Woman in arm twisting yoga pose

Masculine And Feminine in Yoga

The Effect On My Practice

In recent days I have found that I have been challenged by discussions of yoga that have been emphasising a more internal, a more feeling, a softer focus for yoga. I have been sensing in myself a desire for a more intellectual, philosophical view of the whole basis for yoga.

This difference has clearly mirrored my intellectual bias towards masculinity and a desire to understand the details of the practice of yoga. My writing for many years has been about masculinity with the intention of helping men find a more balanced approach to life. I have avoided saying that this is about wanting men to absorb more feminine views, but that is what it is. I have felt uncomfortable about a view of yoga as a more internal, feeling practice as opposed to a physical, philosophical practice. I can see that this has been a result of my discomfort with accepting these more feminine traits.

Reconnecting With My Soul

As I see it the practice of yoga is about re-connecting with my soul, re-integrating with my whole, perfect self, the self that I have forgotten in the process of becoming me, as I am today. I am a man with many masculine traits—problem-solving, an intellectual focus and a certain rigidity—traits that I have some pride in. I have always felt that I have a level of feminine traits that ameliorate some of the masculine ones—sensitivity, a focus on design rather engineering, a strong spiritual sense—but it seems that they are relatively superficial.

The process of re-integration, for me, requires a desire to restore my soul to its pre-embodiment nature, and that involves a complete re-evaluation of who I am and how I see and take on the world at large. To understand what this requires, means I need to lay out what the difference between who I am now and my Soul.

My Soul's Journey

I started as a Soul in Universal Consciousness. The Soul was embodied for a reason that it forgets. It also forgets that it is a Soul. During its time in the womb, becoming embodied, it takes on a masculine or feminine aspect. Previous to this it was a Soul which was neither masculine or feminine but an integration of both.

After birth, during the period of growing up, it absorbs the conditioning it is subject to from family, friends and society; it reinforces or weakens the masculine or feminine aspect it was born with. It also develops human characteristics in line with its outside conditioning and with the direction of its mind or ego. The more this takes place the further it moves away from what it was as a Soul: whole, perfect and integrated.

The divergence and effects of the divergence happen on a number of levels: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual, to name the most important ones. The practice of yoga works to heal the wounds caused by this divergence and restore the Soul as whole, perfect and integrated. It only works well when it operates at all the levels that have been damaged.

It would seem as though masculine and feminine aspects form a duality like light and dark, hot and cold, day and night, but a simple examination of all of these reveal a spectrum with no dividing points. There is no duality but a flow from one to the other and back again. Indeed with masculine and feminine there are two aspects each with its own spectrum. People find a point on each spectrum which gives rise to the amazing complexity of gender roles that people identify with even when physically most people are one or other physical sex.

The Implications For the Masculine

So what does this mean for me? I know the implications will be dramatic for me, the question is to what extent am I willing to face them?

Let's start by looking at what this means for my dive into yoga, my integration into my Soul. In How Yoga Taught Me Stillness—A Masculine Spiritual Approach I looked at how I thought I had achieved a sense of balance,

I have found that Yoga has enabled me to balance my personality and find my Still Point. I use it to observe myself and deepen my masculine view with compassion, awareness and understanding.

What I found was that when I started to explore this place of stillness I could look at myself in a more objective way. I needed to observe how I was inside and how my body was reacting as well as engage my logical brain in assessing what I was trying to do with the pose. To do all this I had to step away from my ego and feel what was happening inside. It was no longer about competition and seeing how far I could go, it was about relaxing into the tension in my body and letting it just be.

Achieving balance allows a man to look at himself with compassion and, therefore, to look at the world with compassion. It allows him to see his effect on the world and how the world sees him. Whatever area this comes out in it enables a man to move forward in a creative way from this compassionate place of stillness.

In applying this in my practice and study I completely missed the feeling core of what is required. I continued focusing on the physical aspects of yoga and learning the philosophical/textual background. This worked well and moved me deeper into the process but it also built up a resistance to what I was not doing: feeling and softening.

