Shiva Rea, a yoga teacher/surfer who teaches flowing vinyasa on beautiful beaches, is not the sort of woman you ignore when she's telling you to stand with your legs wide and hold out your arms as if you had the biggest boobs of time. Even if you have "itty bitty titties."
I was with Shiva for a one-day workshop at the San Francisco Yoga Journal conference called "Embodying the Divine Feminine." At first I thought it might be a little cheesy—sometimes I think people dip a little too deep into the Shakti pond and end up alienating men or rejecting practical reality in favor of hippie fantasy.
This is not what was happening. Shakti is the divine feminine principle. It doesn't mean "women," but rather the spirit that enlivens everything. The masculine principle embodies that energy and gives it form. Neither can exist without the other: it's like a river and its banks. This divine feminine energy is Yin-like: sweetness, receptivity, touch, abundance, beauty, and love. Yang masculine energy is power, work, productivity, fire, and constant movement. Life must be a balance of Yin and Yang, and this goes far beyond gender.
Just because these energies should be in balance doesn't mean they are. Our culture is very dominated by Yang masculine energies, and men and women have both been 'masculinized': we've been asked to repress our cyclic, intuitive, feeling natures in favor of our ability to work, move, and produce.
Living in the world with the goddess principle means a radical change. She is asking that we favor flowing, "curvilinear" movements rather than the traditional angular shapes indicated by, for example, Ashtanga yoga. She is asking that we rest when we are tired, eat when we are hungry, honor feeling, intuition, and the cycles of the sun and moon as well as our own personal menstrual cycles if we have one. She is asking that we embrace what we already are: expressions of the goddess.
There was this strange relief inside me, hearing all this. So often at yoga workshops we focus on what to change and fix, and this one seemed to be saying, "You are already perfect. Let's just remember that and cultivate it together."
She put us in small groups and asked us to talk about times we felt 'masculinized' in some way. I was paired with Claudia, a 74-year-old woman who still didn't know what she wanted to be when she grew up. For all our different experiences, we both felt that we'd been trying to achieve something in the world in a way that left us feeling empty and unsatisfied. We were both looking for something the world hadn't been offering to us.
In this sun cycle—21 days after the Winter Solstice, to be precise—we are in the cycle of the goddess Saraswati. She comes after the darkness, struggle, and introversion of Durga, and offers a subtle creative energy that is compassionate, kind, delicate, and somewhat inchoate. It needs time to open up and become what it wants to become. Much like me and my 74-year-old friend Claudia. So leaving this workshop, I know in my heart it's time to start seeking the Goddess in my own life and in my own body. Putting this into practice is a whole other story, but I know Claudia and I are going to try: We will rest more when we need to. We will honor our sensual, sexual selves. We will wear things that are beautiful, and find more compassion and acceptance rather than struggle and forcing change. We may find the earth shifting under our feet. And there may turn out to be a river there.