Simple, effective tools for living well and feeling great!
Today's practice for you is a simple but effective way of checking the volume of air you are breathing in (most of us inhale less than 20% of our total lung capacity!) plus it get you to be fully connecting with your body so in my eyes, that's a win-win!
The practice is called the Chest-Heart Breath.
To do: Place your thumbs into your arm pits, palms down parallel to floor, fingers pointing inwards. Middle fingers should be touching. As you breathe in, the chest expands, and the middle finger tips separate. As you breathe out, finger tips come together again. Focus on Chest Heart Breath for 5 minutes...then resting your hands on your thighs, palms facing upwards in spirit of receiving, allow your breath to become natural and easeful. With your eyes closed, focus on feeling gratitude for your breath, and your life.
Let me know how you find it, drop a comment below #everybreathcounts
Breathing, the most natural thing we can do; from the first inhale at birth to the last exhale at death, every breath in between is regulated by the innate wisdom of the body, and is activated by a trigger response in the brain part known as the medulla oblongata (the red part of the image above). It's the one physiological internal functions of the body that we have control over and can self regulate, and in my view it's our greatest medicine.
This part of the brain emits impulses that inspire you to take a breath, and this comes as a result of a natural bodily occurrence, the fluctuating balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood. As carbon dioxide (Co2) builds in the cells, certain chemo-receptors in the body alert your brain "Houston, we have a problem!" and send an impulse to regulate this by forcing a contraction of the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles surrounding the ribs. This forces us to inhale deeply taking in more oxygen (O2), which in turn triggers a process of self regulation of levels of Co2 and O2, a balance vital for cellular vitality and blood health. As air rushes into the lungs, the brain stops it's 'alert' signal and the diaphragm and ribs relax...ad infinitum!
Most of us however, despite this innate response do not take in anywhere near our lung capacity in oxygenated fresh air, nor do we fully and completely exhale the waste air that will remain in the lungs if we are perpetually shallow breathing.
On average, people inhale and exhale a total of 500 ml of air with each breath, however we can take in much more than this. The amount of air we inhale and expel is known as the tidal volume, or TV. The maximum volume of air that can move through your lungs is known as your Vital Capacity, and by breathing deeply, we can generally reach a volume of 3,100 ml, quite different to the average 500 right?
Some of the air we breathe in never even reaches our lungs, how funky is that! This 'homeless' air is known as 'dead space' and is the air that lingers in your pharynx, trachea and nasal cavities, places where the earlier mentioned gaseous exchange doesn't happen, and that's ok, it just means there's always more air we can consciously take into our lungs by intentionally increasing our capacity to breathe deeply.
As a breath worker, and a regular breather, I am constantly amazed by what I discover in the stories in my body which lie just beyond the breath. I have lain down to breathe convinced there's nothing much to do and been in deep process within minutes, and equally, when I've imagined there was some big 'work' to do, I've experienced unparalleled lightness of being.
What is consistent for me however, is that this breathing technique has immense healing powers. It takes me to places I have long since forgotten, relegated to parts of my subconscious mind to gather dust in some wee corner, allowing these dusty parts of my psyche to rule the show in the form of emotional, mental or physical triggers. I've managed to tame many of my triggers these days, to recognise them for what they are, illusions of conditioning, however, that taming has come about through a willingness to go there and persistently do the work.
I am passionately committed to breathwork; it's become crystal clear to me it's my life purpose and the representation of my soul medicine. The breathing part of my work I have called INSPIRE BREATH as I believe that true liberation comes not only in the physical act of INSPIRING, but in the space we create from healing our stories, freedom comes riding in, lightness finds its place, and we really do experience inspiration; the releasing of the chains that have bound us that allows us to return to our essence, our true nature as emissaries of love.
For all of my upcoming breathwork sessions and collaborations, please go to my what's on page. Inspire yourself!
