I grew up in a household with a strong male (my father) who was abusive and dominated my mother. He had the power. She was powerless. This made a huge impact on me as a child, and I knew early on that I never wanted to be “weak” like I perceived my mother to be at the time. And so my masculine energy blossomed while I repressed my feminine aspects. I decided I was fearless and didn’t ever want to depend on anyone or relinquish control. I worked hard to achieve and prove myself.
The society we live in feeds this behavior to succeed at all costs. I spent my 20s and early 30s working in advertising, and it was a badge of honor to work insane hours each week—including holidays—and never take time for self-care. I shut off the feminine aspects of myself and had a hard time being vulnerable. Most of my girlfriends were similarly dealing with their own “need” to strive and succeed. I even briefly started a non-breeders club for my girlfriends without children. Deep inside I had decided that mothering was weak. Working in advertising, the more masculine I could be, the better my chances for success. At my first performance review, my boss told me I would always need to work twice as hard since I was a woman.
This way of living was not serving me well, although it took me several years to admit it. Even then, I only admitted it to myself, not others. Along the way I developed chronic hip, low back, and sciatic pain on my left side. This made long meetings maddening, and it caused me to disconnect from my body and go further into my mind. The pain was unbearable, and I sought every type of doctor and practitioner I could find to help me. They offered me drugs, injections, and surgery. Fortunately, something inside me felt that wasn't the right route to take. I needed to find something, though.
And then I discovered yoga.
Initially I started in hopes of relieving chronic pain, but I chose practices that were just as fiery as my aspirations (and even began teaching vinyasa yoga on the side). It made the pain worse. Then the economy worsened and my ad job became a casualty of the recession. This hit me hard—especially the part of me that didn't like accepting defeat. Now I was forced to slow down and look at my life and how I was feeling. I applied to the few jobs that surfaced, but I also started pursuing the path of yoga therapy. For even though yoga hadn't healed my pain, it was starting to change my life in very dramatic ways. I found that my desire to help others was growing louder than my desire to succeed in the ad world. Yoga was transforming me on very deep levels. Layers and layers of who I was were softening. The hardness was fading.
After my first couple levels of yoga therapy training, I became my own first client. My pain was at the worst it had ever been, and my yoga practice didn't look like much of a physical practice at all, because the majority of poses were too painful. My new practice was slower, softer: lots of simple conscious movements, awareness, relaxation, and stillness—which I initially found more challenging than advanced yoga postures. As I did this inner work, parts of me were healing that I didn’t even know needed it. In a few short months, I was pain-free. Pain-free!!! Amazingly, the pain never returned. I was transforming at a rapid rate. I began seeing clients, starting with family and friends. A side of myself I hadn’t known existed began to surface. I soon became better at nurturing both myself and others. And I deeply loved all of it. There was a joy that was so deep and so true I couldn't turn back.
For me, imbalance between masculine and feminine showed up as chronic pain. For others it could be anxiety or high blood pressure or a host of other symptoms. The body screams loudly when it’s out of balance. It’s just a matter of whether we choose to truly listen.
In yoga, the heart is known as the center of healing. It is also the balance point between the seemingly opposing forces of masculine and feminine. In reality, we need both in order to have balance within and balance in our lives. In other words, we don't need to give up one in favor of the other. I had activated a feminine part of myself that was dormant, but I still had the drive to succeed. My aspirations were focused on helping people heal now. That is the great thing about finding balance: I didn’t need to give up the part of me that WAS working.
These masculine and feminine aspects of ourselves can be defined many ways: spirit and matter. Heaven and earth. Solar and lunar. Outer and inner. Giving and receiving.
The feminine aspects govern the left side of the body, the left nostril and the right brain, while the masculine aspects govern the right side of the body, the right nostril and the left brain. Sometimes when our pain or discomfort all seems to manifest only on one side of the body, this is a signal to work on balancing these energies. I suffered from chronic pain for many years and it all manifested on the left side of the body—the part of myself I denied or neglected. I've also seen clients who have pain only on the right side and comment that it is the side that feels like it needs to “do all the work."
As I see it, the masculine is the energy that rules our current culture. It's the active energy of achieving, planning, competing. It’s the father energy of protecting and providing. Examples of imbalance here include overworking, controlling, dominating, and needing to succeed or win at all costs including your own health and the health of others around you. In some cases, masculine dominance becomes like armor to shield us from feeling.
That said, masculine energy is not a bad thing. We need it. There just needs to be a balance of action and of surrendering the results of the action. We can’t control everything.
Our feminine nature draws us inward. It is intuitive, nurturing, receptive. It is the mother energy, the womb for all. It allows us to feel, to flow. It is fierce in its own way: a powerful creative energy that exists in the world and gives birth to ideas as well as babies. One example of imbalance here is feeling the need to take care of everyone but not nurturing yourself. Or feeling the need to please everyone, even at your own expense.
As with any self-work, you need to look at the things that bother you in others to find your imbalance. I was proud to work all the time and always be “busy,” and I didn't understand when someone would rest just to rest. I rarely allowed myself to cry openly, and I was proud of my ability to "power through" difficult experiences rather than letting myself feel and integrate them. I had decided that being a mother was weak, as were the things that came along with it: the surrender and letting go of so many things. At the time, it seemed more like giving up.
And then, a few years into my yoga therapy practice (in my late 30s), I got some shocking news. I was pregnant. Huh? Me? The leader of the non-breeders? The one who hid in her office when co-workers brought their babies in? I didn't believe I was pregnant (even after four positive tests) until I saw the ultrasound. I was in shock and spent a great deal of time journaling and meditating to determine how I felt about this. Ultimately my confusion wasn’t about the pregnancy itself, but about a major identity shift for me. I struggled with how to tell my girlfriends—especially those who didn’t want children. I almost felt like I needed permission to be happy about it.
It took a while, but I did soften into it, and the softening and feeling and letting go is where the light is. It’s where health lives. I still cringed at all the pink at my baby showers (of course it was a baby girl!). Although now, almost three years in, I have even softened around the pink. Motherhood arrived at exactly the right time for me, and I am extremely grateful for this gift. I also know that motherhood is not the sole answer for embracing the feminine, nor does it come easily for many who want it very much.
As a result of my self-work and yoga practice, I am now able to see the bigger picture. I still have massive goals and desires and like to work, but there is more space around it. There’s more balance. Does the extremely driven part of me—the part that can be critical and overbearing—try to come forth? Absolutely! But I have more awareness around it and can be kind to myself, seeing it for what it is and moving on. Again and again and as many times as needed. I feel like I am coming from a place of greater power. There is more authenticity. The armor is down and yet the possibilities are endless.
As a result of embracing my feminine energy, I awakened the quality of self-nourishment within myself. I allow myself to receive—including accepting help from others. I am healthier physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I feel good and, more importantly, I FEEL. I live for me, not for society's ideal. I am not so concerned about my life and business needing to look like someone else's. I DO take action, but from a broader perspective and when the time feels right. I am happier by embracing my whole self.
I no longer see the act of mothering as weak. It is a position of power and influence that should not be taken lightly. I also no longer see my own mother as weak. (And she left my father years ago.) In fact, it is my mother who currently watches my tiny tot when I’m busy with clients.
Photos (top to bottom): Achintya Devi photo by Bibbie Friman, "Freedom" by Lauren McKinnon from Flickr (CC), "Spring in My Body" by Arwen Abenstern from Flickr (CC)