This week, I skipped out on yoga. Instead, I tried kickboxing for the first time. I also tested out capoeira and jujitsu—it felt like a good week to do a bit of kicking and punching.
My whole life, I’ve loved yoga and dance, two forms of movement that have been coded as “feminine.” These environments tend to be mostly populated by women, and many yoga teachers (myself included) will bring in goddess mythology from yoga’s traditional roots in order to celebrate the feminine side of things. This is important: the feminine tends to be undervalued in our culture, and there’s a huge benefit to learning about how feminine energy can be strong and powerful. In these traditions, however, masculine energy is really important, too. Masculine and feminine are like two sides of the same coin and must work in relationship with each other. Lately, I’ve been especially drawn to my masculine aspects, and kicking, punching, jumping, and rolling has been a pretty fun way to explore that.
From the Shakta Tantric perspective, which I’ve studied most, Shakti energy, the feminine aspect, is that which creates everything in the universe. She is movement, form, and chaos. The masculine energy, represented by Shiva, is consciousness, that which binds Shakti and makes her knowable. Without Shiva, we wouldn’t know that we exist, and we wouldn’t be able to direct our energy towards our work or make any decisions about anything. The world would be primordial chaos. Without Shakti, however, nothing would exist in the first place.
Other traditions, like Buddhism and Taoism, consider masculine and feminine in terms of energies called yin and yang that balance each other out. The feminine, yin aspect governs receptivity, passivity, darkness, coolness, and the moon. The masculine, yang aspect governs light, movement, action, heat, and the sun. Sometimes we need to tap into our masculine yang in order to move, make a change, set a boundary, or stand up for ourselves. Other times, we need to tap into our feminine yin in order to listen, rest, or heal. We all need a balance of both, no matter our gender.
Even as we turn towards the yin seasons, the darker, cooler months, I’m feeling a little fire in me that wants to move, to be brave and try new things (like getting thrown onto the floor 15 times in jujitsu class). Every November, I like to participate in Movember at my yoga studio, which is a month dedicated to raising awareness and funds for men’s mental and physical health. One way to participate is to start a new fitness challenge, and taking up martial arts, which have been traditionally coded as masculine, feels like a good way to honor not only the men I care about in my life through supporting Movember, but also to support my own inner masculinity.
This binary between masculine and feminine has certainly been used in disempowering ways in many cultures over time. It’s easy to misunderstand these complementary opposites and assume they have something to do with our biological gender—they don’t. Shiva and Shakti only work when in relationship with each other, and yin and yang are fluid, always on the verge of turning into each other. We all have aspects of these qualities in us in varying ratios at different times in our lives, and answering the call of the energy that pulls us is part of a healthy, playful way to live in the world. So this month, I’m honoring my inner feminine with hot baths, restorative yoga, and quiet evenings—and taking up some (safe, mindful) kicking and punching to honor my inner masculine!