Over Christmas, she asked me if I thought Ashtanga was more of “a man’s practice.” The feminist inside of me reacted immediately (almost in anger!). These were her points and my responses:
Kim: Ashtanga emphasizes being lean and light, but women are curvy and it’s harder to be lean.
Me: It’s healthy for everyone regardless of gender to be lean and light. I think it’s possible for women to be lean, light, AND curvy.
Kim: Postures seem to squish women’s body parts (i.e. breast and belly).
Me: What's wrong with that? I don't think that is harmful (and may even be beneficial – many postures are meant to put pressure on/massage various body parts and organs).
Kim: You aren’t supposed to practice when menstruating. Does this go back to an idea that having your period is dirty?
Me: This is a time of rest for the woman's body (if I don’t rest during this time I definitely feel a difference in my practice). I think this is a sign of respect for the woman and her ability to have children, rather than because she is “dirty.” Also, there's an *unproven* idea that inversions may lead to endometriosis from backwards menstrual flow.
Kim: The practice seems out of sync with women’s life cycle of having babies – you can’t do twists, etc, when you are pregnant or recently had a baby.
Me: The entirety of a woman's life is not about having babies! Women practice Ashtanga right up until they give birth. You can continue to practice throughout the whole of pregnancy (with modifications, of course).Though my sister seemed to accept my answers as adequate, her question stuck with me and I sometimes wonder about this. The Ashtanga practice was developed by men, many of the advanced practitioners/teachers are men, and much of the physical practice does seem to come more easily to men.
But... that definitely does not mean women cannot or should not practice or teach it... though the practice may need to be modified sometimes (as Saraswati, Guruji’s daughter, discusses in this interview.)
One thing I love about Ashtanga is how it attracts strong, yet feminine, women. And maybe the intensity of the Ashtanga practice helps women to be intense in other aspects of their lives, be it a career, mothering, creativity, or other pursuits.