The other day I was feeling kind of 90’s nostalgic. I’m thirty-six, so the 90’s were my teenage years, and even though I had all the usual angst (and then some), what I remember now is that the music was good and the people I hung out with were fun and super supportive. To add a little musical score to memory lane, I decided to look up an old favorite song.
In case you don’t feel like watching, it’s “Killing In The Name Of,” by Rage Against The Machine.
Not exactly a rare cut, but a fine moment for the still young rap rock genre.
Bam! There they were, the 90’s in all their flannel-clad be-Doc Marten-ed ecstasy, complete with terrible white boy dreadlocks. Actually, though, I was blown away. Not by my split attraction-revulsion to the whole scene, but by the very visceral memory of the sea of dudes that attended every single punk/ska/hardcore/metal show I went to. They looked something like this (although stillness does them no justice):
Granted, this was a big, festival-like show and nothing like most of the tiny venues that most of the bands I saw played in, but you get the picture. Or do you? See this seemingly endless mass of writhing bodies? It’s all (mostly) men. Some of them are drunk. All of them are worked up into an incredible frenzy, moshing and crowd-surfing, and oh, just being boys. Great, right?
Actually, no. As a smallish female who went to a lot of punk shows, I can tell you that it sucked. I was always pushed to the back of the club. I could never see anything that was happening onstage. Sometimes some guy I was with would hand me his jacket to hold while he jumped happily into the crowd, and I would stand on the outer edges of the mosh pit waiting for the inevitable jab to the tit.
Some girls bro-ed up and went into the pit to get in on the action. I kind of admired them, because they wanted to be part of the action and they were. But when my friend Jen walked away from a moshpit with an eyebrow so bloody that it needed ten stitches, I wasn’t that impressed.
It just all seemed so stupid. It’s not even that I was anti-moshing or something. I just wanted to go to a show and to be able to see and hear what was happening without getting hurt. And I just wasn’t the kind of girl who was gonna throw down with a bunch of punk boys.
|Kathleen Hanna pulling girls onstage at a show that got too violent.|
Sometime around 1993, I went to this Fugazi/Bikini Kill/L7 show in a church space in D.C. There I saw something amazing: a line of grrrls holding hands in the front row, making a barrier wall of their bodies in front of the stage so that girls could dance up front, protected from the testosterone-fueled mayhem of the moshpit.
Those amazing riot grrrls were risking a lot to stand there. Dudes were furious. They were all up in their faces cursing, screaming, and spitting. But those girls just held each other’s hands and held strong. They took the jabs and the threats and they just fucking stood there.
They were my heroes. They were the most badass chicks I had ever seen. They had heart.
You might characterize their barrier wall of girl bodies as an act of physical bravery, and you’d be right, but it was more than that. They were facing very real physical threats, of course, but the other threats they were facing were harder to stomach, in a way, than physical danger.
Those girls were facing the possibility of complete rejection from the scene.
While Positive Force and other Straight Edge groups were politically active, they were still totally male-dominated. For boys in the scene, politically feminist viewpoints didn’t necessary translate into fair treatment of women, especially when it came to being in the front circle at a Fugazi show.
Being rejected from a teenage social scene may seem like not such a big deal now, but just try to remember the desperation you felt as a teen for a sense of belonging. And we weren’t just your average suburban kids who had extracurricular activities and teams to belong to. We had already rejected or been rejected by the mainstream.
We were an island of misfit toys, and those few brave girls risked getting kicked off the island just so the rest of us could dance. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable to protect the rest of us. They accepted the curses and the insults that the rest of us didn’t want to face. They planted their roots in the soil of adversity.
That kind of action requires both the vulnerable, heart opening aspect of courage, and intense dedication to standing your ground. You must be steady and grounded to open yourself up to criticism and threats of bodily harm. The ability to soften only blossoms from a base of stability.
In yoga, the muladhara chakra governs our sense of security. It is, literally, the root chakra. When it is in balance, it ensures that we have all the nourishment we need to survive and thrive.
According to Aurveda, the chakras must be cleared and activated in order. In other words, if the first chakra, the muladhara, is not in balance, you will not be able to access the full energy of the anahata chakra, or the heart.
Some practitioners call the muladhara the warrior chakra. This is interesting because if you think of the way you experience of the warrior poses in the body, all of the above theories hold true. It is impossible to elongate the torso and open the chest if the foundation of your feet, legs and hips is not strong. The fluidity of the upper body is totally reliant on the stability of the lower body.
In our lives, this means that cultivating steadiness comes before offering up our hearts. Steadiness, however, does not mean either perfection or immobility. We can’t wait until the moment that we consider ourselves perfect to feel like we have something substantial to offer the world, because it’s never gonna happen. Conversely, if we are too grounded in our own bodies, lives and minds, we may never reach out into the world at all.
This is where, I think, we as yogis have something to learn from that riot grrrl posse. They were strong and vulnerable, true punk rock warriors that faced rejection and violence with evenness. But they didn’t do it alone.
They did it holding onto one another. They couldn’t have done it alone. One body doesn’t make a wall.
As yogis, we tend to think of our practices as singular personal experiences that just happen to take place in a room full of other people. The language of the practice often encourages this. We say:
Look inside yourself.
Develop your personal practice.
Find your center.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. And, of course, we all need to do these things, to activate our personal muladhara. But we are rooting ourselves in social soil, and it might be time to:
Practice sharing your practice.
Find commonality with others.
Even though there is no yogic philosophy about a mutual muladhara and our chronically narcissistic, culturally-biased interpretations of yoga philosophy encourage us to think that if we just work on ourselves we will be making a contribution to the universe, common sense tells us that we are, inevitably, stronger warriors when we stand together. Maybe one body doesn’t make a warrior.
So, then, the question we have to ask ourselves is: What is it that holds us back from forming yoga communities in which individual participants are encouraged and expected to make consistent contributions to the whole? Are we all just like those teenage girls who were scared of being rejected or getting punched in the tit? When will we deem ourselves grounded enough to become warriors?
If we start with the idea that it is our responsibility to protect one another, we have to stop assuming that someone else is going to be the warrior today.
We’re all making this wall together, or it’s not a wall at all.
Thinking About Yoga and Narcissism:
Learn More About Riot Grrrl: