In 2015 I led my first women’s yoga workshop and it was an unforgettable experience. I was 35 years old and dealing with some intense menstrual pain that had led me to seeking out forms of yoga practice that were sensitive to the physical and emotional ups and downs I was experiencing on a monthly basis. In my early days of yoga practice I was always drawn towards the more dynamic and physically challenging practices that would have my heart pumping, skin sweating and muscles intensely stretched (think Bikram, Power Yoga, Ashtanga). But when I turned 30, everything changed. Having come off the birth control pill at age 25 (after starting it at age 17 to quell period cramps), it was like my body was finally coming back into itself and its natural rhythms, ready to embrace her feminine energy. The strong yoga practices that had kept me ‘fit’ (but also frequently injured and depleted) no longer served me or the transition I was experiencing into a new phase of womanhood. My first step in the direction of a more intuitive and nurturing yoga practice was learning gentler styles of vinyasa flow and then gradually I welcomed in restorative and yin-style practices that encouraged slowing down to such a degree that the old me would have thought lazy, but the new me relished. I became especially grateful to these practices during times of the month or times of the year when my body needed rest. Eventually I discovered Uma Dinsmore Tuli, the woman behind the incredible tome of a book on women’s health and yoga called Yoni Shakti and enrolled in her Well-woman yoga training in London where I was introduced to and fell in love with her womb-friendly yoga practices.
Studying with Uma during this training and later during her pregnancy yoga teacher training further enhanced my understanding of not only the need to amend our yoga practice to our changing bodies but also the beauty of celebrating the female form and all its magical powers (yes even menstruation is magical!) by gathering women to practice yoga that incorporates gentle movement, breathing, mudra (hand gestures) and mantra (chanting) together. There is something truly special about the energy that is generated when we take time out with others to focus on tuning in and healing our bodies. Of course a deep connection with your inner self can happen during a general yoga class as well, but when there is a strong intention present to honour ourselves as women and give thanks to the divine feminine energy within (that is exactly the kind of energy the world needs rights now), the potential for healing and connecting is heightened. Uma encourages us to liken our wombs to the world. When we care for and nourish our wombs, we are building a better planet. The practices I learned in these two trainings have been invaluable in helping me to observe the ebb and flow of my energy and to truly take care of myself in a way that supports my vitality as a women and I absolutely love sharing these practices with others.
My first workshop held 15 beautiful women, all of whom had walked outside of their comfort zones to try a new style of yoga and walked away feeling nurtured, more informed about their bodies and empowered to own their practice. I myself connected with teaching in a way I never had before, a feeling that I was helping to cultivate an energy that could do good far beyond the yoga room.
For those who have never joined a women’s circle with me before, the mats are arranged in a circle around a mandala to encourage the feeling of being held within a space, side by side with our sisters, in safe hands. Unlike the vinyasa flow classes I teach, the pace is slower, the work with the subtle body more profound and the opportunity for true relaxation is heightened by the aromatherapy of burning essential oils, using blankets and bolsters for cushioning and adding an element of sound healing through a careful selection of music, chanting and occasionally instruments. Different facilitators will offer these circles in different ways depending on their backgrounds and specialisms. Mine focus on creating both an experience for women that their bodies will remember but also providing information they can take home with them to connect more with their inner teacher. My aim is to help more women truly love and own their bodies in a way that leaves us all feeling more powerful and peaceful.
A big part of my women’s circles is also providing an environment in which women can talk openly about their bodies and experiences as women, and to encourage menstrual awareness and cycle tracking (for those still menstruating) and lunar cycle awareness for those who are not menstruating but seek a means of understanding our close relationship with nature and change. There’s a new book out that I’ve finished reading called Period Power, which re-introduces us to the theme of seasons and how it not only applies to our monthly and life cycles but can be an effective means of making the most of each phase of our cycle. While it echoes a lot of the information found in older titles on the topic of Women’s Health (such as one of my favourites - Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom) it’s laid out in a fresh and accessible manner that I hope will have more women talking about their bodies and changes with no shame, but rather respect and love for all our bodies can do.