I am on my favourite beach, frolicking naked in the shallow waves, on a devastatingly charming moonlit night. There is sand between my toes, stars above my head, and a gaggle of girlfriends by my side. We are dancing queens, kindred spirits.
I am on a silent meditation retreat, tucked away in the glorious hills behind Byron Bay. My mother is with me, eyes closed, body hushed … serene. We are feminine, divine.
I am practising yoga in the opulent living room of an old Scottish castle. It’s midwinter and by the fireplace in the evening our yogic mentor talks ayurveda and nadi points. She is wise and peaceful. We curl up with hot water bottles, and each other, for warmth. We are soul sisters.
From the traditional Turkish baths of Paris, humming with the chatter of mothers, friends and sisters, to the vibrant congregations of African women who come together at festivals, funerals and in the streets to dance, females throughout the ages and across the oceans have cherished each other’s companionship and found comfort in each other’s spiritual guidance.
On the night before she leaves to take part in this year’s Being Woman festival on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, sexuality coach, tantra healer, and womb healing specialist Bonnie Bliss tells me why it is vital that women love and celebrate themselves and each other.
“A lot of women are disconnected. They are stressed and overwhelmed and find it challenging to take time out. It’s liberating to be in a space where we are all the same, with other women. It’s very profound.”
Bonnie runs a monthly sell-out night in the northern NSW town of Mullumbimby called Shakti Spa. The clothing-optional evening is a night of “bliss for women” with nine half-hour experiential workshops focusing on connecting with feminine energy. Workshops can include topics such as nurturing your heart, soul restoration and breath as spirit medicine.
Bonnie, like a bliss-seeking super hero, has a boundless enthusiasm for bursting through the personal barriers we have created with our own bodies. She helps women overcome body image shame, sexual shame, negative experiences, trauma or low libido. She says that when she asks women to talk about themselves, they will often say, “This will sound weird, but I’ve always hated my body.”
Bonnie, whose work is about “coming back to sisterhood”, says it’s crucial we learn to honour ourselves. “Then you can see yourself as your full potential and you can look at other women in the same way. There is a deep acceptance that comes from knowing that we are enough, just as we are. If we’re stuck in negative thought patterns, we are not present in the moment, and if we’re not fully here, we miss the magic that unfolds in each moment – we miss the chance to just be who we are.”
Bonnie recommends women adopt a daily practice fostering loving energy. “Breast massage is powerful as the breasts are connected to the heart. Or, after a shower, gently touch your body. Not in a sexual way, but in a caring manner that gives yourself permission to take the time to care for yourself. Working directly with your body is very powerful.”
Based in Sydney, Bridget Ferguson guides women to a deeper level of self-love and self-worth using somatic coaching including embodiment practices such as breath, sound, movement, touch, and awareness, and inner dialogue work. She says, “We are a thinking-focused society. The problem is the mind is not the source of our deepest intelligence or wisdom, the body is. When we suppress emotion, it doesn’t disappear, it gets stored in the body and shows up often as numbness or pain. By getting in touch with the body again, we can start to express old emotions. This frees up a huge amount of energy as well as giving us the ability to feel more joy and pleasure.”
Bridget – who worked as a family law barrister in England and owned a big house and flash car – says she was deeply unhappy. Cue a life-changing holiday to the Greek islands, a full-blown romance with a sailing instructor followed by a devastating break-up with the sailing instructor, and Bridget says her passion for life ignited.
She quit her job, emigrated to Australia, studied energetic healing, tantra, and spent a year in Peru studying with shamans in the jungle. “Now, I help women awaken their Aphrodite energy, their magnetic feminine power, so professionally they are focused, creative, effective leaders and powerful communicators who can let go of the stress. In their relationships, they are able to receive, have their emotional needs met, access their vulnerability and communicate authentically.”
Finding that balance, however, between work life and inner fulfilment can be like entering your own personal jungle of anguish and tangled emotions. Yoga teacher Jackie Wallin, founder of Yoga by Nature in Brunswick Heads, worked in Melbourne’s hectic corporate scene for 16 years and says, “There were never enough hours in the day. I didn’t have some peak experience that said I should change everything.” But eventually, Jackie says, she left the “fight or flight lifestyle behind” to embrace a life in which she could be more in tune with herself. “There are so many avenues for joy. It’s important to find a practice you really love – yoga, dancing, or walking on the beach – something that involves movement.