I'm just back from the Liverpool TEDx talks yesterday and I'm inspired! Two men and one woman, ChauKei Ngai billed as a 'fierce yogini' in particular inspired me, well three men actually but one completely unrelated in some ways to this post, but who made me laugh so much I had to include the wonderful Mr Bingo! Actually Mr B isn't so unrelated in fact as he was evidently a living, breathing example of following your flow and your creative passions!
The two men I mainly mention here though were Dave Evans of Silicone Valley and Stanford's Life Design Lab, and Dan Cable, a professor at the London Business School, whose own story of sudden diagnosis of stage 4 lymphoma totally re-routed his life. These two men, in differing but similar ways, are both strong advocates of finding and following your passion in life, and for Dan, this crucial awakening led to him concluding that a 'seeking system' is an innate human trait that needs to be honoured in order for us to truly thrive. In fact, when ignored or squashed it can actually create physical illness, so what exactly is a 'seeking system' and why can it so negatively or positively impact us?
A seeking system is basically an inherent need for a human being to experience contrast, fulfilment and variety in life, a trait which leads us to 'seek out' new experiences and create change in order to fulfil that need. Of course we spend most of our adult lives and time in the workplace and so it makes sense that we need this variety and expression whilst there! I've always recognised and responded to a huge range of stimuli in my own life, I'm sure many of us have, and in fact it was in another TED talk on multi-potentialites that I first came to accept that perhaps it wasn't such a bad trait to have, this 'mistress of all trades' thing I had going on!
It's been a long time since I lived a life where I spent all of my weekdays dreaming about how I could escape the mundanities of work until the weekend, or the next holiday. According to statistics, 70% of people do not feel they can be their best at work, and this can actually have a physiological effect as well as a psychological one and here's how...
The Ventral Striatum is the part of the brain that seeks new things and experiences. It's also where our reward system lives with the delivery of dopamine, the neuro-transmitting chemical messenger that makes us feel alive and well. Without the stimulation of this part of the brain, there can be very real effects of our cellular health, and studies are now being done which highlight the fact that the regulators for immune function are inherently linked to this sense of wellbeing, so much so that without this stimulation and reward system, immunity begins to shut down. In other words, our resilience is directly affected by our engagement with life and what we do.
We need 3 things in order to really thrive:
1. Self Expression
2. Exploration and Experimentation
3. The Personalisation of Purpose.
And yet there has been what Dan and Dave might call a 'creative apartheid' in the work place for many, where those at the top, rather than seeking out employees strengths and pleasures and maximising on those, instead choose to create hierarchies where there is little to no chance of true creative fulfilment in their day to day experience of employment. The best indicator for survival and healthy longevity evident in one recent survey undertaken with over 7,000 participants, and then reviewed some 14 years later, was having a feeling of meaning and purpose in life.
In my work and life I have most definitely found this to be true! The more I'm living with variety, fulfilment and creative self expression, the more well I feel on all levels. How about you? Are you activating your seeking system or are you suppressing it? Do you recognise the link to your health and wellbeing with living a fulfilled life?
If you're not currently living with that, what small steps can you make to create change? Don't wait until you are ill, or dying before you choose life...start today!
...but there is freedom waiting on the other side.
I've just landed from what I can sincerely describe as two of the most intense weeks of my life. I am in part, quite a large part it seems, undone!
Over the two weeks I was away on the beautiful island of Ibiza, I learned a lot about myself. I saw my unrecognised wisdom, I saw how and where I have not claimed my authority, I saw my shadow and my vulnerability and I saw patterns that I have never realised I'd passed down to my own children in learning them from my parents before me, and I welcome it all.
I was in Ibiza to graduate as a breathwork facilitator with the Alchemy Of Breath, a school of breathwork I am proud to be connected to and in whose name I work. This whole journey has been a process of self discovery on much deeper levels than I could ever have imagined when starting to breathe consciously a couple of years ago.
You may wonder what all the fuss is about - we breathe every day right? Wrong! We breathe but we don't breathe well; we fail to breathe deeply into the essence of our being, and when we do, wow...everything changes, and I mean everything!
