lessons from the lodge.

Lessons from the Lodge

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The other night I experienced my first sweat lodge ceremony. It was intense, but I learned a lot. I started seeing repeating numbers the day of the ceremony - all day. I saw 222, 333, 444, 1234 on the clock, in license plates, and on buildings. I knew spirit was ready to communicate but I didn’t know how.

I woke up pretty early on the day of the ceremony, around 4:30 am. Most of my day was pretty normal - aside from all of the repeating numbers and excitement, but normally on days that I wake up early I go to bed around 9 or 10 pm. The ceremony started at 8:30pm so I went into it already tired (note to self, or anyone planning to do a sweat: take a nap).

My friend who invited me to the sweat lodge gave me a few instructions to make sure that I would be ready. These were my instructions:

  • Bring a small plate for the feast, and a small tobacco offering for the water pourer.

  • Women wear long cotton skirts and cover their shoulders.

  • Women do not attend on moon time, because this is a time for women to be nurtured and honored.

  • No jewelry or shoes worn in the lodge.

  • Bring a towel and a change of clothes.

  • Drink plenty of water all day to prepare.

  • Have an intent & prayer.

When my fiance, Mike, and I got to the location of the lodge we were nervous but excited. I think he was more nervous, and I was more excited. We gave our offerings and met everyone there. A woman, who I later learned was Aztec, explained more about the lodge to me. Men and women would be on separate sides of the lodge to balance the energy. Before going in, we would walk around the fire clockwise, kneel down, and say aho mitakuye oyasin which means all my relations. I had heard that before, aho mitakuye oyasin, in other ceremonies. She also told me if I ever needed water or needed to get out to use the restroom or anything I would say aho mitakuye oyasin and ask.

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Before we went in, we were smudged by my friend with white sage and juniper berries. An altar was set up with a buffalo skull, and elements that represented each of the directions. I had journaled earlier in the day about my intentions and prayers for each direction. In the Lakota tradition, there are seven directions: center, west, north, east, south, above, and below.

  • Center represents Wakan Tanka (Great Mystery), or Spirit.

  • West represents the Introspection round. It is connected to water, rain, purity, releasing ignorance, The messenger of the West is the Black Eagle and is also home of the Thunder Being. This is the round where we pray for babies, born & unborn.

  • North represents the fulfillment round. It is home to winter, wisdom, and the buffalo nation. The buffalo means a great deal to the Lakota people and represents sacrifice. The messenger of the North is the crane. This is the round where we pray for teenagers.

  • East represents the healing round and new beginnings. East is associated with the sun and brings light and life to all creation. East is home to the elk nation and the messenger is the brown eagle. This is the round where we pray for adults.

  • South represents celebration of love and truth. It is connected with life after death and directs those who walk into the next phase. South is associated with the owl nation and the messenger is the bald eagle. This is the round where we pray for elders.

  • Above is the direction of the sky, and is called grandfather.

  • Below is the direction of the earth below us, called Unchi Maka or grandmother.

My overall intent was to connect to Spirit and receive clarity. I journaled something for each of the directions and had prayers written out. Maybe I should have reread it more because honestly the heat made me forget all but my intent to connect to Spirit.

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The women walked in first and I was between the other two women. We walked clockwise around the fire, past the altar, kneeled and said aho mitakuye oyasin, then crawled into the lodge going clockwise around a pit that would later be filled with hot stones. The Aztec woman was to my right, and another woman to my left. Seven stones were brought in for each of the directions and they burned sweetgrass, one of my favorite smells. It’s sweet yet earthy and it’s one of those smells that feels familiar, like sage or palo santo.

The first round felt lighthearted and warm, but not intensely hot. Four songs were sang, I didn’t know the words so I couldn’t join in but I remember thinking how much I loved it and how I wanted to keep coming and eventually learn the songs so I could sing too. Three people had drums in the lodge. The sound of the drum is so grounding for me. I felt at home.

After the first round they opened the door and cool air came in. Then they added many more stones, I can’t remember if it was 14 or 18 but it was a lot more.

