Trigger Warning

Desecration of Yoga in the West

I live in Boulder CO, where the power of white privilege tends to hurl well-intentioned liberal ideologies into a full circle of elitism and hypocrisy, like some hyper-spiritual ouroboros shitting pious dogmas into its own mouth. The roots of the ideology are lost, and all that remains is a masturbatory cycle of waxing ideals that do little to serve the world, and more to boost the egos of the shit stained, birdbrained trust-fund puppets who think that the right combinations of hashtags and bumper stickers give them moral and spiritual authority over the rest. This behavior is perpetuated in many ways, like when our neighbors cry out against climate change as they annually dump hundreds of gallons of water on their invasive (yet manicured) lawns, or when vegans—ethically opposed to consuming a bit of organic honey—have no issue with the devastating ecological impact of rendering milk from almonds. It also applies to the way that the ancient, universally accessible science of yoga has been monetized, sexualized, colonized, and rebranded as a pastime for the affluent, Lululemon-clad, avocado smoothie-sipping white women that Boulder is renowned for. Indeed, the rebranding of  this anti-yoga culture as a fast track to spiritual superiority has been so successful in wealthy communities, that it’s difficult to fathom where this trend began, and the philosophies from which it devolved.

When Indian yoga disciple Swami Vishnu Devananda—tasked with introducing yoga to the west by his master Sivananda Saraswati—arrived in San Francisco in 1957, I doubt his vision for yoga in the Americas had much to do with performative fitness or ass-shaping workout gear. According to The Sivananda Companion to Yoga (the very book that popped my yoga cherry), Sivananda said to Vishnu Devananda “Go, people are waiting. Many souls from the East are reincarnating now in the West. Go and reawaken the consciousness hidden in their memories and bring them back to the path of yoga.” I share this detail because it is the root of the intention of bringing yoga to the West: Consciousness. Vishnu Devananda then mentions in the forward of the book that “Anyone can practice Yoga, no matter what their age, condition or religion. Young or old, sick or fit – all can benefit from this discipline. After all, everyone has to breathe, whatever their walk of life.” This detail is also important, because it emphasizes two other fundamental yoga doctrines: Breath, and accessibility to all.

Swami Sivananda Saraswati, in case you need a refresher on what a classic “yoga body” looks like.

            I am lucky that my introduction to the practice, The Sivananda Companion to Yoga, is consistent with Vishnu Devananda’s ideals. Yoga felt safe and accessible, when I first dipped my toes into the Sivananda waters, and once I started practicing regularly, I noticed subtle changes in my mind and body almost immediately. “Though yoga begins with the body, it ends in transcending it” writes Vishnu Devananda, explaining that, while maintaining a healthy body is an important facet of yoga, it is but a brush stroke in the big picture of cultivating higher consciousness.

The book that started it all.

         I have been practicing yoga for over a decade, and I am even certified to teach the activity to others. People are mystified by this, when they learn about my yoga background; it’s as if the very words “yoga teacher” are fetishized with esoteric intrigue. To many, yoga is synonymous with sexy. And if it isn’t sex that pops into your head when you think about yoga, it’s probably some beautiful, lithe person performing astounding feats of balance and flexibility that comes to mind. However, any yoga book that’s worth a damn will tell you that, above all else, yoga is a breathing practice. All someone needs to begin a yoga practice is their breath. So why is it, when I mention yoga, that the reaction I get from 90% of people is “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga”?

            At this point in history, most people’s impression of yoga is deeply influenced by social media. When you search the hashtag “yoga” or “yogi” on Instagram, the majority of content is performative fitness or blatant sexualization of the practice. These things are not yoga, and neither fitness nor sex appeal is a prerequisite to a valid yoga practice. I feel bombarded by the same convoluted ideals when I walk into any corporate yoga studio… Sex is used to sell yoga, and the majority of classes offered are workout-oriented parodies of yoga. Truly, most classes nowadays are mere yoga-inspired workouts, because in lieu of emphasizing mindfulness, you must endure an aggressive instructor and loud music (and probably a class full of manic narcissists) pressuring you to push harder and harder to achieve an ass like the ones featured on the cover of Yoga Journal.This type of environment is utterly toxic to the yogi who seeks stillness, balance, and connection, and it’s completely discouraging to new yogis who don’t believe they are fit or flexible enough to participate. The concept of yoga has been so warped and abused that the people who stand to benefit the most from the practice do not feel empowered to seek it out. I have overweight family members who will never set foot in a yoga studio because they do not believe they belong, simply because their bodies are inconsistent with what has been sold to us as a “yoga body”, whatever the fuck that means. In this way, every corporate studio, every yoga influencer, and every TV depiction that paints yoga as a fairytale activity for rich housewives has failed our society by gatekeeping this universal medicine.

