Get in the flow with the Water Element

Meditate on the movement of water and let your emotions flow.

Meditate on the movement of water and let your emotions flow.

During the last few months I have experienced a great deal of uncertainty and change, and a pretty tough sugar detox. Throughout, I focused on grounding and staying connected to the Earth Element. I planted my roots firmly and weathered the storm of change. Now I am flowing through life with much more ease, and getting reacquainted with Water.

Scorpio, a water sign (along with Cancer and Pisces) was rising when I was born. Perhaps that’s why, despite my strong Earth roots, I have a bit of gypsy in me. Water is movement, growth, sensuality and creation. Water is cleansing and healing. The Water Element governs your emotions, particularly love and compassion, and your intuition. When you think of Water, think of lakes, rivers, oceans, springs, otters, fish, autumn, twilight, and the colors blue and silver.

Some ways you can connect to the Water Element are:

  1. Sensual dance. Learn to belly dance (yes, guys can belly dance, too) or grab a partner and explore the Rumba or Salsa.
  2. Take a bath. Add some relaxing essential oils or bath salts and take a long, cleansing soak.
  3. Drink a glass or two. Purify your body from the inside out.
  4. Walk in the rain. Notice the gathering puddles and the ripples the raindrops make. Watch water roll off leaves.
  5. Sit by the ocean, a lake or a river. Watch the movement. Contemplate the power of the flowing water to change the landscape.
  6. Read poetry. Open up to the experience of emotions.
  7. Give to charity, or volunteer. Cultivate your compassion.

Exploring Sacred Space: What do we mean by sacred space?

FairfaxSpiral_1Ever 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?

Sometimes an elaborate collection of objects creates a place where, as Joseph Campbell puts it, wonder can be revealed.

Sometimes an elaborate collection of objects creates a place where, as Joseph Campbell puts it, wonder can be revealed.

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.

My simple elemental kitchen altar offers moments of serenity during busy days.

My simple elemental kitchen altar offers moments of serenity during busy days.

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.)

Celebrating Earth-based Spirituality on Pagan Pride Day

“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.”

Zitkala-Sa

secondbestcircleToday 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!

Feel the Earth Element in your body with these three yoga poses

EarthElementMountainNext 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.

  1. 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.
  2. EarthElementLotusLotus 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.
  3. EarthElementCobraCobra 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.

Grounding with Stones and Crystals

The ongoing volcanic eruption in Holuhraun, near Bardarbunga, has already become the largest lava eruption in Iceland since the 19th century.

The ongoing volcanic eruption in Holuhraun, near Bardarbunga, has already become the largest lava eruption in Iceland since the 19th century.

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.

Snowflake obsidian is black obsidian with whitish-gray spots of radiating needle-shaped cristobalite crystals.

Snowflake obsidian is black obsidian with whitish-gray spots of radiating needle-shaped cristobalite crystals.

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.

Metallic grey hematite was popular for jewelry in Europe during the Victorian era.

Metallic grey hematite was popular for jewelry in Europe during the Victorian era.

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.

Smoky quartz is very comforting and calming.

Smoky quartz is very comforting and calming.

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 known as the "nurturing stone."

Jasper is known as the “nurturing stone.”

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.

Scientists have long been intrigued by the unique electrical and magnetic properties of tourmaline.

Scientists have long been intrigued by the unique electrical and magnetic properties of tourmaline.

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.

Growing Roots: A grounding meditation to connect to the Earth

GroundingMeditationWhen 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.

Getting to know the Earth Element

Tree roots and boulders encountered while hiking.

Tree roots and boulders encountered while hiking.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Practice mountain pose. Embody Earth.
  5. Grow vegetables or fruit trees. Enjoy the pure nourishment from the earth.

Yoga to Walk on the Earth

Yoga teaches me how to walk mindfully in the outdoors.

Yoga teaches me how to walk mindfully in the outdoors.

June got lost in a whirlwind of activity. Actually, I just lied to you. June got lost, but the whirlwind was in my mind so there was no visible activity to speak of. I spent four days at the beginning of June with Laura Cornell at her Overflowing Workshops retreat in northern New Jersey. It was fantastic and I enjoyed both the learning and the connections.

But it started the whirlwind.

