Ever since I was a girl, I have been creating altars. From memorials to pets that had passed to a candlelit desk for contemplative studies to a full ritual altar at the center of a circle, I love the act of setting the stage for my intentions. Sometimes I find places where nature has created an altar of sorts: a sheltered cove between sand dunes with an interesting layout of shells, a hollow in the roots of a tree, or a mountaintop with an amazing view. As I think of these altars, I know they are sacred space. But why?
I love Peg Streep’s book, Altars Made Easy: A Complete Guide To Creating Your Own Sacred Space. In it, Streep defines sacred space as “a physical place where the divine or the supernatural can be glimpsed or experienced.” She sees sacred spaces as those places where we get in touch with that which is larger than ourselves. For me, it is the feeling of smallness you get when you stand on a peak and look out at the landscape spread out below, or the sense of wonder invoked by watching a candle flame dance. Sometimes the natural arrangement of objects, or simply a sense of the presence of a higher power, makes a place sacred.
Perhaps this, more than the need to “conquer” nature, inspires adventurers to climb the highest mountains or dive deep into the sea. Mountaintops, ocean reefs and the like are places of wonder and awe where we sense that which is beyond, yet within, ourselves. Even deep in the woods, or in your own backyard, nature offers such places. If you’ve ever stopped to contemplate a knot of tree roots, a circle of wild flowers, or the engineering of a perfect bird’s nest, you have felt it.
In Altars: Bringing Sacred Shrines into Your Everyday Life, the author, Denise Linn, notes that the human psyche yearns for the mysterious and wondrous things that bring meaning to life’s ordinary moments. Being in sacred space fills that need and nourishes the soul. Indoors, a display of objects, when imbued with meaning by the individual, becomes holy. Even a grouping of photos, placed with intention, can elicit a sense of connection, gratitude and wonder.
Take a look around your home, your yard, or the places you frequent. Where have you found or created sacred space?
(Perhaps my Pinterest board devoted to sacred spaces will inspire you to create or find your own altars.)
“A wee child toddling in a wonder world,
I prefer to their dogma my excursions into the natural gardens
where the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds,
the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers.
If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I am a Pagan.”
Today I am in Syracuse, New York, to lead “Elemental Yoga” at the annual Central New York Pagan Pride Day festival. My workshop is from 10:00 to 10:45 a.m. Afterwards I get to spend the remainder of the day connecting with and learning from others who, like me, look to nature for their spiritual inspiration.
Pagans are an eclectic group; their diversity makes them interesting and fun. Their practices may be formal and structured or spontaneous and casual. There are numerous subsets under the Pagan umbrella. Pagans may worship deities from classical or tribal mythology, practice shamanism or magick, view futurology, community or ecology as religion, focus on the Divine Feminine, or simply venerate natural phenomena. Most chose their spiritual paths, rather than following the religions of their families.
At today’s festival we’ll be celebrating the upcoming autumn equinox, as well as doing lots of networking and community building. My husband will be manning the Adirondack Earth Lore booth to showcase his amazing woodturning, and I’ll be hanging out there discussing yoga and healthy living with anyone who will listen. We’ll do some drumming. I’ll watch bellydancers. And I’ll be showing folks how to connect with the energies of Earth, Air, Fire and Water with yoga.
In the area? Come on over to Onondaga Lake Park and join the fun!
As you approach the fall equinox, you may find yourself connecting to the energy of change. This time of year, when the trees are letting go of their leaves, encourages deep cleaning. Whether it’s your home, your body, your career or your lifestyle, it’s time to clean it out, dust it off, and welcome change.
Reiki is a powerful platform for change. Regular sessions, through self-practice or with a practitioner, offer gentle yet powerful support that nourishes you and clears a space into which you can invite the season’s newness.
Reiki can lessen the anxiety and pain often associated with change, so you will feel more able to incorporate needed health interventions or make lifestyle changes. Reiki can also clear the mind, enabling you to better evaluate the sometimes conflicting choices before you, so you can make important decisions with greater confidence.
When approaching change, it is important avoid making choices based on fear. Surrender to your Reiki experience, perhaps savoring the breath, allowing your awareness to drop within. Your session will bring you toward balance, and you will be better able to sort through your options, and see possibilities you hadn’t considered before. Regular Reiki sessions support you to make wise, timely changes, ones you can sustain, and which, in turn, will sustain you.
For me, self care is about making conscious choices to address the needs of my body, mind and spirit. Reiki is one tool in my self-care regimen, an over-arching support which gently guides me towards what my body needs to restore balance and wellness. In this way, Reiki opens us up to change, welcoming the newness of natural health.
Next weekend I am teaching a yoga workshop called “Elemental Yoga” at the Central New York Pagan Pride Day Festival in Syracuse, New York. I’m very excited. This is the first time I’ve ventured out of my comforting Adirondack mountains to teach yoga to strangers, so I’m also a bit nervous. I have been doing lots of grounding work over the past few weeks, drawing nourishing energy from the earth, while at the same time inviting my vision for the workshop down to the physical level so it will manifest.
Yoga always helps me stay grounded and centered, but these three simple poses are my go-to poses when I need a quick refocus.
- Mountain pose. Tadasana is the basis of all standing poses in yoga. It embodies the grounding energy of the root chakra and brings awareness to your postural alignment. Stand with your feet no wider than your hips and your toes forward. Soften your knees, spread your toes and balance your weight between the balls of your feet and the center of your heel. Drop your tailbone and reach the crown of your head up, lengthening your spine. Relax your arms by your sides. Close your eyes and imagine your weight dropping into your feet, like you are trying to be so heavy that no one can lift you off the ground. You might sense your feet sinking into the floor or, if you are outside, the ground. Keep your knees slightly bent – if you lock them it will be harder for you to keep your feet heavy.
- Lotus pose. Padmasana originated in the meditative practices of ancient India and is still used by modern-day practitioners. This centering posture presses your sitting bones, your physical “roots,” firmly down. Due to the hip and knee flexibility required, full lotus pose, with both feet placed on the opposite thighs, is not available for everyone. If you find it difficult, you can modify by bringing just one foot onto the other thigh (half lotus pose) or simply crossing your ankles (easy pose). If you practice Padmasana regularly, be sure to alternate which leg is on top to avoid developing imbalance in the hips. Once you get settled in your seat, lengthen your spine, lower your chin slightly and become aware of everything that is touching the surface you are sitting on. I find that just a few minutes focusing on my physical connection to the earth is calming and helps me to feel present.
- Cobra pose. It is difficult to get closer to earth energy than to have your belly on the earth in Bhujangasana. Lie face down and stretch your legs back, feet hip-width apart, and press the tops of your feet into the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and hug your elbows to your sides. Keeping your pelvis pressed into the floor and straightening your arms as you make space to do so, lift your heart. Relax your shoulder blades down your back, draw your lower belly slightly off the floor and lift the top of your sternum. Draw your ears away from your shoulders, lengthening your neck. Feel the tops of your feet, your thighs, your pelvis and your low belly on the earth. If you are in a time of transformation or change, add extra oomph by closing your eyes and imagining you are shedding your skin, slithering out of whatever you are letting go of in order for change to happen.
I’ve been following the seismic activity and subsequent eruption in and around the Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland with fascination. I live in an area where the mountains were created by glaciers, not volcanoes, and the ground rarely shakes, so it’s easy to forget that even the Earth is sometimes unsettled. Over the last few weeks, there’s been lots of shaking going on, all over the Earth, and there was another volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea. We are in need of some collective grounding, and there are some stones that can help.
There are a number of stones that are particularly grounding. In honor of the volcanic eruptions, I have to start with Obsidian. Obsidian is a natural volcanic glass formed from molten lava that cools very rapidly. It’s origin creates an instant connection to the core of the Earth. Obsidian is a powerful, protective stone that absorbs negative energy and enhances resilience.
Hematite is another grounding and balancing stone. It is mined as the main ore of iron and is somewhat magnetic. Use hematite to relieve spaciness, to protect your aura, and to enhance your memory.
Technically, smoky quartz is caused by irradiation and traces of aluminum built into its crystal lattice. Smoky quartz is a very physically and psychically protective and grounding stone. It also removes negative energy of any kind and transforms it to positive energy. Smoky quartz enhances survival instincts, and can help one reach personal and business goals. It is also used in assisting in making wishes come true by grounding their essence in reality. Thus, it is a stone that brings abundance, prosperity, and good luck.
Jasper is a common stone and comes in many beautiful colors and patterns. It offers gentleness, comfort, and relaxation. Jasper is associated with agriculture, gardening and prosperity. It also grounds and protects you during astral travel by keeping you connected to your body. Jasper helps you become peaceful and centered.
Black Tourmaline is a powerful stone, with a long history among many cultures of providing protection during ritual work. It is best known as a grounding and protection stone. Tourmaline takes negative energy and grounds it into the earth where it is transformed back into pure potential. It also promotes a sense of power and self-confidence, allowing for a clearer, more objective view of the world.
You can work with any of these stones by holding one during meditation, placing one on the Root Chakra during healing sessions, wearing a bracelet made of stone beads, or placing them on an altar or another sacred place in your home.
When things start to feel out of control or unsettled, I spend a few minutes practicing a simple, grounding meditation. Seated firmly on the floor or, even better, outside, I settle into my breath, then imagine growing roots.
To get you started, I recorded this simple grounding meditation to help you visualize your own roots. Once you get the idea, you can practice growing roots whenever you need to feel more settled and stable.
Thanks to Mark Piper, a talented local musician and awesome friend (and my guitar teacher), for the background music.
When I chose “Elements of Wellness” for my services, I was considering not only the various aspects of creating health, but also of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. Each of these elements has unique qualities that you can tap into to become balanced and whole. In our Spirit Circles, we invite each of those elements to lend their power and aid to our intentions.
I resonate most deeply with the Earth Element (most likely because I’m a Virgo, an earth sign along with Taurus and Capricorn). Earth is where you put your roots, both physically and energetically. To me, Earth is home. It represents stability, security, nourishment and quiet stillness. When you think of Earth, think of mountains, stones, tree roots, bears, wolves, winter, midnight, and the colors green and brown.
Some ways you can connect to the Earth Element are:
- Grounding meditations. Sit solidly and imagine roots growing from your tailbone down into the earth. Feel yourself getting heavier and sense yourself being anchored in place.
- Walk on the earth. Whether you take a walk around your neighborhood or climb a mountain, direct your awareness to the feel of your feet on the ground.
- Explore crystals and stones. You can simply spend a few minutes holding one in your hands and noticing the feel. Particularly earth-y stones include hematite, jet and emerald.
- Practice mountain pose. Embody Earth.
- Grow vegetables or fruit trees. Enjoy the pure nourishment from the earth.
Stones and crystals have a long tradition of being used for healing. Each variety of stone has its own resonance which creates its healing abilities. Working with appropriate stones can help to restore stability and balance to the Chakra energy system, stimulating the physical body’s natural healing mechanisms. (For more on how healing crystals work, see this article by Benjamin Dean.)
My own interest in stones began when I was a child. I collected rocks everywhere, and was overjoyed when I found quartz or the beautiful red garnet which has been mined in the Adirondacks since the late 1800s. I’ve continued to learn about and work with crystals whenever there was an opportunity. Nowadays I carry a medicine bag with a variety of crystals, including one for each Chakra.
There are a number of stones that work well with each Chakra, and some are used for one Chakra by some folks and for a different Chakra by others. I chose the crystals which would best enhance the qualities of each Chakra that I most needed to heal, balance or support. Perhaps you will find others work better for you. I choose a stone by holding it in my hand and seeing how it makes me feel. You’ll know when you’ve got the right one.
1st Chakra: Roots
Hematite, or blood ore, powerfully roots you to the earth. It is used for grounding and for protection from negative forces. I work with hematite when I feel insecure or mentally scattered, to reconnect with the first Chakra’s stabilizing energy.
2nd Chakra: Emotions
A powerful stone for all the lower Chakras, citrine dissipates negative energy and invokes feelings of warmth, joy and hopefulness. It aids in physical and emotional healing and attracts abundance to your life. I chose citrine for the second Chakra because of its positive effects on the emotions.
3rd Chakra: Power
Tiger eye fires up vitality and personal power. This stone, which represents the sun, promotes optimism and aids with manifestation and the expression of will. I work with tiger eye when I’m ready to take action on an idea or to stand up for my beliefs.
4th Chakra: Balance
Like the 4th Chakra, green aventurine creates balance by evening out your masculine and feminine sides and the give and take of relationships. I use aventurine for work with love relationships, to get me through life changes (and there have been many), and to release anxiety.
5th Chakra: Truth
I have held a piece of turquoise to keep me calm and relaxed while speaking in public. Turquoise helps you communicate your truth and to empathize with others without loosing sight of your own values. It can help with any form of self-expression, as long as you are being honest with yourself and others.
6th Chakra: Intuition
Sodalite increases physic abilities and intuition, making it ideal for Third Eye work. It helps you recognize patterns in systems like astrology and the tarot, and can bring latent creative abilities to the surface. I bring out my sodalite whenever I’m stuck for a new idea or solution.
7th Chakra: Spirit
The perfect stone to accompany meditation, amethyst helps you quiet your mind and amplifies spiritual energy. Amethyst beads make wonderful malas. I use the uplifting energy of amethyst when life starts to feel heavy.
For a simple Chakra balancing practice, hold each stone, one at a time, in your hand and meditate on the look and feel of the stone, and how it makes you feel to hold it. Allow the energy of each stone to connect with yours and to enhance the energy of your Chakras.
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I have put together sets of the crystals I use for my Chakra work, which are available in the True North Yoga studio and will soon be in our Etsy shop. If you would like to purchase one before they go on Etsy, contact me and I’ll happily send one your way.