many thanks for task 29. Below you can find my answer to the equation and further down the instructions for Task 30.
Reflections Task 29 – Yoga + Female=?
Reflection 1: If there ever was a can of worms, this is the one! I have no idea where to start, and I am worried that whatever I say or do will inevitably cause offense. This probably says quite a lot already!
Reflection 2: I decide to take menstruation as the most obvious way in, most obvious to me that is! Menstruation, pregnancy and more generally ‘women’s health’ is an area that is well covered by Iyengar Yoga. There are clear do and dont’s, but then again there is discrepancy in the way these guidelines are followed.
Memory: In classes with Silvia, we had to go and tell her when we had our period. Then she would ask: ‘Beginning, middle or end?’ and according to the answer she would say something like ‘take it easy today’. If you were found out doing strenuous standing poses on the first day of your menstruation, you would get a proper told off. In a class with another teacher I trained though, any aberration from the class she was teaching was unacceptable.Everybody was doing like everybody else and if you had your period and didn’t feel well, you should have stayed at home!
Reflection 3: There was something empowering about going to Silvia and letting her know about my menstrual cycle. There was an intimacy I enjoyed but also a sense of pride: yes, everything is working, everything is tick-tocking, I am a woman and yoga is doing me good.
As my way into the task, I revisited the short essay The Practice of Women During the Whole Month written by Geeta Iyengar and published by the Iyengar Yoga Association UK in 2009. This was probably a lecture Geeta gave for an Indian audience but through its publication it also reached practitioners in the UK.
Reflection 4:I am surprised to find that Geeta sounds a bit tentative at the beginning, maybe she had the same walking-on-egg-shells feeling that I got when I received the task. She asserts that ‘as far as the practice of yoga is concerned, there is no difference between men and women’ (2009: 1). And then she continues: ‘however, we must recognise some basic differences as far as the biological body is concerned’ (2009: 1). The question then is ‘how we adapt the practice so that it brings a proper balance’ (Iyengar 2009: 1). The rest of the essay gives a brief account of the hormonal changes that the female body undergoes during a month and then offers suggestions and programmes of practice specific to the various points of the menstrual cycle.
Reflection 5 (With apologies for over-sharing): I roughly calculate that I am in the middle of my menstrual cycle, and since I haven’t experienced problems with my fertility, I can do all the poses without adjustments. Again, there is a sense of empowerment and pride: I feel good that I am able to take care of myself and that I am doing something which seems designed to keep me healthy, and would I wish for it, fertile.
By this time, the equation is looking something like this: Yoga + Female = Mother.
Reflection 6: In view of the psychological and physical toll that infertility can take on men and women, it would feel callous to find anything wrong with this. What can be at fault with a practice that has a good understanding of the reproductive system, it is non-invasive and can help with the maintenance or restoration of hormonal balance?
But something nags me.
Reflection 7: There is something Apollonian in the equation. I see in it the glow of health, I hear in it the laughter of children (to come), I sense in it the deep satisfaction that comes from a body that works well. Hormonal imbalance is to be treated; yearnings, misfits, bad moods, pains and aches are to be minimised; the body, and with it the woman who owns, is, and takes care of this body, needs to be regulated.
Reflection 8: Add a bit of early Foucault in the mix, and the equation turns into a recipe for governmentality. Yoga becomes a method for disciplining the (female) population. But this is early Foucault and if anything, we know now, as Foucault understood, that there can be (em)power(ment) in discipline. But the nagging continues.
Reflection 9: It crystallizes around a sense that not enough space is made for suffering. Not that yoga shields one from it. Rather, that the practice does not offer the space to sit with it, to acknowledge it, to see it, to find meaning in it.
Why am I surprised? Yoga, is after all, supposed to shed light onto our darkness. But what happens to our darkness, I ask? Does it by default remain that which we are running away from, one sun salutation at a time?
Task 30 – Lore (Invented)
Publications on yoga asanas tend to consist of photographs and written text. This often describes how the posture needs to be done, then there is a list of the health benefits and in some cases there is a bit of information on the name of the posture and its position within the Hinduist pantheon. B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga is probably the first publication that set up this model.
With this task I would like to invite you to invent your own lore for postures of your own choice. Feel free to arbitrate on what a posture may be good for, when it should or should not be done, which parts of your culture it might echo and which aspects of your history it is connected to. You have to choose existing postures, but you can choose any ones you want. You have total freedom as to what can go in the text.