Exploring the Interior
by Maggie Lyon
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From an early age I’ve struggled with having a body, a woman’s body that is. Not to say that I haven’t always loved being a girl, I have. Yet, the struggle was when puberty began at age 11, with the accompanying deep ambivalence about my changing shape, my period, and the assumed burden that would extend out from these changes. Much like the moment upon giving birth to one’s first child and realizing life as one knows it will never be the same, so too is that leap from girl to woman. I instinctually knew there was no turning back.
To be supremely candid, I had a deplorable role model. My mother was psychotic and anorexic my whole life. Most of my ambivalence stemmed from my undeniable terror of becoming like her. A great number of us grow up with this trepidation—the angst of becoming our mothers—that registers anywhere along the fear spectrum, from weak unease to immobilizing fright. For me, it was at its most severe.
During the first two years of puberty, I kept my period a secret. Not even my best friend knew. For the rest of my teens and into my early twenties, I abused my strange new body, namely by dismissing or trying to dissolve it. I took heavy drugs and stopped eating for stretches of time, blunting my natural menstrual cycle for months on end, before bailing myself out and getting back to a fighting weight.
The miracles, and instigators of my bailouts, were and continue to be my spiritual practices. Blessedly, at 16, I discovered Zen Buddhism, and one year later, Iyengar yoga. Not only did I discover them but I also stuck to them. Or rather, I clung on for dear life. They promised the safety and reliability I had never known in my chaotic home. They gave me a way into the exploration and acceptance of my womanly body, while supporting the healing of my relationship to my mother’s reviled one.
Slowly over the years, with diligent practice, my periods regulated and my attitude toward them turned from soured and ashamed—as affiliations with mother—to exalted and deeply respectful, signs of ultimate health and wellbeing. My sitting and yoga practices actually taught me to celebrate the wonder of womanhood, and as I’ve become a mother in my own right, have seen me through two emotional pregnancies.
Still, because of my early bouts with amenorrhea, or no periods, I have struggled between my pregnancies, and even up to a few months ago, with low estrogen. Hormone suppression has indeed been a serious repercussion of my adolescent body dismissal. It has led me to nestle into my practices again and again, where spirit has become the missing role model of my youth, my divine mother. Here is where I take refuge, not only in Buddha, not only in yoga, but also in the sacred body, or dare I say, in my sacred body.
In her lovely The Woman's Yoga Book, Bobby Clennell writes: “If you organize your practice in response to all phases of your menstrual cycle, it will provide you with the power and comfort of ritual and will add stability to your life by reestablishing your link with nature’s cycles.” What continues to astonish is just how profound and accurate Bobby is. What do you think?
Furthermore, what spirit ritual provides you with stability in your menstrual or post-menstrual life? How have these rituals enabled you to live more fruitfully, more engaged, and more lauding of your uniquely feminine body?
I, for one, would be honored to know.
Tweet me @MaggieLyon or post your responses to Facebook.
Maggie Lyon is a writer on wellness and spirituality, and a holistic lifestyle consultant. Hailing from Northern California, Maggie first studied Feminist Studies with Bettina Aptheker at UC Santa Cruz before transferring to Mills College where she graduated with a BA in Creative Writing. In 2002, she earned her Masters Degree in Education from Teachers College, Columbia. A practicing Zen Buddhist and Iyengar yoga practitioner since the age of 16, Maggie also drew on her training in nutrition, intuitive healing, energy medicine, and natural health to found Lyon Lifestyle in 2009. She is devoted to supporting women in connecting inwardly, empowering themselves, and thereby transforming their lives. Along with her monthly blogs, Maggie also writes regularly for Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation. A mother of two young children, Maggie lives and practices quietly in New York City. Friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @MaggieLyon.