From a Mexican Yogi To You
In a small Mexican town San Cristobal De Las Casas, a town vibrating with devotion - be it the mayan traditions, christianity, or the more new age spirituality that the international hippies are bringing to it, I found a little yoga studio called Vayu. Led by a little woman named Bani. What follows are bits from our conversation on being a woman, being spiritual, being embodied and being mexican.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
My name is Berenice, but since I was 10 people call me Bani. That is my spiritual name. Growing up I had a lot of influence of tradicional Mayan medicine and spiritual philosophy and the practises of yoga, meditation and tantric thinking. So I became a practisioner of both Mayan and Eastern ways.
Now I give classes in aeral dance, aerial yoga and I help people through ayurveda and mayan medicine with herbs and plants. With the elements of nature I look for the balance in a person.
So you have had this influence of spirituality very early on?
Yes, my mum is a traditional healer and she started teaching me Mayan medicine when I was 5. And at the age of 10 I also learned yoga and meditation.
How did that upbringing and these ways of thinking impact your idea of femininity, of being a woman?
It was a proces of discovery. The Eastern philosophies help you discover yourself as yourself no matter if you are a man or a woman. It helps you reach your authentic way of being.
First, I did not have a lot of references of "feminine women" growing up. There was a lot of criticism on the stereotypes of women in certain parts of the world: the western women, the capitalist idea of having to be a barbie. But ofcourse I also saw different realities of girls wanting to be pretty. I saw it but it did not speak to me at that point.
When I was a teenager I experimented with make up. One time. It just seemed so complicated to me for a reaeon that was not important. Should I spend half an hour of my life looking for a state of perfection that isn't real? I felt like I could do other things.
Going to India had a big impact on my experience of being a woman. People there told me I was very masculine and that I should work on it. The wife of the guru helped me really think about femininity and what it represents. It is worth a lot to them, culturally. I don't know because there is a lot of gender violence too there in India, but on spiritual level it is very profound.
I see it as a tree with very deep roots that you don't see. The ones supporting the tree are the women right? It is the feminine energy that is connected to the earth, creating something from it so it can connect with the sky. With this way of seeing it, started growing a desire to work more womanly with my spirituality and that flowed over in my form, my way of dressing. Not because of a desire to be beautiful but as a natural expression of what was changed inside.
Women really have to reclaim this position, I believe. Breaking with stereotypes and not just the capitalist ones. Go back to the origin, the cosmic level of what it means to be a woman. To me it means this connection with the divine mother, which is not just loving and nurturing but also power, fighting against stagnation, rebellion.
Your view on womanhood is very linked to your spirituality and Eastern ways of living. How can you relate that to being a woman here in Mexico?
Well, there are some indigenous communities where women play this strong role but that does not go for Mexico in general. Also there is this tension between being indiginous and being foreign that is not resolved. We are "mestizos", mixed people, and we haven't been able to proces the impact of that union.
Either people say I am indiginous and I sing the traditional songs and dance marriachi and... but at the same time there is this system that is foreign to my country, that marginilizes the indigenous. So other people identify with the majority, aspire to be European or whatever and go to football, drink beer or wear make up. We don't arrive at saying: this is who we are. It is a thing of identity going back to being "meztizos", being bastards in history, standing between two cultures. We still struggle with the question of who we are in the story of this world.
And you use your spirituality to find a place within this duality?
It helps me, yes. Because more than where my blood comes from, it is about where my essence comes from. But it is also important that the mind recognizes where the body that it is using comes from, to live. I am not going to say "poor me, I am indigenous". I don't put these limitationd on myself.
You just mentioned the body and in your work it has a very central place. How do you relate to it?
Oh I love connecting with my body! Not always. I used to do yoga to elevate my mind, not thinking a lot about the body. Aereal dancing has helped a lot in opening my eyes. Like okay I can do all these poses, now what else can I do? Also through studying holistic medicine I saw how the mind, with the limitations people put on themselves, affect the body. The body started being a place of possibilities rather than limitations.
The mind can limit the body, what I look for whit dancing is helping people transcend their physical limits so they can identify their mental ones. Or that they move through mental blockages so that the body can flow. That is where the good feelings come from, the liberation, the discoveries.
I love exploring and expanding what is inside through the body, not by pushing it. Never by pushing it. It is important to respect its rythm and to come from a place of love.
Has having a daughter, becoming a mother changed a lot for you?
It changed radically! Before I had Sattya 5 years ago, my spiritual work was very individualistic. Now I al more preoccupied with the world, more engaged.
Also cleaning my lineage, my patterns. There are a lot of things I was tolerant of before in myself but when she was born I no longer wanted to allow that certain patterns from my mum and grandmum reflect onto Sattya. I became more of a warrior against immorality.
And I guess I also became more grounded. Before I was very dreamy while now my spirituality is more connected to the material world. Physical abundance became more important, not like chasing money but you know. Before I did not care and now I value my time and work and I need to be comfortable so I can be an example , avove all of a woman. Because she will be one when she grows up.
And a good example she will be. Little Sattya is always joining the dance and yoga classes, doing tricks without fear, teaching others how to do them.
Thank you Bani, for how yoy raise your girl and for teaching me, talking to me, for smiling so so bright.