The second round we prayed out loud. I had never done this before. All of the prayers and intentions I had journaled earlier in the day completely left my mind. I said a short prayer when it was my turn. The other prayers were much longer. I tried hard to listen but I was so hot my heart and head were pounding. I started to lay down, earlier I was told that laying down made it less hot. It kind of helped. I must have been hyperventilating though because my arms went tingly and numb and my hands started to involuntarily ball up into fists. That freaked me out. In retrospect I was totally fine. But I didn’t feel fine, so I asked for water halfway through the round. Normally after the prayers we would get water anyway, but since this was my first one I didn’t know that. I drank water and poured some on myself too to cool down.

The third round was the healing round. This was by far the hottest and most intense. Fourteen more stones were placed in the lodge. A chanupa (a ceremonial pipe) went around with red willow in it. I layed down the entire time, which felt like a long time. It got intensely hot and the same numb, tingly feeling happened in my arms. I tried repeating mantras in my mind to stay grounded. It kind of worked. This was the most humbling round for me. I waited for a message from spirit; a sign, a feeling, a vision, something. But what I was expecting never came. What did come instead really surprised me.

After the third round, food that represented each of the four directions came around. Someone explained that we enjoy each bowl passed around so that the spirits can enjoy it too since they do not normally get to experience food. The bowls started with the woman to my left and went clockwise so I was last to receive each bowl. We began with water. Then corn, which is food of the first people and eaten by most tribes. Then, buffalo meat. I’m vegan. Because it started to my left, I knew far in advance what was coming my way. At first I didn’t really know what to do. It felt like it was a part of the ceremony, but at the same time I didn’t think that I would offend anyone if I didn’t eat any of the buffalo meat. I was kind of torn. When the bowl finally got to me I said a little gratitude prayer for the sacrifice of the buffalo. And then I instantly knew that I had to eat some. I thanked it in my mind as I ate it. As I ate this buffalo meat, I felt the spirit of the buffalo. I almost cried. I felt its’ warmth, its’ strength, it’s willingness to sacrifice itself for others. I felt it’s beauty.  I can’t express in words the gratitude that I felt. It wasn’t the type of gratitude you feel in your body, it was a deep, spiritual gratitude. It gave me strength.

This was my message from spirit. This was my lesson. Not to start eating meat and change my lifestyle, but to embody the buffalo. To live in service for others. To use my strength, my warmth, my compassion in service to others. Without the sacrifice of the buffalo, the Lakota people would not have survived the harsh winters. So the buffalo is respected, honored, and loved. The next bowl that was passed was a bowl of blueberries. Eating sweet blueberries felt like a celebration. I received my message from spirit in a way that would never happen outside of the sweat lodge.

The fourth round began with 8 stones, fewer than the rounds before and so much less intense. This round felt more celebratory. There were drums and singing again. A few people shared songs from their traditions. The Aztec woman next to me shared hers. Her voice was beautiful and reminded me somehow of childhood. Her song felt like a Christmas song in Spanish that I had forgotten, even though the song wasn’t in Spanish. I felt tears stream down my cheeks and mix with the sweat that had been running down my face all night. I cried the entire time she sang.

When we finally left the lodge, the air felt cool. I then understood what my friend had said about feeling as though you’d been reborn. The lodge itself is warm, dark, and humid - as if we were in the womb of mother earth. I received so many lessons in the lodge, that leaving it felt like being reborn.


Benefits

There are many benefits to doing a sweat lodge ceremony. The benefits clearly are not just physical, but also mental and spiritual.

Physical Benefits: the body is detoxified, provided with antibacterial benefits, and wound healing benefits.

Mental Benefits: the mind is cleared of any distractions. You have to learn to be in the moment, or your mind may create stories about the heat and keep you focused on the discomfort. It is a very meditative experience.

Spiritual Benefits: the ceremony allows for introspection, connection to the earth, and connection to spirit.

reminiscing. missing.

I missed my grandfather today. I wished he could've been here in Barcelona with me. To show me the places he knew. That were his.


I've always felt that Barcelona was mine. Not mine in a possessive sense. In the way that a certain style is yours, or a habit. Barcelona was mine.


But today I had that sense that he was missing. This city where he had grown up. Where he had lived. That was his. Here I was just reminiscing about every day I'd spent here, without him.  Without him as a guide or a mentor. And now he was missing.

La Rambla de Catalunya, Barcelona  

La Rambla de Catalunya, Barcelona  

inspiration.

