Get to Know: London's Feminist Yoga
Having qualified as a Yoga teacher over a year and a half ago, Kat Hymas has decided to combine feminism with Yoga. Open to all levels of experience (and those without yoga know-how), we ask What? How? and Why? ahead of 15th and 29th September workshops...
Not So Popular: Kat, you talk about the 90 minute workshop as an exploration of the relationship between feminist feelings and/or emotions and yoga, in order to bring about healing. So, I guess the first question I want to ask is how do emotions and healing as such come into the physicality of yoga?
Kat Hymas: This element has come about as during my yoga teacher training I had focused on healing and the relationship between physical and emotional health. As the two are connected, yoga (physical postures, breathing and meditation) allows us to explore the emotions (particularly trauma) that we hold in the body, that weigh us down. So, with the right guidance, yoga can allow us to release these trapped emotions by opening up the body. This allows for healing.
NSP: So how did you get the idea to introduce our friends yoga and feminism?
KH: As a current Gender Studies master's student at LSE, I have been thinking about feminism academically but also through community work. Last year, I co-ordinated a BME women's health project and have also been working with healthwatch. It was during this community work that I started thinking about how could yoga feature, espically as during peer support work with women, they told us that instead of talking then wanted exercise classes. So, we rented swimming pools so they could swim in a safe space, we organised dance classes and so on. I realised we're all living in a world where we as woman are constantly told to talk about our problems, when actually there's a way we can physically release them. So I thought to myself a feminism yoga workshop is needed! A year later, and here I am.
NSP: Interesting, so then how exactly will feminism feature in the Affective Yoga workshop?
KH: She won't know this, but Sara Ahmed (a feminist academic from Goldsmiths) has helped it take it's shape. In an article entitled 'Feminist Attachments' from her book 'The Cultural Politics of Emotions', Sara talks about four emotions feminists experience when they come to or get involved with feminism. They are pain, anger, hope and wonder. When I read this piece, it stayed with me. It's the best piece of academic work I've ever read personally as it's really moved me. It spoke to my previous experiences and informed everything I was doing as it shows that emotions are intrinsic in transformations we hope to see. Her writing naturally also followed me into my yoga practice. In yoga, you have to think about your emotions and Sara's four emotion structure was a great frame to do so.
NSP: So, I can't not say it - but anger is an emotion that jumps out. It's one that seems to trap us as feminists as well as being empowering. Can you explain how anger as a feminist has affected you, and how anger can be worked through and healed by this niche kind of yoga?
KH: Anger! Well, everyone's different, and I know this, but I do experience anger, and I've noticed when I practice yoga I often get an intense feeling - it's like a fire in my thighs and stomach. It was through tiger breathing and exhaling through the mouth instead of nose though that I could start to get this fire out of me. The fire that had been building up. So this fire, this anger would likely build up when a (probably) white male takes a stab at me in my day to day life - but I would come home and do that yoga; it was an amazing way of releasing the anger.
NSP: Some feminists argue that anger is key to empowerment - it's our fuel... However, it sounds like you're saying that this anger is kind of like adding fuel to the fire. Should we be letting out of anger through yoga? Will that help make the transformations in society we need?
'Emotions may be critical to showing us why transformations are so difficult, but also how they are possible' - Sarah Ahmed.
KH: Anger is important, but at the same time if you make change in society that comes from a place of anger (not saying that it isn't integral to political movements) then it changes the effectiveness of the transformation in society. However, if we approach change from a position of love it's much more transformative - the changes we make are more beautiful. I also found that my personal anger was becoming inhabilitating - it wasn't creating change because it often prevented me from formulating what I wanted to say, it made me defensive too. I think releasing this personal anger strengthens our abilities to transform society from a place of love and peace, rather than us vs. them.
NSP: I'd have to agree that through my personal experience, when I speak about feminism from a position of anger, people put up walls. However, when it becomes a discussion, when there's no obvious agenda that the need to express the situation people are more willing to listen.
KH: Yes, that is it completely. People will hear what you say. And that's why yoga features, as it's not just about the change that needs to be made outside in society, but the one within ourselves. And that may just be dealing with these emotions of anger and pain. The most important thing for inner change really is to find balance.
NSP: As you've just mentioned, another emotion that Sara Ahmed talks about in becoming a feminist is 'pain'. Can you talk to us a bit about how this works and can be healed through yoga?
KH: In yoga philosophy, we hold pain in the hips and in our hearts/chest area. So, if I mediate in a position which opens my hops, often I fell like crying. It's because the hips hold a lot of our pain and this opening allows us to release some of that sadness. For example, last night I was teaching and I invited the class to finish in supta buddha konasana (which opens the hips), whilst we were doing our ending savasana. After resting in that position for around 5 or 10 minutes, one women came to me afterwards crying. It allowed her to release some pain - I always think tears are good. I'm an advocate of crying to release pain.
NSP: So we've talked a lot about the pain and anger, but feminist yoga is not all doom and gloom? Or is it?
KH: No! I want to stress that it's definitely not! The second half of the workshop is very positive - we'll be looking at practicing taking up space as bodies in society, inner-power and inner-strength. Also, Caroline Smith who is a mediation teacher and works at the feminist library is going to lead a 15/20 minute meditation at the end which will guide us in opening up possibilities of transformations - both internally and externally in our lives.
For extra reading of Sara Ahmed's 'Feminist Attachments' click here.
FEMINIST YOGA & MEDITATION WORKSHOP SUMMARY
'I believe when we come to and get involved in feminism we experience emotions, such as pain, anger, hope and wonder. I believe we hold these emotions in our physical and mental bodies. Embodied feelings show us why transformations are so difficult but also how they are possible. During this yoga workshop we will explore the emotions we embody as a result of our feminism(s), releasing the pain and anger to approach change from a place of peace and love and build on and strengthen the hope and wonder we have in ourselves to continue to fight for change in our societies.' - Kat Hymas, Affective Yoga.
Open to all levels - you don't need to have prior yoga experience.
Booking your place:
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm your place - if you cant make this one I will be running a second workshop at the same place and time on Thursday 29th September.
The cost of the workshop is based on a sliding scale (£10 unemployed/£15 employed) and will add to the 'Save the Feminist Library' campaign.
Can be found here.