Breathing with Trees

Breathing with trees in the AdirondacksI ventured out, alone, in my snowshoes, on a quiet trail through the woods. We had had the first substantial snowfall of winter a few days before, and I came to a part of the trail that had not been broken since the storm. I’m not experienced on snowshoes and it was only my second time out this season, but it was quiet and beautiful so I decided to push on.

Once my body started complaining, I stopped and turned back. It had begun to snow again, which was lovely to look at but made the trail more challenging. I caught myself getting short of breath as my heart rate came up and I took a break.

There was a time when I would have been frightened out in the woods, all alone, with no cell signal, my heart pounding in my chest, but now I have a relationship with the trees. Through my shamanic work I have become aware of the life energy that flows through the trees. I have seen them “lit up” with that energy. It is the same energy that flows through you and me.

Rather than panicking out in the woods, I sat in the snow with my back to a tree. I tuned into that energy. And I began to breathe with the tree. Plants and animals are the two halves of the beautiful life-sustaining oxygen cycle. Trees breathe out oxygen, we breathe it in. We breath out carbon dioxide, the trees breathe it in.

Sitting against the tree, I became conscious of breathing in what the tree was releasing. It was as if I could draw the breath right out of the tree into my back. Then I breathed out and felt the tree draw in my out-breath. Back and forth, the tree and I breathed together, until my heart rate slowed and I felt safe and held. I walked calmly out of the woods.

This simple but powerful practice draws my awareness to the interconnected web of life. While the woods are a wonderful place to experience it, I find the same sense of connection and peace when I breathe with the trees in my backyard or even my houseplants. I leave a small offering in gratitude for the breath when I can, and I always speak my thanks. I know I am heard.

Shining a light on mirroring

MirroringShortly after high school, I moved from Long Island, where I had grown up, to a New Jersey suburb. Without realizing it, I adopted the accent and mannerisms prevalent in my new area. When I went back to my home town for a visit, however, I noticed that I almost immediately reverted to “Long Island English” and “talking with my hands.” Why did that happen, and why is it important?

Mirroring

Much later, when I was developing my skills as a coach, I learned the term “mirroring.” Mirroring is the behavior in which one person subconsciously imitates the gestures, speech pattern, or attitude of another. (Thank you, Wikipedia.) We begin to mirror as infants. Psychologists believe it is through mirroring that children develop empathy and, in being mirrored by their parents, a sense of validation and belonging which helps them establish a sense of self.

As adults, we continue to subconsciously mirror others, particularly in social settings where we desire to fit in. It is a signal to the others that you are like them and agree with what they are saying or doing. It can be very subtle, such briefly mimicking a gesture, or as bold as repeating a phrase louder and with more gusto. Others then mirror you and you think, “Yes! These are my people!”

As a coach, I learned to use mirroring to build rapport and trust with clients. Successful salespeople, negotiators and politicians are masters at mirroring. They will have you thinking they totally get you, so whatever they are selling must be what you need.

Avoiding manipulative salespeople is only one reason I think it is important to understand mirroring. The value of that understanding grows as we become more mentally and emotionally mature. It is then we begin to develop an expanded or different sense of self that is less dependent on being part of a group.

Remember, though, that mirroring is deeply engrained in your subconscious, as is the desire to belong. What happens when, with your new sense of self, you walk into your high school reunion and the peers who used to mirror you are saying the same things and behaving the same way they always did? Or at a family dinner when those who were instrumental in creating your original sense of self are no longer mimicking your gestures and, instead of repeating your words back to you, are disagreeing with them?

As much as we would like to believe we can stand on our own, most of us aren’t comfortable being outsiders. The security of belonging is a basic energy of the Root Chakra. When we don’t get those validating signals, it shakes the foundation on which our individual sense of self is built.

How can we each maintain and continue to develop our individual sense of self and still have a sense of belonging and validation? Find a circle.

The power of circle

It is, of course, easiest to find some people who think and act like you do to spend time with, because they will mirror you. But I think the real opportunity in an artfully facilitated circle is to be able to practice sharing your truth, to be heard and held, and have it not matter if anyone agrees with you. Circle can set up a sense of belonging and validation without mirroring.

Circle also gives us practice in listening deeply without taking on other people’s stuff, or even judging it. Especially for an introvert, like me, being able to just sit and listen without the social pressures of needing to interact in the “right” way (i.e. mirroring), or even to respond beyond “I hear you,” creates a sphere of safety. That is powerful validation of both parties’ self-worth, as well as a useful skill for your next family get-together.

I hope that your new awareness of mirroring will shed light on those times when you feel your sense of self is challenged. Perhaps you will be inspired to seek out ways to build a strong sense of self and belonging without needing subconscious validation from mirroring. I hope you will find your circle.

What do you think? Have you noticed yourself mirroring others, or looking for others who will mirror you? How do you feel when they don’t? I’d love it if you would share your insights, so we can all grow together.

In the Season of Hope

A couple of days ago, Americans acknowledged the festival of Imbolc (or Candlemas) by practicing the art of weather divination. In other words, some folks woke up a groundhog and, because the groundhog saw his shadow, declared there will be six more weeks of winter bleakness.

For the most part, I don’t mind winter and enjoy the snow, but sometimes it does seem to drag on and on. I suspect the Celts thought so, too, since they chose to celebrate the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s kind of an “over the hump” thing – the Wednesday of winter.

The temperatures this season have bounced between “too warm for winter” and “too cold for my liking,” and rain has alternated with snow leaving a thick layer of ice on places like my front steps. The political and social climate in the United States has been equally inconsistent and icy.

Yet, here we are at the middle of winter, and there is reason to hope. Can you feel into that?

We may be gathering in protest rather than in celebration, but we are gathering. We are leaving our homes, risking icy steps and, for some, arrest, to declare that we still have hope. After all, if we didn’t believe good things are still possible, why would we bother?

This is the spirit of Imbolc. It is a time to shake off the winter doldrums and cultural apathy and joyfully declare, “I know that spring is coming. We can get through this dark time.”

During our last Goddess Circle, the women who gathered took part in a simple ritual for Imbolc – burning the greens to show our faith that the green of spring would return. We had some boughs from my Yule tree on the altar, and took turns pinching off some of the green needles and dropping them on a lit tealight in a cast iron cauldron. As her pinch of greens burned, the woman spoke of something she hoped for the future. There was lots of hope in our circle that night.

You can do this ritual on your own or in your circle. If you don’t have a cauldron, anything fire proof will do. A terra cotta pot works well. You could also throw your greens into a bonfire or fire pit if you’d prefer to be outside. You can be creative with the ritual. It’s the intention that is important.

In this season of hope, what are you hoping for?

Sacred Spirals and Breathwork

“…no circle is ever closed. We walk ever in spirals.”
~ R. Scott Bakker

Experiencethe spiralsin yourbreathDo you feel like you’ve been here before? We see time as linear and circles in the patterns of nature. And so spring comes around again. Or does it?

During the past two moon cycles I’ve been quiet. Introspective. I’ve become aware of many patterns repeating in my being-ness. I’m seeing challenges that I’ve dealt with before, unresolved issues, and even childhood activities resurfacing. It’s frustrating. Why do I have to deal with this stuff again?

Then, a few weeks ago, I began seeing spirals everywhere and I became aware that I am not walking a straight line, or in a circle, but dancing through the labyrinth of existence. Spring has come around again, but it is not the same spring, and I am not the same person. I’m meeting familiar challenges with more experience and insight. And I am exploring new-again activities not as a child but with a child-like mind.

When I recognized and appreciated the sacredness of the spiral path I am walking, I opened to wonder and beauty and an order within the chaos of living. I see that each time a pattern reoccurs I am being offered an opportunity to apply new awareness, new tools and new skills to move through it with more grace.

You may, too, find yourself in a familiar place as you walk your own spiral path. What comes up for you again and again? And how do you respond? Notice if frustration, defeatism or despair arise. Then see if you can breathe into the sacredness and acknowledge who you are today. What more can you bring to the challenge? Maybe you are ready to release the pattern, but maybe you will spiral around again to face it as the you with even more experience.

There are a number of ways to connect with the spiral shape through breath work. I find spiral breathing both calming and centering. The simplest way to experience the spiral breath is to breath in up the back body, and breath out down the front body. Try it now. See, sense or feel the breath traveling up your spine as you inhale. Feel it flow down through your chest and belly as you exhale. As the breath deepens, you might sense it spiraling out until the breath is circling into the space behind and in front of you.

You can also spiral the breath in the coronal, or frontal, plane. which helps to bring awareness and balance to the breath and the mind while you explore the spirals. Take a breath in through your right nostril and draw the breath up your right side and into the top of your chest. Then exhale through the same right nostril and send the breath down the left side. Repeat a few times with the right nostril, then switch to the left. Inhale up the left side and exhale down the right. Practice through the left nostril a few times. Then try breathing through both nostrils while spiraling the breath. You will have two opposing spirals circling at the same time. Practice the two nostrils together a few times until you can feel both.

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?

 

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!

Essential Oils to Connect with the Earth Element

EOGroundingAromatherapy can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. The base notes of some essential oils are grounding and connect you to the qualities of the Earth Element. Add a few drops of oil to the wax of a burning candle or diffuse to activate its grounding properties.

Cedarwood-Essential-OilCedarwood and Cypress oils both come from trees with deep roots. Cedarwood oil draws earth energy. It purifies and promotes relaxation and balance.

CypressCypress oil encourages a long, enduring life. It cultivates the earthy qualities of quiet, security and grounding.

Frankincense

Frankincense is a deep, earthy scent. It provides protection for the body by stimulating the immune system, as well as emotional calm.

PatchouliPatchouli is considered a powerful aphrodisiac, but it also combats negative emotions and promotes stamina. Patchouli’s scent grounds the spirit into the physical body.

SandalwoodSandalwood encourages spiritual and emotional well-being through deep meditation. It supports the meditative state by grounding and focusing energy and creating protective space.

VetiverVetiver is another very earthy scent. It cleanses, grounds and centers spiritual and mental energy.

Learn more about essential oils and find out how to order Young Living oils here.

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.