I have seen people fall apart, break their hearts and souls wide open, weep a million unshed tears, scream and rage for all that went unexpressed, laugh manically in deep knowing of truth and curl up into corners of their deepest vulnerability, and I've seen all of that being held in pure love. I've held all of that myself in this essence of love as a witness, a supporter and as a facilitator. It's extremely humbling to see humanity laid out like this before you. Walk with diamonds on the soles of your feet and the breath of the butterfly if you're ever blessed to witness or experience this work - I believe we owe each other this grace for the human soul is delicate and mighty at the same time.
As human beings, we walk a many faceted journey through this life. For some, it's as much as we can do to stay here, to commit to living, to feel and to just allow ourselves to be enough. For others, it may be easier in some ways, but one thing I have learnt for sure is that we all have our vulnerabilities, those tender places inside of us that need to be held and seen through the eyes of love.
When I began my training, motivated by a profound and utterly unexpected experience of this conscious connected breathing technique whilst on holiday in Bali last year, I didn't expect it to take me where it has, both internally in my emotional and mental landscape/s or externally in the physical world too.
My teacher is one of the most loving and transparent men I've ever met in my entire life. He works from a place of unconditional love, a commitment to conscious communication and a presence that changes many, many people's lives simply in the act of being himself; he is what I consider to be a 'safe' man and a steady harbour in which to land. He's worked hard to get to that place, and this commitment to self awareness shines through in everything he is and everything he does. He would shy from this adoration, but I'm saying it anyway!
So back to the unlearning - as children we are born in pure essence. Our imprinting begins at a young age, where we are powerless to do anything beyond receive those imprints really because 1). we are too small to know any different and 2). we don't have the understanding to question it whilst so young, so we grow up believing that these messages are 'true'; messages about ourselves and about the world around us, but they're not true, they are simply a reflection of those people's experiences and their own conditioning.
Unlearning takes time, effort and integration. INTEGRATION is key! I see so many doing this deep work, perhaps with the breath, or with plant medicines, or other healing modalities and simply not giving themselves the time necessary to integrate all that has been felt, therefore repeating ad infinitum the stories that reveal themselves. I have landed from this two week journey feeling completely undone, and I'm glad I'm 'undone'! I'm glad because I know that this mining into my soul's landscape is what heals me if I can sit with it, reflect on it, and be with it.
Take the time you need to integrate from your experiences whatever they are. Stay present to yourself and your true feelings, tune into your felt sense and allow it the space to land, and seek out those who support you in changing yourself. We're unused to stillness in this fast-moving day and age, but it's crucial to drop into it deeply if we are to really create true health and healing.
Alchemy - The transmutation of matter, the seeking of a universal elixir, the conversion of lead into gold.
Discover your very own personal alchemy and watch as your life becomes authentic, beautiful, inspired and free, and remember to always gift yourself time for integration to take place.
With so much love - Steph xox
Many years ago I was fortunate enough to travel to Kathmandu in Nepal to study bodywork and healing with a great teacher there. A small group of four, maybe five, we lived for a couple of weeks in our teacher's centre, ate in him home, visited his family up in the more remote, tiger inhabited hills and generally immersed ourselves in this experience. I remember pickles with every meal, the humble ways people lived up in the mountain villages, and the magnificence of a multitude of 'orbs' visible in every photo I took at the Sacred Temple I visited on the Buddha's birthday. It was a very magical time for me, and a very healing one too.
It's considered auspicious to have the birthday of the Buddha fall on the May full moon, and pilgrims came from far and wide to this temple to offer their prayers and pay their respects, many of whom came down from Tibet to pray, as a result of facing political challenge in the Tibetan monasteries.
During my course, several personal issues had arisen in the process based training we were having. My teacher indicated that I must go to the Temple, and find a place to light 108 tea lights and offer deep prayers of forgiveness to myself, and asking for them too for the issue at hand. He told me many people would be there doing the same that night, that I should follow my intuition and make a payment offering for the candles then light each one mindfully, knowing this would clear some of my karma.
