Recently a fb image of a young, white, lithe yogini balancing in an extremely deep back bend disturbed me. Not because she was just another example of the yoga Barbie -er yoga body –which saturates my yoga feed, but because she was posing in a sun-dappled forest grove accompanied by the hashtags “Fantastic #yoga” and “#rewilding inspiration.” The yoga body is a pop culture vernacular term for the privileged, exclusionary icon of corporate culture which is used to sell everything from yoga pants, water bottles, ” natural” foods , wild teas and hiking boots.
So c’mon. Isn’t rewilding about returning to a more natural, undomesticated state? How can an image designed to keep us buying and striving to achieve artificial, commercial ideals be associated with what is wild, free and unsullied by human intervention – exactly?
Many ‘rewilders’ see the Paleolithic as a time when earth, its flora and fauna, and humans existed in a true primeval state. And if we look to our stone-age ancestors its pretty clear ‘the yoga body’ just wasn’t in. For tens of thousands of years, painted on cave walls and carved into stone, the female body was depicted as abundantly fleshed – breasts, buttocks and bellies not only large, but mountainous.
I’m not arguing that this is the body ‘au naturale’, it’s an image of its time, place and culture as much as the yoga body is of our ours. I merely want to make the point that equating the yoga body with the wild female body of our ancestors is just a stretch.
Now I have no idea what a ‘wild’ body actually looks like, but I doubt it would look like a tattooed Tara Stiles wearing a loincloth. And I’d wager that any of the programs and retreats that promise to rewild your body in 30 days (yes they are out there) will just leave you working your yoga body ever harder to measure up.
I’m with my pal Jennifer Matsui when she writes “For “inspirational”, forget hot babes doing yoga poses at sunset on a cliff, and think Kabuki she-demon and buzzard pal eating pomegranates under a tree”. Yes, that is probably more like it. Because from Lilith to Kali, to crazed flesh-eating Greek Maenads, African Amazons and medieval witches, the wild woman was licentious, disheveled, abandoned and carnal – she was never about being pretty.
I reject the yoga body’s attempt to colonize the wild. I see it as yet another endeavor of the ‘powers that be’ to convince us that the unruly messy female body and it’s base desires must be tamed. And it obscures the view of the very real and fruitful relationship that yoga and ‘rewilding’ could potentially have. One that could free us the from the tyranny of the yoga body and engender a whole new level of “body positivity” in the process. And I believe that rewilding the yoga body begins by rewilding yoga itself. Returning to its earliest origins, the prehistoric mists of the upper Paleolithic and Neolithic, a time when woman’s bodies were not yet defiled – but divine.
Today it is generally accepted that much of contemporary yoga practice (ritual postures, meditation, mantra’s, mudra’s etc.) are sourced in Tantra Yoga – which predates the Vedic (less women friendly) traditions by thousands of years. But what is less acknowledged is that Tantra takes root in a prehistoric shamanic practice in which woman’s bodies were seen as vessels of powerful forces connected with the fertility of the earth.
Feminist scholar Vicki Noble has written extensively on how this early women’s ‘yoga’ was celebrated in ecstatic rituals of dance and trance. This communal practice was believed to purge disease and enhance fertility in women, animals, and food crops. Noble believes the bio-mystical techniques of these early priestesses became codified within Tantra – and were later co-opted by the Brahmin Priesthood. (For more on this see my post Did Women Invent Yoga?)
In her book Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism Miranda Shaw documents the lives of Tantric women, many of which were esteemed teachers and Buddhas. Called by many names, Dakinis (woman who flies) Vidyaharini (knowledge-holder of magic, ritual , mantras, mudras and meditation techniques) Vira (heroine) the most common term was Yogini (keeper of the occult secrets).
