by Suburban Artemis
Coming to paganism is a highly individual experience, and there are as many reasons for being pagan as there are pagans. Many of us come seeking a spiritual path that embraces the physical body, rather than denying it. But how much of that do we live on a day to day basis? Are we really present in our bodies? Are we honoring our bodies as repositories for the divine?
Hatha yoga, the physical practice of yoga we are most familiar with in the west, is a set of tools which may be used by practitioners of any religion or tradition. Like witchcraft, it is a means of manipulating energy for a specific purpose, and these tools may be used by anyone of any faith to move along their chosen path.
My project, Suburban Artemis, grew out of my desire to explore the connections between yoga and western pagan practice. My students enjoy the well-known benefits of yoga practice, such as increased strength, flexibility, and focus, in addition to furthering their pagan practice through creative means of connecting to their bodies, the elements, and the deities they revere. Below, I will share a practice which illustrates some simple ways in which yoga poses can deepen our spiritual work.
Meeting the Ancestors: A Restorative Yoga Practice
Ancestors: Not Just for Samhain!
Have you heard of “Christmas and Easter Christians”? People who only go to church on holidays and forget about it the rest of the year? Well, I was a “Samhain Pagan”. When it came to ancestor work, I would spend October in a flurry of research and preparation for welcoming those who came before me, only to forget about the connection the other eleven months of the year.
Maintaining a year-round connection with your ancestors (however YOU define them) can make a huge difference in your daily life. Ancestors are your tribe! By keeping a simple ancestor altar in a common space (like the kitchen), it is easy to get in the habit of offering little things they like to eat or even just lighting a candle each time the family gathers. In addition to keeping an altar, spending time in meditation with the spirits of those who came before you is a lovely way to find guidance for issues that come up in daily life. Below I will describe some yoga poses which will help you meet your ancestors in a full-body meditation.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Find a comfortable, quiet spot on the floor where you won’t be disturbed, preferably near your ancestor altar. If you have a yoga mat you could use it, but it’s not necessary. Grab some blankets or towels and have them folded nearby, and if you have a yoga block, set that out as well.
POSE #1: SAVASANA (Corpse Pose)
For best results in this practice, and for your own safety, it is important to take a little time to ground, center and shield before you begin the meditation. Lay down on your back, and find a comfortable position, if possible with the legs extended and the arms by the sides. Become still, close your eyes and focus on your breath. In my own practice, I like to imagine roots growing down from my spine into the earth and breathing earth energy up into my body, then out around me like a shield. You may do this in the way that is appropriate to your own tradition. Take your time. When you have created your shield, seal it with the intention that only well and elevated ancestors may enter your space and interact with you.
Bring your knees in to your chest and move your feet and toes. If you are preparing to commune with blood ancestors, imagine the ways in which your feet look and move like theirs. Look at your hands. Use them to move your knees in circles. Bend and straighten your legs. Explore all of your body you can see here, lying on your back. You might even receive images in your mind from ancestors you did not know in life, pointing out your physical similarities.
POSE #2: SUPPORTED TWIST
With your knees in toward your chest, let them drop over to one side while keeping both of your shoulders on the ground. If your legs do not quite reach the ground, you can support them with folded blankets underneath or in between (see photo). If it feels all right for your neck, turn your head in the opposite direction.
Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Twists act on the body like the wringing out of a sponge, allowing us to “squeeze out” anything that does not serve our practice. Holding the twist, reflect on anything you have inherited from your ancestors that is not serving you. (Remember, your shield is in place to protect you from any energy with malicious intent). Be open to images that arise both from those you knew in life as well as those you have only heard about, and even those ancestors so far back you know nothing about them. Let that unwanted inheritance dissolve with your exhales. Stay on this side for 3-5 minutes, or as long as seems necessary for your work, and then repeat the movement and meditation on the other side.
POSE #3: SUPPORTED BRIDGE
Place the soles of your feet on the mat and lift your hips up toward the ceiling. You may want to move in and out of this, rolling up and down the spine, several times before holding the pose. When you are ready to hold, slide a yoga block or a folded blanket underneath your hips (not the low back). Let your hips rest on the support and take your arms out wide. If it feels better to extend your legs forward on the ground, you may do so.
Close your eyes and breathe deeply. With the front of your body stretched and open, you are ready to receive messages from your ancestors about what work they would like you to carry on. Keep your mind quiet and open to anything that arises. Your creative center is elevated, ready to hear your calling and bring it to birth. Stay here for 3-5 minutes, then lift the hips, remove the prop, and hug your knees to your chest.
POSE #4: SUPPORTED HEART OPENER
Roll onto one side and press yourself up to seated. Fold a blanket or towel so that one side is about as long as your spine and then roll it up. Sit in front of it and lower your spine down so you are laying on the roll. You can use a second blanket as a pillow at the top if you need more support for your head. You may keep the soles of the feet on the mat or extend your legs forward. Take your arms as wide as is comfortable.
SUPPORTED HEART OPENER
Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the space in your chest in this shape – lots of room for your heart, for love and gratitude to grow. Take some time now to reflect on the sacrifices your ancestors made so you could be here right now. You may know some of their stories. Some may come through revelation in this moment. Hold this space of gratitude in communion with your ancestors for 3-5 minutes. Then carefully roll off of the blanket on one side and press yourself up to a seated position.
Sit with your legs crossed or any way that is comfortable for you. With your spine tall and your shoulders relaxed, drop your chin to your chest and begin to rock your head from side to side. Feel a gentle compression in your throat, activating your communication center. Tune in to anything your ancestors need to say through you. You are their voice. If it feels good, begin to make full circles with your head in both directions, stretching the throat and opening yourself up to speaking their truth.
POSE #5: CHILD’S POSE
Stretch your legs and come onto your hands and knees. Press your hips back to your heels and walk your hands forward until you can put your forehead on the ground. You may take your knees as wide as you need to make space for your body. If the forehead does not reach the ground, fold up a blanket or place a yoga block underneath. Anchor your third eye on the ground or the block. Tune in to any other messages your ancestors may have for you. If you get the feeling you should spend some more time in this shape, fold up several blankets and place them between your knees so your chest and one cheek may rest on them in supported child’s pose for 3-5 minutes.
SUPPORTED CHILD’S POSE
POSE #6: SAVASANA
Remove your props and come back to lying on your back as you did in the beginning. Still your body, close your eyes and allow yourself to rest, absorbing all the benefits of your practice. You may stay in Savasana as long as you like; at least 5 minutes is recommended.
Suburban Artemis offers private and group yoga classes in Orange County, CA. To learn more about my projects and public yoga classes, visit www.suburbanartemis.com or follow me on Facebook and Instagram (@suburbanartemis). To experience a complete yoga session with Suburban Artemis, including music and guided meditation on connecting with the ancestors and many other themes, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suburban Artemis encompasses the creative work of Heather Westenhofer, artist, certified yoga instructor and second-degree priestess of the Twilight Spiral Coven in Southern California. Drawn to art and religion at an early age, the interplay of these interests manifested itself in many different careers and hobbies. After a period of upheaval, darkness, and introspection, Heather began to synthesize a way forward in communion with the spirits and beliefs of her ancestors. She came to rest in the old religion, honoring the natural world and the divine in both male and female form. She has dedicated her life to birthing the creative work of the goddess, bringing the numinous to earth, and releasing the untamed into the domestic sphere.