international women’s day: in gratitude for the women of yoga

Alienating and inaccurate: screengrab of Google Image search for "women & yoga"

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I’m thinking about the strong women in my life: my mother, my teachers, my friends. I’m grateful for the inspiration and wisdom I’ve received from these women.

I’m also thinking about the women in yoga who have set a shining example, and how the popular image of women who practice (see the Google Image screengrab above for examples of the lithe, half-dressed, commercialized bodies that we see in the dominant culture) contradicts my direct experience.

My initial introduction to yogic teachings happened at Yasodhara Ashram, a quiet community in the British Columbia woods founded by Swami Radha in the early 1960s. Swami Radha was one of the first Western women to travel to India (in 1955) and be initiated into sanyas by Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. She wrote about her experience in her memoir, Radha: Diary of a Women’s Search.

Her work, particularly around karma yoga (service) and kundalini yoga, is often overlooked by a culture that seems to be only interested in asana practice. But the clear practicality of her teachings and the work of her successors (Swami Radha died in 1995, years before I discovered her ashram) appeals to me. And as I look around at the crumbling mess of yoga in North America right now, I’m grateful that there is a lineage which focuses on depth rather than expansion, and development of the community over veneration of the individual.

In this video, we see Swami Radha in her golden years (from the 1970s to the early 90s, I believe), talking about what she’s learned from her guru and what she’ll pass on to her students. We see her grey hair and arthritic hands, and we hear the certainty and wisdom in her voice. It’s inspiring to hear her talk about how Swami Sivananda encouraged women to stand up for themselves and become leaders.

How will you take the time to remember and feel thankful for the women in your life today?

More #IWD inspiration:
Laurie Penny: That’s Enough Politeness, Women Need to Rise Up in Anger (from The Independent)
Danielle LaPorte: In Praise of Women
Songs for International Women’s Day by Yoko Ono

  1. Thank you for this beautiful reminder to honor all the women that have touched our life. I know I will always be grateful for the women that paved the way to bring the independence and rights that I enjoy today.

    A great way to celebrate the women of yoga is to watch the documentary YOGAWOMAN – it is a veritable Super Bowl of yogini goddesses!