Long since considered a sacred number in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and yoga. According to yogic tradition, there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India, and there are also 108 Upanishads and 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body. There are 108 beads on most malas, which when counted in prayer, help a person to become mindful once again of the power of the sacred number and the effect this has on their offerings. The 108 number refers to spiritual completion. There are many other fascinating aspects to this number which you can read about here.
For my upcoming breathwork session at One yoga Studio, Chorlton, we will collectively light 108 tea lights before going into our breathwork. We will focus our attention on all of the prayers for forgiveness that we seek, and are offering out at this potent time. Many people around the world will be praying in the same way throughout the month of May, celebrating both the birthday of, and the enlightenment of the Buddha which was also said to have happened at this time.
I know for me, this was a powerful healing ceremony, so I invite you to join together as a group to consciously create space in your life through the letting go of old stories, old wounds and old patterns, and celebrate the inner and outer freedom that this can bring.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
108 Breaths for Healing, Sunday May 6th, 2018. 7.30-10:00pm, £25 per person.
Although not in the full moon energy, we are certainly not far from it, so we will also call upon this energy in our work, letting go with this gradual waning phase, calling on the joyful abundance of Beltane to hold our energy strong and clear.
I always keep a place on a pay what you can basis, and one skills exchange place at most of my personal events, so please don't let money be your issue, and if you wish to come, drop me a line.
To join us for this beautiful breathwork session, you are invited to email email@example.com.
One Yoga Studio, Albany Trading Estate, Albany Road, Chorlton, Manchester M21 0AZ. Advance bookings only please so we that know how many mats to put out :)
Please bring an item for a healing altar we will create, whatever leaps to mind is what you should bring! You may also wish to bring a journal and pen, cushion, blanket, and some warm socks. It's best to wear loose comfortable clothing and not to eat for at least 2 hours before breathing. Alcohol and recreational drugs should be avoided for 24 hours (min) beforehand too. This is powerful healing work. I look forward to welcoming you to the best version of yourself possible!
This last year has taught me a great deal.
It's been a humbling time in my life as I move towards real change, to the final letting go of my youngest child who is now 18 and ready to leave home in a few months. I've also been entering the stillness and deep wisdom of menopause, and whilst that's not been an easy journey (emotionally), that particular rite of passage has also offered a profound learning for me. Both of these things came on the back of adrenal burnout which hit me so hard 2 years ago, and which has impacted on my life greatly for the last 24 months. Only now am I coming to a more balanced place of inner peace and external rest and what a blissful place that is!
I knew when the adrenal stuff first showed up in my life that it would come bearing a gift for me - one of my old art teachers used to say "there's no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in it's hands," which I understand is originally a Richard Bach quote, and I believe this to be true.
Adrenal burnout took me into profound stillness because I had no choice. Ironically I think that many of us arrive in these places from mindlessly repeating behaviour patterns only to have an illness, a trauma or a real life shake up wake us up to different ways of thinking and being. Laid up for days on end, being hit by the inability to plan (I've always been a 'planner' and a do-er) because I would never know when fever would land and my when my body would betray me and become useless, which is honestly how I saw it then. I felt captive to some strange mystery I could do nothing but accept, and accepting it was tough. I felt weak, needy, vulnerable, and incapable, all of which triggered in me a deep sense of failure on some levels. I was de-constructing and I didn't like it one bit - my resistance was high!
One day, in a particularly depressing bout of pain and struggle with this condition, my dear friends Sarah & Gavin sent me a Matt Khan video to watch. This video changed everything for me! I realised that in my resentment of this 'illness' I was experiencing, I was still pushing my body beyond it's own wisdom, still pushing it to heal faster, move more and just 'get on with things.' I was lying prone on my sofa with the subliminal attitude of an authoritarian dictator, with the same pushy attitude that had brought me here "hurry up already and get well and get on with stuff!"
