Yoga Beyond the Binary

The binary thrives in a colonial patriarchal collective consciousness and ultimately contributes to a vision of the world where feminine people are expected to be a certain way, and masculine people are expected to be quite different and complementary.

It is Pride month, so I thought my queer self would take you on a deep-dive about yoga and the gender binary. These are just some of my thoughts about why I find it unhelpful to use terms such as “masculine” and “feminine” to describe energy, embodiment, or intent when teaching yoga. I also thought I would add a reminder about yoga’s roots and how Hinduism’s stories operate outside the binary with deities and heroes who trouble gender.

How do you feel about using “masculine” or “feminine” to describe energy / intent in yoga? How do you feel about hearing it in a class?

What does it mean to use the terms “masculine energy” or “feminine energy” in yoga?

What do you actually mean? If you mean soft, healing, proactive, fiery, why not just say that? The idea that you don’t need to explain what you mean when you say “masculine” or Feminine” energy implies that everybody shares the same definition of these words, which is not true. The way that some qualities are perceived as either masculine or feminine changes through time and space.

In some cultures, the moon is described as having masculine energy, which is the opposite as the way our Euro-dominant culture views the moon.

How the binary confines us

The binary thrives in a colonial patriarchal collective consciousness and ultimately contributes to a vision of the world where feminine people are expected to be a certain way, and masculine people are expected to be quite different and complementary.

If the moon is feminine, and the sun is masculine, what energy am I tapping into if I wasn’t to embody twilight? If we are describing both ends of a spectrum, let’s name that it is a spectrum, and contextualize it as such! If we can name the in-between, maybe the binary does not give us such a helpful vocabulary after all.

Naming the in-between

Reminding yourself/your students that we all embody both the masculine and feminine energy is helpful but is not enough to highlight and celebrate all the things that exist outside of the binary.

If we aim to live in balance, don’t we aim to spend most of our time in the middle? Right in the middle of fiery energy and complete inertia? Of intense effort and complete ease? Of inward, solitary contemplation and outward, public conversations? Of the feminine and the masculine energies? So why can’t we name that space?

Going back to yoga’s roots

South Indian folklore, tradition, and faith recognize the fluidity of gender, and the full spectrum of these lively energies that morph, disappear and transform inside of us, as well as the existence of energies and people existing outside of the binary. In Hinduism, Brahman (who could be compared to the monotheist God) is considered by many to be genderless. Hindus also revere androgynous deities such as Ardhanarishvara, who is said to represent totality beyond duality. Hinduism has many stories about deities changing their sex, and cross-dressing, and South-Indian culture recognizes a “third-sex” named Hijra.

So let’s go beyond the binary, and explore our expressions and energies as part of a tremendous spectrum where everything and its opposite can co-exist. Let’s embody all the nuance of the natural world.
This blog was originally a post on Laura’s Instagram account.

By Laura Chaignon

Laura Chaignon (she/her) is a queer european settler based in Katarokwi (Kingston) in so-called Canada. Laura is a mindfulness and yoga facilitator, and an arts worker. When teaching, she thrives to create an approachable and inclusive space, allowing students to grow into the shapes they individually need to cultivate joy, healing, and rest. Her intention is to inspire authentic movement, radical care, and boundless imaginings. She is a lover of community, of silly jokes and of all things imperfect.

Laura’s profile photo was taken by Chelsea Stevenson (@surefootyogi).

Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

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