Last weekend, I attended workshop with my former teacher, Shiva Rea . About 10 years ago, I studied quite regularly with Shiva. Her teaching has greatly influenced my teaching throughout the years, so it was thrilling to return to her classroom after nearly a decade. Shiva’s path has taken her to India many times; in fact, I went with her on the first retreat she led in Kerala about 8 years ago. Her love and reverence for the Indian culture greatly permeates her teaching. During the workshop we focused on integrating Vinyasa flow with Kalari, a traditional Indian form of martial arts.
I found it so satisfying to stray away from traditional asana and rigid alignment and move into a feeling or bhavana state in the practice. This new combination of movement had a very grounded and earthy feel. There were many wide stance poses, like Warrior 1 legs, where we brought our upper body down towards the ground. From there we would moved into low sweeping, swooping squatting poses as we transitioned into the next movement. Shiva seamlessly combined some Kalari movements into a Vinyasa flow and reminded us not to focus on “doing it right” or getting too “heady” and thinking our way through this experience, but rather, to feel the movement more viscerally. “Be earth bound and fierce like the goddess, Durga!” she proclaimed. Upon hearing this, something shifted for me. The idea of drawing energy from the earth and feeling it’s shakti or feminine energy reminded me of the women whose births I have witnessed as well as my own birthing experience.
Durga literally translated means the “the invincible.” As a Hindu Goddess she is depicted with multiple arms, carrying various weapons and is straddling a ferocious lion or tiger. She is often pictured as battling or slaying demons, particularly Mahishasura, the buffalo demon (1). Immediately the embodiment of Durga came to me in terms of birthing women. These wide, grounded, confident stances brought to light the images and bhavana (feeling) of women birthing their babies. During my own birthing experience, I had to dig deep into my own fierceness to birth my baby. During the final stage of birthing my son, I had reached a point of total exhaustion. I had been laboring for hours and was starting to wonder if he was ever going to come out. I looked inside myself, tuned everyone else out and from deep down, mustered the strength and energy to push one more time. I told myself, get behind this and push this baby out. I found my invincible birthing goddess that night.
For me, embodying Durga was taking the form to push through a hard situation. Others may find their Durga to mean standing up for your birth choices even if they are not the popular choice. I don’t believe this has to mean being fierce in a combative or forceful way. Durga may simply manifest itself as confidence, and trusting in and drawing energy and support from the forces of the mother earth.
So the next time you are feeling too “heady” or ungrounded, in yoga class or elsewhere, try conjuring the bhavana of the goddess Durga and all her powerful, feminine invincibility.