“The health of the family, society, and culture that revolves around a woman depends to a large degree on her health, and her health rests in turn on her ability to keep her creative energies flowing (Shakti). Our concern in Ayurveda is to help women find those channels, both inside and outside themselves, within which they can flow comfortably, freely, and fearlessly, so that they may best display their own innate creativity to themselves, their loved ones and the world.”
~ Dr. Robert Svoboda, Ayurveda for Women pg. 7
Ladies, raise your hands if you said, “YES!” out loud after reading. I know I did.
Virginia Wolf knew this when she wrote A Room of One’s Own. So did Anne Morrow Lindbergh, May Sarton, Sue Monk Kidd, and any number of women throughout the ages.
One of the vows Benedictine monastics and oblates make is that of obedience – listening and responding to a power beyond ego. Listening with the “ear of the heart,” Benedict says. The heart is an organ of desire. Physically pumping nutritious blood the body craves. Energetically calling and distributing the soul’s longing into the world. When we craft our lives in obedience to the honest longings of the heart planted there by God, we out-create the destructive tendencies of this world.
Embracing feminine creative channels is not something our patriarchal society excels at. Much effort is put into upward mobility, quarterly financial gain, continual expansion. Feminine wisdom is growth as cycles of transformation rather than growth as vertical ascent. Times of increase balanced with times of standing still and of release. Expansion balanced by contracting inward to vision and root energy without the pressure to produce. Times of creating for the sheer joy of it.
In the Vata season of Autumn and dormancy, much is happening. The Earth gathers her energy back to the interior and feeds on it. The blossoms of Spring are only possible because of the chrysalis of Autumn and Winter. Even still, Spring is not the goal of Autumn. It’s a fruit, a complement. A relationship.
In After Eden* poet Jan L. Richardson writes:
A hundred years from now
if they unearth my bones
they will see
the imprint of leaves
along every one,
testimony to the secret
that even Adam
(bone of my bone,
flesh of my flesh)
did not know:
I took the tree with me
the day I left Eden,
the day I decided not to die,
the day I chose instead
to sink my roots in the soil
of this terrible, stunning world.
My body, our bodies, hold deep wisdom and power. To abandon the tree of our body knowledge is to be negligent in our duty to care for the gift of flesh.
In listening to the wisdom of my body I am aware of the rise and fall of my physical, mental and emotional energy between each period. I obey these rhythms by varying the focus of my asana practice. There’s a week in the middle of the month when I have, to borrow a phrase from Rachel Manetti, “more bandwidth.” This is when I practice hand-balances and energetic backbends. As my period approaches and my energy turns wanes, I root into gentle standing poses, luxuriate in forward folds and twists. I do not practice asana during the first three days of my period because it gives me cramps and impedes my flow. After the days of rest, I return with low key hip openers and when my period is over, inversions.
Women who no longer menstruate still participate in this flow. My friend Melissa had a partial hysterectomy in January and still feels the shifts of her hormones and their effects.
Ayurveda recognizes our monthly cycle as the gorgeous dance of Vata – the time of letting go, Kapha – the time of building, and Pitta – the time of inspiration. Menopause is the convergence of the goal oriented creativity of Pitta giving way to post-menopausal Vata releasing the need to strive, and enjoy creativity for its own sake.
When a woman learns to listen to the conversation between her body’s cycle, her mind, and her environment, her heart stands a chance of being heard. And when a woman listens to her heart, glorious sparks fly!
So ladies, listen to the cycles of your Nature. Sink your roots fearlessly into the creative spiral of your Soul.
Men, listen to the cycles of your Nature. Sink your roots fearlessly into the creative spiral of your Soul.
The health of our world depends on it.
* Jan Richardson, “In the Sanctuary of Women: A Companion for Reflection and Prayer”, page 62 — How I wish I’d written this!