Our friend Raechel took some time out of her busy schedule this summer to write a guest blog post combining two of her primary passions: Yoga and Feminism. As yoga afficinados and opponents of oppression we were interested to hear her thoughts and thought you might be too. Thanks for sharing Raechel!
Raechel is a professor of communication and gender studies. She is also a yoga teacher, yoga practitioner, activist, and cat-lady. She blogs about vegan food, fitness, yoga, body positivity, and social justice at Rebel Grrrl Living (www.rebelgrrlkitchen.com).
Feminism and Yoga
“Feminist hurt. We might say if hurt brings us to feminism, feminism can also hurt (from feminist hurt to feminism hurts). We might let ourselves be hurt all over again.” -Sara Ahmed
“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” -BKS Iyengar
I came to feminism before I came to yoga, but my forays into both were borne of a common thread: pain. I came to feminism because I was a feisty activist who understood that the oppression of the poor and working-class, was connected to the oppression of people of color, was connected to the oppression of animals, was connected to the oppression of women, (etc.). But more importantly, I came to feminism because, as a woman, I felt that oppression in my own body. I carried with me a history that many women carry, full of sexual violence, disordered eating, body dysmorphia, and fear. Feminism offered a way to make sense of my pain, although not always a way to heal from it. Feminism taught me how to channel my anger toward the system of patriarchy, but I could still feel the residue of trauma lingering in my bones.
About five years after I began identifying as a feminist, I finally gave yoga a real chance. I had taken classes here and there, but always felt like I’d rather be running or kickboxing. At first, yoga didn’t feel like I was working hard enough—and as a fitness enthusiast, spending time on anything that didn’t leave me feeling exhausted seemed like a waste. I don’t know if it was my entrance into grad school, a bad breakup, or just age, but at twenty-four, I was finally ready to treat my body to something that felt restorative rather than depleting.
It started with Bikram. The sweaty energy I experienced in those first 90 minutes got me hooked on the feeling of detoxification. I spent almost two years practicing at the studio nearly every single day. I eventually found my way to a heated Vinyasa class, and was so enamored with the flow that, about a year later, I became a yoga teacher myself. Regardless of the format, I felt yoga release things in my body that I had been clinging to. Through yoga, I learned—in the deep twist of Parivrtta Utkatasana, in the quivering relief of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, in the heart-pounding surrender of Ustrasana—how to let go.
At first glance, it might appear that (my experience with) feminism is antithetical to (my experience with) yoga. The former, for me, meant anger and struggle, and the latter meant peace and surrender. But these lines can not be drawn so distinctly. Indeed the feminism with which I identify (radical, in classroom or the streets) does support anger. But so too does yoga. The quote from BKS Iyengar highlighted above reminds us that some things cannot be cured, and that yoga teaches us how to endure those things. We have yet to find an easy “cure” to patriarchy, so I find ways to endure it. Sometimes that endurance means being angry. Yoga reminds us that we must sit with whatever feelings we are experiencing, and that whatever those feelings are, they are neither “good” nor “bad.” Conversely, feminism has made me aware of my body in ways that help me focus my attention in a yoga class. And it was a combination of both yoga and feminism that helped me better love and accept my body.
For me, the relationship between feminism and yoga is clear. Both are often come to by people in pain, and both teach us about connection. Whether it is a feminist lesson about the connection of oppression, or the yogic lesson about the union of all beings, I have found in both a sense of oneness.
Sometimes feminism hurts, and sometimes it heals. Sometimes yoga heals, and sometimes it hurts. Both mediums desire to change the world for the better. The means of creating that change might seem different at first, but I think we need both…
We need to keep fighting, but we need to also to keep breathing.