In that moment I realised I was angry with myself and even more so with my body and in that realisation I suddenly found the deepest sense of compassion for what I was experiencing; I vowed to change my thinking and just surrender to these teachings. It was only then that my true recovery began.
Most of us live in a very 'yang' dominant way. We are experiencing times of rapid cultural and social development; technology takes us in many directions at the same time and relentless hard work is mistaken for great achievement. The silence of mindful thought and action is relegated to what we do as an trendy add-on in our lives rather than a true way of being. Having recently learned of and been inspired by the Korean nun and highly acclaimed chef Jeong Kwan, I have realised that mindfulness and silence are great teachers when applied to every single aspect of our lives, not just in a 20 minute meditation practice!
When we stop separating and compartmentalising our lives, true inner peace begins to penetrate our being. There is no longer a duality, or a struggle, there comes only stillness, and in the stillness there comes wisdom.
In learning to befriend stillness which was never a comfortable place for me, I have found a palace of exquisite treasures inside of myself. I find kindness to have become my main driver in life; what good can I do with my words, my thoughts and my actions? Compassion steers my ship of life now. I practice stillness in each moment by pausing, taking and breath and working on reflecting before I act or speak. In seeing how much violence there can be in the world, and not just in the obvious way, but in our communications, our assumptions and our projections, I am reigning mine in and gathering them in my heart to offer healing to those parts that needed to learn that true wisdom comes from knowing oneself, and that knowing oneself can only come from becoming silent, listening and being patient. It can only come from practising Ahmisa (the art of non-violence and respect for all living things) as a conscious choice, and it can only come from deep and true humility and compassion.
My heart feels peaceful and my body follows suit. I am no longer living with attachment to material measures of success. Yes occasionally I wobble on that of course, but I find my way home to the truth by consciously becoming still, and by trusting the right path to unfold before me rather than my pushing it all from the mind. I bow to the wisdom of my body, and of my heart. The mind is just one part of the system but the body is my wisdom keeper and silence is her greatest ally.
I'm now working on developing many of my practices, workshops and events around this vital concept of stillness and deep listening. I intend to study some yoga practices that will bring more yin into that part of my life too, and into the lives of others. You can only really teach what you know, so I thank this adrenal burnout for being my greatest teacher in life.
Please get in touch if you would like to know more about how you can heal from adrenal burnout, or to learn more about my upcoming events. Meanwhile, I share this beautiful Rumi Poem with you as it sums up for me the essence of surrender and becoming one. I see the 'beloved' as my relationship with all this 'illness' brought to me, and my deepest inner self.
“A lover asked his beloved,
Life; it often has other ideas about itself than those we perceive.
This week I received the sad news about the untimely death of Matt Campbell, semi finalist on last years Masterchef The Professionals. It's fair to say that I spend most of my time thinking about food, love and healing, in fact the only times I really ever watch television, its usually a program invested in, or about one of those three things, Masterchef being one of them.
Personally there's not a great deal on there I love in terms of food I want to create; it's highly meat focussed so as a vegan and raw foodie, it rarely grabs me on that level, but the creativity I see always inspires me, so that's why I watch. Last year, Matt Campbell changed that for me.
Matt cooked with kombucha, spirulina, miso, chlorella, raw cacao, charcoal, and other superfood ingredients and he took risks. He presented plant based dishes made with 'weird' stuff to a mainstream audience and won their respect in doing so. The judges were often perplexed (not sure why as it's a foodie programme so surely the reach goes beyond meat and two veg?!!), the public were curious, but above all, Matt's soft and humble ways won people over.
After Masterchef aired, I contacted Matt via Instagram, and to my astonishment, he replied. He replied with the same humility I'd seen from him on the program; open, kind and generous with his time. We struck up an instagram 'friendship', I would chat with him about his recipes and even won his coveted Miso Souffle recipe in an Instagram competition. He sent it over to me requesting it wasn't shared as it had 'taken him years to perfect'. Reading that email now feels slightly surreal and I'm no longer sure if it's appropriate to share that now or keep it to myself as he requested?
