Where Did The Whole “Yoni” Thing Start?

Between Gwyneth Paltrow's shining endorsement of them, and their appearance on The Bold Type, yonis (and their favorite accessory, the jade egg) are having a real moment. Case in point: It's even a brand name now. But, if you push past the curtain of contemporary wellness marketing, you'll find that the term has ancient roots — and means much more than Goop would have you believe.

The word "yoni" is actually Sanskrit for "womb," "source," or, yes, "vagina," but, more generally, it refers to the divine feminine.

Within Hinduism, yoni vessels (often shallow, spouted containers) appear as part of rituals or altars meant to honor different female deities. More than a single goddess or body part, the yoni was used as a symbol of all life, explains author and founder of Tao Tantric Arts, Minke de Vos. "It can also refer to a sacred place inside of us," she says. "Everyone has feminine energy in them."

De Vos tells us that, well beyond its origins in ancient India, the yoni can still carry spiritual significance for women today. For example, modern-day tantric practices use it as a framework through which people should view their bodies. "The yoni is the wellspring of our creative energy," de Vos says, adding that this can refer to sexual, procreative energy, or really anything you happen to be passionate about. The yoni is believed to be the source of your drive, she explains.

De Vos will even encourage her students to say "yoni" in lieu of "vagina" or "womb," since using this much more spiritual term is believed to foster a stronger relationship between them and their bodies. "Women are able to better integrate their emotions with their sexuality when they work in these terms," de Vos says. In other words, Goop got one thing right: "Yoni" doesn't solely apply to goddesses anymore — anyone can get in touch with their divine feminine side.

So, the yoni is more than just a word for a vagina — and it isn't just a place to stick a Goop-approved jade egg. It's more of an idea than a word, for one thing. And reflecting upon this concept, that what motivates and inspires you actually dwells within your physical body, can profoundly change how you view yourself.