How Misogyny and Transference Influence your Yoga Practice


Misogyny:is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including but not exclusively by  sexual objectification, sex discrimination and hostility.

Yoga comes from India. And I have a deep respect for these teachings but India is a country that doe snot respect women. When women are raped they are  hung because it is seen as a disgrace to the family and the perpetrator walks free.  It is accepted that women who are pregnant with girls are encouraged to have abortions or they  abandon their girls in orphanages because it is seen as a burden to have girls.  The defined role for women is that they stay at home dressed like dolls in their saris (which is very uncomfortable by the way) slaving in the kitchen all day making food for their families.  Guruji passed the torch to his grandson, he trained him not his daughter. That is misogyny and it is a culturally accepted.  Even the Buddha stated in his teachings, “It is impossible for a woman to be a perfectly enlightened being but it is possible for a man”. ( – pg. 128 Numerical Discourses of the Buddha translated by Bhikko Bohdi).

Transference:  As a psychotherapist I understand what transference is and how it influences the Mysore room. In every class there is transference happening, actually in every relationship in our lives, Specifically in a Mysore class when David (my husband) and I teach together I see how female students unconsciously look for approval and attention from David and it feels like that  wanting is about wanting daddy’s attention and approval and validation. Perhaps it’s a wound from childhood that many of us have  -seeking approval and attention from fathers that were not available. I see women looking for that validation from their teacher instead of recognizing that need and finding tools to help them find that love within themselves. It is not the student’s fault, it just is what is happening. It is however the responsibility of the teacher to know this projection, and to give the projection back to the student and not take it personally.   Problems occurs when the teacher’s ego is not in check then it is very easy to use these projections to feed and strengthen the ego of the teacher. Which in my opinion, misses the whole point of yoga. YOGA CHITTA VRITTI NIRODHA translates as yoga is developing the awareness to stop identifying with the thoughts and stories (including your ego) that the mind is constantly making up.

Personally, I have analyzed my relationship with my teacher Sri K. Pattabis Jois – Guruji and have come to terms that I transferred my relationship with my grandfather. My grandfather died when I was 5 years old. My grandfather was the love of my life and he loved me like no other. I missed that attention and love and nurturing growing up. So when I met Guruji in 2001 and continued my relationship with him until he passed every year visiting him in Mysore, I was able to see that he gave me attention and love. And it is because of that intense presence that I was able to internalize that presence. I see this now that transference played a big part in that relationship. And it was very healing for me.

Support:  Men have more mentors and are better at supporting each other than women. This has been discussed and proven in the business world and I believe that it translates into the yoga world.  Women in general do not help and support each other because of unconscious cultural influences and insecurities. We are getting better at it but only if we do this consciously. We need to find strong compassionate women and be supported by and support them. Madonna very eloquently stated my sentiments exactly when she said :As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and enlightened by,”

I would suggest women to look at their relationships with their fathers, grandfathers and brothers and check to see if there is any healing to be done there? Are you still looking for approval and attention from them? How is this playing out in you life? If you practice yoga and you are really doing the hard work of changing emotional patterns and developing a more deeper understanding of yourself so you can drop the physical, psychological and emotional patterns that no longer serve you? This means having the awareness and strength to bring the unconscious patterns conscious so you can heal and move on to becoming who you are. Self- Actualization means becoming aware of old patterns and doing the work to leave them behind and having the strength to create new ones that support who you are now so you can be more of you. If you are not receiving that support from your teacher then you need to find someone who will honor that.

PM: Maybe this piggybacks on this or even explains my next observation, but I think I’ve spent the past five years getting super strong – muscles defined and almost TOO defined.  Now I’m trying to bring back the softness and a more subtle kind of strength.  I came to Ashtanga to discover my strength, gain confidence and be empowered. Now armored, convincing myself that vulnerability is not weakness has, at times, felt like a full-time job.  My story doesn’t seem unique. Does this strike a chord with any of you and if so, what insight can you offer?  Even if it’s just by way of your own story.

GS: We live in an ego-dominated world. Where strength and greed and the physical are celebrated and vulnerability and sensitivity is frowned upon and looks as week. Ashtanga is great at building the ego and the physical body. Ego needs to be strong and healthy in order to adapt and change and live freely. And so do our bodies. At some point if your lucky, you see that this practice as a physical practice has its benefits in making our bodies strong and beautiful and can make our minds concentrated. But this is not it. It’s not the ultimate and it is not what yoga is about. How is it serving your family and your community that you can put your leg behind your head? So what? Are you enlightened because you can stand up with your leg behind your head in a bikini snap a selfie and put it on FB? That is narcissism not Yoga. Spiritual Practice is a private undertaking.

For me, yoga is about having a spiritual discipline. The discipline to show up on our mats and take a good look at ourselves every day without distractions, to practice concentration on breath and bandhas so you can take a break from all the stories the mind likes to create of the self, to be open and vulnerable to seeing any psychological and physical blocks as areas for acceptance and growth, to have the strength to be compassionate and vulnerable to ourselves so we can be that for others, to recognize what causes us to react and how we can heal. Ashtangis have to be very careful not to use our practice as a defense mechanism. That is why I feel very strongly that at some point in our development we need to be able to sit with ourselves and feel vulnerable. Maybe not every practitioner is ready but that is where everyone needs to be headed eventually. Guruji would say “You think you are meditating, ha! “ and he would giggle and laugh. He then would say, “You think this is chair, this is not chair this is God”. I believe this was his way of saying you are not ready to take this view. The view of Awakened Awareness where everything you see is lively awareness – God. First you must practice and get a disciplined body and mind. Here is where you work out your old views and patterns that no longer serve you. So you can create new patterns and be able to hold the perspective that serve you and humanity. The end goal of all this yoga practices is to wake up. Wake up to who you really are, life is short there is no time to waste. Heal, transform and help others wake up. To stop suffering you must change your view.

PM: In our community, I hear so often from the young women who practice how difficult it is for them to have a life outside of practice … their families complain, dating is difficult and even work is hard to balance. Male students don’t seem to struggle so much in this area.  Perhaps women tend to be more fluid and less compartmentalized and so this yoga thing can really take over.  Maybe this is a good thing – but it certainly also seems like a challenging thing.  What do you think?  How do you balance it all?

GS: “I think generally women have more demands than men. I think it is easier to be man in this world than to be a woman. Now women work, raise children, take care of the household and have a yoga practice. In Miami I see many women who try to balance all of these roles and it’s hard. Practicing Ashtanga is a commitment and I recall when I lost many friends who could not understand why I would not eat meat, drink alcohol and go out till late. It can be very isolating and it’s a different lifestyle than the norm. Its part of the process. Being alone is important; many people cannot stand to be alone and do not understand why others would choose this. I see this in my male students as well. I do not see this being different for men and women. I do se that women have more pressure in general to do it all and in my opinion its not possible to do it all well, something has to give. Either the career or the raising of the children. Yoga practice should help integrate all the roles, I do not think it should be categorized as another role, maybe the frustrations of women’s expectations is being projected onto the yoga practice?”

PM: Traditional psycho-social theories of development don’t take into consideration the heavy importance of relationships in a woman’s early growth and development (family of origin, intimacy/marriage, children). Maybe this is what is showing up in the previous question.  When I first started practicing yoga, being a better mother was first and foremost. I’m not 48 and my children are mostly grown and now I find myself wanting to spend more time knowing ME.  All of you are different ages and in different stages of development – how has your practice shifted, or has it?

GS: I believe yoga practice is about discovering who you are no matter what stage of development you are in. Perhaps when you started yoga what was coming up for you who am I and how can I be the best me as a mother? Clearly your focus was on motherhood because that is what was taking up most of your time. Now that your children are older you have more time to focus on you, but it was always about u and how you influenced your children. Having a yoga practice as a mother you started to have relationship with you, unconsciously or consciously developing an awareness or relationship to your body, breath and movement. Having space in some ways to be able to look at it. And this translated as being a better mother because you took the time to develop that awareness and take care of you. Now you have more time to dedicate to you as you evolve and change into the woman that you are. That is what a good yoga practice can do. It never stops evolving. And as you evolve so does the practice.

PM: Almost the same question but specifically in a physical way. I am finding the older I get, the longer I need to practice. A 3-hour practice is not unheard of and actually serves me better than a 60 minute one. Ten years ago, an hour was sufficient. I’m not sure if this is a gender question or maybe just an age one.  It’s also possible I’m older than any of you receiving this email so who knows!

GS: Interesting, I find myself doing practicing asana practice less and meditating more. So actually my asana practice used to be 3 hours and now I actually do less asana. Maybe because I am more interested in cultivating awakened awareness. And that translates as practicing awareness in every moment of my life as much as I can. I do not need to do 3rd series to practice awakened awareness. Actually I find that can practice primary and get more out of it than a 2nd series or 3rd series where the physical practice takes up a lot of the energy. I used to think I had to and for over 10 years I did every day full on asana practice and yes I felt good to feel strong but what came up for me was does asana practice lead to more awakened awareness? Integrating my Ashtanga practice with my meditation practice has changed my life. I am certainly much less reactive and much more calm. I can say that I am operating more from awareness and less from the small sense of self. And therefore I am suffering less. Which to me is very important. I feel that efficiency is important for me right now. I have a lot to do many people to give my attention and energy to so my practice reflects where I am now. Asana is important still for me, but I see now that it is not the end goal.

Maybe for you, now you have the time to fully dedicate to your asana practice, where as before your goal was to be a better mother so you were first a mother with a practice?

PM: Do you think women in general learn differently or have different needs than men?  (Over generalizing, I know) If so, are we serving them and/or how could we do better?

GS: I think every individual has different needs. I do not see the differences in male and female students in general. Having said that men are usually stronger and less flexible than women and women are usually more flexible and not as strong as men. So the practice addresses these issues trying to bring them into a balance. Women usually need to work on strength and men usually need to work on flexibility.

PM: But perhaps even more important – what responsibility do you feel you have as a female role model and teacher in this practice that is also so heavily male influenced?  (WHOA!  big one there, I know.  And one I hope you’ll take the time to answer.  It’s been really hard for me at times to stick my head above the water knowing how green I am and yet, feeling a sense of unintended responsibility.)

GS: I believe I have a responsibility as a female role model in Miami. I have been teaching yoga for over 15 years. I still have students who started with me 15 years ago, I see these students everyday and have watched them and their children grow. It is an honor to hold a space for students to come and practice and as their teacher. I hold a space and teach them a technique that allows them the explore their inner world in a safe environment where I am attuned to them, where they can receive expressed joy in their being, increasing their self esteem, give them some guidance so they can learn to self regulate and tune into their souls so they can continue to become more conscious of who they are. In order to give this to my students I need to give it to myself. Being a strong sensitive woman in this life has allowed me to develop these gifts and give this to my students. I work with individuals in small groups settings (10 – 12 at one time) so I can continue to provide a nurturing environment to help people transform and heal their pain and suffering and help them discover and support their natural awakened state of being. As a licensed psychotherapist I have both western and eastern tools to help individuals work through old patterns and establish new ones both on and off the mat.

I have chosen to become the role model I wish I had. By becoming a licensed psychotherapist and a mysore teacher. Holding a daily mysore space to householders like I wish I had, is a service I provide  to my community with the intention to give them tools to practice and ultimately help each and every being wake up to who they are.

Comments 1

  1. Hello Gretchen,

    This article raises a hugely complex issue which has implications that resonate at the very basis of global culture. I’ve noticed this need for validation amongst women students (and teachers) from male figures – even though they (the women) may be more capable and aware.
    Yoga is a progression into enlightenment and yet what we encounter in the classes are subtle barriers based on old conceptions of the ‘natural’ subordinacy of women. These barriers are just as detrimental for the male as well as the female – for they feed ego.
    Your ideas are invaluable as a reminder that these inequalities and misconceptions need to be questioned at every turn by every student/practitioner of ‘total’ yoga in order to clear the psyche of its accumulated and redundant ideas.
    I’ve begun to contemplate staying away from classes – in order to be better in communication with ‘my yoga’ and to avoid the distractions that my insecurities and assumptions throw in the way of concentration and separation. It seems to me that mysore practice is the only way to undertake yoga with others. Maybe good to learn how to gradually ignore distraction by being in the middle of it :-).
    Thank you for raising this difficult area with such eloquence.

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