Women, Yoga and the Religious Right

I think it is fantastic what has taken place for women in the world of yoga today. Yoga has been a tremendous source of empowerment, inspiration and confidence building for dedicated female practitioners. In fact it is due to the sheer numbers of women practicing yoga that yoga is being promulgated in North America and around the world today. If it weren’t for the volumes of women practicing yoga today, I might be out of a job!

The remarkable explosion of women in yoga today suggests the positive ways in which women are caring for their health, coming to know their bodies and nourishing their spirits. The ramifications of hundreds and thousands of women practicing yoga, is that women accrue (familiar in yoga jargon) “core strength”. This involves not only a kind of physical centering leading to balance, poise and stable bio-rhythms, but also involves a sense of independence.  Through yoga, a woman can gain self-esteem and is empowered to decide what is best for her.

Concurrent with this rise in stature, there is a powerful movement afoot in America to undermine the autonomy and spirit of women. It is coming from the far right, is tied to a strict sense of Christian moral codes, and is making a political move for power. The two main issues stressed by the religious and political right are anti-abortion and anti gay rights. The objective is to over-turn Roe vs. Wade (1973) and strip a woman of her right to forgo an unwanted pregnancy. Already today, the assistance and guidance of  groups such as Planned Parenthood have been curtailed and so a woman’s access to counsel has been drastically cut. The agenda of many within the Christian right is to re-establish the traditional family model. Combined with the anti-abortion agenda, this can only mean that women will be made to stay at home, bear children and play the role dictated for them in the Bible (as some would believe), be a good housewife–second to him.

In addition to the anti-abortion movement is another fervor, being stirred by Tea Party Republicans and evangelical interest groups today. This zeal brings to mind the tenor of the George W Bush campaign that overran Al Gore in the last lap of elections. The sentiment is homophobic and anti gay.

I would like to suggest that this phobia is really anti-feminine, and collaborates against the feminine spirit. I am thinking of the archetypal feminine here, that which is expressive, creative, and complex. The quest under way to is to squelch the vital expression of the feminine, one that is carried forth by artists, designers and thinkers alike. With elections coming up in the United States in 2012, there are forerunners in the Republican Party—Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin– who have an agenda to douse the right-to-choose for gays and women alike. It will no doubt be a struggle for power, and at the center of it is an underlying agenda to undermine the “divine feminine”.

The threat toward women’s rights (and certainly gay rights) is not limited to North America. The explosive changes in the Middle East will bring further questions to the surface of the role of women in society. Within the traditional gender roles in Muslim countries, women are the property of men and their rights of self expression severely restricted. The memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran by Iranian Azar Nafisi, is a remarkable testimony of the struggle of modern day women in Islamic nations to speak freely.

Not only in the celebratory world of yoga, but within society, women have been able to carve out greater freedom, greater possibilities than ever before. However in America today we are witnessing a backlash that could be a dire set back to the liberation of the feminine energy, influence and vitality.

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