Described in Tantric texts as wild, ferocious and ‘fearless’, these “eternally transgressive yoginis” are described by Shaw as deriving “pleasure from the fact they are untameable”. She writes of “tantric feasts, or communal assemblies” in which yoginis engaged in esoteric rites of dance, poetry and song. Today the remains of their round, open-air stone temples are still found in India “where animal-headed statues of dancing women, stand as a reminder of their ecstatic rites.”
Shaw writes “Discovering the ‘divine female essence’ within her, was the female Tantric’s path.” And because of her biology, a Tantric yogini’s kundalini was much easier to awaken than her male counterparts. In fact according to Noble, the menstruation cycle, female sexuality, birth, and menopause were once seen as explicitly female siddhi’s – natural biological connections to spiritual power.
Today we might consider this veneration of the female body as “essentialist”. Many feminists see this view of a woman’s body as essentially different from a mans or as closer to nature as problematic. After all the whole “biology is destiny” thing has long been used to justify women’s oppression. But Noble urges us to extricate ourselves from the patriarchal view that those ‘differences’ make us ”lesser than” and reclaim our bodies as sources of power.
On this matter, I personally take cue from the “beautiful, passionate and untamed” Vajrayogini who figures so prominently in Tantric iconography and literature. In the Yogini Tantras she announces , “Wherever in the world a female body is seen, That should be recognized as my holy body”. Now that’s body positivity at work.
That’s why I believe there is a better way to resist the forces which seek to denigrate our natural functions and attempt to keep our bodies under control. We must begin with reconnecting with what is essential or authentic to our experience of being embodied – because how else will we know what is artificial or imposed?
Rewilding the yoga body means disconnecting from the artificial construct of “body image” itself, the strictures of race, class, gender that tell us to look, act and feel in certain way. It means entering the true yoga body of our sensations and feelings, to reconnect with the processes and cycles of the natural world, which flow through us. And it returns us to the ancient understanding of our foremothers, one in which our bodies and our biological processes are sacred and numinous.
In her book Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, author and psychologist C.P. Estes coined the term ‘Wild Woman Archetype’ to refer to the conceptualization of the female psyche and soul as rooted in the ‘wilds’ of instinct and uncivilized energy.“ She writes: “These words, wild and woman, cause women to remember who they are and what they are about. They create a metaphor to describe the force which funds all females. They personify a force that women cannot live without.”
Rewilding the yoga body is about much more than donning leather underwear and doing acrobatic poses in the great outdoors -because our bodies are more than’ images’, they are the source of our deepest nature. And I’m pretty sure it’s where we’ll find what we’re really looking for -the lost wilds of our soul.
So no matter how many images of yoga bodies alluringly posed amidst the wild forests or on windswept beaches – come before you – don’t be fooled. They are sirens who will seal you into a cycle of perpetual striving – because you will never measure up. Imagine instead the wild, dancing shamanic priestesses and the untamed transgressive Tantric yoginis. Seek instead to reclaim the “dynamic quality of ecstasy” that Noble writes “seems to especially mark the female-centered yoga experience”.
67 Comments Add yours
Bravo for this! As a yogini with a curvy body it was refreshing to know I’m not alone in reclaiming my wildness and loving my self completely regardless of my large breasts and fleshy hips. I do love practicing yoga but get weary of seeing endless photos of women with their ribs sticking out and tiny boobs in yoga apparel that would never expand to cover my ample curves. When I teach I remind the students to do as much as they can with the body they have at the moment, no judgement. It is actually the yoga that taught me to love myself as I am and I’ll always be grateful for that. This article will definitely help others to celebrate their personal beauty! Thanks for a great article Danielle.
Thank you for this. I especially am inspired by the idea of “transgressive” tantric yoginis. I will be taking that with me!