One of the images that appeared on my Instagram feed under #yoga, and one piece in an overwhelming catalogue of evidence that the concept of yoga is being incorrectly and unethically wielded to perpetuate a culture of materialism and objectification.

            Another important factor to consider, regarding why yoga feels inaccessible to so many, is the collective expense of all the components that we *think* we need to start practicing: a studio membership, yoga mat, an assortment of yoga outfits, and any of the other colorful (and largely redundant) props that Instagram tries to sell me daily. The big secret that none of these trendy yoga brands want you to know, is that you don’t need any of that bullshit. None of it. A studio practice can be beneficial, but the few studios that don’t adhere to toxic corporate standards often cost upwards of $200 monthly! My yoga practice started out of a book, and I would practice every night on the living room carpet. I never had a mat, and never went o a single class for my first 5 years of yoga. And yet, I benefited remarkably from my solitary practice without spending a cent. Sure, my horizons expanded once I finally went to a studio, but recently I’ve been fed up with the cost and culture of studio yoga, and have returned, once more, to my humble home practice. I’m here to dispel any myths and insecurities about what media has told you a yoga practice *should* look like, because my most profound moments in yoga have happened in the peace of my home, naked or clad in t-shirt and sweatpants, away from the pressures of a studio.

 The funny thing about it all, is that the devotees in CorePower yoga classes following #yoga on social media are unaware of the part they play in the capitalist yoga charade; it’s the only yoga they know, and this saddens me. Corporate yogis probably believe they are participating in an enlightened activity, when really, they in their NAMASTAY IN BED t-shirts are participating in the mass commodification of an ancient philosophy. To me, real yoga starts where the pursuit of perfection ends, and this is antithetical to what we are all taught about yoga by media outlets and goal-oriented class culture. Yoga always taught me to be compassionate with my body, yet these Instagram models and yoga teacher celebrities only seem to fuel diet culture and unhealthy workout habits. Corporate America certainly has yoga clamped tight in its jaws, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly inaccessible to common men and women. Let’s reclaim the mala as a meditation tool instead of a fashion accessory, and make yoga about feeling good instead of looking good. Refuse to compare your experience to these false idols and turn your attention inwards— Inner strength has no price tag.

Pregnancy is Fucking Scary

I don’t care to debate the objectionable topic of abortion, but recent events in Texas have shone a light on this particular issue. There is one factor that never gets talked about regarding a woman’s right to choose, which is, for many, the prospect that pregnancy is absolutely terrifying.

I haven’t got a maternal bone in my body, and the idea of motherhood makes my skin crawl for a handful of reasons, but the main reason for my reluctance is that pregnancy itself stirs irrational fear in me. However, when we take a look at statistics and testimonials surrounding childbirth… is it really so irrational?

Do men ever think about that? Have any of you male readers considered the experience of being a living host for a growing parasite that deforms your body, weakens your bones, terrorizes your moods and eventually ejects itself by tearing you apart from the inside out?

I’m shocked that I don’t run into more women who are phobic about pregnancy. I mean, I could barely surrender my bodily autonomy long enough to get my wisdom teeth removed, but that fetus is a rapacious leech in the abdomen for 9 months! It depletes all of the body’s resources. Even in a “healthy” pregnancy, it is common for pregnant women to lose bone density and experience fatigue, infections, hair/tooth loss, and weight gain. Our biological systems betray us to accommodate this hungry, invasive little bean… but the real challenges start once the imposter is ready to leave its snafued vessel to drain you now from the outside for the following 18 years. Pregnancy is a horrifying concept, but it pales in comparison to my fear of giving birth! Even a routine delivery is extremely traumatic to the mother’s body and mind. I won’t get into the risks of a pregnancy gone wrong, but even with the help of modern medicine, pregnancy kills about 800 women every day! And I cannot think of an equivalent where a man is encouraged –nay, expected— to endure such risks to fill a compulsorily imposed role in society.

