through traditional education in Women’s & Gender Studies) have a deeper understanding of oppression and its intersectionality–meaning the ways in which racism, classism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., play into one’s life. This deeper understanding, in turn, aids in building relationships with our students.
Yoga celebrates our differences. It’s only natural that feminism has a place in this.