Animal spirits: totems for root chakra work

I am a Chakra junkie. I love exploring the energy of the Chakra system, and I am always looking for new ways to connect with and experience that energy. Lately I have been seeking to link chakra energy into the interconnected web of life by invoking the spirits of animals who embody that energy into my chakra work.

The first, or root, chakra – Muladhara – is the center of earthy, stable energy. The animals that bring that energy are solid and heavy, with one exception.

african_bush_elephant_big_animalDespite weighing 10,000 pounds, elephants walk softly on the earth. Nurturing elephants fare well in their often harsh natural environments, and demonstrate a strong commitment to their group’s protection and survival. As a symbol of safety and strength, elephants can be called on to support first chakra explorations. In addition, the gentle eyes of the huge elephant are full of ancient wisdom. The elephant is a worthwhile companion for your grounding practice.

highlandbOx represents strength, endurance, stamina, prosperity and productivity. These characteristics reflect the energy of the first chakra. Consider a pair of oxen as your guardians while you settle into a deep, rooting meditation.

 

bullThe bull is the Earth Lord, embodying abundance and contentment when calm. When running, the bull’s thundering hooves make the earth quake. Call on bull to bring power to a deficient first chakra.

 

shutterstock_mole.jpg.CROP.original-originalMole is neither heavy nor strong, yet offers a strong connection to the earth. Moles represent the ultimate in groundedness. Ask mole to teach you about eating right, an important first chakra lesson, by sharing her knowledge of herbs and roots.

To connect to the spirit of these first chakra animals, you can simply meditate on them or their qualities. You might also try imagining yourself in the body of the animal. What would it feel like to move like an elephant, an ox, a bull or a mole? You can also call on them as guardians during any root chakra work.

Can you think of any other animals with first chakra spirit?

 

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.

7 stones to heal and balance the Chakras

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.

Hematite

Hematite

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.

 

Citrine

Citrine

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.

 

Tiger Eye

Tiger Eye

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.

 

Green Aventurine

Green Aventurine

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.

 

Turquoise

Turquoise

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.

 

Sodalite

Sodalite

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.

 

Amethyst

Amethyst

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.

* * *

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.

 

An Earth Day meditation: connecting to your animal guide

I wrote this guided meditation for an Earth Hour ritual and thought it would be good to share it today in honor of Earth Day. Enjoy the recording, or borrow the script and share the experience with your nature-loving tribe.

Guided Meditation for Earth Hour

Close your eyes and allow your breath to flow naturally. With each breath, feel your body become more relaxed.

Imagine you are standing on a gravel road at the edge of a forest. In front of you are five stone steps down to a path that leads into the trees. You start down the steps. At the first step your body becomes completely relaxed. At the second step your mind quiets. On the third step you feel peace flowing through you. At the fourth step you know you are in a safe place. As you step onto the fifth and final step your vision becomes sharp and clear and the light seems brighter and the colors more vivid.

You follow the path into the trees, fully taking in everything that you see. You notice each subtle hue of the green leaves and the brown dirt. Here and there a yellow leaf left over from the fall catches your eye. The light filters through the treetops and dapples the path in front of you. You look up and see bits of blue sky between the tall trees. You see the varying textures of the tree bark, some smooth and some gnarled, knotted and rough. You notice tiny flowers on delicate stalks nestled against the root of one tree and you wonder how they came to grow there. Twigs and pebbles crunch under your feet. You feel a slight, cool breeze that rustles the leaves. You become aware of mossy smells and the singing of birds high above you and the buzzing of insects around you. You can feel life here.

You continue down the path, stepping carefully to avoid the small green plants which have sprung up between rocks. As you move deeper into the forest the light fades and the air becomes damp and musty. The path becomes softer beneath your feet. Moving on, you notice the sound of running water ahead and walk down the path toward the sound. Suddenly you step into brighter light and find yourself on the bank of a wide stream. You can see the sun overhead here and the sunlight reflects on the water. The stream is rocky and the water tumbles over the worn stones in a series of small waterfalls. The spring sun is melting snow at higher elevations and the water runs quickly by, carrying leaves, small twigs and a few water bugs over the rocks.

You sit on the damp, cool moss on the bank and watch the water flow by. As you watch, a small green lizard scampers onto a rock, then you move slightly and he disappears between the rocks. The sun is warm despite the breeze. You are filled with peace just being in this place.