Sometimes it's good to remember that inspiration comes with preparation. When I have no inspiration, if I push myself to at least set up my space- whether that means setting up my easel and putting everything into place and mixing paint, or making tea and getting a notebook and my laptop ready for writing - the simple act of setting up my space creates the right mood for inspiration to come join me where I am.

Sometimes you just have to start. Light a candle. Make it special. Dress a certain way to prepare yourself for it. Put on music that inspires you. 

When I was younger, if I so much as painted  my nails I would get struck with ideas for a new painting. If I tried to do homework, simply holding a pen or pencil made me want to sketch. But I think as we get older and we get more responsibilities, we become less inspired because it feels like there isn't enough time for creativity. Of course that's not true. Creativity fuels you. Creating can give you energy to do everything else you do with just a  little bit more joy. 

Let inspiration hit you. And if it doesn't, seek it out. Create space for it. Tell the universe " I'm ready". And let inspiration meet you where you are  

 

sacral chakra & creativity

I've been wanting to write a blog about each of the chakras for a long time now, but not anything formal or even informative.  I just wanted to write the first thing that comes to mind about each. What I've written below actually wrote itself yesterday. It's about creativity. Which is exactly what I think about when I think about the second chakra. 

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But first, a little about the second chakra.

The second chakra is the sacral chakra, or svadisthana. The element of the sacral chakra is water.

Flow. Movement. Emotion.

Amorgos Island, Greece  

Amorgos Island, Greece  

Imbalances here can show up as bottling emotions, or being overly emotional, intimacy issues, repressed sexuality, or issues with addiction. It can also show up as writer's block, loss of creativity, or a loss of authenticity

My svadisthana mantra is "Creativity flows through me like water." And some days it's, "I feel, I'm in touch with my emotions, I'm in touch with my sensuality."

So below is what I wrote yesterday about living a creative life. I felt like it was appropriate to share along with this. Hope you dig. :)

Writing can me to tears.

Reading about writers writing gives me butterflies. It's something that I know is mine. I can feel it in my blood. It rushes through my veins like words rush onto a page. 

I feel this way about teaching yoga. Sometimes I feel this way about painting too. 

You don't have to stick to one calling. You can have all the callings you care to. I nourish my inner creator every time I step on a yoga mat, every time I pick up a paint brush, every time I write.

Sometimes I feel like I don't do it enough but the truth is, I just do it when I feel inspired. And sometimes that's five times in one day and other times it's five times in one year. 

The reason I'm writing this is because it asked to be written. But also because I want you to know that you have permission to create whatever your heart desires. 

You have permission to become anyone or anything that you choose. You do not have to stick to the path you're on.  As human beings we are truly blessed with the ability to create. And we do it every day. We create style when we get dressed. We create culinary art when we cook. We create so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

 And that inner artist in you is begging to be recognized. Just to be acknowledged. Then maybe inspiration will flow to you too. And if it doesn't, just play. There is nothing wrong with making art that isn't "good", whatever that means. It's the process that counts, the journey if you will. The act of making the thing, not the thing itself that is important. 

This is our gift. 

To create. To be inspired. To play. To connect with our divine. Our inner creator. 

This is the magic that exists within each and every one of us. 

Whether you choose to accept the gift, or not is your choice.

This is a public promise to myself that I will write when I feel inspired. That I will paint when I need colour. I will move when my body asks me to move. I will live creatively, because it's the only way I can. This is my soul pledge. 

This is a formal invitation to join the movement. There is enough room for all of us. There is enough inspiration to go around for everyone. Will you come create with us? 

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root chakra & ganesha.

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Starting with the Muladhara chakra, or root chakra. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the root chakra is Ganesha. Ganesha is the Hindu god with the body of a man and the head of an elephant. The very first chant I ever learned was the chant to Ganesha. I cried that very first time, without quite knowing why. It opened up something in me. That same night I found my spirit animal. Ganesha is also the lord of beginnings. It seems fitting that the chant to Ganesha would be my first chanting experience. 

I've chanted to Ganesha countless times since then. Sometimes joyfully, sometimes choking on tears every other syllable. The reason I think of Ganesha when I think of this chakra is because he is the ruler of the Muladhara chakra. "He guards the gate to the pelvic floor" as MC Yogi puts it. He is the remover of obstacles, depicted with an axe to cut through the delusions/illusions or maya of this world. He has a big belly, able to digest all of life's problems. He's also a child god, created by Shakti. I love the story of the birth of Ganesha. Hinduism is rich with elaborate and magical stories. 

To understand the birth of Ganesha, it's important to first understand Shiva & Parvati.  

Shiva&Parvati

Shiva is the great creator. He dances universes into existence. And Parvati is the mother of the universe.  Shiva would often leave for months at a time, dancing in the forests as Nataraja. One day while Shiva was away, Parvati created a statue of a boy out of some clay. He was so lifelike that she decided to give him life. She named him Ganesha. She grew quite fond of him and treated him like her own son. One day she asked Ganesha to stand guard at the door of the palace while she went to take a bath. While Parvati was in the bath, Shiva came back home. Ganesha, following orders and not having met Shiva, wouldn't allow Shiva to come in. Shiva was enraged, and asked his soldiers, the Gunas, to move him out of the way so that he could enter his own home. Each of the Gunas tried, but Ganesha stood his ground. He would not allow Shiva to pass. Shiva grew so angry that he lost his temper and killed the boy, chopping off his head. Parvati heard the fighting and came back to see her now lifeless son. Her rage was greater than Shiva had ever witnessed. She threatened to destroy everything in creation. Brahma, the Creator, took issue with this and pleaded with her to stop. She agreed not to destroy the universe on two conditions; one, that her son be brought back to life, and two, that he become a god worshiped forever above all other gods. Shiva agreed and quickly found a replacement head, the head of an elephant. Ganesha received the name Ganapati which means leader of the Gunas.

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The chant to Ganesha is simple, Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha. Om is the universal sound. Gum is the bija mantra, or seed sound of the root chakra. Ganapataye is the formal name given to Ganesha. And Namaha means I invoke you. 

Click this link to hear Wah's version of the Ganesha mantra on Spotify. 

This chant not only taps into root chakra energy, but it also expresses a willingness to release attachment and a little prayer to help remove obstacles. Happy chanting!

 

make a change.

I recently made a small change in my life. I recommitted myself to care for my planet, my world, by choosing not to support animal agriculture. Over 6 years ago, in an environmental studies class in college I learned about the destruction caused by animal agriculture. And I committed to becoming a vegetarian. I know this is a touchy subject. People are very attached to their habits and to their food. If this is going to offend you, stop reading and come back to it if/when you're ready to hear it. My aim is not to change anyone's mind or persuade anyone to start eating a plant based diet, I just think there's a lot of misinformation out there - mostly perpetuated by the meat and dairy industries. So I only aim to bring a bit of light and awareness to it. 

There are so many different reasons that people choose to eat plant based. Whether it's compassion for animals, care for the environment, or for health reasons - you inevitably reap the benefits of all three reasons. Your health dramatically benefits, the planet benefits, and of course animals benefit.

I grew up, like most people, eating plenty of meat and dairy and believing that it was healthy. Necessary even.  My grandmother is from Cuba and my grandfather was from Spain. Both cultures definitely eat meat and dairy. My dad's side of the family is American and live mostly in the South. They also eat lots of meat and dairy, and also believe this is healthy. It definitely took some time for my family to get used to me being a vegetarian, and it's taking time for them to get used to me being vegan. Food is a big part of people getting together, but it's not the important part. The important part is the connection you have, the conversations you have. Food is secondary. And to me, it wasn't worth risking my planet or my health for.

I honestly think most people who eat meat don't have all of the information. I don't think that people would continue to eat meat in such high quantities once they understand the consequences. But with so much bad information out there, how are we supposed to unveil the truth? How do we unwrite a lifetime of marketing from the meat and dairy industries? 

I encourage you to watch the documentary Cowspiracy. It's on Netflix and it's one of the best documentaries I've seen. If you're interested in learning about the health benefits of a plant based diet, I encourage you to watch Forks Over Knives, also on Netflix. These two films correct some of the misconceptions about eating plant based, and they explain what the risks and repercussions are for eating animal products. Once you know the facts, then you can make your own educated decision.

Leave me a comment if you've watched either of these and let me know how it impacted you! 

say aaa-ommm!