Date: Mon, 6 Oct 2014 20:12:36 +0000 To: email@example.com
I always find your musings of interest. I am also happy to know you are still “around”. Cheers Beth ( still practicing on my own ) Politano
Yes I am still “out here” and since I’m not teaching at the moment – also practicing on my own. Maybe we should a class somewhere together? If you haven’t tried the Ajna Yoga studio in Oak Bay, give it a try. Wonderful teachers, I think you’d like it. xo
Hmm, just my perception for sure. Wondering when the relentless attack on those who are thin and sexy will cease. The reality is in these ancient times the diversity if body types was the same as it is now. The olden portrayal of the very fleshy woman (beautiful as it is) was an indication of wealth and status. She in her own right was perfect. As much so as the thin beauty. I live purely with nature, eat wild weeds, live and die by natural process. I just so happen to be lean, cut, and perhaps to this aforementioned definition of modern beauty. Just how I was born. Nothing to do with anyone else or their unfortunate self hatred. Love all of you regardless. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. And walking a path of infinite self love is a possibility afforded to all. Hope everyone finds that for themselves !
LOVE LOVE LOVE YOUR FANTASTIC ARTICLE! THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR WISDOM.
Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
Rewilding The Yoga Body — fantastic article for all of us who love the primal roots of yoga and tantra…thank you Danielle Prohom Olson for an amazing piece of work…
Thank-you so much for sharing. I admire your work!
So well said!
Excellent, Danielle! Great article. Just in time before the Total Lunar Eclipse / Blood Moon… I have a Tanka with the Vajrayogini, in embrace with the blue primordial Buddha, right by my consultation table. Powerful influence… And when Lilith as an astrological Archetype comes up I refer to the stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, and C.P. Estes’s Women Who Run With the Wolves. Always so liberating to bring Lilith in. And NO, it’s not Yoga Barbies in the forest, perfectly styled and less than wild….
Greeting you, out there, and thanking you for great writing, Melanie
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Thanks Melanie – it’s always nice to hear from you! And I always love your insightful comments….
Thank you, lovely writing. Have you read Yoni Shakti by Uma Dinsmore-tuli yet?
I highly recommend this as a great source of reconnecting with our ‘wild’ side. In what she calls ‘blood wisdom’.
Yes I’ve been reading her wonderful book – so much material! I plan to write a review soon…
well said! love all your posts. they all provide food for though, in-spiration for the soul and makes me feel,love and appreciate my body
And thanks Toma for being such a loyal reader!
Thank-you everyone for your supportive comments. It makes the long lonely hours of writing all worthwhile…much appreciated.
Reblogged this on Wild Women Wisdom and commented:
Reblogging THIS, because THIS IS WILD WOMEN WISDOM! So great, thanks!
Excellent article. My classes consist largely of beautiful mature women who are in tune with their bodies and are not intimidated by the unrealistic expectectations represented in mainstream. Sharing this article can put a better perspective out there for the younger up and coming practitioners. Thank you.
Wonderful article, great perspective of tantra, I haven’t heard of Vicki Noble for ages, I’m fascinated that she is interested in dakinis – very interesting topic. I am looking forward to getting the book you reference on Women in Tantra. Have you heard of the togdenma? and the work Tenzin Palmo is doing?
I am posting to facebook, I know lots of people I want to read this.
my favorite part
“it returns us to the ancient understanding of our fore-mothers, one in which our bodies and our biological processes are sacred and numinous.”
Great article! Now I want to read all your others. Thank you!
Some paleo anthropologists believe the statuettes of extremely robust women came from cultures and epochs where women were fattened during feast time and consumed during famine time. They were not so much objects of worship in and of themselves but reminders to be grateful to the powers that be for sustenance. No more of an ideal for modern women to emulate than the woman in Africa who were fattened before matrimony to a grotesque degree because that’s the way that culture swung. Women who have the freedom to be and think and feel and look the way they want should use it before any well or ill meaning mindset takes it away from them. Revel in the inner glory and beauty of which the outside is just a concomitant.
“if you see buddha on the road kill him”.
honestly, everything changed for me when i stopped trying to experience the formless within different forms.