After Matt was knocked out, I watched his Instagram account grow massively in the weeks that followed, heartened to know that more people may become open to cooking and creating with these kind of ingredients as a result of his work. He was overwhelmed by the responses he got on there, yet he still made time to talk to people. I told him "one day I will learn from you when you teach cooking workshops" and he laughed amiably, saying "no plans for that yet."
Then about 3 weeks ago, he came to Manchester to create food for the Real Junk Food Project, using marked for 'waste' ingredients from New Smithfield Market. His instagram story feed showing all this food waste shocked me. I messaged him about it.
"Please tell me that's not waste" I said.
He replied "It is, it's crazy! Our food system is crazy! It felt so good to cook for 50 people with food that would have been wasted." His enthusiasm for that was clear in his story feed. It's still there on his page but kind of painful to watch now.
I asked him if I could lend his voice to this if I started some food based activism around it. I wished him luck for the marathons.
Two weeks later and he is not here any more. Twenty nine years old and gone, just like that.
I felt such deep sadness at the unfairness of life.
Then I began to really think about what makes people exceptional instead of just good. Passion is what makes people exceptional, and I have that for my juices, my smoothies, my kombucha and healing tonic drinks. I've decided that I will go beyond 'good' at what I do and become exceptional. I will practice. I saw Matt practicing every single moment he could in his kitchen. Endless failures before discovering the one success, but that one success makes it all worth it, in fact, I'm starting to realise that every great creator works this way. They don't give up, they work hard to develop mastery and they are patient, really patient.
I'm currently developing a miso kombucha in Matt's name because I know how much he loved kombucha, and miso of course! I've started noticing an avalanche of recipe ideas coming through. All it takes is my attention, and if I am lucky enough to have life, and my health, then I will give my attention to all I do. Whether it's my yoga practice, my juicing, my food, my healing workshops, my friendships, it matters not. What matters is that I am present, that I give my f**king attention to these things that make up my life, because we just don't know when that moment may be taken from us right?
Rest in Love Matt, you were a real gentleman and a true inspiration. Thank you xox
Check out my interview with the lovely Richard Enion of Enrich'd as we speak about Maca, the Peruvian Superfood wonder! If you enjoy my interviews with inspiring people, please subscribe to my YouTube channel. There will be lots more in the coming months, all with a focus on health, wellbeing, spirituality, sexuality, breathwork, healing, shamanism and more! You can find me here - enjoy!
I've been listening to a lot of mantra lately and it's fair to say it's having an effect!
I started listening to mantra several years ago now, but as my yoga practice has developed, my love of mantra has too, in fact I'd go so far as to say I have found deep comfort in the vibrations of many of these mantras. I also discovered that I totally adore singing them as well, and that something in me really comes to life when I do.
Mantra is an ancient form of sound healing, and sound healing has been growing in popularity in recent years. People are really starting to recognise the power of sound vibration on the body, and therefore the mind and the psyche. Even mainstream healthcare has been adopting it for healing! So, how exactly does it work?
Cymatics is the science of sound and wave phenomena, pioneered by Swiss philosopher Dr Hans Jenny. He recognised that sound has an effect on the things that surround it, observing that the same effect occurred in the human body. You may have seen the incredible youtube videos of remarkable patterns forming in sand in response to different sound frequencies, they are pretty mind blowing! Simple sine wave frequencies create different patterns and response on not just sand, but water and other materials too, and so it makes sense that as human beings made up of over 60% water, we will similarly be affected by these sound waves.
Many cultures use sound to induce trance like states, think of the Shaman's Drum and Tibetan Bowls and Gongs, well, mantra is another of these ancient forms - in the beginning was sound. Sound has resonance, it creates effect in the listener, it's quantum physics in it's simplest and most honest form insofar as we are experiencing the way things affect our vibrational field and our energetic body; sound is one of the powerful impactors there is.
I know when I put my mantras on repeat, apart from it driving my teenage son mad, it makes me feel blissful after a while, and what's more, I really notice the change in my energy and inner peace when I do.
In the Vedic tradition, sound vibration is known as Nada. In the practice of Nada Yoga, sound is used not only to restore physical and mental well-being but also as a path to spiritual awakening. Nada Yoga divides sound into external sounds, Ahata, and internal sounds, Anahata, which is also the sanskrit name for the heart chakra - I love that!
I highly recommend you try this for yourself. Find a few great ones, you can always follow my public playlists on Spotify if you don't know where to start. Try listening to them for a few days at a time, on repeat if you find you can, and observe the effect they have. I also recommend you book a sound healing session or journey with a reputable practitioner. My friend Gavin offers beautiful journeys if you're in the North West of England, and you can discover more here.
My current favourites are listed here, and believe me I have many!
But don't stop there, explore! A wonderful world of sound awaits you! Meantime try this easy exercise for yourself and see how it feels:
Humming Bee Breath
I hope you enjoy the mantra below, it's pure bliss to me, my current favourite. A mantra to return you to pure consciousness and to remind us of our ones with the absolute. Enjoy xox
I want to write this blog post today whilst the feeling is still so present in my heart. We ran a new moon women's sweat today, a change from the usual full moon women's lodges. It was strong medicine!
My second time leading the women's sweat lodge ceremony, we met on beautiful land out in Cheshire, land which my friend and treasured co-creator John has been custodian of for the last 19 years. I'm grateful to John for opening the space up for me to run lodges for women; the tradition here has been for long standing mixed lodges, and since last year, for men only sweats too, but until this year, there wasn't a women only space for the sisters to gather and share this way. We all need our own space sometimes, and although there is deep delight in coming together for the mixed lodges, we certainly all benefit from having the time to share in single gender (self determined) spaces.
These lodges come from deep lineages and traditions. For me personally, it's not something I take lightly because I recognise the importance of putting in the work before stepping up, and also I genuinely seek to stay humble in my presence in the lodge either as an attendee or a lodge leader, but I'm human and I think it's fair to say that the ego can be a tricky little bugger sometimes! Still, I'm on its tail, that rascal!
I've been attending lodges now since before my children were born, so for over 25 years - that fact shocks me! Twenty five years of sweating my prayers and offering up my stories and my gratitudes. My first lodge and most after that were led by the Deer Tribe in their monthly full moon lodges over in Unstone in Derbyshire, then I attended lodges within other healing ceremonies, usually less intense in those cases as their function was more for purification cleansing before or after ceremony, and then once in my shamanic training too. They're far from an easy ride, and I value that.
Modern day life in the west can be a life of convenience; convenience food, convenience stores, and many convenient ways to short cut or bypass our thoughts, feelings and emotions. The sweat lodge will not allow you to circumnavigate your relationship with yourself, for in there, everything seems to rise up to be felt and seen.
Most lodges run for four or five rounds of 'prayer,' not in the Christian sense of 'prayer' though I guess for some it may be like that, a lodge is non-denominational whilst deeply honouring of the roots of it all. Our prayers are offered more in the indigenous sense of building a relationship with life, with nature, and intentionally walking what the North American First Nations refer to as the 'Good Red Road' or the 'Beauty Way'. In our lodges, as with many, each round of prayer focusses on one of the four cardinal directions (N,E,S,W), with the lodge leader occasionally calling in a fifth round for integrating all of the previous rounds into the fifth direction in the centre - you!
A 'round' will last for 20-30 minutes on average depending on how many people are in the lodge, how long their prayers are, and how the fire keepers are managing the rocks and the wood needed to keep the rocks heated in the heart of Grandfather Fire outside the sweat. Ultimately a lodge will usually last for 2-3 hours, and the preparation for it, the sharing, the meditating, the building of the lodge and the chopping of the wood (the labour is an important part of our humble service), and the packing down from it, those labours take up the rest of the day. We set aside a full day for this ceremony and it warrants that. There are no convenience short cuts.