You've heard the sound "om". You've seen the om symbol plastered on the walls of yoga studios, in sticker form all over your yogi friend's cars, all over your favourite celebri-teacher's instagram page, maybe even tattooed on bodies. But what does it mean? According to Google, it's "a mystic syllable, considered the most sacred mantra. It appears at the beginning and end of most Sanskrit recitations, prayers, and texts." And it comes from Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. 

To go into a bit more depth, OM is a sound vibration. It is said to be the sound of the Universe being created. To chant OM brings you into harmony with the Universe, with all that is. Chanting OM in a group fosters a sense of community, togetherness, because it actually synchronizes the brain waves of everyone in the room. It makes you feel at hOMe. Beginning a yoga class by chanting OM gets everyone on the same frequency and produces a powerful, spiritual tone for the class. Ending class with OM lets you leave the class on that same high frequency. It has also been proven to produce a state of mental calmness, serenity and euphoria. 

But let's break it down a little bit more. OM is technically a four syllable sound. A-U-M-silence. The first part, the "aah" sound, represents the beginning or creation. The majority of the world's languages begin with the "ah" sound. It resonates in your lower abdomen, stimulating the lower chakras. The root (Muladhara) and sacral (Svadisthana) chakras. Grounding and connecting you to the Earth, and opening you up to the flow of universal creation. The "ah" sound is also said to symbolize the physical realm of existence.

The second part, the U "ooh" sound, represents the realm of thought or consciousness. The dream state, the imagination. This sound travels up the abdomen, resonating in the upper abdomen, chest, and throat. The "oh" sound activates the solar plexus (Manipura), heart (Anahata), and throat (Vishuddha) chakras. It connects your physical and esoteric worlds. Inspiring truth, clarity, and balance in your life. 

The third sound, the "mmm" sound, represents unmanifest potential. This is your experience during deep, dreamless sleep. It represents the void before the universe came into being. The "mmm" sound resonates in the head, the third eye (or Ajna) chakra. This is the home of your intuition, the pineal gland in your brain. It stimulates your inner sense of knowing. It inspires.

Silence. The final sound in "om" brings about a state of bliss and a feeling of oneness with all that is. It is experienced in your crown chakra (Sahashrara), which is your connection to cosmic consciousness. 

OM represents the waking state, the dream state, the sleep state. It encompasses past, present, and future. Physical, thought, and unmanifest. Essentially OM means everything

Now try it! Aaaaauuuuuuuuummmmm......

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for the next seven generations.

Live with the intention to leave the world better than how you found it...for the next seven generations.  

There is a beautiful Iroquois law that states,  "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation... even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine." 

This is The Great Law of the Iroquois. Everything you do, everything you create, everything you say - you must first consider the effect that it will have on the seventh generation. This law asks you to look about 140 years or more into the future. Look at everything you do...the car you drive, the food you eat, the materials you buy, the way you treat people... and weigh the effects of your choices. Always keeping in mind what it will mean, not only for you and your children, but for the children who are not even a thought yet.

I wish this law had been a universal law for the past 140 years. If we all lived with the next seven generations in mind, would climate change be an issue?

Many of us are good, kind people. Yet we make choices without getting all of the information first and without considering how it will affect even just the next generation. We consume things that destroy rainforests but we do it blindly. Even though we're aware of how awful industrial factory farms are for the environment, we consume. This blind consumption doesn't make us bad people, but it does make us selfish. What if we cared enough about the welfare of those who haven't been born yet to make ALL of our deliberations carefully and with them in mind? What if we truly wanted the best for our grandchildren's grandchildren, and their's after that? 

The truth is, we are responsible for the state of the planet for generations to come. Once we accept this responsibility and choose to honestly do our best I believe we'll take our time and think things through. Maybe the age of convenience will die. Maybe our grocery shopping trips will take longer because we would check the ingredients to make sure we weren't buying anything with palm oil or any other ingredient that could be destructive to the environment. Maybe we would pay closer attention to politics and the state of the world, in hopes that the next seven generations could enjoy peace in their lifetimes. Maybe we'll look ahead. Maybe, just maybe, our thoughts will create a better future for these children who won't exist until long after we are gone. 

 "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. " - Greek Proverb