Looking forward I am interested in how to re-look at what I am doing and what is happening. Being someone who likes to analyse and break things down (yes, I know that is still very masculine and rigid, but at this stage I am nervous about completely letting go of what has supported me all these years!)

The Physical Practice Of Yoga

When I practice asanas I have in my mind a three dimensional image of where the body moves and where it ends up. I work to develop that image in playing with what I can do. This inevitably encourages a sense of going further. Peter Blackaby in his teaching talks about the map you have in your mind and how your body conforms to that map. He encourages students to experience the map and look at how the map might be distorted, causing the body to become stiff where it doesn't need to. The distortion of the map could be for many reasons unconnected with yoga. As Peter puts it you need to experience how the body complies or constricts the body movement and release the areas of constriction.

The alternative way of looking at what is happening in the body is to explore the internal flows within, rather than external positions. Angela Farmer talks about this in the podcast of her and Victor van Kooten with J Brown. Paying attention to the flows of energy through joints and around the body is central to understanding how and why the body moves as it does.

I would like to move inside away from the map into the flow within my body. I think that to do that I need to explore where I have put resistance into the map. A simple example of this is the extent to which I clamp my teeth and my mouth when working a pose. This connects with my long-standing problem of grinding my teeth while I sleep. There is tension and aggression locked into my body. My intention with yoga is to release it not contain it.

Moving the flow is about taking the mind off what is happening and letting the body speak for itself. This will take a big shift in how I practice, but it is one I am keen to make.

The Intellectual Aspects Of Yoga

I learned at school and in my degree studies how to analyse and dissect a text, a problem, a formula in order to fully understand what it is saying or doing. In my degree I studied maths, albeit pure maths. I resisted an engineering view, even though my career required this to some extent. My focus on design, patterns and connections was more integrative than reductive, even so I could find myself caught in the minutiae of what I was looking at. This has been the case with yoga in studying the philosophical/historical background. I love this but can get too caught up in it.

I often talk about looking at things from a 37,000 foot level—seeing the big picture, or chunking up. The eagle that frequently flies over my house (see Signs To My Soul—The Eagle And The Sparrow) is influencing me to take this higher view. I takes time and practice to do this and avoid getting wound up in the details.

Emotional Aspects Of Yoga

I talked above about the internal tension and aggression that appears in my teeth grinding and jaw clenching. Even though I have spent many years working on my emotional issues and dealing with them, I have moved beyond this sense of internal aggression form my childhood. I know where it comes from and why it is there, but it still exerts its control over me.

The inner, softer aspects of yoga seem to offer a way of opening myself up emotional and letting what is looked inside flow out. As long as I feel constricted and restrained this will be unlikely to happen. My yoga practice needs to completely change and open me up to whatever might happen. I am not sure how to do this, how to allow this to happen. I feel that it about letting what is not there take precedence. This means letting go, surrendering to what might come. It is difficult for me to allow the opposite of action to take over.

The Spiritual Aspects Of Yoga

I feel in my heart that much of the answer to the issues I have identified above lies here. The question in my mind is how to let the spiritual aspects take precedence over the purely masculine. There is the obvious ideas of letting chanting, ritual and the acceptance of the divine take greater precedence and starting to let go of the focus on asanas and philosophy. I already practice mainly using breathing and movement, as taught by J Brown, but I feel that I need to go a great deal further.

The Shifts Moving Forward

The sands are shifting under me, I have finally sensed that it is time to stop fighting them. The more I struggle the deeper I get buried in the sand. Allow the flow and find a way of floating to the top. More allowing of internal flow will help this, more ritual and acceptance of divine intervention will as well. Letting go of effort and welcoming whatever floats to the surface are critical. This can happen if I dive into the inverse of effort, if I stop doing yoga and allow the state of yoga to reside within me.

To attain true inner freedom, you must be able to objectively watch your problems instead of being lost in them. No solution can possibly exist while you're lost in the energy of a problem. Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul)