If you've caught up with Netflix's (not-so-regular) reality dating show, Too Hot To Handle (THTH), you may have come across an episode where the ladies were made to strip down in order to gain self-love.
In the show, where good-looking participants are placed on an island and tasked to abstain from physical intimacy, the women go through a ritual known as Yoni Puja. Yoni what?
"Yoni" is the Sanskrit word for vulva or vagina, and "Puja" means to worship. The phrase is said to refer to a sacred tantric ritual that originated from India.
Relationship and intimacy expert Shan Boodram explains in the show that the ritual is "truly about owning who you are in this very moment, feeling good about that, and drawing inspiration and power from it."
Feeling inspired by the emotions and outcome experienced by the THTH participants, I decided to try it.
There are different ways to approach the yoni puja ritual, but I mainly followed the process which the participants on the show went through.
Step 1: Purification of the mind
The workshop starts out with Boodram asking the female participants to list out the negative things they've heard about female genitalia.
Some phrases that the girls recalled were "beef curtains", "loosey-goosey", and "smells like fish". They were then encouraged to throw away all these negative terms used to describe the vagina.
While I've not heard such negative labels put upon the female genitalia, I reflected upon why I was slightly afraid to try out this experiment, even though I had been eager to pitch the idea to my editor.
I realised it could be because, in the Asian context, we have always been reserved about talking about our private parts, aside from the brief sex education class that was taught in school. Growing up, it felt like it was a taboo topic which we should never broach.
So, I took this exercise to get rid of all the awkwardness and decided to try it out with an open mind.
Step 2: Silent contemplationPHOTO: AsiaOne/Melissa Goh
After dealing with the negativity and throwing them out, the next step is to gaze at your yoni with love, respect and adoration.
The participants in the show were given a handheld mirror to look at their vagina, and I too used a small compact mirror to start the ritual.
However, if you're carrying out this ritual in a place that isn't convenient to remove your underwear, tantra teacher Sofia Sundari wrote on her website: "The ritual can be performed on a symbol: a sculpture or an object representing a yoni."
I have to admit, it was the first time I'd ever seen my yoni up close, and it wasn't love at first sight, neither did I feel emotional, like what the participants experienced. However, I did feel a sense of appreciation for it.
It looked strong yet delicate at the same time, and I'd have to agree with one of the participants who said: "I need to be more protective of this."
Step 3: Draw a representation of your yoniPHOTO: AsiaOne/Melissa Goh
After describing how they felt, the participants were given canvasses to draw a representation of their yoni and explain what it means to them.
I drew my yoni as an eye, with flowers at the sides symbolising life flowing out of it.
"The eyes are the windows to the soul", so goes a famous saying by English lawyer and paediatrician, Thomas Phae. Likewise, I saw the yoni as another gateway to the soul.
Because of this revelation, I came to a deeper understanding of the phrase "soul ties" — which to me represents a bond formed through sexual relations with a partner. My yoni and the act of intimacy has now become all the more precious to me.
Unlike the THTH participants, I didn't suddenly feel all feminist and empowered after the ritual, but at least I feel that a part of my consciousness has been awakened and I now have immense respect for my yoni.