September has been an inspiring month for me. I had an opportunity to hear Dr. Anita Johnston, the author of Eating in the Light of the Moon- how women can transform their relationship to food through myth, metaphor & storytelling, speak in Chattanooga, TN. Dr. Johnston believes that women who struggle with disordered eating and distorted body image have internalized the cultural imbalance of masculine and feminine archetypal energies. The masculine aspects of our culture and ourselves are logical, linear, action and goal oriented and outwardly focused, whereas the feminine aspects are emotional, intuitive and inner and relationship-oriented. She explains, “If there is an imbalance where, for example, the masculine qualities are valued over the feminine, this can lead to an emptiness that a woman tries to fill with food.”
Dr. Anita Johnston’s philosophy resonates deeply with me. As a person who was born with 99.9% feminine archetype, I have experienced the challenges of not fitting in to a culture that prefers the masculine archetype. In my own journey, I have experienced being labeled too sensitive, overly emotional, moody… When I was young, it was hard for me understand that there were gifts in these qualities. It was much easier to make sense of them through the idea that something must be inherently wrong with me. I had many hot chocolate conversations with my dad that centered around the question, “Why me?”
Self-image becomes a tangible place to focus this feeling of wrongness… ‘Oh, I know what it is, I must not be thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough…’ Until a person can honor the gifts that the feminine archetype brings to them, they will continue to struggle with self-esteem issues. Reclaiming a positive self-image is then linked to reclaiming the gifts of the feminine.
As I have learned to honor the feminine within me, I have also learned the importance of developing the masculine in order to create balance internally. My yoga practice has been a place where I have worked on this balance. When I am in balance, I tend to gravitate towards the practice of Anusara Yoga. This type of yoga incorporates an elegant blend of masculine/feminine with its focus on heart-centered, playful alignment and flow. In the yoga tradition it is the balance of Shiva, the male principle throughout creation, and Shakti, the female principle.
Remember, I said that is when I am in balance… which is not so much the case these days. Under stress I tend to revert to my default 99% feminine energy state, and opt for the more flow oriented and restorative yoga classes. But with Dr. Johnston’s reminder of the importance of balance, I decided to try something different, and headed to the newly opened Bikram Yoga Studio here in Asheville.
For those of you who are not familiar with Bikram Yoga, it is a style of yoga practiced in a room heated to 100 degrees. In every class you do the same 26 poses. The teachers tend to emphasize the results of the practice. It is a type of yoga that attracts Type A personalities. This description from the Bikram Yoga website illustrates its masculine archetype leanings: “Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class is a twenty-six asana series designed to scientifically warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons, in the order in which they should be stretched. Bikram Yoga’s twenty-six posture exercises systematically move fresh, oxygenated blood to one hundred percent of your body, to each organ and fiber, restoring all systems to healthy working order, just as Nature intended. Proper weight, muscle tone, vibrant good health, and a sense of well-being will automatically follow.”
OK… so the first class was torture for me. I sweated out my entire summer of Starbucks addiction… nausea, lightheadedness, and a woozy feeling followed. I spent the remainder of the day lying on the couch, drinking water, and nursing a killer headache. However, I was told if I came back soon, these side effects would subside, so I went back the next day. Day 2 I learned another important hot yoga lesson… don’t wear a white t-shirt to a Bikram class. The sweat through my white t-shirt made me look like an entrant in a wet t-shirt contest… The pay off came after my 3rd class. I made it through the class without the nasty detox side effects and noticed increased energy and decreased caffeine craving the next few days. I am looking forward to continuing my exploration of Bikram yoga as a tool to balance the masculine and feminine inside me.
Nature is mirroring this lesson tomorrow, September 22nd, with the Autumnal Equinox… when day and night, light and darkness, are equal in length. It’s the perfect time to practice the embodiment of this balance of masculine and feminine.