~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Yoga Resources for Women

February 28, 2012
For most of its long history, yoga has been a discipline for men alone. Its practices were designed by and for male bodies, temperaments and sensibilities. In fact it wasn't until 1937, when yoga master T. Krishnamacharya reluctantly agreed to teach Indra Devi, that yoga's doors were finally opened to western women.

During the last seventy-five years, yoga has evolved in important ways that have allowed women to grow, thrive, and even become leaders of the discipline. As more and more women have embraced yoga as their own, they have developed philosophies and practices that address the unique needs and interests of women.

I turn to many of these resources whenever I have a question specifically about women's needs. I also use them when I need an infusion of feminine energy to guide and inspire me. Here are a few of my very favorite resources for women.

Awakening the Spine, by Vanda Scaravelli. This is my all-time favorite book about yoga, perhaps because it focuses not on poses but rather on the energy and inspiration from which they are born. It is filled with photos of the natural world, along with short and poetic explorations relating to yoga practice. Chapters include "The Song of the Body," Going Round," "Gravity," and "The Necessity of An Empty Mind." This book is a real gem!

The Woman's Book of Yoga and Health: A Lifelong Guide to Wellness, by Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden. This beautiful book is based on the Iyengar method, renowned for its precise and therapeutic approach, and includes chapters and yoga sequences that address a broad range of women's issues. The sequences were designed by Patricia Walden, one of my very favorite yoga instructors and an expert in addressing the unique needs of women. Patricia's sequences include "The Women's Energizing Sequence," "Befriending Your Body," "Honoring Your Menstrual Cycle," "Relieving Headaches," "Easing into Menopause," and "Strengthening Your Heart."

The Woman's Yoga Book: Asana and Pranayama for All Phases of the Menstrual Cycle, by Bobby Clennell. This book is also written by an expert Iyengar yoga instructor. In addition to sharing sequences for everything from irritability to migraines to abdominal cramps to insomnia, it also includes an enlightening exploration of the cycles of a woman's life from a holistic perspective. The book is rich and detailed, and is likely to be more accessible to those who are already familiar with Iyengar yoga or who have an established yoga practice.

The Female Pelvis: Anatomy and Exercises, by Blandine Calais-Germain. I turned to this book when I was pregnant with my first child and looking for ways to prepare my body and mind for a smooth and safe birthing experience. This book offers detailed descriptions and diagrams, as well as exercises to help maintain pelvic health. Who knew there was so much to learn about one small (albeit important) part of the female body?

Inner Beauty, Inner Light: Yoga for Pregnant Women by Frederick Leboyer. I so enjoyed and appreciated reading this book when I was pregnant. It offers a beautiful and poetic approach to childbirth, and includes photos of yoga master BKS Iyengar's daughter demonstrating yoga postures while pregnant. This isn't your typical step-by-step, how-to-do-a-yoga-pose sort of book. It is more likely to appeal to women interested in exploring alternative approaches to childbirth, along with some yogic inspiration along the way.

Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times
, by Judith Lasater. I heartily recommend this book to anyone - male or female - but have included it here because I believe it addresses such an important need for women in particular. Expert yoga instructor Judith Lasater offers a detailed look at those blissful restorative yoga postures that help soften, soothe and settle us. Welcome these poses into your life and learn how to tame tension and embrace ease!

Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause: A Book of Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health for Midlife and Beyond, by Suza Francina. I'm glad I didn't wait until I'm older to buy this book. It offers a unique, yogic perspective on the menopausal years, and also includes postures and sequences to address a range of challenges that sometimes arise in the menopausal years, including hot flashes, osteoporosis, and fatigue.  I rest easy knowing I have this book on my bookshelf when I need it, and I am glad I've deepened my understanding in advance, so I am prepared to move with ease toward this important stage in a woman's life.

The Feminine Unfolding (DVD), Roots and Rings (CD) and other resources by Angela Farmer. Anyone interested in exploring a more feminine approach to yoga should befriend Angela's work. This is not feminine in the pink and flowery sense, but rather in the strong, vital, tender, and embodied energetic sense. In Angela's hands, yoga postures are transformed from statues into living, breathing dances of energy. You will learn to wiggle, to spiral, to embody, to welcome and - most importantly - to tap into the wealth of wisdom and beauty within you. (Full disclosure: I helped Angela create her "The Feminine Unfolding," and I am unabashedly supportive of her beautiful spirit and important contribution to the world of modern yoga.)