Our bodies are mostly defined by the random mixture of our parents genes. We just start to discover and understand how our genes work together. As a grandson, son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew, man by my own – I sometimes feel incomplete regarding the ability of women to carry life, give birth and suckle. Like Bud Spencer wrote: to him women were always closer to the divine – more close to the Creative.
Unfortunately many man nowdays let their destructive side run free.
Stay wild and free –
and if you want –
make art not war !!!
None of the ancient depictions are representative either. They were the “Barbies” of their time. Depictions of the human form in art, especially the female form, have always been idealized. The ideal changes. The bodies don’t, for the most part.
I’m aware that many scholars and paleo-archeologists believe these prehistoric images were a kind of early ‘porn’ but I think that just reflects the viewpoint of our secular age. The fact that the vast bulk of prehistoric figurines were found in food granaries, communal stone ovens or food storage areas suggest they were magical talismans used to ensure abundance and plenty. Tantric images of women have been voluptuous and sexualized, but not always ‘idealized’ or ‘sweet’ in the way we think of Barbie today. That I think would look something like this….
Wonderful article – and yes, re-wilding the feminine body will take a lot more than leather underwear and a fabulous back bend on a forest floor *grins wickedly*. For me, my body is the gateway to my Sacred Self, something that yoga brings me back to on a daily basis.
well done !
you make so many beautiful points.
although i do feel like i should ask, is this the actual pic of the woman in question ?
did you guys give her a heads up that you were going to be posting her pic and discussing her on your blog ?
luckily, no one said anything mean or destructive.
but if she’s the topic we should probably give her a chance to share her viewpoints as well.
especially since yours appear to be a counter point to the comments she made under her pic.
just out of respect for other yogis.
I’m pretty sure the source of the original photo was blameless in all this – the image was shared by a large social media network dedicated to “evolving consciousness” . It was they that attached the ‘rewilding inspiration’ hashtag to it – and they should know better. I thought a lot about calling them to task on the matter, but in the end I decided that it would antagonize and sidetrack the whole point of the post (as happened once before i.e. Why I’m Still A Feminist: The Goddess and Yoga).
that makes sense.
its always hard for me to tell if its a personal pic or a corporate pic when its out of context.
i know someone who once found a pic of herself on a blog ( unbeknownst to her ) and it shook her up.
however, the commenters were way less civil than your readers so im sure that makes a difference.
because of that i always ask the blogger if the subject matter is aware that her picture is the basis of conversation.
Amazing. Thanks so much. I can’t wait to read more and more from you 🙂
LOVE this. Seriously good stuff to chew on.
While you make some excellent points in your article , I feel I must speak up on behalf of my skinny sisters. You may be naturally curvy but some women (real women) are naturally skinny. There is nothing unnatural or unwild about a woman being small. I have a naturally tiny yet curvy frame, I am not cut with muscles, I have tattoos, I practice yoga in the woods, in my yard, on the beach, but rarely confined in a studio. I don’t starve myself, I don’t overwork my body, I don’t compare myself to other women, and I don’t let images on Facebook get under my skin. Barbie was never my idol either. My point is that by picking on thin women in backbends you are exactly guilty of what you claim to criticize. This may be her natural expression of her wild feminine goddess and who are you to judge that? I’m tired of full bodied women picking on their thinner counterparts. I’m aware that the media these days glamorizes being skinny but for some women its just how their genes have expressed themselves. We are all beautiful no matter the size or shape and we should celebrate that fact!
Don’t disagree with your points Aine – but I was taking issue with this image being equated with rewilding – or with images of the ‘wild women’ in prehistory and yoga history…there is no ‘picking on’ intended here…
Beautiful text! Something like “I do not practice in the woods, rather I am the woods too”! Thank you.
What a great piece! Thank you!!
Would love to get in touch with you. I couldn’t find your contact (email) on this anywhere.
Such a beautiful and ispiring post! I would like to translate it in italian and repost on my website http://www.centroatman.net linking to the original if you agree.
