Yoga in a Yang-Oriented World
Yoga is a practice that has been around for millennia, but its evolution and understanding have been shaped by the culture and society in which it is practiced. Historically, there was a period in Indian history where women were not allowed to practice yoga and schools were filled with men. This raises the question of whether yoga is inherently a feminine practice or if it is meant to be accessible to all individuals regardless of gender. In this article, we will delve into the relationship between the masculine and the feminine in yoga, exploring the concepts of “yin” and “yang” and the balance and harmony they represent. We will also examine the role of the body as a tool for deeper self-discovery.
Eugenie Peterson, who later became known as Indra Devi, was admitted into Krishnamacharya’s “Yogashala” or yoga school in India in 1937, making her the first female pupil and the first western woman to attend an Indian ashram. Despite evidence of women informally practicing yoga in India’s rich and diverse history, in the early 1900s, it was rare to see women in formal yoga study. This seems to be a little-known fact in the west as it contradicts the common misconception that yoga is a feminine practice, with U.S. classrooms often filled with mostly women. Yoga is an ancient and diverse practice, with origins dating back thousands of years before Jesus Christ. Although the actual practices of yoga were rarely documented before modern times, its philosophies were documented in texts such as the Yoga Sutras and the Baghavad Gita. The endorsement by the Mysore India royal family for Krishnamacharya’s yoga school played a pivotal role in the modernization of yoga. Photographs from Krishnamacharya’s yoga classroom show that it was regularly filled with only men or adolescent boys. The privilege of studying yoga at the Mysore Palace was often reserved for the upper class. It was used for both physical and spiritual advancement, as a tool for achieving optimal health and for reaching a deeper understanding of the divine. Additionally, it was also used to groom young aristocrats to be well-cultured, disciplined, and physically prepared for martial arts and officer military training. In short, yoga is a practice of empowerment, and if there is a system of social inequalities, such as a class system, those in power would want to keep it out of the hands of the lower class.
When exploring the relationship between the masculine and the feminine on an energetic level, the Chinese and Taoist terms “yin” and “yang” can be useful in understanding a duality of balance and harmony rather than using opposites as a divisive dichotomy. Yin and yang represent the universal complimenting opposites of the cosmos that balance each other. So much of reality relies on revolutions between these sorts of opposites, like the earth spinning on a north pole and a south pole, or the flow of electricity between the split of positive and negative charges.
In the Yin-Yang symbol, yin is represented by black and yang by white, blending together by following each other and occupying one another’s space. Humans regularly experience these energies of yin as feminine and yang as masculine. We can understand these forces as fluid regardless of our sex or gender while still maintaining one’s core sexual essence. The debate remains whether an individual should strive to be 100% balanced between masculine and feminine energies internally or simply be aware of the dance between these energies in and around us. To gain a better understanding, I recommend reading The Tao Te Ching, the primary text of the religion Taoism with more English translations than the Christian Bible.
When I began my yoga teacher training I felt a natural inclination to grow my hair out as a representation of yin energy, to balance my yang core. This choice, while considered feminine or affiliated with “hanging loose” as opposed to uptight, was influential to creating balance within myself. Through my journey, I learned my masculine essence appreciates the feminine, including the feminine or yin that I find within myself.
We live in a yangoriented culture and Americans, in particular, are dying from stress. Western yoga teachers often emphasize softness, yin, as a means of balancing rigidity, yang. Some would say the ultimate goal of yoga is selfactualization through the yoking of the many layers of the self. In the words of Sat Purusha, “Yoga is not about achievement. It is not about competition or being better, but it is about challenge with yourself.”
For me, yoga has been a source of relief. If we consider flexibility to be yin and tension and contraction to be yang, I personally needed to work on my flexibility. This became apparent to me in high school through proverbial flashing emergency lights of sports-related injuries. I loved weightlifting. Later I realized that flexibility and strength are not mutually exclusive. In reality, strength is a skill to be practiced and strength is only relative to the movement that we are training. The generation of force relies on flexibility for range of motion. Elasticity of muscles results in resilience. Yoga can introduce individuals to a new form of strength, focused on stability and durability.
By embracing the balance between yin and yang, you can expand your understanding and experience of yoga and improve your own practice. Many people have migrated to the beaches of Galveston to escape the stress of daily life, but true contentment can only be found when we address our internal reality and prioritize our physical and mental well-being. Incorporating self-care and meditation practices can help us find balance and fulfillment in our daily lives, rather than relying solely on external factors for contentment. Meditation, as a practice, can take many forms. Be open to explore different methods and find what resonates with you.