Our mats forming a circle, the 15 women at this yoga workshop are sitting nervously with anticipation of what will be asked of us. We have each heard about Tigress Yoga via word of mouth or at yoga festivals, and what we’ve heard has been highly enticing. It’s not that we are expecting difficult or strong asanas, but rather a more intimate, sensual awakening within ourselves, as others have expressed after attending a Tigress Yoga class.
While we’re excited, there is also some hesitation—definitely on my part, as of all the yoga styles I’ve tried, I’ve never been to a women-only yoga class that focuses on the female body in a very different way to a regular hatha class.
Tigress Yoga founder and teacher Dévashi Shakti, who has been offering workshops around Australia for the past two years alongside the regular classes she has run in Melbourne for six years, speaks eloquently about how she personally felt the need for a yoga practice relating specifically to the woman’s experience.
A yoga practitioner and massage therapist from the age of 18, Dévashi moved her work into pranic healing practices and other energy modalities such as Reiki. Later, while training as a yoga chi gung teacher under Queensland-based Grant Woolven, and exploring shamanism and Tantra, it became obvious to her that an integration of these practices was the next step, and to make it directly useful for the feminine body.
“While doing my training and working with people, I realised there was very little available directly to the woman’s experience. These practices were respected, yet not really for accessing the powerful energy of the female body, because they were not made for that,” says Dévashi.
“Tigress Yoga started as my own personal practice and when I moved from Queensland to Melbourne eight years ago, friends were asking me to show them what I was doing, because they noticed my energy was really beautiful. I was tapping into something they hadn’t felt, and they wanted it!”
Initially named Tigress Yoga Chi Gung, a nod to the integration of yoga and chi gung, Dévashi began sharing her practices with friends in her lounge room, then classes in a small North Fitzroy studio. Today there are three teachers in Melbourne holding weekly classes that are booked out and have waiting lists. In Queensland classes are offered in both Brisbane and Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast. However, next year at least 25 new “student teachers” around Australia will be able to start teaching after graduating from the first level of Tigress Yoga teacher training.
In a tigress class
I have a confession to make: I don’t remember a single pose or exercise we did during the four-hour workshop. I became so immersed in the practice that my mind switched off (no easy feat!). Dévashi lead us through flowing movements with deep awareness of the breath, and asked us to express our internal feelings with sounds. The result: a blissful post-massage feeling.
“Coming to Tigress is really to open up your own energy to connect with your own authenticity. It’s not just about physical yoga—it has a lot to do with your feelings and connecting with your feminine energy,” explains Dévashi. “This is from a long time of going deep into my own body as a woman and just allowing the feminine body to naturally unfold.”
Like traditional yoga practices, Tigress Yoga works to connect with Kundalini-shakti, or feminine energy. “We are working with it in quite a direct way, and encouraging a felt-sense experience of it,” says Dévashi. “Women crave to tap into their deep creativity, their sexuality and wildness. So I create spaces that women can explore the more primal part of themselves.
To help facilitate that, we want to allow all of the authentic feelings and expressions and sensations without having to internalise everything—it’s actually really damaging for a woman to do that to their feminine energy long term.”
Making sounds, she says is a very efficient way of overriding the thinking mind. “It helps people to have a strong experience of being in their body quite easily. It also helps to expand energy in the body, so it helps someone to connect with what they’re really feeling and to allow that authenticity to have expression,” she says.
It’s no surprise that Tigress Yoga is finding fans around Australia, as women today face multitude of responsibilities that often sees them putting themselves last and losing connection with their innermost Self. “There’s a strong momentum in society to succeed and have all the external bits and pieces that say, ‘yes, you’ve made it’, and a lot of that makes people, and in this case women, have a large amount of their energy focused on how they present to the world. This leaves them with a very large gap between what they show and what is really happening inside,” she says.
“This is why we put a big focus on authenticity and allowing anything that is not totally natural to someone’s true energy to gradually unfold and unravel, so they can get closer to who they really are,” says Dévashi of the classes, which are held in courses to encourage a sense of containment and safety among the women.
For Gold Coast-based Tigress Yoga teacher Kirstan Flannery, discovering a workshop by Dévashi was like finding a “pot of gold”. “I loved it. I wasn’t expecting a class like that and everything in my body was screaming ‘yes!’—to be able to move in that way and make sound and being given permission to express myself so authentically,” she says. “That was really liberating and a real relief for me, because there are not many places where you can completely let it rip authentically.”
Kirstan was so taken with the first workshop that she took notes on the poses and practised them three to five times a week until Dévashi visited with another workshop months later. A student of Tigress Yoga for nearly three years and teaching classes in Brisbane and Burleigh Heads for one year, she says that even though she loved the practice from the start, it was confronting.
“I’d found something unique and special as a woman to experience, yet I was really challenged at the same time. It challenged all those preconceived ideas of how women are meant to act and function in society, how we’re meant to be ‘proper’—all those kinds of things,” she says.
“It triggered all of that material where I wasn’t being myself, so there was a bit of a process of feeling thrilled and terrified at the same time. It took me a few classes to get really comfortable to know that, ‘wait a second, I can keep expressing my emotions. I am safe and I’m really supported here in this process’. As I learned to trust that, I was able to move more into what the practice had to offer.”
A style of yoga tailored to the woman’s body means there are many benefits for reproductive health, including issues relating to fertility. Students of Tigress Yoga have relayed their stories of profound physical shifts and changes, and healing of illnesses relating to women’s health, the hormonal system and menstruation.
“Some women experience new levels of creativity that they didn’t know they had, causing them to completely change their entire lives and do what they really love instead of working in a job they just sort of like,” says Dévashi.
“Women really come alive in their lives by aligning to their real energy; such as having incredible sexual awakenings with their partner because they are tapping into their Kundalini-shakti. That catalyses levels of connectedness and intimacy with men, so a lot of men are transformed by this as well—the ripple effect is pretty incredible,” she says.
Kirstan agrees: “I’m finding that women are experiencing a lot of what they consider as ‘coming home’ to themselves. They’re experiencing a greater sense of freedom and being open to who they are, and seeing the love and beauty in that.” Women become more “comfy” in their own skin, she explains.
“A lot of women find Tigress Yoga appealing because it’s not about being flexible or really skilled at yoga. It works on a deep emotional level, on the psyche, unravelling conditioning. So women really transform a lot on those levels and that’s where the focus is, more than physical fitness, although that’s a by-product,” says Kirstan.
After a few hours of Tigress Yoga, I was glowing and wanting more. As each woman in the circle spoke about how she felt following the practice, we all agreed: we couldn’t wait until a teacher opened a class nearby.