Both Yoga and Shamanism offer a ways for people to become aware of their potential, and begin to explore their spiritual relationship to the universe, to other forms of life, and to each other. The experiences which come from these practices help a person to evolve a deeper bond and respect for all of creation, and from this perspective you are likely to lead a life which is vibrant and full in harmony and balance, and which encourages understanding and optimism. The Shamanic path is a way to experience this expanded view of universe.
One of the central practices of shamanism has been defined as the Spirit or Trance journey. One of the ways to embark on this experience of expanded consciousness is what is called ‘the shamanic journey’. In this Journey the shaman journeys to the Spirit world, (commonly referred to as Upper & Lower Worlds), to directly commune with the spirits who reside in the other realities. This is done for many reasons, for example to receive guidance for healing, maintaining both our own and by extension our communities spiritual wholeness.
There are a number of ways to embark on a Spirit journey; these can be through dance, dream, using teacher plants, and by assuming certain specific physical postures. The latter is known as Shamanic Trance Postures, and are a method for achieving ecstatic trance and entering that place of both personal and collective vision.
The word ecstasy and ecstatic is used in its original meaning, which is based on the Greek ex-stasis, meaning ‘outside of yourself’, outside of the everyday world. The ecstatic trance brings with it a shift in our perception, a way of becoming aware of a reality outside of the world of the ordinary, and the mundane. The trance makes us able to perceive the continuum of life, from what has been called non-ordinary reality, a reality which has been known to co-exist with our physical reality throughout time. Black Elk, the Lakota medicine man and great visionary whose life was recorded by John Neihardt in the 1930’s, tells of “the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. This is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world”.
There are certain works of ancient art, glyphs, carvings, rock paintings which are more than creative expressions of their culture. They are visual teachings for a specific ritual. These paintings and statues from the ancients depict people adopting distinct bodily postures. Many of these bodily postures are ways to an altered state of consciousness, visionary experiences, and a way to embark on a spirit journey. There is an extensive geographic distribution of the Trance Postures, and indications are that they belong to all cultures and traditions. These postures have been rediscovered by Dr Felicitas Goodman after years of extensive research, and a full account has been documented in her truly outstanding and remarkable book ‘Where the Spirits Ride the Wind’.
When a person adopts a specific posture as shown in one of the ancient artefacts, with an accompanying rhythmic sound e.g. Rattle or drum, the person may experience a vision which although is personal , is also specific to the posture. It is as if, however personal the vision, it will conform within a consistent framework.
Ritual has great power in this reality; it is a way of combining, the heart, mind, spirit, and body in a single physical action and intention. Religions from all over the world have long recognised the importance of ritual. Ritual is a means of communication between the Spirits and ourselves, it is a way that the Spirits can cross over from their world into ours. In Western society we have forgotten that the ordinary and other reality belong together, they are two halves of one whole.
Ritual is a way to empower and enhance the trance state, and is a gateway to contain, translate, and safely guide an altered state of consciousness into a spiritual experience. Another way of saying this would be that a ritual carries an innate intention, a purpose.
Each of the Shamanic Trance Postures is in itself a ritual, and it is a ritual with such intrinsic qualities of exactness and power, that its objective is achieved outside the original cultural setting. This means that we in contemporary Western society can also successfully participate in the Shamanic Trance Postures.
To understand the Shamanic Trance Postures they should be directly experienced, no amount of words can compensate for this. The best place to experience the ecstatic trance states is in a workshop environment. This brings with it the guidance and support of the workshop facilitator, and the collective energies of the group. The power of the group is important in that it helps in terms of the focus of the ritual, and provides indirect and direct feedback. Feedback is the way to obtain the ineffable quality of trust. Trust is one of the pillars of this work, and the group provides validation of your own experience. Another important factor is that the power of the trance postures is magnified, as each person supports and is a part of the collective visionary experience.
An Exercise – The Grandfather Bear Trance Posture.
A powerful Healing posture.
You may experience, great energy, certain colours, a feeling of being supported and contained in a loving and gentle way.
Stand with your feet parallel , about six inches apart, and your toes aimed straight ahead. Your knees should be slightly bent, removing any strain on your lower back that would occur if your knees were locked. This stance is consistent for most of the standing postures.
Gently roll both your hands , as though you are holding a small egg in the palm of each hand. Position your hands so that your folded fingers form a tall triangle over your navel. The first joint of the index finger of each hand should touch to form the apex of the triangle, with your thumbs resting one in front of the other, not one on top of the other. Your upper arms can rest easily at both sides of your body, so that your elbows are not sticking out. With your eyes closed, lean your head back as though you are looking at a point just above the line where the wall meets the ceiling. There may be a strained feeling in the muscles at the back of your neck.
Comments from people who have experienced the healing Trance Posture known as ‘Grandfather Bear ‘on workshops.
“I have been having a sore and painful throat for some time. As I started the posture, I very quickly felt that I was being cradled from behind by a warm energy, which I saw in my mind as a large bear. I felt the bear rip open my throat with its claws, and pull out heavy, thick mucus like material. This went on for a few minutes, and then the bear blew warmth into my throat, and I began to see flashes of violet-blue colours around me. When the trance posture ended, my throat felt clear, and my body felt as if it was glowing.”
“My back felt as if it was being opened, and metal plates which covered my spine being levered open and dragged out of my back. When we finished, my back felt so much more flexible, I could even touch my toes, which is something which I have not been able to do for quite some time. I had forgotten how stiff my back had become.”
FURTHER READING: Where the Spirits Ride the Wind – By Felicitas Goodman
Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA), and has published numerous articles about plant medicines.