In ‘The Art of Mindful Birthing’ workshops I facilitate, much of the emphasis is on connecting with our hearts and connecting with our bodies. Some time is spent doing creative exercises that focus in on our ‘yonis’; where our babies begin, grow, are held, and birthed from. For many years, I have preferred this word ‘yoni’ to ‘vagina’; the latter meaning originally “a sheath or scabbard, into which one might slide and sheath a sword.” (1) The sword in regards to the vagina was in fact the penis. This phallocentric definition fails in capturing how many women and girls experience this part of themselves. Our yonis are much more than an abode for the penis!
The Sanskrit word ‘Yoni’ doesn’t simply translate as the ‘female genitals’. Its meaning enlarges like a yoni itself, and can be interpreted as ‘receptive’, ‘origin’, ‘source’, ‘womb,’ and ‘Divine Passage’; referring to the vulva and the entire female genital system. The expression is one that connotes respect and honour for Woman as possessing all the creative forces in her body. The yoni – a place of female power….the doorway to the Divine Feminine….the woman’s sacred inland that can connect us to Pleasure, to Heart, and to Wild.
Catching On Fire
Whilst preparing for one of my workshops, my two daughters (aged 6yrs and 4yrs at the time) helped me create a Yoni as a centrepiece. We composed together a lavish yoni – open, sumptuous, luscious, plush and ornate. We decorated her with pink felt, blood red velvet, fuchsia feathers – soft and silky crimson fabrics that were irresistible to stroke. She was beautiful! The finishing touch was a burgundy coloured, aromatic candle we placed for a clitoris. When I was leaving for the workshop, and waving goodbye to my family, Tilda called out: “watch out – the yoni might catch on fire!”
On the way there, my daughter’s words rang as a chant in my mind…..watch out – the yoni might catch on fire….yoni might catch on fire….catch on fire…
fire: to release or cause to release energy suddenly
to release heat and light
to burn with intensity of feeling
luminosity, brilliance, liveliness
inspiration, to give life or spirit to
severe trial or test
to add fuel to
to arouse the emotions of: to animate, enkindle, impassion, stir up.
(2 and 3)
To catch on fire is to burn; and this and the above definitions are all incontrovertibly within the realm of the yoni. My daughter’s cry was a reminder to me of the capacity of the yoni and her calling in our lives as women.
The Intent of the Body
The Buddhist academic and meditation teacher Dr Reggie Ray writes that our bodies can be known to us intimately and in a tangible way. (4) We can develop the skill of allowing our bodies to communicate with our conscious mind. Our bodies are receptive, responsive, intelligent, truthful, uncritical, and eager for dialogue. Every experience we live through, states Reggie Ray, is received by the body. (ibid, 42) And yet, we have denied much of our existence – not wanting to feel and not wanting to integrate it into our reality. If we do not welcome an experience as it is incongruous with our thoughts and judgements about ourselves and our lives, it is locked out of our consciousness – yet stored in the body. Thus, the wisdom of our bodies remains in our cells, muscles, organs, bones and blood; intangible and gagged.
The body calls us back – to be a partner on our journey towards expansion and maturity. (ibid, 41) She is constantly seeking our relationship; and summons us somatically, particularly through aches, pains and sickness; pleasure, pregnancy, and birth. The body does not speak orally; her language is a veiled tongue; audible through a connection with Nature, in our dreams, through Bodywork, dance, art, yoga and meditation.
Through these modes of listening deeply and connecting with the body, we are able to integrate our ‘unlived life’ (ibid, 45) into our reality; and re-engage with the knowing we have within us. Through these practices we can develop more authentic awareness and discover how to truly inhabit our bodies rather than our heads. We come to see that our bodies are the receptacle of our true creativity; can express our deepest needs; are the source of great acumen; and possess an intention of wellness and fulfilment for us. In regards to we women, when we breathe into our yonis and bring our focused attention here, we can access the Divine Feminine. Here there may lay, beyond the reach of our consciousness, all the experiences, feelings, fears and desires we hold around our sexuality – how we see ourselves as ‘woman’; our trust in our intuition; issues around love, intimacy, affection, belonging; our emotional, physical, and sexual needs; our relationships with other women; and what pregnancy, birth, and motherhood mean. With gentle unearthing, we are able to move closer to the true face of our womanhood. We are freer to rejoice and celebrate our succulence, our bleeding, and the cyclical nature of birth, death, and rebirth that we are a part of. Within the yoni, there is the capacity, creativity and knowledge to envelop and hold; to bear fruit and nurse; to enter the Unknown and relinquish control. To connect with this helps us open up to birth with wakefulness; and helps us open up to life with wakefulness.
In my workshops, I ask the women if they would be willing to pay attention to their bodies in a direct yet non-conceptual way. We do some creative exercises, where they focus in on their yonis; asking them questions and entering an open dialogue with this part of themselves. One woman found her yoni to be a place sacred for birth, yet not safe for sexual intimacy. Others have found, in that moment, for their yonis to be the heart of fecundity. One woman heard her yoni reject all the shame she had implanted within her. The women draw or paint their yonis; and then sense into the feeling, noticing what the image represents to them, without judgement. Some women who participated in my workshops have generously offered up what they have learnt from their yonis, as a contribution to this article, as follows.
‘Yoni 1’ is the drawing Alison did in The Art of Mindful birthing course. She writes about it later:
“It showed the difficulties I was having with vaginismus and my inability to conceive due to my 2 year old daughter’s breastfeeding continuing to suppress ovulation. I felt “blocked” and “dead” in my yoni, hence the black blockage and black womb and fallopian tubes. I was feeling betrayed by my body and that it was faulty. I think it also showed how I felt my daughter’s birth was obstructed by the vaginismus, and my fears about my previously fractured pelvis. I asked my yoni (through an exercise in the workshop) the following questions about my labour (which ended with my daughter arriving via ventouse delivery) and these were her answers:
Why did you start “early”, getting me to push?
