Of course yoga isn’t all about sex.
But just like life, it kind of is. (At least partially)
Parvatī, Saraswatī, and Lakṣmī in succession is oftentimes used to promote covering ourselves, inaccurately—albeit commonly. In actuality, this is the Venerated Goddess Lalitā, aka Tripurā Sundarī, the “beauty of the three cities, sanctums or bodies,” or, “the Enjoyer,” she who is the personification of Shakti as the creative power of the universe.
This is a modern day representation of very ancient Goddesses, co-mingled with a Tantrik envisioning, which illustrates their connection as many forms emerging from one. Conceptually, this is shown in the many emanations of triangles from the center (bindu) of the Śrī Yantra, or Śrī Chakra, a geometrical depiction of the Goddess.
We can trace these three Goddesses together as one, as the imagery of Lalitā, the coquette, playful or delighted one—she who delights in own autonomy. She is also known as Tripura Sundarī, she who is beautiful as the three cities, sanctums, or bodies; and later as Śri Vidyā, the auspicious wisdom as mantra or sound current.
These multiple forms of the Goddess are not just reserved for the young ones.
She is also a mother and a crone: the original emergence and all the stages between that and the end.
In fact, when Lalitā originally appeared in the Tantra-s, she wore fare less than a bikini.
Indeed, she was either straight-up naked, or wearing not more than a loincloth.
That’s right. She’s got a hard core side, too.
With bare breasts, a full belly, and all sorts of wildly useful accoutrements, she is sometimes shown with red skin, representing her passion for living life, and is seated atop a meditating or dead Shiva (shava), signifying her victory of life-affirming—body-affirming—spontaneous immanence over socially conditioned transcendence to-be-attained; i.e. the patriarchal and aristocratic brāhmanical order of the times.
Here is an image of Lalitā, artfully reconstructed by modern artist Ekabhumi Elik, and based on translations of her form from original source texts, by Shaiva Tantra scholars Christopher Tompkins and Christopher Wallis.
According to Tompkins, this depiction is exactly how the Tantrik texts prescribe how to see Lalitā or Tripura Sundarī, “during devotional visualization (pujā) and in meditation practice (dhyāna), in which Lalitā, the highest power of one’s own prāṇic being, is brought forth into our everyday lives.”
As the Tantrik lineage of Tripura Sundarī (Lalitā, Śri Vidyā) migrated south, she became, “sanitized,” as Christopher Wallis puts it, by the conservative patriarchy, the brāhmins of Tamiḷ. Subsequently, her Tripurā form merged into Vedāntic thought, and she began to wear more, and more clothing.
(As a scholarly note: this is the very abbreviated historical version.)
Lalitā, she who delights in her own autonomy, was thrown the shawl by the men in charge.
It was not her decision -- fueled by humility or modesty -- to starting donning the sari. She was, originally, the very essence of self-autonomous power; carrying the bow and arrow, which symbolize the potential of the human being to direct the power behind her own passions.
This is absolutely related to female possession by males, and is encoded into the, now outdated (thank Goddess!), idea of a woman being the property of the father, husband, brother, uncle, or king.
In this video, Christopher Tompkins shows a number of ancient Goddess temples that artfully depict her as wild, powerful, chiefly and, scantily clad.
Covering up the Goddess is masking of power that is our divine nature.
Clothing keeps us contracted into the form that custom binds us to. When we question it, we question reality.
In a modern context, to cover up with clothes is not so much a matter of being owned by the male, nor even an expression of modesty. It is often, instead, an act of shame. Clothing or not-clothing for the sake of someone or something else, is an aversion to the how things actually are, with our human form, and the basic human condition.
Furthermore, this type of thought reveals a deep and socially imprinted dissatisfaction with ourselves that needs to be called-out in any modern yoga community devoted to true self-recognition.
When we look at the purpose, the primal intention behind wearing clothing, our attraction is apparent. Clothes provide mobile shelter. They keep us warm, safe from penetrating objects (think, knights in armor), and clean.
Clothing appeals to us in very practical, mūlādhāra (root chakra) ways that can easily be manipulated into the realm of attachment.
When we rely on clothing to keep us safe, controlled, respectable, how can we stand on our own without it? How can we embody our infinite potential if we are so bound to this -- or any—predetermined necessity?
Yoga is the union of breath and body, inner and outer, sacred and secular. It is about realizing our innate, already-perfected nature, just as we are.
When I was in my late teens, an older, wiser woman gave me some great advice. Instead of allowing myself to feel threatened by the seeming immodesty of a beautiful woman by criticizing her brazen, show-off attitude, she suggested that I simply compliment her radiance. I focused on reflecting back to her, and others I admired, the same beauty I perceived from their physical expression.
Eventually, instead of feeling threatened, I began to appreciate that beauty as the same divinity we are all made of. And besides, it’s more fun, more playful, more liberated, more free.
And If you’ve ever skinny-dipped, you know what I mean.
Yogi Bhajan quite famously says, “An attitude of gratitude is the highest yoga.”
Modern yoga is a movement largely propelled by women, for women.
Let’s celebrate our individual beauty and, in so doing, celebrate the absolute gorgeousness of all existence.
If we can see each other in the light of gratitude, respect and solidarity, we will co-create a modern Yoga movement that advocates the female form, the human form, all form and phenomenon, as emanations of the same heart-maṇḍala.
We are naturally divine beings, already perfect, just as we are.
Ina Sahaja is a Boulder-based Yoga teacher and creator of Embodied Sanskrit®, a revolutionary way to learn the basics of Sanskrit specifically for Yoga professionals and practitioners. Teaching āsana since 2003, she is a registered Prana Flow® teacher and has university degrees in Sanskrit and Eastern Religions. Head over to www.YogaWithIna.com for loads of her free Embodied Sanskrit tricks and tools for Yoga. And connect on Facebook for daily updates. Jai Mā!
All drawings are by Ekabhumi Ellik, www.ekabhumi.com.
Images from manuscripts and slides of Saraswatī through the Ages are courtesy of Christopher Tompkins, www.shaivayoga.com.
Quotes are taken from Christopher Wallis’s brilliant book, Tantra Illuminated (Anusara Press: 2011), www.hareesh.org.