LEAH BRACKNELL YOGA

Shamanic Yoga - Walking two paths with One Heart

Recent years have seen an explosion of exciting new yoga-fusion styles vying for attention. There is everything from acroyoga, dogayoga, hot yoga, yogalates, nude yoga and even paddleboard yoga, all designed to elevate us to some level of wellbeing. Their indisputable popularity suggests that people are being drawn to yoga as much ever, regardless of how novel and bizarre the delivery. However, the true essence of yoga is often obscured and in many cases is completely neglected. So how can we obtain what we really need - what our hearts really crave? Yes, our bodies may feel stronger and more flexible, and our weekly class may help us to alleviate the stresses of daily life in the short term, but how can we truly integrate the soul’s yearning for peace, fulfilment and equilibrium?

Imagine merging your yoga practice with wisdom which stretches back through time to every corner of the world. The wisdom of an earth-centred tradition practiced by our ancestors forty thousand years ago, which still thrives within many indigenous cultures – in Australia, the Americas, Indonesia, Siberia, Africa and even parts of Europe. A path which offers healing on a deep soul level and brings us back into communion with the elemental forces of life and with spirit: shamanism.

Shamanism honours the spirit in all things, be it animal, plant, rock, mountain or planet and pays homage to the elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air not only for the necessary role they play in our survival here on Mother Earth, but for the power and inspiration of their teaching. To shamanic cultures all is our brother, sister, our grandmother or grandfather and we are connected in the great web of life by the Great Mystery/ Spirit/The Creator/God.

The shaman is the bridge between the visible material world and the invisible world of spirit. They can voluntarily enter altered states of consciousness in order to journey to other realms with the purpose of acquiring knowledge or power for their community. They can act as healer, visionary, priest, storyteller, and psychopomp. The term “shaman”, meaning “to know”, comes from Siberia. However, it has also been suggested that it is derived from an ancient Sanskrit word “sramana” meaning “to heat oneself or practice austerities”.

Walking a shamanic path involves healing the effects of past trauma so that we can create a present and a future free from ancestral burdens, shame, guilt, and fear. Which, for many of us, is probably the underlying reason that we are called to the yoga mat in the first place, even if it isn’t on a conscious level. Inviting elements of shamanism into our yoga practice enables us to honour and draw on the wisdom of our ancestors, reawaken our connection to the natural world and to spirit, and forge an alliance with our allies in the invisible realm in order to restore lost power. It can add a whole new breadth and dimension to our practice, with the aim of guiding us towards a deeper understanding of our true Self – the Atman. It grants us a different perspective on how we view the world, and gives us the means to co-create and manifest the transformation we desire. It creates the space and energy we need in order to awaken our consciousness to our soul’s true purpose.

I was introduced to the Shamanic path several years ago, which evolved into training as a practitioner to perform healing techniques such as soul retrieval, psychopomp work, ancestral healing and spirit extraction. Little by little, I found that my shamanic experience was organically merging with my regular yoga practice. The legacy of which I can only describe as being akin to a rebirth, a renewal –shedding the detritus of the past, releasing what is stagnant, negative and no longer serves. Shamanic yoga has the ability to create deep and potent transformation and profound healing of the spirit.

So what is shamanic yoga, and how can you practice it? Well, don’t worry, it isn’t about performing a sun salutation in a sweat lodge, virabhadrasana in a trance, or coming into shirshasana while you undertake a journey to the lower world. What it gives us is the space to ask for help, support and healing, and find answers to the difficult questions in life that throw us off balance. To begin, all you need is intention- to receive and to give. The yoga mat becomes a place of prayer and ceremony: a sacred space to call on the power and wisdom of the elements, our ancestors, nature and the spirit of the asanas, so many of which are inspired by nature and the natural forces of the world: bhujangasana, vrksasana, tadasana, garudasana, simhasana, surya namaskara, chandrasana and so on. It’s a space to express gratitude from the heart for all we have, and for the teachings we receive from life’s experiences no matter how challenging. A place from which to send healing to those we love, to the earth, to communities who are facing hardship. It is a safe space where we can face our fears, and truly meet ourselves.

To commence, you open your practice with an offering: spirits like offerings, traditionally tobacco, chocolate even money, but you could use anything, such as something you find in nature, fruit or incense, or even dedicate your daily practice as a libation, as the offering carries our prayers and our wishes to spirit. And it’s a fair exchange, it is only just that we give as we expect to receive. Shamanic ceremony opens with calling in the directions to your sacred space. There are 7 directions on the medicine wheel: North, South, East and West which represent Air, Earth, Fire and Water – the first four chakras; then there is the above -Father Sky, the below – Mother Earth and the Centre – the Great Mystery. Consider working with the element/direction that challenges you, so if you feel drawn to manifest more Fire – third chakra energy -into your life: determination, ambition, commitment, personal power, or burn away fear or anger, or perhaps you are prone to physical problems in the manipura area, you welcome the spirit of the East and the rising sun– Fire and call on its power, focussing your practice on asana and pranayama that enlivens this chakra. Be creative, let your practice flow, be guided by spirit to weave your prayer with a spontaneous sequence. Be open to receive any insights and healing that arises as a consequence of your practice. And when it comes, don’t be surprised if you face some resistance or difficulty, the healing journey often forces us to our edge before transformation can truly occur.

Shamanic yoga combines two beautiful paths with one ultimate goal: moksha or liberation. The aspiration for the attainment of Samadhi is balanced by the earth-centred ritual of shamanism, a reflection of tadasana – mountain pose, where heaven and earth meet. It shows us how we can re-dream our lives and release ourselves from the bondage of the mythologies that cause us to sleep-walk through life and underestimate the beauty of our potential. It inspires a deep sense of acceptance, grace and purpose which ripples out into all areas of our existence, it helps us to come back into alignment with the forces that shape and hold the world in balance, and to see spirit and Brahman in all things. It leads us along a path of illumination from darkness towards light, with the knowledge that we are not alone, that there is support within us and all around us, in the form of our inner guru, and a host of allies in the invisible world waiting to be of assistance, the moment we call.

Published in OM Yoga Magazine - May 2014

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