Balancing of Energies
Ashtanga Yoga can easily be stripped of its femininity; because of the vinyasa element (and other arm balances and strength work) it is easy to focus on the strength work and make the practice too masculine. Ashtanga Yoga has a feminine side too! When the practice is taught as a strict militant form working the strength aspect of the practice too much, the masculine energy is thrown out of balance–as it is in our society today (we are taught to always work harder, push harder, get up earlier, etc.). Feminine energy is nurturing and receptive. By keeping the feminine energy in the practice we allow our practice to nurture us and we are also more receptive to the poses influencing us.
A way to keep the feminine energy in the ashtanga practice is to relax during the asana. Do not try to push or pull yourself deeper while in the state of the pose. Just breathe. No muscular effort while holding the pose; instead allow your breath to make space in your body. Feel your breath stretch your body. Surrender to the pose; when you surrender there is nothing else you need to do. So don’t work too hard, but do the work. Daily practice is the work, sun salutes and vinyasas will keep the masculine energy in the practice and by relaxing in the asana and being receptive to it you will find the feminine energy, balancing the energies in the practice. In this way the practice will nurture you and make you stronger all at the same time.
Perhaps this will carry off our mat as well and we will learn how to find that balance in our society, we have been trained to always push harder, to not listen to our bodies and push through–this is too much of the masculine energy. If we can keep the balance between strength and surrender; receptivity in our lives, we would feel more peaceful. Perhaps this would lead to less wars?
Uniting of Energies
The uniting of opposing energies is basically what tantra is. Tantra means tool or method, tantra is a method to unite and balance our opposing energies. For example:
- effort with ease
- dedication with aloofness
- humor with seriousness
- masculinity with femininity
- work with play
Tantra is very mis-understood, it is not about sex, although it does think sex is a good method to unite and balance masculine and feminine energies 😉 But this is only one method, there are many other methods to keep our masculine and feminine energies in balance AND there are many other energies we need to keep in balance.
A little side note on yoga and tantra: Yoga has been stripped of its tantric roots by the Hindu Orthodoxy (and most religions in general seek to increase the masculine while keeping down the feminine). In tantra women are held just a wee bit higher in esteem than men. Society is threatened by this and many of the religions and governments in general have tried to change this. Religions take the power away from the women by trying to control sex, if a man does not need sex then women have no power over him. This is why sex has been given a bad name–every religion says we should have very little of it and if you need it (to make a baby, etc) well then don’t enjoy it too much! This has imposed some faulty wiring within us on something that is good for us. Brahmacharya (in the first limb, the Yamas, of ashtanga yoga) has been said to mean celibacy–but literally translating Brahmancharya means staying connected to source, or I have heard it explained as dedication to the divinity of Life. Brahma = God, Acharya = one who teaches by example.
The lesson with Brahmacharya is to keep you focused on your purpose in life, to keep balance with work and play. Too much pleasure pulls us away from our life’s purpose, too much work makes us grumpy and we miss out on the splendor of this life. So brahmacharya is about balance–moderation in all things.