One of the most common words I’ve heard women use to describe their first experience of Empress Yoga is ‘confronting’.
This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s kind of the point. The purpose of this style of yoga is to invite you to explore aspects of being a woman you may not have explored before. These practices may confront because they ask you to connect to what it means to be a woman, in order to heal, love and celebrate your body and feminine nature. It can be like shining a light on places you may not have even realised were there.
The number one thing to know about Empress Yoga is that everything is an invitation.
As a Women’s Health specialist (Chinese Medicine) a large part of what I do is help women find natural health alternatives and solutions through those life experiences that are unique to being a woman – such as menstruation, fertility, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, perimenopause, menopause as well as mental and emotional wellbeing.
Because of my background in Women’s Health – and as a birth worker – I went on to study a style of yoga based on practices designed specifically for women’s health and women’s bodies. This feminine style of yoga is what I call Empress Yoga and the basis of my Empress Secrets Program. Empress Yoga means exploring practices that target areas of your body that are unique to being a woman, which naturally means your sexual health and reproductive system – your womb, ovaries, pelvis and pelvic floor, yoni, heart, and breasts etc – using techniques such as inner connection, visualisation, directed breath, movement, asanas, sound expression, acupressure and self-massage.
This can be a lot of fun but may also be confronting (good confronting!). This is because Empress Yoga invites you to be with aspects of yourself related to being a woman that you may not have given much attention to before. After all, how often do you pay attention to what is going on in your body, let alone focus your attention to places such as your Heart or Womb? And it can be normal for women to hold a lot of pain, tension, or trauma in their body simply from living in a culture that teaches us to deny so much of what it means to be a woman. Of course, this is the point of looking within, to heal, but doing so can bring up your stuff. Even just taking the time and space to turn your attention inward to notice what’s going on inside you can be confronting if you’re used to being busy and always on the go.
So that said it’s important to know everything is an invitation. You get to set the pace and there’s nothing you have to do. Whereas you might be used to approaching exercise like it’s a competition to push your body or to follow what you’re told, Empress Yoga is about giving yourself full permission to check in with your body and listen to YOUR guidance above all else.
This might seem like a small thing but it’s possibly the most important practice you can gift yourself when it comes to your health and wellbeing.
No-one is more qualified than you to know what’s best for your body. You live in your body 24/7 so this is your most intimate relationship. Western culture tends to objectify the body which causes disconnection from this relationship, and this has led to a model of healthcare where someone else is the expert of your body and things are done to you whilst you play a passive role in your healing journey. And if you look at how the objectification of the body translates to the fitness industry, your body becomes something to ‘train’, to dominate and even punish (no pain, no gain) rather than a loving relationship of trust and respect.
On the other hand, from a Holistic Health model your body is seen as your greatest guide and teacher – encoded with deep wisdom and knowing. Rather than pain being something to numb, pain is your body trying to tell you something.
So, for example, period pain isn’t all part of being a woman and something you should suck up and get on with. It’s your body trying to tell you something, perhaps about your relationship to your womb, your sexuality or creativity, or how you feel about being a woman.
Sensation is the language of the body and pain is part of that language. Learning how to listen to your body is a skill that teaches you to lean into and trust your body wisdom, your own intuitive and instinctual knowing and make choices and decisions based on this inner guidance.
Whilst this might seem simple, it’s actually really powerful because it puts you at the helm and empowers you to play an active role in your healing journey. Over the years I’ve consistently seen this practice lead to better outcomes for women as they navigate pregnancy, birth, new mothering and also whilst going through the IVF journey. And it’s an approach that asks you to look within in order to heal, rather than needing someone else to fix you. Yes, it can be confronting because it means taking responsibility and sometimes making choices that disagree with what other people want you to do, but that’s why it’s a ‘practice’. Keep practicing and it gets easier!
Self-leadership both liberates and connects you to your own power and this is all tied into your relationship with your body, femininity and intuition. When you’re so busy fighting yourself you don’t have power. When you’re so busy hating your body your disconnected from the source of your power. And when you’re in the habit of not listening to your body you’re also disconnected. Learning to love, respect and forgive your body is key to accessing the power and wisdom that’s rightfully yours, and so needed in this world. The concept of ‘power’ can be uncomfortable for women because we’ve been taught to associate power with the ‘dominate and control’ model of leadership, but true power is about what happens on the inside.
So, when it comes to Empress Yoga, please remember everything is an invitation. Self-leadership is part of the practice. It may be new to you and you may not really have a sense of what your ‘inner guidance’ is yet and that’s ok. The most important starting point is knowing you’re welcome to participate to the extent you feel comfortable. It’s about letting yourself honour what feels right to YOU, rather than what you think you should do, as well as leaning into those edges where you feel confronted as a path to reclaiming more of your power. And what felt good last week might not feel right this week and that’s the art of living in a woman’s body – you’re always changing so your exercise practice should reflect this. Learning to tune in and follow your body wisdom above all else is welcome and encouraged. Let your body be your greatest guide and teacher, not the person at the front of the class!
It’s all an invitation, not an instruction. Can you feel the difference?
It’s ok to do things differently. It’s ok to not follow along with what everyone else is doing. It’s ok to be quiet when you breathe or it’s ok to be loud and make a lot of noise. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to use the class to simply rest. It’s ok to be strong and it’s ok to be soft. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to be sad. It’s all welcome!
When you give yourself permission to be yourself, you also give other women permission to be themselves, so thank you.