At the retreat and at other times, I’ve been asked why someone would want to take yoga with me, and I never know the answer. People do take my classes, so there must be reasons, but I couldn’t say what those reasons are. What I can say for certain is people do not come to me to learn how to do the pretty poses of the uber-flexible. I want people to learn how to walk on the earth with awareness, to fully breathe the air, to experience the fire of transformation and to move like a river, flowing through life with ease and wellness.

Yoga to walk on the earth. If you hike, at some point you are going to meet a snake. We’re lucky here in the Adirondacks because we only have one kind of venomous snake, the shy eastern timber rattler. I’ve never encountered a rattlesnake, but I’ve come across a number of his benign cousins sunning themselves on the trail. Every time it goes like this: I don’t see them until I startle them into movement, and then the movement startles me and I jump out of my hiking boots. I used to blame the snakes for laying in wait for me, but I’ve realized that each time it happens I have failed to walk mindfully, failed to be fully present to the act of hiking. When I’m on my yoga mat I practice being aware of where my feet are, and where they are going, and I share that practice with my yoga students, so they can walk mindfully on the earth, whether on a hiking trail or a city sidewalk.

Yoga to breathe the air. After practicing yoga for eighteen years, I automatically check in with my breath many times a day. As soon as that last sentence formed in my mind I deepened my breath. Breathing fully into my lungs has become so natural that I often have to remind myself that this is not the case for everyone. Pranayama, the practice of breathing exercises, is as important as the asanas as far as I’m concerned. Deep breathing exercises the diaphragm, moderates the stress response and improves focus. Deep breathing also makes me aware of the air itself, and how important it is that we have clean air to breathe. Did you know planting trees was a yoga practice?

Yoga to experience the fire of transformation. Yoga has created profound change in my life. If you practice yoga, sooner or later you will experience a transformation. You may give up all your possessions and take up residence in an ashram, or, more likely, one day you will notice that you are standing a bit straighter or that the old ache in your hip is gone. I’d like each of my students to experience their own transformation, no matter how subtle, so I make sure each class fuels that fire.

Yoga to move like a river. For a society that seems to be all about getting somewhere, we don’t move much. When we go places we go sitting in cars or on airplanes. We send emails to the coworker in the next office and see a good deal of the world on a television screen. When my clients complain that it gets harder to move as they get older, I point out that they are moving much better than many of their peers, because they make a deliberate effort to keep moving. An aspect of the yoga practice I find fascinating is how, by relieving stiffness in the body, other parts of life that were stagnating start moving too.

In some of my yoga classes we work on challenging asanas. Most focus on minutely refining the basic poses until you are aware that your feet are firmly rooted to the floor, you can direct your breath, you notice a small change and, when it’s time to move on, whether to the next pose or back into your life, you can flow with ease.

If you really think about it, why do you practice yoga? Please, share in the comments.

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Connect with Fire: Candle Gazing Meditation

English: A candle flame.

A candle flame. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In honor of the summer solstice, we rebuilt and improved our backyard fire pit, then lit a big bonfire to honor the sun at its peak. Gazing into the fire, watching the flames dance and jump, reminded me of this simple candle-gazing meditation, which can be done anywhere you can safely stand a candle holder.

Find a place where you can sit undisturbed for a few minutes, either on a cushion or blanket on the floor or in a sturdy chair with your feet on the floor. Using a table or other props (yoga blocks or a stack of hardcover books work nicely) position a lit taper or pillar candle in a holder so the flame will be at eye level. You’ll want to use a holder which will support the base of the candle and catch any dripping wax, but which won’t block your view of the flame.

Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes for a few moments. Bring your awareness to your breath. Breathe through your nose and lengthen your breath. Notice your thoughts, then let them float away. Notice when you feel centered and present to the flow of your breath.

Gently open your eyes and gaze at the candle flame. Focus your awareness fully on the flame, letting other thoughts drop away. If your attention wavers, bring it back without judgment. Begin to notice all the qualities of the candle flame. Notice the colors. Notice the movement. Become fully absorbed in watching the flame. Blink whenever it is necessary.

With your awareness steady on the flame, notice the thoughts flickering in your mind. Acknowledge any thoughts or feelings that arise, then let them go as you bring your attention back to the flame. Sit with the flame for five minutes, or as long as you are comfortable. Enjoy your connection to the flame.

When your meditation is complete, blink a couple of times, then close your eyes and notice your breath. Take four or five slow, deep breaths, then allow your awareness to return to the room. Open your eyes and return to your day. Be sure to blow out your candle!

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