Goddesses of yoga: Finding the Divine Feminine within
Invoking a goddess in your yoga practice is a long-lived tradition in yogic and tantric practices. We reveal how to invite the Divine Feminine into your practice.
Are you seeking to expand your knowledge and express your ideas creatively? Have you been dreaming of having a level of fierceness to admire and living without fear? Are you pursuing abundance in all areas of your life?
Invoking a goddess in your yoga practice is a long-lived tradition in yogic and tantric practices and this article is a mere introduction on inviting the Divine Feminine into your practice.
Ishvara pranidhana: The practice of devotion and surrender
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a yogi is introduced to an eight-limbed path of yoga with five yamas (moral disciplines and ethics) and five niyamas (personal observances) forming the first two steps of the yogic path. The fifth of the niyamas is ishvara pranidhana (devotion to a higher source).
Frequently interpreted as “devotion to God/Goddess”, this niyama is often puzzling for beginner students of yoga.
Yoga does not advocate which spiritual form or ideal one should devote and surrender their practice to (pranidhana). Rather, it encourages the divine source (ishvara) to be approached from one’s personal perspective and the connection one has with the divine, whether it is formless — as cosmic consciousness and emptiness, or has a form — such as Buddha’s nature, the God or a Goddess you are aligned with. The manifestation of the Divine chosen by a yogi is called Ishta Devata (personally chosen deity/form of the divine) in Sanskrit.
Ishvara pranidhana, the practice of devotion and surrender, instils humility, connectedness to others, serenity, respect to those with greater knowledge than yours, recognition of the divinity around you, letting go of the ego-driven behaviours and contemplation on being a vessel of the Divine.
In his book Mantra Yoga and the Primal Sound, a world-renowned teacher of yoga, Ayurveda, tantra and Vedas, Dr David Frawley, explains the five main deity lines, which originate from Hindu devotional practices: Shaivite Tradition of Shiva, Vaishnava Tradition of Vishnu (inclusive of Rama and Krishna), Shakta Tradition of the Goddess, Ganapati Tradition and The Sun Tradition (including planetary deities).
Shiva and Shakti energies within us and in yoga tradition
In tantric philosophy, we are introduced to the forces of Shiva and Shakti. The divine masculine energy is stable, unchanging and known as Shiva, translated as peace. The feminine force of creation is dynamic and called Shakti, translated as divine energy and power.
Shakti, representing the feminine attributes of a multitude of gods, is personified as a goddess and manifests in five divine feminine innate powers: the powers of consciousness, ecstasy, knowledge and will, together with the power to act. These are all perpetually at play within ourselves and the universe.
With yoga and tantra originating in India, out of the myriad deities in the Hindu pantheon, the attributes of three yogic goddesses from the Shakta lineage — Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati — will be explored in this article.
Goddesses of yoga: Evoking the Divine Feminine, Kali
“HRIM, O fearsome one!
SHRIM, O kindly one!
Origin of all manifestation,
Container of the limitless,
Ocean of the nectar of compassion,
Who shares in the suffering of your creatures,
Source of all mercy,
I pay homage to you.”
(Extract from The Mahanirvana Tantra, presented in Tantric Kali by Daniel Odier)
Kali is the first of Dasha Mahavidyas (10 wisdom goddesses); she represents time and transcends form. Birthed out of Great Mother Goddess Durga’s third eye, Kali, which translates as “The Black One”, is the Cosmic Mother, who unifies duality. She is the divine feminine expression of fierceness and radical change, and is the highest form of strength, mercy and compassion.
Depictions of Kali, who is one of the main deities of yoga lineage, may seem repulsive at first to an eye, but that is because they are meant to shake us, bringing forth the realisation of our egocentricity, conditioning and fears we hold onto.
Iconography of Kali commonly features her dancing upon the corpse of her consort Lord Shiva on a cremation field. Depicted naked and frightening, having the black or midnight blue body with her wild hair falling to her knees, wearing a garland of skulls (heads) and a skirt made of severed arms (representative of the removal of grasping), Kali is often illustrated with her four arms in which she holds a cleaver (with which she cuts away mental conditioning and ego) and a severed head (silencing of obsessive thoughts). When not carrying ego-slaying tools in her other two arms, Kali takes on the mudras of generosity and granting courage. Her tongue is out, and her third eye is vertical and open, symbolising her eternal wakefulness.
While Kali is utmost fearsome and associated with death and terror, she is a destroyer of devotee’s ego, relieving them of bondages. She is a protectress and has the deepest infinite understanding of humanity.
