Updated: Nov 3, 2021
This post is going to be evolving over time. I am just beginning a project of inquiry into Utkaṭa Koṇāsana, known colloquially as Fierce Goddess Pose. This pose is a deep squat which challenges the legs, hips and core. With practice, it can create great strength in these areas.
In theory, the pose is practiced with the thighs parallel to the floor. That can be quite a challenge! We can get benefits from the pose without squatting quite so deeply.
Utkata means Powerful, Fierce. Kona means angle. Āsana means Pose. We call it Goddess pose because . . . well, this pose is not in Light on Yoga. It's definitely a modern pose and so far I don't know who created it. Everything I know about it has been passed down verbally by mostly White yoga teachers here in NYC.
I have heard it said that this pose celebrates the Divine Feminine, the Shakti Power, the creative aspect of the Supreme Brahman. She is Adi Shakti the primeval force. Devi, Goddess. Womb of the Universe. Practicing this pose allows us to connect to Devi, the Goddess within.
Intuitively, this appeals to me. I've always gravitated towards iconic imagery and Jungian Archetypes. Images of Goddesses show feminine, graceful, yet powerful and self-contained beings who cannot easily be overcome by evil. Looking at images of Goddesses deeply inspires me, and makes me feel empowered.
Heroic Red Tara, Goddess of Compassion, hears the cries of all and rushes to their aid.
I believe part of what so inspires me is my experience growing up a girl in very sexist society. Things have changed since I was a child, but growing up I was surrounded by profound sexism in my family, school and other areas. I have experienced it as an adult in workplaces as well. I am also a cisgendered woman, so my experience could be very different from another's.
How do we talk about celebrating the Goddess within in a group yoga class? How does it feel to practice Goddess Pose as an LGBTIQA+' human?
What is masculine vs feminine anyway? We are all warriors and nurturers, both. I am hoping to invite conversation with folx of the LBGTIQA+ community about this.
In the meantime here are some of the characteristics I have heard described as masculine and feminine in Yoga.
negative electrical pole
positive electrical pole
Some yoga texts are patriarchal. There are Tantric sects that worship mostly feminine energy.
This is quite tangle of yarn, here! But Yoga believes that dualistic thinking is an illusion! We are all one.
In this age, when most of us think of God as "He," it is necessary to point out . . .that God is neither He nor She, and at the same time God is both."
--Swami Kriyananda, in forward to Shakti, Realm of the Divine Mother
[Skanda Purana] "the male and female are eternal principles involved in the projection of the universe. They are never separate. Fundamentally, they are one. Gold and ornaments made of it are one."
Indian philosophy is famous for is symbolism, and from ancient times Indian pictorial representations of God took both male and female forms. Over time, the universal form of the motionless absolute came to be associated with the male form, and the manifested energy of nature wit the female form. The absolute and nature are therefore not two, but two-in-one; they are necessary to each other as complementary manifestations of the one.
Shakti, Realm of the Divine Mother, pgs 4-5
According to Wikipedia:
Hindus believe that all living creatures have a Self. This true "Self" of every person, is called the ātman. The Self is believed to be eternal. According to the monistic/pantheistic (non-dualist) theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit or the Ultimate Reality. The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realise that one's Self is identical to supreme Self, that the supreme Self is present in everything and everyone, all life is interconnected and there is oneness in all life.
[I verified this synopsis in my Religions of Asia textbook.]
When I took Living Religions of the East in college, my professor explained that Hindu sects such as the Advaita Vedanta school believe that there is one God, but God manifests in many forms, depending on what our souls need at the time. God can appear as Krishna the Lover, Saraswati, Goddess of Speech, music and poetry. God can appear as Bhumi, Earth Goddess. Or Vishnu the Creator. For that matter, God can appear as the Virgin Mother and the Sacrificial Youth. All of these appearances are still the same One. And we are all that same divine energy.
So why is this particular shape named in honor of Devi Shakti, The Divine Feminine?
Here is one theory:
Here is a primordial Mother Goddess in a deep squat. Looks pretty close to our pose to me! I am comfortable invoking the Strong Mother within in class.
There is another theory . . .
I have heard teachers say that it is in honor of the Goddess Kali.
In this image, Goddess Durga is creating Kali from energy from her third eye. Goddess Kali is in kind of a squat with one foot on Shiva's chest. Artist: Indra Sharma.
Harish Johari writes in his book, Tools for Tantra: ".. . Kali . .. [is] shown on a corpse. A human corpse symbolizes the center of the phenomenal world, whose rasa (essence) is being exhausted."
Other sources state that the corpse is actually the God Shiva, lying down in her path. The story goes that Kali was called to vanquish a demon no one else could vanquish. She succeeded, and became drunk on blood-lust. She continue to kill all evil doers in her path. To wake her up from her trance of blood-lust, Shiva laid down in her path -- once she realized she was about to kill her own husband, she stopped her rampage.
Another image of Kali squatting on a lion. Artist: Indra Sharma.
Why are we calling upon such a fierce visage of the Divine Feminine in yoga classes? I don't have a PHD in Hinduism or the History of India. I do like to read. According to Shakti: Realm of the Divine Mother:
This is the visage Kali shows to the uninitiated . . . But the face she shows to her devotees is altogether different. To those fortunate ones, untamable nature becomes a doting mother, whose sole concern is their ultimate well-being.
The world cannot be fragmented into clean and unclean, creative and destructive, male and female, as the human mind attempts to do. The world is a unified totality of the terrible and the sublime, welded together. Through Kali imagery we are made to realize that to experience opposites is to be fully human.
I have always been attracted to images of Kali. I believe the wounded soul within me craves to feel so invincible and not-to-be-f@#%d-with. However, I do not have a developed Shakti yoga practice. It would be negligent of me to dally with Kali's energy, especially in a regular yoga class.
If "connecting to the Goddess within" doesn't resonate with you, there are other ways to connect with the Divine Feminine. Sometime I meditate on the Perfect Mother Goddess. Our own mothers, even if they were very good mothers, are human. Certainly they lost patience from time to time. But if there is an energy in the Universe that is always kind, always patient, always comforting, perhaps we can connect to that feeling to help comfort and recharge ourselves. Take in that mother comfort.
This post will continue to evolve, I hope. For now, I have spent a work day here and it's time for laundry! Here are some more offerings:
Shakti, the Mother Goddess, is the all pervading energy principle in the universe. She goes by many names such as Uma, Parvathi, Prakrithi, Devi, Durga, Chandi, Lalitha, Kali, Isvari, Mahesvari, and so on. To read more, click here. Also click here.
Simple Chant Sri Ma Jaya Ma Jaya Jaya Ma
Awesome video about Kali
Tools for Tantra by Harish Johar, pg 97
Shakti: Realm of the Divine Mother by Vanamali, pgs 4-5, 184-186
Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar
Religions of Asia, Second Edition
Image of Heroic Red Tara
Artist V.V. Sapar https://www.vvsapar.com/gallery/taramata/
Commentary on the 21 Manifestations of Tara - Tsem Rinpoche
Kali Images by Indra Sharma. Kali Art Postcard Book. Mandala Publishing.
Image from my bookshelf. Kali porcelain object d'art, gifted to me by a friend.