Please do! Thank-you.
Danielle, I appreciate your message. However, women judging women’s bodies (i.e. assuming you know what blonde, thin yogi pictured above has been through spiritually) is *not* the way we’re going to progress as a gender. I challenge you to keep bringing these thoughtful, intellectual messages without throwing a woman (or specific body type) under the bus to get your messages across.
Gotcha. You are not the first to point this out and I’ve been thinking a lot about it…will be writing about it soon.
Just another perspective on the “Yoga Barbie” body:
Yes, great piece. Am thinking on it all…
I love your site, but I do find this pose and setting very, very appealing as it hits my motivation to do more yoga and I am most drawn to doing this outside in nature. I love this picture and the energy….I don’t mean to dishonor you but to give another perspective as I feel as we shed the lower energy within, we do gravitate to our natural body weight and to our joyful movement in all forms! Blessings to you!
You’re talking about the image of the body, not the body. For all you know that lithe yogini could have binged and purged after the photoshoot; for all you know she could have lived her life without ever once trying to control her appearance; for all you know she might have been born a man.
To me all bodies are already wild.
Yes, you are right I was talking about the image of the body, and all the ideas we’ve attached to it -but I wasn’t talking about the personal body pictured in the photograph at all.
Thank you for this long overdue stance. In Holland recently there appeared naked pics online of a female perfect yoga body. All trimmed and shaven, taken by her male partner. She looked more like a cramped statue of never enough perfectioism, and set yet another example as an exploitable model,, than that of a yogi.
Yoga is about the mind and spirit much more than about the body. Its purpose is to still your mind and enlighten your spirit by physical and breathing exercises. Kundalini teacher Yoghi Bhadjan would say: its not sbout HOW you do the exercise, it is the fact THAT you do it, that makes you a yogi. Sat Nam and Namaste.
Hey! Have you ever considered sharing your work at elephant journal? I think our readers would love this piece and / or others. If interested, email me (Renee) at email@example.com.
No pressure, no strings attached about that. I genuinely (personally) love this piece and am glad I came across your blog!
Reblogged this on Freedom To Flow and commented:
I very rarely reblog anything, but I resonate with this . . . I’ve too have written on the theme of “did women invent yoga”
Hey, do you have a source/reference for the statement “Tantra Yoga – which predates the Vedic” by thousands of years? I have not heard this before.
I believe this quote came from Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor, from the chapter “Tantra and The World Spine in their book The Great Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth.
Yoga historians such as Alain Daniélou and Georg Feurstein have addressed Tantra’s ancient prehistoric roots and Uma Dinsmore Tuli’s book Yoga Shakti traces recent scholarship which “tracks the roots of yoga into the Pan-Indian presence of many mother goddess cults who were subsumed into the later Vedic Pantheon”.
But online it is easy to find the articles of Tantric scholar and author Ramesh Bjonnes who has been riling up the yoga world for years with his contentions that texts such as the Upanishads, Vedanta, Samkhya and the Yoga Sutras have a common source – the prehistoric traditions of Tantra, sourced in shamanic practice. “If we search back into ancient human history and try to trace yoga’s origin, it seems compelling that yoga emerged from Shamanism rather than from the priestly Vedic tradition, as most Western yoga scholars believe”
Here is a good place to start: http://www.integralworld.net/bjonnes1.html
But what is less addressed – is this – while the mists of time have obscured any certainty about what these shamanic practices were originally all about, one thing is pretty certain, women were the original shamans – everywhere. But that is for a future post….
What about the creativity of the shots? Don’t yogis snd yoginis practice outside and meditate outside? I don’t see what the big stink is. Maybe I missed something.
This is really, really great. Thank you.
I decided to share it on Reality Sandwich with credit to your blog. Super important to state what you stated and I’m glad you did! Let’s more people hear it.
Thank-you so much, very appreciated.