Safety is of the essence - alcohol and drugs shouldn't be taken for at least 24 hours, and preferably more, before a sweat. The heat is crazy intense, and builds up with each round. By round three, usually the round in which we come to face our own shadows and personal demons, exhaustion is showing, resistance is showing, and we may want to get out at this point. Staying creates healing as we acknowledge those shadows and find the courage to sit with them, to give them space, to let go, through tears, words, gratitudes, and surrender. Preparing by abstaining from our usual or frequent habits and from food (we fast from the evening before until after the sweat is complete) is a necessary and important part of the lodge protocol.
Many indigenous cultures have a strong relationship with nature and the earth, have rites of passage, rituals with specific intended outcomes or meanings, and live in ways which honour both the youth and elders in a community for their respective blessings and gifts. We tend to have few rites of passage, few circles or councils of elders, and we relegate kids into a "what do they know place", whilst the Earth is simply something many people seem to ignore until it shows signs of biting back; if you're reading this, there's a strong chance you're probably one of the ones that don't do that (I hope), but many do. I still want to weep when I see someone wind down their car window and toss out their empty coffee cups, cigarette wrappers and old take away boxes onto the street. I do the work to raise my capacity to contribute well, to live a good life, and to be of service in the creation of a healthy, loving planet.
For me, these ceremonies grow my awareness, increase my sense of accountability and build my sense of community. They also offer me important ways to check in with what's really going on for me, to work consciously to change the things that aren't working, and to improve or develop the things that are. If I find I'm offering the same prayers in recurring lodges, then I know I have work to do in that area. Similarly, I can track the things that have shifted and which are no longer an issue for me - celebration time!
The rocks represent the Abuelos, the Grandfathers, the lodge the womb of the Earth, the Great Mother. The fire holds the energy of the Masculine which enters the lodge with reverence and in union with the Feminine aspects of life. When we pour the water over the rocks, we see the steam that is created as the 'breath of the Creator' and that breath carries our prayers out of the lodge into the aether where they may be released and transformed. It's like the Universe is rooting for us, "come on - you can do this; you must do this! The Earth needs you!"
The East holds the energy of new beginnings, the element of fire (think of the sun rising in the East), new potential, birth, seedlings of ideas, projects, and the feminine creation energy.
The South holds the energy of innocence, childhood, purity of spirit and laughter, remembering our naturalness with the element of water as we shed our cleansing tears, or learn to flow around life's obstacles.
The West holds the energy of the physical body, the Dreamtime, the darkness both within and without. It's the direction of the setting sun, of stillness and of silent meditation; it represents the archetype of the Healer, and its element is Earth, grounding, rooting, stabilising, Earth.
The North holds the energy of the Warrior; the wisdom of age, the white haired ones, and elders, and our own blood ancestors. It's about taking charge of your life and your destiny and standing firm in that resolve, and with this comes the element of Air representing mental clarity, alertness and the mind.
The word INIPI (another word for Sweat Lodge) literally means 'To Live Again'. We bring ourselves in true humility into the lodge to learn about letting go, about death and therefore about re-birth. I think it's a practice ground for conscious dying, and it's certainly not for the faint hearted. These rounds get hot, and I mean really HOT! They take us to our edges and often push us over them, and they will tear down our small world view and replace it with something much bigger if we can allow the changes to happen, because of course our work does not begin and end in a ceremony; any ceremony!
If you would like to know more about our lodges, and about upcoming dates, please request to join our Facebook Group Sweat Lodges and Healing Events. We are always open to those who are open to new ways of seeing things and of doing things. "Keep on doing what you've always done and you'll always get what you've always got" - and who wants that!
The next men's lodge is on April 29th with John, and the next women's lodge is on 13th May with Steph. Our next mixed lodge is on the Summer Solstice on Wednesday 20th June and is with both Steph & John leading together.
CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
Welcome to my healthy living blog.