Yoga and Shamanism: Two Paths, One Purpose
By Denby Sheather
Close your eyes and take a few slow, deep, belly breaths as you picture your ancestral self in nature somewhere, connected to the elements, communing with animals and feeling completely at ease and at peace. You might be immediately transported to a beach, a meadow or a jungle scape - anywhere that makes you feel relaxed and brings a smile to your face in the here and now will connect you to the web. That’s the spider web of consciousness of course.
When you’re ready, open your eyes slowly, and bring whatever image or memory arose to the surface. Observe how your body feels. Do you feel comfortable, nervous, agitated, safe? Maybe you feel a mixture of things. There is no right or wrong. It’s all about divine timing and connecting in when you are ready to receive.
What you have just done is open yourself up to the channel that links two primordial practices – yoga and shamanism. Within each one of us lie the keys to everything we desire, and practices like yoga or rituals that our indigenous relatives enjoyed can help us discover and unlock buried treasures and bring us into a space of awareness and self-discovery.
Discovering the link between Shamanism and Yoga
Shamanism is the most ancient of practices, inviting us to live in alignment with the earth and all creatures sharing it. It involves reading the seasonal and astrological signs and honouring all beings and ecosystems as part of the one universal family. It’s why we all feel a calling to ‘find ourselves’ at some point in our lives.
The roots of Yoga can be traced back as far as the Paleolithic Age, with some scientists and learned geomancers believing it evolved from the earliest of recorded pagan practices. Certainly Yoga and Shamanism have many features in common, but their final outcome or purpose is quite different. Yoga aims for the spiritual liberation of ones’ soul, known as ‘moksha’, and shamanism is primarily concerned with transversing the mystic realms, or the subtle dimensions, to channel healing, ‘magic’ and bring back information to help those in need.
Many yogis unwittingly fulfill the role of the Shaman as they strive to serve the community in the capacity of healer, using their yogic skills and wielding any number of esoteric gifts or ‘therapies’ as we call them these days, much like the wise men and women of earlier generations. It’s all in our perspective.
Yoga is all about non-violence, ‘ahimsa’, plus the cultivation of self-love and awareness, and similarly, the principles of shamanism advocate alignment of your inner nature with Mother Nature and living consciously and with compassion for all beings.
Shamanic philosophy actually reflects the main philosophies of yoga perfectly. Both are powerful catalysts to create healing and awakening for those who dedicate themselves to daily practice and self enquiry, and both require a certain degree of devotion in order to maintain their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual integrity and ensure they are able to ‘perform’ safely and appropriately.
In recent years we have witnessed a surge in healing circles, plant medicines, indigenous events, soundbaths and yoga therapy, reflecting a renewed cultural push to understand more of ourselves, each other and the nuances of this mystical and majestic world we live in. We finally ‘get’ that there is more to life than meets the eye, and we are willing to explore these paths.
Yogis nowadays are beginning to recognise and remember the teachings of the four legged, winged and finned masters too - not just the two legged ones. When we take the form of a particular pose, we are not just moving our body, we are invoking the healing energy of that animal, its spirit frequency if you like, which then helps deepen our connection between the unseen and the seen, and open us up to new perspectives and clarity.
Both Yoga and Shamanism teach us to live a compassionate and conscious life. The shaman always consults the stars, the elements, the animal spirits and the ancestral guardians, carefully considering how any one action, or inaction, may influence the health and well being of all others in the matrix. Cause and effect, the laws of attraction, and the governing principle of yin/yang and polarity, are the cornerstones of both yogic and Animist philosophy.
Shamanism invites us to interact with the planet and its energies on a fundamental and personal level, giving us a profound and rich experience with the divine in every moment. Shamans exercise a sixth-sense, a heightened state of awareness, in the categories of dream analysis, astrology, and spirit possession, which enables them to experience multiple realities whilst remaining tethered to this world. They have the ecstatic capability of moving their consciousness beyond normal human parameters, to see, receive and decipher psychic messages from multiple beings such as animals, nature spirits and deities.
The founding principles of shamanism of ‘do no harm’, ‘live in harmony with the earth’, ‘speak the truth’, ‘respect all living beings equally’ and ‘honour the ancestors and their teachings’, also mirror the major yogic principles of non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness, living a balanced, disciplined life, treating others with respect and honouring your teachers and their teachers.
Neither Yoga nor Shamanism is a religion, but they are both undoubtedly deep and powerful spiritual practices.
How Yoga and Shamanism are Different
However, Yoga cannot be confused with Shamanism, or considered in any aspect as ecstatic, as it is transcendental in essence, meaning the Yogi strives to hone their concentration powers and move beyond the subtle levels to realise themselves as one with All That Is. The Atman, their true self.
Shamanism is more ecstatic in essence as one of the primary goals is to transverse multi dimensional realms in an often trance-like state, to commune with spirits and beings of all kinds, and return with ancestral information that can aid in healing those in need. Along the way, the Yogi will no doubt glean wisdoms and perhaps even connect with the subtle realms in a magical or mystical way, but that doesn’t make them a shaman or one who can perform esoteric miracles.
Both Yogis and Shamans view the world as a physical world, and strive to unearth, unravel and release traumatic experiences that are embedded in the body – inside a joint capsule or muscle, along a meridian, or within an organ or chakra for example. So yes, both Yoga and Shamanism help us delve into the root of our traumas to find healing on physical and emotional levels; they just employ slightly different methods and interpretations.
The true teachings of Shamanism
If we are to live a conscious, sustainable and connected life, it makes sense that we practice daily mindfulness alongside respect, gratitude and appreciation of all that the earth provides for us. It makes sense to someone who is connected to and trusts their intuition, to listen to those internal markers and extend the same courtesy to all other living creatures, not just those of their own species. When we acknowledge that other animals have feelings, intelligence and wisdom to share, then we start remembering our own lineage, that of wise medicine men and women who could conjure the rain, cure the ailing and communicate with all of mothers’ creations.
So you see, whilst you may not have any desire to become a Shamanic practitioner or have any interest in learning more than you may read here today. If you’re into your Yoga and can’t let a day go by without getting onto your mat, then the truth is, you are embodying more of your natural, sacred, shamanic self than you realise.
We are all forever and simultaneously separate and yet intimately, beautifully, intertwined, and I believe that KNOWING that we are all ONE, mat or medicine bowl aside, is all the meaning to life that we need.
Healer, Yoga Therapist, Shamanic Intuitive