The arguments most frequently made by pro-choicers have to do with rape, incest, and the possibility of medical complications. These are all valid arguments to keep abortion safe and accessible, but the fact that pregnancy is simply scary just isn’t talked about enough. If the idea of motherhood is daunting to me, a 26 year old woman, then how must a naïve 15 year old feel when she falls pregnant? I cannot fathom how my life would be different if I was unable to get an abortion at age 19, when I was still learning about myself, my body, and what I even wanted from life. Like any high-risk undertaking, pregnancy should only be approached by those who can confidently give informed, enthusiastic consent to the experience. A woman doesn’t need to find herself in tragic circumstances to warrant an abortion.

 I know there are plenty of empathetic husbands and compassionate fathers out there, but there is also a large proportion of males who never consider the female plight of sexual responsibility. If only these men could imagine being host to a hungry parasite that steals their vitality, makes their bellies swell like balloons, and steals their life and mobility away while subjugating them to a series of invasive medical procedures… then they wouldn’t be so quick to condemn every woman to the bondage of motherhood.

For a scientific explanation of why pregnancy is especially hostile and risky for primates, check out this article written by evolutionary biologist Suzanne Sadenin:

September 1, 2021, Austin, Texa, USA: University of Texas women rally at the Texas Capitol to protest Governor Abbott’s signing of the nation’s strictest abortion law that makes it a crime to abort a fetus after six weeks, or when a ”heartbeat” is detected. Abbott signed the law Wednesday, Sept. 1st, 2021. (Credit Image: © Bob Daemmrich/ZUMA Press Wire)

Period Sex: To Fuck or Not to Fuck?

Do you fuck on your period?

Do you fuck your girlfriend while she is on her period?

Why or why not?

Period sex is a nasty, sticky business, but does it exceed the inherent nastiness of “normal” sexual intercourse?

Opinions on this topic are wildly subjective, varying from person to person, but for me, period sex is perfectly acceptable. It’s as natural as the hair on my legs and the sweat beads on my skin; mere functions of the body that I expect my sexual companions to accept and adore, along with the rest of me! Sure, I might not expect my partner to dine on the fruit of my loins when the red river is flowing, but primal vaginal intercourse has never phased me during menstruation. Luckily for me, none of my sexual partners have paid much mind to menstrual intercourse, either…. Not until my most recent long-term relationship, of course, where our conflicting opinions on period sex were a huge source of disunity between us.

This partner came from a more traditional mindset, feeling that sex with a menstruating woman is taboo. I didn’t know this about him, however, until months and months into the relationship, because my method of birth control minimized the signs and symptoms of my period. I remember how abruptly he desisted at the presence of blood, and how adamantly I disagreed with his decision. And, of COURSE, I took it personally. Imagine my poor soul, rejected by my lover for something I hadn’t been bothered to feel shame about in over a decade! In a heated moment where both parties are eager and libidinous, a bit of menstrual blood seems like a petty thing to stand in the way of nature’s union! I reacted with anger. I told my partner that his hesitance was “weak little boy shit,” and he actually asked me to leave his house.

Naturally, this innocent quandary, the result of a simple difference in upbringing, mutated into a recurring impasse between this partner and I. I thought to myself: “How can I care so deeply about someone so ideologically flawed?” and “How can he possibly stand to perpetuate this misogynistic, sexual double-standard?” and “I’m sexually liberated and can’t be expected to go back into the box of period shame for any man!”. As an angry feminist, my mind is frequently occupied by the sexual and societal disadvantages of the female body. Being sexually denied on the basis of a natural body function –something far beyond my control—feels like unjust suppression.

However, one of the major tenets of feminism is enthusiastic consent, along with the notion that consent can be withdrawn at any time, and for any reason, without question. Feminist concepts are always there to protect women who become uncomfortable in sexual situations, but occasionally I need to remind myself that men deserve the same respect in those scenarios. In this way, I have failed every time that I chided this partner for refusing to perform in the presence of my monthly flow. If he has a visceral reaction to blood, it isn’t fair to force him to proceed in conditions that make him uncomfortable. Moreover, it is unfair to make any assumptions about the source of this aversion. Sure, the angry feminist wants to assume that this is all a result of unrealistic expectations imposed on women by media and pornography, but who knows? Aggressive, punitive behavior does little to change minds, anyway, so the best thing for me to do is hold space and let him come around to the activity if, or when, he was ready… right?  

