Shari Friedrichsen has been teaching and studying yoga for over 40 years. As Mother’s Day approaches, the team at Sahoja interviewed Shari to explore a yogic perspective of motherhood.
Q: What would you say is the yogic perspective of Mother’s Day?
Yoga refers to the source of creation as Mother, and everything comes from this source. She is the strength, the Shakti, the voice, the act of creating. Many ancient texts are about the Divine Mother and her different aspects. They describe the various ways she comes into form and for what purpose. There has been an honoring of the mother in yoga since the beginning of time.
Q: Why do you think that yoga uses the term Mother Divine? Why give that concept a gender?
The word Mother denotes creation simply because Mother at its core is the symbol of birth and creativity. Over the years, the concept has become confused with gender from religious references and images. This limits motherhood to simple biology and ignores the true strength, consciousness and grace of this universal power the yogis call ‘shakti.’ The energy of creation, shakti, is something that we can unfold within ourselves. As evolutes of this creation, we have the same power of creativity within us.
My teacher, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, in his book “The Secret of the Yoga Sutra,” talks about the omniscience of Ishwari (which is a unique being that is beyond gender; Pandit Tigunait sometimes uses the pronoun “she” and other times “he” in his translation but he is not attempting to personify this entity). Ishwari is described as having the ability to do what she wants to do, not do what she doesn’t want to do, but also to undo whatever has been done. That omnipotence is a very powerful part of creation that we don’t need to put into an anthropomorphic form.
Q: Would you say that we all have a certain feminine energy regardless of our gender?
Yes, we have to look beyond the words feminine and masculine because those labels can be limiting. The source of life exists in each and every person regardless of gender. Just as a tree grows acorns, for example. When those acorns drop, those seeds contain the source of life. All the properties necessary to create life are there. As humans brought into this world, we have different life experiences that contribute to how we manifest and how we identify with the world. The key is remembering whatever we are in the world, the source of life is still within us and gives us the power to be more of who we are and to be all of what we are.
Q: Is there a certain place in the body where this energy resides?
In Pandit Tigunait’s book on the Sri Sukta, Mantra 4 refers to this Shakti energy residing in all seven chakras:
1. Root chakra at the perineum has the power of stability
2. Sacral chakra at the pelvis has the power of passion
3. Naval chakra has the power of self-confidence
4. Heart chakra has the power of love and compassion
5. Throat chakra has the power of creativity and aesthetic expression
6. Third eye chakra has the power of decisiveness and discernment
7. Crown chakra has the power that enables us to experience our oneness with the Divine
Q: What do you focus on to try and connect with this energy?
When I think of revealing qualities of the Divine Mother, I think of strength, courage, passion, and her will to help us believe in ourselves, so I focus on the root, the pelvis and the abdomen. We may tend to think of Her as compassionate and kind, but it’s Her strength, courage and passion that I like to focus on in my practice. Overall, balance is the key and understanding that you have to maintain balance within yourself and keep coming back to your center.
Q: Many people talk about Mother Earth and Mother Nature, yet there seems to be a disconnect from realizing where our food comes from and what the Earth provides for us. Does yoga offer any suggestions of how to reestablish that connection?
Mother represents the source of nourishment, and for us as humans, the Earth is our nourishment; everything that grows on the Earth provides us nourishment. Here at the Himalayan Institute, the people that prepare our food begin their day by singing a prayer of gratitude to the Divine Mother.
My daughter also has a garden so that her children will understand where food comes from, how it grows, and how we can then prepare it at mealtime. Her children love broccoli and carrots, for instance, so they plant those in their garden and that way, they learn that the food comes from the Earth. I have mint growing outside my door and when my grandchildren come to visit, they like to eat it, and as we hike, they’re always asking, “Can we eat this plant? Is this plant ok to eat?” Unfortunately not everyone has that opportunity and we forget the source of our nourishment and where food comes from. We like taking them to pick blueberries and apples also for this reason.
I remember that Swami Rama used to say that all of us are vegetarians because even the animals we eat consume vegetables. [This made us both laugh during the interview!] But still it seems that we have not only disconnected from nature but also from the ones who grow the food, the ones who bring it to market, the ones who sell it – we’ve lost the understanding of the food chain and therefore have lost the source of the Shakti (energy) that’s in our food and how it sustains us.
When you honor your mother on Mother’s Day, you are honoring the mother that gave you birth. That life is a huge gift! You can also honor Mother Earth and Mother Nature, and give gratitude to Mother Divine in all Her different forms, because yoga reminds us that She is in us and also outside of us, and that we are all One.
In addition to honoring your mother this Mother’s Day, consider other ways you can show gratitude to the Earth and to the divinity that exists in all living things. Find a way to volunteer in your community, buy produce from a local farmers market, change your purchasing habits to include products from sustainable brands. Your choices have power, and Sahoja knows we are stronger together. Find ways to spread kindness each and every day through your speech and action so that you honor the divine spark of creation we all share.
Shari holds the following yoga certifications - C-IAYT, E-RYT 500, and YACEP – she is a key facilitator at the Himalayan Institute’s Teacher Training & Professional Certification programs, nationally and internationally, and she is a faculty member of the 500-hour teacher training program at 8 Limbs Yoga in Seattle, WA. You can find Shari’s current seminar offerings at: https://www.himalayaninstitute.org/. The books mentioned are available on Sahoja’s ethical marketplace: https://sahoja.co/