zahra "I'm not psycho, I'm cyclical"
This weekend was rough. I went to visit my family while nursing a broken heart and found myself weeping in the few moments I had away from my nieces and nephews in the hotel bathroom. I was battling so hard to stay “strong,” be unmoved but alas I would crumble at the first uninterrupted silence. In the midst of my turbulent sleeps, I would toss and turn in the bed I shared with my niece and mull over all the stupid mistakes I’d made that led to the demise of my relationship. Why was I feeling this delayed remorse? I had been okay the past few weeks. Then like clockwork- ding. Got my period and was in Zahra’s words “pulled into the underworld.”
I first met Zahra Haji aka Yoga Goddess in 2014. I hadn’t had my period in two years and was freaked out. I had an exercise/eating disorder that resulted in me being pretty devastatingly underweight and therefore no longer cycling in a way that was natural to me. It scared me enough to actually start taking care of myself and going to Zahra’s fertility workshop was a huge moment in my recovery.
We all sat in a circle and explained why we were there. Many women were trying to conceive, some had painful menstruations, I was the only one that had no menstruation at all. Zarah appeared like a goddess- maybe Lakshmi (which she's been called before), and with the most soothing voice I've ever heard she explained - that women are cyclical, our energy levels change significantly depending on whether we are ovulating, menstruating, or transitioning. In my particular case, she encouraged me to start watching the moon which traditionally cycles the number of days as an average woman. She explained that I should start a journal where I take note of the appearance of the moon along with any changes I may feel in my body.
I did this. I did this everyday.
The ritual accompanied with other self-care practices led me back to my period. I have shared what I learned that day with so many women in my life, many of whom have told me how much it’s made them feel both more connected to themselves and connected to each other.
Reflecting on this years later while having a healthy regular period, I wanted to catch up with Zahra and find out more about what her mission is.
"For me it’s really about embracing the sacredness of the female body. People have a lot of misconceptions around the word “femininity” in the first place, and what does that even connote? When like menstrual cycles and female rhythms- that is the essence of the feminine. The cycles of the earth, the cycles of the seasons, and the cycles of the moon and how does that all inter-relate with our own cycles. We are part of this sort of bigger pulse of the feminine. People talk about nature; well women are the embodiment of nature and the cycles of nature. From the seasons, to the moon, to the fertility cycles of the earth even. To restore that natural cycle for women, and not just for everyone, for HUMANITY to understand that women are really kind of like a representative of the feminine on earth…and men of the masculine. And we’re actually not the same. To me as a feminist I would never say that women and men are the same- we needed to do that to have liberation (sexual), in the collective consciousness of that time, women needed to be seen as equal, but we’re not equal. We are very different hormonally, we are different in our brains, there’s lots of literature that talks about that, and we should be treated the same—not that we should be treated as inferior—but we should be treated as cyclical beings. We are not linear, we are not the same every day or every week or even every month or even every season or even every year, and that’s the nature of women. To not embrace that is so reject femininity; next wave feminism really talks about this."
You were a Marketing specialist and then a yoga teacher, what was the continued evolution to fertility workshops?
"I was in yoga school and was doing women’s studies at the time when I came across this information. A lot of it came from Dr. Christiane Northrup and Miranda Gray who is a huge influencer and mentor for me.
We are supposed to cycle from darkness to light. We are supposed to feel exuberant and high half the month and loving and outward, and the other half of the month we are supposed to retreat and go into a dark place and go into introspection, and withdraw and retreat. Oh my God! I’m not psycho- I’m cyclical! I created a workshop called that. Yoga is such a conduit- a road into yourself- so it was a natural marriage of breath and movement and understanding your fem energy because also Kundalini means – the goddess energy of creation—and that’s the essence of yoga—so to mean, the goddess energy of creation coming from yoga, and then the sacred feminine and the lunar cycles and women’s cycles and menstruation. Look at the historical references to menstruation- the biblical references-even in Judaism, the cultural stuff in Hinduism around periods is that they’re disgusting, that they’re evil, women are evil because they menstruate. This is the blood of life, without menstruation there is no humanity. So to me, this rejection of what is the essential feminine through religion (male dominated) goes into the psyche for generations of women who feel inherently wrong and bad for bleeding every month. You can’t even say the word period half the time, like half our life in public. Nobody says “I’m bleeding”- like nobody says that! All this cultural taboo around menstruation and to me that was unacceptable. Especially since I grew up with that taboo, like I felt that pressure of hiding behind closed doors, talking in whispers, hiding it from my dad or my brother, the boys at school, God forbid, like the stain on your backside when everyone’s checking. Everybody remembers doing that. Double bagging at shoppers so your pads don’t get seen, everyone relates to these feelings of “I don’t want to be seen.” Concealment and shame! So for me it was like, how can we be ashamed of something that we are? You can’t not be this. You’re a woman. so that was for me what I was most passionate about. Then I really saw, as the years progressed, this real big cry, the cry of the feminine, women who can’t conceive, what they’ve coined unexplained infertility- physiologically there’s nothing wrong with you, there’s nothing wrong with your partner, why are you not getting pregnant. To me it because of the disconnect with the feminine, and that’s what I teach, so I kind of took the next step with the work and said if you’ve taken the pill for 10-15 years, your hormones don’t produce anymore. Contraceptive pill is doing it for you. Its like calling up a friend after 20 years and asking: can you help me move? Like no! I don’t even know who you are now. That’s like a phone call to your body: hey can you give me a baby? Like no, you haven’t even talked to me in 20 years. So, you haven’t had a connection with yourself, with your womb, with your cycle: maybe you even hated it! I don’t know where you left off when you were 15, 18, 22…but we need to repair that relationship if there’s physiologically nothing wrong with you, there’s clearly something else that needs to be repaired. That’s the way I see it."
You seem to have followed your intuition in cultivating a path for yourself, what does listening to your gut feel like inside your body?
"I think it’s when there’s not a lot of noise. It just feels like, knowing inside of your body, sometimes for me a lot of things would happen organically, because our minds are so overactive, a bigger part of you has to hijack your entire experience so the mind can shut up. that’s been my experience. It literally has to be something quite strong that you can’t refuse it, it takes you over. It’s been like that for me where I can’t argue with this. Even my mind can’t argue- it’s not giving my mind the opportunity to rationalize or argue. It’s a big kind of force. That’s the strongest way it happens.'
Does that feeling get stronger as you get older?
"For me, it gets quieter. This goes along with the idea, it becomes subtler if you can listen more easily. You get hit by a car if you really need a wakeup call. You get hijacked when you’re not going to be able to hear it in any other way but as you’re more settled, it doesn’t have to be as loud."
What advice would you give to your twenty year old self?
"I would say: value yourself more. I wish, in retrospect, that I wasn’t looking outside of myself so much for someone to love me, to make me feel good about me, and I wish I had had a better mirror to be able to look inside and find that love, which is so easy to say in retrospect, and you can read it, but you cant feel it if you don’t have it. Self love is not something that can magically appear, unfortunately, is what I’ve learned over the years. It doesn’t matter how many affirmations you say, it doesn’t matter how many incredible books and mentors you find, its like a plant. It takes time to grow, and you have to plant the seeds."