Kali is invoked when transformation is needed; she assists with seeing the truth and dissolving limitations, past traumas and attachments, along with breaking through unwanted habitual patterns and stepping away from damaging situations.
Residing at the very base of the spine (root chakra muladhara), Kali is associated with the rising of kundalini energy, evoking strength, balancing chakras and letting go of fears and limiting beliefs.
Another daughter of Durga, Lakshmi is the goddess of good luck, fame, generosity, prosperity and fertility.
Frequently illustrated as having golden skin and dressed in a red-adorned sari while standing or sitting on a pink lotus throne with two white elephants on either side of her, Lakshmi has four arms, carrying two lotus flowers in her two hands (symbolising spiritual knowledge), pouring gold coins onto the earth from her third hand (symbol of prosperity) and holding her fourth hand in the mudra of compassion.
Ask for the help from Lakshmi when you’re in need of material security and wellbeing, inner and outer abundance, vibrant health, enjoyment in life, harmony, delight, contentment, self-love, grace and generosity.
Saraswati is generally depicted as seated on a lotus flower or riding a white swan, with her skin glowing, dressed in a white or pastel-coloured modestly ornamented sari. She holds in her four hands a book, a veena (Indian music instrument) and some mala (prayer beads). Saraswati’s domains are language, music, literature and fine arts.
She is the goddess of speech, knowledge, creativity, purity and insight. Saraswati is the patroness of students and scholars and is invoked for help with enhancing memory, speech eloquence, study of a variety of disciplines, communication, intuition, passing exams and development of artistic skills.
She is the Shakti power of creation and provider of intelligence, wisdom, learning and ideas. She empowers her devotee’s mind through the activation of ajna chakra (third eye centre of vision and intuition) and the vishuddhi chakra (the throat chakra of truthfulness, speech and creative expression.)
Goddess mantra meditation
In the practice section to follow, you will see two mantras provided for your devotional mantra meditation practice to the goddess you decide you are most are aligned with or the attributes of which you wish to embody.
Each goddess has a specific Bija Mantra (seed syllable) along with an extended Invocation Mantra(s) containing her name along with other syllables/words in Sanskrit. Those mantras are chanted to evoke the presence of a particular force of Shakti.
“The Mantra is the sound-form of the deity, which is the power of consciousness that is the main propulsion towards realization,” – explains Dr David Frawley in Tantric Yoga and The Wisdom Goddesses.
With a multiplicity of yogic and tantric meditation techniques, inclusive of visualisation practices, chanting mantras is one of the most accessible and arguably most effective methods to invoke a goddess.
Japa mala meditation
Japa (whispering) mala (a necklace commonly consisting of 108 beads plus 1 Guru bead) meditation is a thousand-years-old tactile ritual, originating from the sacred texts of Rig Veda, which involves the silent or loud repetition of a mantra at least 108 times.
Usually held in the right hand, the mala is wrapped over the middle finger and the beads are flicked towards you one at a time with your right thumb, with one repetition of the mantra selected by you (with attention and devotion) to a chosen deity coinciding with the turn of each bead. In this practice, your index finger remains extended and does not come in contact with the beads, due to it signifying the ego.
When doing one cycle of 108 mantra repetitions, once you reach the guru bead (the bead that is the largest and dangles from your mala), bow to the deity of your choice, express your gratitude and conclude your meditation.
If continuing the practice, once you have reached the guru bead, do not cross it nor pass it, but instead flip the mala around and proceed back the other way for another cycle of 108 mantra repetitions or a few.
Yoga asana practice
The asanas (poses) you are invited to integrate into your practice are suggested for cultivating the qualities and energies associated with the corresponding chakras and the three forms of Shakti discussed in this article.
Begin your practice with warming your body with five-seven repetitions of cat-cow poses and five-10 rounds of sun or moon salutations, followed by the yoga poses dedicated to the yoga goddess you have decided to devote your practice to.
Conclude your practice with 10 minutes resting in savasana, followed by the japa mala meditation.
|Bija Mantra: Krim
Invocation Mantra: Om Klim Kalikayei Namaha
|Low or high lunge (anjaneyasana/ alanasana) with kali mudra 🡪 warrior 2 (virabhadrasana 2)
|Goddess pose (deviasana)
|Bija Mantra: Shrim (Shreem)
Invocation Mantra: Om Shrim Mahalakshmyei Namaha
|Bridge (setu bandasana) 🡪 knees-to-chest (apanasana) flow
|Supported fish pose with butterfly legs
|Bija Mantra: Aim (ai-eem)
Invocation Mantra: Om Aim Saraswatyei Swaha
|Camel pose (ustrasana)
|Supported Fish Pose with Butterfly Legs
|See described above.