She says that to motivate ourselves towards a life of contentment and connection, we can also choose to be around and inspired by our girlfriends. “It is important not to isolate ourselves as that can be a feeding ground for fear and getting overwhelmed by the outer world. We need to move from that anxiety or depression as it blocks the pathways to healing and happiness. We forget who we really are and it’s hard to authentically connect with others.”
Speaking with such inspirational women, I feel a tingling of my own awakening. I want to foster joy, be authentic, nurture loving energy and connect. I grab a dictionary and look up connection and the first definition I find resonates: “A circle of friends or associates or a member of such a circle.”
As Queensland artist Jassy Watson (www.earthcirclestudios.com) explains, women have been forming circles, or connecting, for a long time. Jassy says transformation can begin when a person isn’t feeling isolated. “For me, it’s a deep remembering of something ancient because women used to sit in circles for cooking, childbirth, ceremony, celebration, to dance, weep, tell stories, to heal and create. Our modern culture is obscured by an illusory veil of separateness and we find ourselves living disparately; disconnected from our families and communities. When women allow themselves time to come back to a circle, something inside is awakened – that is what I mean by a deep remembering.”
Jassy runs art classes for women in her Earth Circle Studios and is inspired by love, ancient traditions, symbolism, ecology, the sacred feminine, myth and ritual, and talking with Jassy is like imbibing a shot of feelgood juice that instantly nourishes your soul. Last year, through a ‘goddess program’, Jassy looked at how myth can align with our own stories. She was intrigued by Anjea, the Australian Aboriginal female spirit of creation and paid artistic tribute to Pachamama, the supreme goddess honoured by the indigenous people of the Andes.
Jassy facilitates ‘red thread’ ceremonies before each class in which a ball of thread is passed around the group. Each person receives the threat, sets their intention for the class, wraps some thread on their wrist, and passes the thread on. “This symbolises our connection to each other, our ancestors, the web of life – it is symbolic of blood and the heart.”
I am intrigued by the popularity and potency of modern-day women’s circles in Australia. Melissa Gonella, who is devoted to the circles she facilitates in Melbourne, says they are like internal yoga for the soul where women can “stretch and explore the boundaries of their inner thoughts and feelings”.
She says we can become distracted by our busy lives and struggle to be authentic and find connection. “In women’s circles it’s celebrated that we are ‘real’ with each other.” In a women’s circle, Melissa says, we can delve into detail about our day, our life and our emotions, and be heard.
“It can be really raw. It can release a lot of emotions. A woman can express her feelings of being ‘not enough’. At times it takes a lot of energy to hold it all together; the effort of keeping everything boxed up affects our health and happiness. But, when a woman is in a space and she witnesses another woman be really truthful, it encourages and guides her. She then takes into her life more courage to be truthful to herself and the circle has really given her a gift.”
Ritual, celebration and connection are unifying forces. We are allured by the chance to bond with others and take part in a movement where we can physically and mentally stop and reflect on the cadence of life. One of humankind’s oldest instruments – drums – are used in circles, gatherings and full-moon festivities around the world to provide people with an internal and external beat.
Perth drum-maker Jozina de Ruiter says drumming circles help women “centre and connect”. Jozina says the ritual of drumming – which she has been known to combine with bonfires, chanting, chai and chocolate cake – allows women to listen to their own heartbeat … their own rhythm.
“When we play the drums together, we get different rhythms but we can still be in harmony. This is the same in life. Drumming can help show you how to hold on to your own rhythm even when you are surrounded by everyone else’s rhythms. You learn to trust your own rhythm. Through drumming, we’re connecting with the universe as well as ourselves. It helps awaken you and opens your chakras. It helps women slow down. It’s very healing.”