A body is a body… The actual practice of Yoga on an experiential level isn’t about the appearance of bodies at all. It’s supposed to show us a path of gratitude for the bodies we’ve been given, no matter what they look like. It also teaches us that playing the comparison/judge game is nothing but the fragile little ego. Interesting historical info for our rational minds though, thanks for that part.
Reblogged this on Ontembare Vrouwen Web and commented:
Some really great yogini insights… have a look
If you haven’t yet read Yoni Shakti by Uma Dinsmore tuli I would highly recommend it.
Thanks for this piece. I don’t know naming and slating specific women is helpful and I have found it off putting in your previous articles. Women slate each other enough compassion must win through at some point.
But I love the article and the points you raise. So thank you.
Beautiful thoughts, and also very enriching dialogue in the comments above. I love the image of the Kabuki she-demon and buzzard pal eating pomegranates under a tree! Grateful to have found your blog.
Reblogged this on Exploration of the Sacred & Conscious; including Sexuality and commented:
Great post and a must read.
Reblogged this on Myriad Chiliocosms and commented:
Interesting Point… So bring “her” back…
I really liked the momentum of the article. I just kept nodding and learning and agreeing and then
“Rewilding the yoga body is about much more than donning leather underwear and doing acrobatic poses in the great outdoors -because our bodies are more than’ images’, they are the source of our deepest nature.”
I think this would have been my conclusion to that last bit: the outdoors and the taking care of ones body with yoga both have in common a quest for better health. I would then like to draw a picture of a person doing down dog, reading a book about harvesting medicinal mushrooms while in an old growth forest by a waterfall with a deer.
Let us call the other photos foga.
Thank you for a very interesting article. One of the most important evolutions of yoga in the last 80 or so years, is the involvement of women in yoga. This is undoubtedly the biggest benefit of yoga coming to the west, as yoga in the modern Hindu period has been in a period of male dominated stagnation.
I think we have to be careful in assuming that the Vedic age was unfriendly to women. Truth is, we don’t know too much about the Vedic age. When the Muslims invaded India, massive libraries of Vedic books were burnt. The term ‘Hindu,’ is actually a Muslim word.
The Vedic scriptures that survived were a very small proportion of what was actually written down.
Its clear that though modern western society has a degree of sexual equality, we are still very much in a male dominated age. By this I don’t mean we are in a Shiva age, which would be the highest evolvement of male-hood. Rather, the male force that predominates nowadays I would liken to an unhealthy, drunken male draining the Earth dry.
This isn’t a force seen just in men, it is in women also. Many women feel they have to adopt male tendencies in order to survive, but in effect they are adopting dysfunctional male tendencies, repressing their true feminine strength and destroying their health. At the risk of offending many, I’m going to suggest that this maybe the biggest cause of cancer in women.
Men on the other hand have also become unhealthy vehicles of anger and repression, or wimpy new agers as David Deida accurately describes them.
Any man on the path to evolvement knows that the wild, untameable woman is incredibly desirable and attractive. It does however require a degree of faith and surrender. A measure of strength in uncertainty. Men throughout the ages have sought to ‘tame’ women as they have feared women. In doing so, the balance between society and nature has been deeply upset.
Good commentary. With regard to depictions of women, there are some who argue that paleolithic art was not (at all meant to be) 1:1, but expresions of visions and hence spiritual powers. Thus a woman’s body is unsurprsingly large around the belly and bottom, since that the magic region and entrance/exit for life.
I thought the exact same thing! When I see images of rewilding the yoga body I almost laugh because an icon of a corporate culture is the exact opposite of what is free. After having read your article, I think I’m going to get back into yoga. I stopped after having children, but I feel that now I would be in a better position to start again. Perhaps, I could even fit into the clothes my husband bought me from <a href="www.hardtailforever.com"Hard Tail Forever. Glad to have finally found a blog site that convinced me to pick up one of my greatest passions again. 🙂