We live in a society that praises competitiveness. We take pride in our sports teams, beauty pageants, ratings of Blockbuster movies, and who won first prize in any contest. The gold standard—a combination of money, power, and status—carries over into our work and personal relationships.
Our competitive society especially creates a chasm among women. In a society that encourages competitiveness, can women use the tools they learn on the yoga mat to lend their voice, and their hand, to other women?
Recently I went to a women-only networking event. The energy in the room was vibrant as women of every size and color discussed ideas, brainstormed together, and bolstered each other through mutual respect and admiration. When women come together to aid each other rather than cut each other down, everyone is stronger and more empowered.
As social beings, women are meant to work together. Traditionally as the gatherers in a hunting-and-gathering society, women stuck together to watch the children, tend to the tribe, and ensure the safety of the group. Women are hardwired to collaborate, not to compete.
During an asana practice, we move into various shapes, such as a triangle, cat, cow, dog, tree, or eagle. We take the shapes of all these different beings in nature to understand that we are one with everything in nature. The fear of another woman taking our beauty, youth, or success is so ingrained, however, there is still a practice of sideways glances, cutting remarks, and jealousy.
But at the same time, we take the shape of a goddess in Utkata Konasana and get distracted by a gorgeous woman on another mat. Instead of noting that she, like you, is a goddess, we may spiral down a rabbit hole of emotions and thoughts that are not empowering to you or her.
Some may argue that a competitive society helps people strive to be their best. But more often, a competitive culture breeds feelings of inadequacy, as we look for outside validation of our worth.
Yoga teaches that everything we need to grow and to succeed is already within us. Our yoga practice is not to hold a perfect posture but rather to hold ourselves the best that we can. Both on and off the mat, we must consistently practice compassion to ourselves and to others. This is the process of self-reflection, inner awareness, and understanding that each person is on their own path.
In yoga classes, we are asked to self-reflect, express gratitude, and recognize our practice as one of seva—service to ourselves and to others. When we move beyond the asanas as simply a form of exercise, and cultivate harmony within and around us, we learn our part in a larger community.
Ultimately we must understand that another person’s journey does not shadow our own. Your thoughts and emotions are forms of energy that affect your well-being and health.
When you judge or perceive another woman as a threat, recognize that your inner self may be experiencing feelings of doubt or inadequacy. Trust in your strengths, abilities, and sense of self-worth. Counter any habitual nature to compete by supporting women through your actions and thoughts.
When you bolster up the women around you, you will discover that your ability to empower another woman will not limit you. It will give you the wings to fly.
Reference: Anderson, Sherry Ruth and Patricia Hopkins. The Feminine Face of God: The Unfolding of the Sacred in Women. New York: Bantam Books, 1991. Print.