by Marion Thornley 

As women in the modern world, we often bear the brunt of much of its suffering. That is not to say that men never suffer or that women are morally superior, but women are usually driven by different hormones and emotions than men, and at different levels of intensity. We often find ourselves, on the domestic level, acting as peacemakers within the home while trying to absorb negative energies from partners and children. Even worse, approximately one in four women find themselves the victims of domestic abuse at some stage of their lives.
In the wider world, it is rarely women who cause violence and suffering, but often it is they who suffer the consequences. A woman’s capacity to bear pain is notoriously higher than that of a man, and so too, her capacity to absorb suffering is, in my mind, also greater.

But this suffering has to be dealt with somehow. In supporting children, siblings, parents and partners, a woman needs to be able to process and eliminate the many destructive emotions that come her way, without allowing them to affect her. She needs to stay strong, because she is often the lynchpin of family and social relationships.

How do women do this? While teaching yoga to prostitutes in Pune, India, a group of women who in the main have been treated by men as badly as it is possible to be, I found a strength that had grown from shared experiences and the friendship of other women. These women were fortunate in having found a sangha – an Indian term that means a community of supportive friends. Most Western women also find friendship a source of great strength, but some are strangers in a foreign land, or in circumstances that make this impossible.

Those lucky enough to be experienced in meditation find that this technique allows them to connect with the deeper self, and access the strength that undoubtedly exists within each one of us. But not many of us have had the benefit of learning and experiencing meditation, or have ever discovered this inner resource.

All of us, men and women, have times when we need to reach down and access that inner strength, whether it is to find the courage to address a difficult situation or to confront problems from within.
Personally, I have found two techniques valuable. One of these is the samkalpa, or commitment to oneself, that is used during the technique of deep relaxation called yoga nidra. Even if you have not experienced this technique, the samkalpa tool is still useful. It is very simple to do but powerful if done regularly over a period of time.

First of all, decide what your samkalpa will be. Keep it to a short, simple sentence couched in positive language. For example, “I am calm and strong”. Then, settle yourself into a comfortable position, maybe play some relaxing music. Allow your breath to slow and quieten. When you feel fully relaxed, repeat your samkalpa to yourself three times, with sincerity and feeling. Then come slowly and carefully out of relaxation, maybe spending a little time sitting quietly before returning to everyday activities.

My other, more recent method is to chant. There is a chant from the Mahanarayana upanisat dedicated to Durga. In the ancient Indian tradition, Durga is a personification of power and strength, a feminine form, symbolic of fire. She glows like fire, and those who meditate upon her acquire the same glow that cleanses impurities and bestows an invincible strength. Here, fire also refers to knowledge; it is this knowledge that burns up our delusions, fears, and obstacles.

The chant uses powerful imagery:

Like a boat that helps us across the ocean, durga helps us through life.
Those who know this mantra glow like fire.
Their radiance removes the obstacles that appear before them
Embodiment of fire, you help me cross the ocean of life and lead me to the shore.

Marian teaches yoga in Ceret and is particularly interested in the use of yoga as a tool for health and healing. For more information contact Marian on


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