            Alternately… the long-term affect of being rejected on the basis of menstruation has inevitable, negative, repressive consequences on my relationship with my body. Suddenly, I would sink into a pit of perceived undesirability and dirtiness whenever my cycle rolled around. I felt off-limits, closed for maintenance, and out-of-order (but maybe we can try again later??). I was always comfortable with the ebbs and flows of my body, but I grew to resent my womanly fluctuations worse than I did when I was a fumbling teenager. It certainly isn’t fair to shame my partner for having boundaries, but is it any fairer that my sexual fire is allowed to decay, only to be replaced by insecurity, uncertainty, and doubt? If my partner insists on monogamy (a concept I am more flexible about) then shouldn’t he be prepared to meet all of my emotional and sexual needs? Who should concede, and how does a couple compromise when both parties are so firm in their beliefs?

In conclusion, I have reached no conclusion. Differing beliefs about period sex seem like an insignificant issue in the wide scope of relationship complexities, but over time, it is impossible to ignore. I especially curious to hear the opinions and experiences of others out there, who have run into this dilemma. (Click on the title of the post to leave a comment. <3)

Figure Drawing and the Importance of Nudity

Nudity comes naturally to me. Even in my adolescence, when I was still years away from becoming sexually active, I preferred to sleep naked…. And honestly, it has less to do with self-sexualization than it does with personal liberation. The unclothed cannot ignore the imperfections of their bodies, nor can any onlookers ignore the brutal honesty of a human comfortable in their raw skin. Nudity teaches me to appreciate the vessel I was born to—body hair, stretch marks, and imperfect proportions all. The very act of nudity is one of radical self-acceptance; a sort of declaration that my insecurities cannot be weaponized against me. Unapologetic expression always paves the way for others to show up authentically, too–  like a domino effect of self-love. Nudity is important, and I recently had the opportunity to put this philosophy into action when I was offered to stand in as a model for a figure drawing class.

            I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. I mean… I knew, in theory, that nude art modeling is totally up my alley, but volunteering my body to be the focal point of a group for 2 hours was actually a little intimidating. Sure, I’ve spent plenty of time among half-naked hippies at music festivals, polyamorous nudists at hot springs and beaches, and I have never been shy about my body with sexual partners, but those scenarios always have… well, a bit more going on. In those scenarios, my nakedness is an act of participation, but at this art class, my body would be the main event!

            However, my anxiety quickly dissipated once the artists started sketching, and it was immediately obvious that my presence there was entirely objective. Sure, I was being scrutinized (and scrutiny is synonymous with criticism, in my mind) but these artists were examining me for exactness rather than for imperfections. In fact, my perceived “flaws” only seemed to add fuel to their fire, as my unique body presented new challenges. Stolen glances at the artist’s work proved that they were studying me keenly, and I was floored by the quality of work produced in such tight intervals. Insecurities were quickly replaced by a deep honor that I could serve as a catalyst for this display of talent.

            We started off with a few 2-minute standing poses (it was a struggle to keep myself from nervously shaking, at first), followed by a 5-minute seated posture on the floor, and then a series of long, 20-30 minute long poses where I was propped up on a massage table with some pillows (paint me like one of your French girls!). As a yogi, I expected to excel at stillness. As a daydreamer, long periods of staring into space also come naturally to me. The cherry on top of the whole experience was that the facilitator encouraged me to make a playlist for the duration of the class, so I got to enjoy my carefully curated selection of tunes—a skill I take pride and pleasure in.

            Anyone who has ever struggled with body image issues should take the chance to model for a figure drawing class, even though it probably sounds like a nightmare for those who struggle with physical insecurities! I know, logically, that I have a strong, healthy body, but even my new-age, feminist rhetoric isn’t always enough to quell my doubts about my appearance. However, seeing my form rendered by artists proved that my perception of myself is largely inaccurate. Indeed, these artists made me look quite beautiful (without being overly complimentary). It was a welcome slap in the face to see the way I’m perceived at first sight, because my biggest insecurities weren’t emphasized in any of the artist’s work. If anything, I realized that those little “imperfections” are really just what make me look unique. So there we have it, I had a lovely experience and left the art class feeling encouraged, and the moral of the story is… you are much lovelier than you think.

Portrait of ME by Erin Winters. Follow @hellomoonbow on IG for more amazing human art.