Women in Yoga

I am a 68 year old Yoga Teacher and Practioner. Not that age has anything to do with it because it doesn’t. It’s all about your embodied consciousness anyway. I only mention it because I have observed a lot in my Sadhana over a period of time.

I have a keynote presentation about the history of Yoga that I sometimes give in various Yoga Teacher Trainings I might be invited to teach both in person or on zoom. In these trainings, I get a lot of questions about the history of women in yoga. Most teacher training just talk about Patangeli and his Yoga Sutras which ultimately is very confusing because those sutras are Dual in Nature and lead students to believe that ultimate enlightenment is outside themselves somehow.
So I constantly get asked about Women in Yoga. You ask a male teacher in Yoga about Women and they stumble all over themselves because really they don’t have much of a clue.
Who are the examples of Empowered women yoga practitioners? How was their Sadhana different from the male version. How come things weren’t written down about them and if they were, how come they got destroyed? I took a course last year or so on Yogicstudies about women in Yoga. It turns out that because women were uneducated and living in the home raising children and families it was thought they weren’t doing any practices but actually thier whole lives was one big Sadhana and yoga practice with the earmarking of being a mother and wife as stages of Sadhana. The Sadhana of women and eventual enlightenment of women is most likely a very different path than that of men. In the 1980’s I read a book about Tibet Women called “Women of Wisdom” and it detailed very different paths of these woman which did include childbirth and being a mother as a very powerful evolutionary step in a female Sadhana and this really stayed with me because as a yoga mother, it completely resonated. In the 1980’s I also had a strong spiritual awakening and I had these little books ( usually printed in India) about Saints which I used to carry around in my purse and read when I became overwhelmed by my awakening. Mirabai, Akka Mahadevi, Laleshwari, and Gopaler Ma were a few I read over and over again. I also read about the Catholic Saints like Therese of Avila and others. Part of a practice I learned in the Siddha yoga meditation ashram I started going to in that era was to chant the Guru Gita which was an hour and half long chant in Sanskrit where Parvati ( a female practitioner) asked questions of Shiva ( her husband and teacher) . After chanting it everyday ( sometimes multiple times) for 28 years ( yes 28 years) and now sporadically still chanting it, I always had the sense that Parvati already knew the answers to her questions about becoming one with the universe but was just asking the questions for the benefit of others ( that would be me). The study ( Swadhaya which is a type of yogic practice ) of the Guru Gita is very mystical and deep, somethings mentioned in the Guru Gita did not become apparent to me for years and years ( a whole other post) . Meanwhile my point was that Parvati was a woman and she was doing Sadhana so she was kind of a heroine to me. I looked up to her, she was my role model.
Then later I learned more about some of the women Gurus and Saints of Shaiva Tantra in Kashmir and more about some of the Buddhist Tantric women practitioners.
As a woman yoga practitioner, I often felt that my only role models were these male teachers and for some reason male teachers had more attention, seeming viability, and followers than female teachers. I have practiced a lot of different styles of Yoga ranging from various Hatha Yoga Asana methods, Meditation, Contemplation, Seva selfless service, Swadhaya study of scriptures, and many visualization and Tantric Yoga Meditation Practices of Keshmaharaj and Abinavagupta. I also spent time with a modern day woman guru, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, as well as met many other purported Female Gurus such as Amma ( and others). Truly speaking in terms of example of Powerful transmission capabilities and walking the walk, no one holds a candle to Gurumayi ( in my my opinion).
So in a way I have been lucky and filled with Grace from tne study of modern Yoga teachers to historical figures who I looked to for guidance on the Yogic path. It is true that the path of a female practitioner is very different from a male practitioner. Unfortunately there is a lot of misogynistic attitudes towards women in the male dominated Yoga world and women tend to deny their own power and experience.

One of my pet peeves in Yoga Circles is when women in yoga are called “ Ladies” . Like ads saying “Calling all Ladies, let’s practice Asana together at such and such yoga studio” . Somehow ( at least to me ) that word diminishes the women to be called Ladies of Yoga like it’s a quilt group or a sewing circle of women who are going to sit around with teacups and gossip about yoga while they preen and narcissistically admire each other’s yoga pants and postures. We all see the social media posts of Women Hatha Yogis posturing in suggestive ways. I sort of want them all to just wake up a little bit. Yoga is about expanded awareness and finding the enlightenment and grace within to be in a state of The Absolute and be experiencing transcendence regularly.
It’s not about exercising so you will be thin or beating yourself up because you think it’s going to be a better person. The Asanas are ways to open up the Prana Shakti in your physical being so you can go into the Deeper Inner Yogas like meditation.
In fact, these days, I am refining my practices because if a practice isn’t leading me to awakened awareness pretty often, it’s time to switch it up.

I am posting a little bit to just ask women about their sadhana ( yogic path) is it leading to deeper transformations and embodied empowered awareness? Who are your Heroines and Women Teachers? Who do you look up to?

Published by Melissa Abbott Yoga & Meditation Podcast

A lifelong meditator, learner and seeker, Melissa started her journey with a Hatha Yoga class in 1970 at age 17. Later after a stint in Art School and extensive travel, Melissa became a resident at Shree Muktananda Ashram in upstate NY studying Siddha Yoga meditation practices and is a disciple of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda and the Siddha Lineage Of Swami Muktananda and Bhagwan Nityananda. There she became acquainted with Shaiva Tantra Meditation from Kashmir, while studying with Dr. Paul Mueller Ortega, Dr.Douglas Brooks, Sally Kempton aka Swami Durgananda and many other teachers residing there at that time. Melissa also studied Tibetan Buddhist Practices of the Sakya Lineage with Luding Khenchen Rimpoche. Melissa has had a 40+ year meditation practice receiving many initiations and transmissions from many great contemporary teachers. Currently, since 2017 Melissa has been studying with Christopher Wallis a Sanskrit Scholar Phd covering “The Recognition Sutras”, “Vijnana Bhairava”, “Spanda Karikas”, and “Tantraloka”. Melissa is an avid reader, studying with the scholarly works of Christopher Wallis PhD, Alexis Sanderson Phd.Oxford University , Christopher Tompkins PHd Candidate University Of CA Berkley, and James Mallinson from SOAS in London. A member of Academia.org, Melissa keeps up with the latest translations of historic Yogic Writings by contemporary scholars. On the Hatha Yoga front, Melissa has studied Iyengar and Anusara Hatha Yoga in the 1990’s and later took her first hot yoga class 10 years ago with Suzanne Elliott in Merritt Island, FL, becoming a Raja Hot Core Hatha Yoga 500 hour Teacher in 2016 with Craig Villani. In 2017 she became a USA Yoga Coach and started judging video submissions in 2019. In 2018 Melissa studied with Jimmy Barkan Level 2 Hot Vinyasa Training in Ft Lauderdale and 2019 Adi Westerman’s Teaching 26/2 Plus Training. A member of the Original Hot Yoga Asso OHYA and a Hot Yoga Teacher at Steam House Hot Yoga & Pilates in Epping NH www.steamhousenh.com and Blue Yoga Group in Swampscott, MA. “Melissa Abbott Yoga and Meditation” has a weekly Visionary Tantric Yoga & Yoga Nidra Podcast available on Spotify, ITunes Podcasts, Podbean and YouTube.

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