A rustling in the trees on the opposite bank catches your attention, and you look up to see an animal emerge from the trees. What kind of animal is it? Let it be whatever first comes to mind. It sees you and moves cautiously toward the stream. You catch its eyes and it stops, watching you. You know you are safe here and do not feel fear, just awe at being this close to this animal. You have a clear, unobstructed view and can see it in detail. You can see the shape of its body, muscle and bone. You can see the shape of its feet, its tail, its jaw. You know there is power in that body, the power it needs to survive in the forest. You notice its texture – fur or scales or feathers or skin. You imagine what it would feel like if you could touch the animal. You can see its colors – not just the body colors but the color of its eyes. And you look into those eyes and feel a connection, and know this animal has a message for you. What is it telling you? What would this animal have to say? Perhaps it is just a message of mutual respect, perhaps it is something else. Let the message come to you. Trust that whatever message you hear is the right one.

You repeat the message to yourself a few times, wanting to remember it. Then you look down, breaking eye contact, and the animal turns and wanders back into the trees. You watch it go, grateful for the opportunity to see it so close and for the message it shared with you. Knowing your time here is done, you stand, turn away from the stream and walk back along the forest path, through the darkness under the thick trees. A few more steps brings you back to the place where patches of light illuminate the path ahead and before long you can see the stone steps.

You walk to the steps, taking one last look at the trees behind you, then put your foot down on the first step and start to climb. On the next step you become aware of your breath. On the next step you feel your body. On the next step you become aware of the room. As you reach the top of the steps you are back in the present, bringing with you the animal’s message and the sense of peace you found in the forest. Take a few deep breaths before you move back into your day.

* * *

I’ve done this guided visualization a number of times and have noticed that I am drawn to certain animals during times of stress, other animals when I am feeling introspective or down, and still others when I am happy. What animal came to you? Did it’s message surprise you? I’d love it if you’d comment and share your experience.

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Beam me up, Brahman

Seventh Chakra, the final frontier…

We’ve reached the end of our Chakra-as-pop-culture journey. We’ve climbed the spine  to the crown of the head and beyond, ready to boldly go where everyone has gone before, even if they don’t know it.

The Sanskrit name for the seventh Chakra is Sahasrara, which means thousand-fold. Sahasrara unfolds like the thousand petals of the lotus flower. Located in the cerebral cortex, of course the seventh Chakra governs the energy of knowing and learning. While book learning fits in there, the real knowing of Sahasrara is that of our true spiritual nature.

The ancient texts called the Upanishads teach that Brahman is the ultimate essence of everything, including the human self. Brahman cannot seen or heard. Brahman’s nature can be known only through self-knowledge. When Sahasrara blooms, everything material drops away and we know our true selves. We know that we are Brahman and, therefore, everything.

Try and wrap your cerebral cortex around that one.

When the Chakras are in balance, when we live with passion and heart, when we speak our truths and trust our insight, the energy has no place to go but up. Everything we’ve practiced to open previous six Chakras has prepared us to dive into the very depths of our beings where we may, for what may be the briefest of moments, discover our connection to the divine source of all existence. When the connection is made, we see all that is physical as an illusion which has been masking our true nature.

So we did all that work to exist on the physical plane, only to discover that we don’t really exist on the physical plane? It is, to quote Mr. Spock, “illogical.” But there is more to wisdom than logic, and those whose seventh Chakras are shining a bright white light toward heaven are the wisest of us.

Sahasrara’s wise energy gives us the ability to take all the information that comes at us every day, process it, and assimilate the knowledge we gain. Those with healthy seventh Chakras are intelligent, thoughtful, questioning and open-minded, while at the same time having an innate sense of connection to something greater. These are the gurus, the masters in any field of study. These are the people whose guidance we seek.

The energy doesn’t always balance out, though. When the energy gets stuck in a lower Chakra or comes up against a closed mind, we find those whose beliefs come not from knowing but from simply accepting what they’ve been told. No matter what additional information they are given, these people won’t change their minds. Then there are the cynics, who refuse to even acknowledge any motivation except the self-interest of the bottom Chakras.

Sometimes the scales tip the other way and the energy hangs out in the head rather than flowing through the lower Chakras as well. We see this in the overly intellectual types, analyzing everything to extremes and never really internalizing anything. These are the people we call “book smart;” they can recite the dictionary but never explain a thing in their own words.

Excess energy in Sahasrara can also lead to spiritual addition. Caught up in the search for their spiritual nature, these folks forget that our physical existence has requirements, like dinner. Perhaps they will find a good caretaker to remind them to eat, but these people sometimes fall victim to the those who would happily strip them of whatever physical stuff they managed to amass before they got lost in their heads.

To nurture your divine spirit without losing touch with your physical existence, spend some time learning something new. Explore different religions and metaphysical systems with a questioning, but open, mind. And sit for a few minutes each day to meditate, looking for your true self.

Developing your seventh Chakra is a bit like asking someone on Star Trek’s Enterprise to beam you up. When the transporter activates, the physical body fades into particles of light and then nothingness, and you are absorbed into the cosmic stew, part of everything that is. Just make sure you have someone in a red shirt (or a strong red energy center) to bring you home.

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I am Yogini, Hear Me Roar!

Helen Reddy was finding her fifth Chakra in the 70s…

I have been enjoying some heart-chakra-opening pursuits of late, recharging my creative side and engaging in extreme self-love. Now I’m ready to climb the next rung of the Chakra ladder to tell you all about the fifth Chakra.

Vissudha, the fifth Chakra, glows bright blue in the throat and is all about – say it with me – communication. From Vissudha comes the desire, and the right, to speak and be heard. We’re not just babbling on here, though. This is where we speak our truth, find our own voices and, also, listen as others speak their truths.

A healthy throat Chakra inspires honest, clear and positive expression of thoughts and feelings, through spoken or written words or through the arts. When what we say resonates with others, Vissudha is spinning freely.

Vissudha provides an way to express and release all the feelings and emotions that build up in the lower Chakras. When it’s blocked, we find the quiet types who silently hold onto feelings of hurt, pain or anger. The shy ones, afraid of speaking out, clench their jaws and build tension and toxicity in their necks and shoulders as they swallow their words.

As in all the Chakras, we can have too much of a good thing. When Vissudha’s volume is cranked up, we find the gossipers, loud folks we can hear over everyone else at a party, and people who never let you finish a sentence without interrupting. Listening is as important to communication as speaking, and an over-active fifth Chakra makes a poor listener.

When Helen Reddy started telling us to hear her roar, she was sparking a bright blue flame for women who, at the time, were just starting to add their voices to the previously all-male chorus of American society. We could all use a good roar every now and then to keep Vissudha balanced. Next time you’re on your yoga mat, enjoy a “raaarrrrr” in Simhasana (lion’s pose).

Stay on your mat a bit longer and try throat-stimulating Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and Halasana (plow). A good neck roll to loosen up tension can open up the fifth Chakra as well.

Off the mat, we can chant, sing, scream or shout, tell jokes or stories – anything that gets sounds coming out of your mouth. We can also express buried emotions by drumming, dancing, or painting, or sitting quietly and letting them all pour into your journal. Keep listening skills working by listening to songs, stories or the sounds of nature.

Need inspiration? Sing along with Helen. Let’s hear you roar!

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Calling Ganesha: Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha

clay image of the hindu deity Ganesha

clay image of the hindu deity Ganesha (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, my meditation practice morphed into a mantra practice. I didn’t sit with the intention of chanting “So Hum” the whole time I was meditating. It just happened.

Afterward, it felt like it had been the right thing to do. I repeated it the following day, and the days after that.

Last Saturday, Lisa Devi, during a visit to the Adirondacks, led our New Moon Circle. She welcomed Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-headed god, with the chant “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha.” Ganesha is called at the beginnings of things, perfect for the new moon, to clear obstacles from the path ahead.

Yesterday, instead of “So Hum,” my chant was “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha.” Again, I didn’t intend it. It just came out. And, again, it felt right, so I repeated the chant today.

The Sanskrit phrase “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha” means, basically, “Salutations to the remover of obstacles.” “Ganapatayei” is another name for the widely-worshipped Ganesha. In addition to removing obstacles, Ganesha is known as a patron of the arts and sciences, and as the deity of intellect and wisdom.

Why do I feel compelled to ask Ganesha to help me past the obstacles in my life? Perhaps this is part of the letting go I’ve been doing lately. I’m in the habit of doing too many things, taking on too much, and never asking for help because that felt like weakness. Putting those things that are holding me back into the hands of a deity with four arms and an elephant’s head is a small step towards allowing myself some weakness, towards admitting I can’t do everything myself. Giving your problems to God, to Ganesha, to the universe, or to whatever your sense of the divine, is the first step in twelve-step programs for good reason. It’s very freeing to put obstacles in the hands of a higher power.

I’ll send salutations to Ganesha until a new mantra arises or silence returns to my meditation practice. Meanwhile, thanks to Ganesha moving roadblocks from my path.

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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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Turtles and Stardust: Experiencing a Shamanic Journey

Photo of a Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carol...

Photo of a Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri). Taken in Jacksonville, Florida, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite my endless exploration of all things spiritual, I had not, as of last Saturday morning, experienced a shamanic journey. I’m not sure how I avoided it for so long, considering that I’ve been in the company of shamans a number of times. I really wasn’t trying to avoid the practice; there was just never a good time to try.

True North Yoga hosted a shamanic journeying workshop last weekend, so I finally got my chance. While being led on two journeys I experienced intense physical sensations, including floating, falling and dancing. And I saw turtles.

When I first got my Medicine Cards I pulled my seven totem animals. Turtle was the first card I pulled out of the deck, and is my totem in the East, or the guide to my spiritual challenges. But I haven’t seen the turtle card for quite awhile.

Turtle represents Mother Earth in the cards and in a number of cultures. Hindu and Chinese mythology (and Terry Prachett‘s Discworld series) describe the world as being supported by elephants standing on the back of a turtle. Native Americans call North America “Turtle Island.” I wasn’t surprised to find turtle in a vision in which I was guided to connect to the earth.

Besides representing earth, turtles might also represent the lunar cycle, protection, perseverance and longevity. Turtles have been around 200 million years or so. They are wise old souls.

In my vision, turtle was stepping deliberately, to the drumbeat, and stirring up stardust.

I’ve had a couple of days to consider what turtle means for me, besides the obvious earth connection. A few web authors suggested a need to slow down, to practice patience. Others point to turtle’s ability to withdraw, to hide in its protective shell. Both explanations are fitting, but neither feels complete.

Turtle pose adaptation.

Turtle pose adaptation.

This morning I led my yoga class into turtle pose (a preparatory adaptation of Kurmasana) and as we were holding the posture I thought about turtle’s ability to draw inward. It seemed to me it wasn’t so much about fear as withdrawing into perfect stillness, which sounds like Pratyahara, or the withdrawal of the senses, the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga. Perhaps this is something I’m being called to practice.

Sitting on my desk is a wax turtle, meant to be a candle but unlikely to ever be burned. It was sent to me by an internet newsgroup acquaintance, someone I never knew in real life. If you remember newsgroups, you know I’ve had this turtle candle a long time. (If you don’t remember newsgroups, just know that I accessed the newsgroup with a computer that had dual floppy drives to accommodate both sizes of floppy disks. If you don’t know what a floppy disk is, please don’t tell me. It makes me feel old.) I received this turtle because the person felt I should have it. It has represented earth on my personal altar many, many times. I don’t remember how the turtle candle came to be on my desk today, or how long it’s been sitting there, but I’ve decided it can stay. It seems to belong there now.

Now if I could just find some stardust…

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Awake in the Outdoors

Chalis Pond, North Hudson, NY

Chalis Pond, North Hudson, NY

We are finally seeing spring in the Adirondacks. When my son and I went for a hike today the temperature was sneaking past 70 degrees and the sky was bright blue. We followed a short trail into a pond, then sat at the edge and watched tadpoles and baby fish play in the water.

My son is starting to experiment with creative writing, and is often trying to imagine settings for his made-up stories. While we sat by the water, I suggested he try noticing as much as he could about the place where we were, to get an idea of the details that make a setting imaginable for others. So we sat, and we looked, and we listened. We even smelled and felt.

How often do we get lost in our thoughts and overlook all the small details of where we are? How much do we miss? What would life be like if we took the time to stop and notice? What if we were truly awake to every moment?

Sitting by the edge of the pond, we woke up. We watched the water ripple in the breeze. We saw the bigger ripples left by surfacing fish and the V’s left by water bugs skating by. We watched the light dance in the leaves of the trees. We saw birds and clouds above and below, reflections in the water. We took in the frayed edges of tiny leaves just uncurling from their buds.

We heard the songs of birds, some melodious, some chattering. We heard the muffled voices of two fishermen floating in canoes across the pond. We heard the splash when a fish jumped.

We felt the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze. I smelled pine and decaying leaves. My son smelled my deodorant. (I suppose that could have been worse.)

I struggle to meditate with my eyes closed, focusing on my breath. My mind wanders. But out there by the pond, open-eyed, I found the calm awareness that I look for on my meditation cushion. My meditation is to become fully awake, in the outdoors.

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