It all helped. It was meant to be. Don’t you trust? Understand? I am strong. But I work without your mind controlling me.
Why didn’t you get my baby all the way out? Why did my body fail me?
You needed freedom from clocks, to walk & sleep. Your support people needed to trust me & you.
Will we work together next time to birth my next baby together? When?
Of course. There is no other way! When? When the time is right. When you & Hannah are ready.
Alison continues: “Since the course I have continued on my journey. Due to continued work with a wonderful book, journal & dilator program (available from www.vaginismus.com), and lots of patient love making with my husband, the vaginismus is almost gone. I have been able to reclaim my sexual self and enjoy connecting with my husband and with my pleasure again once more.
We are still desperate to conceive, however my dear daughter is almost 2 years and 4 months old, with few signs of returning fertility. Although I have experienced some times of trying to reduce the duration and frequency of her feeds, I am currently strongly connected to meeting her emotional and physical needs by feeding her according to her need.
“Yoni 2” (see image) is my most recent drawing.I have been consciously aware of my natal lunar phase, in the hope of stimulating ovulation at this time, and the moon reflects my phase. Since our honeymoon in Thailand when conception was certainly on my mind, and where I saw many beautiful flowering lotus flowers, I have been drawn to this flower as a symbol of fertility. So I have been doing a visualisation of my ovaries as beautiful purpley/pink blossoming lotuses. The ripe eggs, bursting with life are cushioned below. My fallopian tubes, lovely and healthy, carry an egg down to meet the sperm travelling up past my loving womb. The heart represents the nourishing placenta.
I do trust what my yoni said, and what I know is true in my heart, that we will have another baby when the time is right and when both Hannah & I are ready.”
Laura received these words from her yoni in the creative exercise in the workshop:
“I know you are worried about how I will be able to open and stretch and allow your baby and babies to be born, but let me assure you that it is what I was created to do. It is my destiny to stretch and open and love this baby and all your babies out and into this world……….As you honour me, so I shall honour you. Pleasure that is mine will become pleasure that is yours. Pleasure that can heal and create…”
Yolanda was given these words from her yoni during a workshop:
|touch mefeel me
play with me
talk with me
feel with me
be with me
talk about me
breathe into me
touch me again
|allow joy with meallow ecstasy with me
allow tenderness with me
allow connection with me
allow knowing me
allow me to be
allow me to be free
allow me to be expressive
allow me to celebrate, to laugh
and sing and dance and paint
allow me to indulge
allow me beauty
allow me time and contemplation
allow me expansion, breathe, release
Jane’s yoni spoke these words to her during an exercise:
“for I am truly clean and gentle, with deep feeling, and healing….I wish that you had loved yourself and me (Yoni) earlier……we could have had so much more fun and avoided lots of painful relationships. I am beautiful, exquisitely sensitive, juicy, a delight to be inside of …..made love to……with……inside and out….Sweetest nectars……..juices……How long I have waited to be truly accepted and celebrated by you……as a part of your healthy, balanced woman/humanhood.”
By listening deeply to the body, we can begin to release what we have been holding on to, for fear of powerful feelings. Our bodies bid us to feel. They bid us to know. Our yonis would like us to let go of any rigidity and enter into her profound and enigmatic cave where enlightenment dwells. This is where we shall remember how to be with intense feelings, how to open up, how to enlarge, how to create, how to give birth, and how to nourish our dreams and our selves. We are entreated to release the area of tension that we have been clinging to, and engage with our bodies. Consequently, through a relationship of partnership, we can participate in a process of unblocking, regaining equilibrium, restoring energy, healing, and growth.
So when we work with the body, we can move towards freeing all of these experiences along with all of these things that have been insufficiently experienced and are therefore held throughout the body. In the Tibetan Yoga tradition, when we unlock memories, images, and emotions in the body, we create fuel. This fuel creates a fire in us – a fire burning with the intense feelings due to experiences we have rejected in the past. This fire, Reggie Ray states, (4, 125) gradually burns up the structure of the ego; and purifies our awareness with blaze and vividness. Realization comes, according to the tradition, when all the fuel is exhausted.
Maybe this is what my daughter alerted me to when she shouted: “watch out…the yoni might catch on fire.” It may, if we do the work and communicate with our yonis: ‘cause a release of energy suddenly; release heat and light; burn with intensity of feeling; bring luminosity, brilliance, liveliness; bring inspiration, give spirit to; present a test or trial; add fuel; and arouse the emotions of – animate, enkindle, impassion, and stir up’.
May our yonis catch on fire. May the fuel purify our awareness. May realization come. My hope is that we women can cultivate loving kindness for our bodies; see them with a new vision, and listen with a deep respect. The body, for too long, has been an object, rather than a partner in our lives as women. May we women come to know and love our bodies intimately. Resultantly, we will create new life. Not only will we birth our babies by listening to our yonis, but we will birth a new relationship with our selves as women, by listening to the primal voice of our body’s wisdom.
This article is dedicated with much gratitude to the women who have participated in ‘The Art of Mindful Birthing’ workshops. Their openness, courage, authenticity and insights have been a gift and my inspiration.
Frye, A. (1995) Holistic Midwifery. A Comprehensive Textbook for Midwives in Homebirth Practice. Volume 1. Labrys Press: Portland.
(1991) The Macquarie Dictionary and Thesaurus. Herron Publications: Sydney.
(1992) The Penguin English Dictionary. Penguin: London. Ray, Dr Reginald (2006) touching enlightenment. Tricycle – The Buddhist Review. Spring Journal.