Perhaps stupidly I decided to challenge myself with a more advanced Ashtanga class after a few months of not practicing. Suffice it to say I was struggling to keep up. I found myself in a very physically demanding situation, with my brain and emotions doing their best to catch up. I broke several poses, rested in Child and counted the minutes till class was over. Not quite the Zen experience I had hoped for.
About three-quarters of the way through class, during a particularly difficult pose, I happened to look over at my neighbor. She was wearing a Live.Breathe.Grow t-shirt with the quote “I am Strong. I am Powerful. I am Fearless. I am Warrior,” written on the back. The word Warrior jumped out at me in an almost magical way. And it got me thinking, ‘I am a warrior too. I’m here, I’m doing this. It may not be pretty but I’m not giving up.’ It was amazing what a few words could do for my spirit and my morale. From that point on, whenever I struggled I reminded myself that I was a warrior, that I could do anything I set my mind to.
The concept of a ”woman warrior’ stayed with me long after the class had ended. It affected me because it seemed to be a new concept, not only in my own life but in the image of the feminine. I personally had never identified myself in that way, more often than not, as quite the opposite. The idea of being a powerful, independent force to be reckoned with was empowering. It started changing my mindset from ‘oh wouldn’t that be nice,’ or ‘I wish’ to ‘Why not me?’
The sad thing is that I am not alone in finding the concept novel. Women are still taught to be submissive, innocent, coquettish and above all attractive. The stereotype still prevails that women are the weaker sex. And while most of us like to pretend that stereotypes do not affect our daily lives, they do. Stereotypes make people distinctly aware of their place in society, so aware in fact, that the knowledge can affect their ability to perform necessary tasks, according to Stanford University psychologist Claude Steele, who along with Joshua Aronson, labeled the phenomenon, stereotype threat. So it is more important than ever to rise above incorrect stereotypes in our daily lives, proving to ourselves what we’re capable of.
The belief in the power of women is as old as human society itself. Our ancestors believed that the mysteries of life were tied to the mysteries of creation, and nowhere in their experience did they see that transformation more intimately than in the transformations of women. At a time when a man’s role in conception was not known, women alone were seen to hold the power to produce life, according to Laurie Cabot, author of Power of the Witch: The Earth, The Moon and the Magical Path to Enlightenment. Cabot goes on to explain that the earliest works of art depict humans as mothers, dating back 35,000 to 10,000 B.C.E., dubbed Venus figurines. At one time women held positions of honor and power, revered for their innate connection to the earth.
“In a culture where women are often considered the natural victims of men, tough women rewrite the script,” states Sherrie Inness, author of Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture. Meditating on powerful role models can help us put aside our egos and liberate dormant qualities within ourselves. Invoking the power of a deity can shed light on particular points of our consciousness that may need room to grow and explore. Particularly one that represents the divine feminine, such as the Hindu goddess Durga, who is seen as the embodiment of Shakti, the creative feminine force. Durga in sanskrit means ‘the invincible’ and represents the warrior aspect of the Divine Mother. Regardless of your personal spiritual practice, Durga can be viewed as a powerful symbol, representing the ideal that women can exist and rise independently.
Women now more than ever are finding their voices and reclaiming the warrior-goddess within. “In the U.S., women already control 51.3% of the nation’s private wealth…[and] women hold 57.5% of all U.S. college bachelor’s degrees, 61% of all master’s degrees, and 49% of all doctorate degrees,” according to Maddy Dychtwald , author of Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better. Honoring the warrior within is essential for our own growth, as well as a stepping stone to become role models for young women. We can live by example and show the next generation how powerful we women can be, whether on the mat, in the board room or at the kitchen table.
“Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.” – Margaret Sanger