The art of slowing down amid life’s topsy-turviness is one that many healers, yogis and life coaches take very seriously. ‘Rest specialist’ Star Despres says she became sick with an auto-immune disease and as part of her healing journey, she now promotes the powers of restoration. She says rest is often seen as lazy or indulgent, however if you take the time to let your body recover, you can begin to function from a place of fullness and vitality.
Star, a yoga teacher for feminine vitality, says, “Yoga is an amazing tool, especially when combined with a ‘mindfulness’ practice. Emotions can often come to the surface. I invite women to welcome these feelings and lean into them. Life is still going to be chaos, but it’s how you react to it.”
Emily Dawson, owner of Agoy Yoga, Darwin, says there have been many tears in her classes. “I don’t know why! I see it as a good thing. Yin or restorative yoga is a still form of yoga including lots of floor poses which allows for students to have a deep release. It allows people to process what they haven’t been able to process yet.”
Emily says she remembers one lady who hadn’t yet grieved for the loss of her father and cried throughout an entire class. “It was beautiful. She sobbed into her bolster and I let her know, ‘It’s okay’. But I did not try and stop her crying. I thought, ‘Great, keep crying’.”
Emily, also a fan of kirtan and Tibetan bowl energy healing, says, “You need that sisterhood. It’s important we support each other and help each other grow.”
Releasing our emotions in public – whether it’s waves of tears or raucous guffaws – can be confronting. I talk with Sydney psychotherapist Jodie Gale who offers one-on-one counselling and soul sessions for women who want to find connection, release emotion, deal with anxiety or depression and enjoy life more deeply. She firmly believes in the effectiveness of reconnection with the feminine through movement, dance, love, self-compassion and finding fun in our lives.
“We need humour in life. We need to be careful not to take life too seriously,” Jodie says.
Feeling cocooned by so much wise femininity, I ponder how to steer my life gracefully along a path of nurturing, loving, drumming, yoga-ing, creating and a little partying. So long to the stressing and disconnecting and cheers to the hoopla and hilarity.
Appropriately, I speak with Lauren Woodman, the dynamic founder of the Seven Sisters Festival, on International Women’s Day. The annual Seven Sisters Festival was held in March this year with more than 100 practitioners contributing. The festival, at Mt Martha, Victoria, is held in honour of the feminine and this year women celebrated together. The festival includes many speakers, talks on the environment and life transitions, Irish and Indigenous storytellers, workshops, drumming, yoga, markets, music, performers and a healing haven complete with free massages and treatments.
Lauren says, “I’m actually an osteopath and in the first six months of having my own practice, I had dreams of women coming to my treatment rooms. They were exhausted and tired and seemed disconnected from their bodies. I realised they needed more than me.”
And so, Lauren dreamt up a festival, “a wonderland” that aims to expose women to various modalities, remove barriers, and provide information. “Many women find it hard to take just three days for themselves. In life they do just what they need to get by but they don’t indulge. At the festival, these women have chosen consciously to dedicate time for themselves which is really powerful.
“Women come for a healing journey and to have fun and an adventure. It broadens their minds to what’s possible. Women really get a chance to stop and connect with themselves and they return to the world feeling renewed and balanced. They say they love being in a unique space, celebrating and enjoying being a woman, with other women.”
Lauren says the purpose of the festival is to connect with our own power and purpose and creativity. “On a deeper level, you are recognising the gift of life and allowing space for that sacredness in life and really deeply appreciating the gift that life is. It’s important to enjoy these moments – it adds richness to our lives.”
So girlfriends, earth mothers, lotus flowers, and bosom buddies … beat the drum, blow off steam and kick up your heels. Step out, stomp around, dance in circles and wave to the moon. Meditate on the incoming and outgoing tides of your life, notice the ebb and flow of your vitality, accept the deluges that overwhelm you, and be grateful for the river of enduring love and compassion that runs to the epicentre of your being. Go forth yoginis and celebrate … shake your chakras, move those mudras, and salute your inspirational sisters.
Further information: blissrevival.com; bridgetferguson.com; www.agoyyoga.com.au; yogabynature.com.au; www.earthcirclestudios.com; www.divinestar.com.au; www.josieharvey.com; jodiegale.com; www.melissagonella.com; www.jozinasdrum.com; sevensistersfestival.com