Medicine wheel

Among the many reasons why I choose to practice Forrest yoga, I enjoy the Native American teachings that are incorporated into each yoga session. I’ve always felt drawn to cultures that honor and appreciate nature. Those that are mindful of the interconnectivity between humans and the rest of the world.

I believe the brain has a profound impact on how we experience the world. That’s to say, if you’re in a bad mood then the world is a nasty place. If you’re in a good mood, then the world is a happier place. And I really think a lot of people are impacted by the moods of those around them, and their environment.

For example, imagine driving down the road when all of a sudden a car comes racing up behind you, lays on the horn, and then swerves around to pass you. How’s your blood pressure? What are you thinking about right now? Are you cursing the person out? Has that one action shifted your experience of the world? Did your mood change? Mine would. My thoughts would probably focus on that one person’s actions for a chunk of time. Of course, I would get over it. But how would my driving change while I was feeling aggressive towards this other driver? Would I pass my bad mood on to someone else?

So, what’s this example have to do with yoga? To me, the practice of yoga and the incorporation of the Native American teachings helps me to look at situations like that one a bit differently. It’s all in my head, and I’m trying to change the narrative.

Lotus candle on altar

When I lay my mat towards the medicine wheel at the center of the yoga studio, I bring my mind into a different space. This is a sacred time where I can stop and reflect on what’s been going on in my life and how I’ve been reacting to it. The environment of the yoga studio is nurturing and supportive. It’s not just about a workout for my body.

Medicine wheel altar

The medicine wheel is symbolic of the wheel of life. Each direction on the wheel represents a phase in life, like seasons. The North is winter, the East is spring, the South is summer, and the West is autumn. Each quadrant is given a definition. Spring is, obviously, a time of birth. This is the direction where you can look for illumination and awareness.

I choose to look at the medicine wheel like a tool. A tool that gives me third-party perspective. Where am I in the cycle of this situation? Do I need rebirth in this situation? To change something. Do I need more introspection? To think about something from another person’s perspective.

Before we start the yoga session, we take time to choose what we’re dedicating our practice to. And if I’ve got a problem nagging on me, then I can name my intention for my practice. Clarity.

So during the hour of intense physical movements that require my brain to focus on what I’m doing, I can pull away from my narrative. And when we close the session with a relaxation pose, I can look at that same nagging problem with a different perspective. My mind is clear and focused, and maybe I can see a solution that wasn’t apparent to me before. Or maybe it’s not that specific. Maybe during that session I just needed to get in touch with my body and feel areas of tightness or pain. It doesn’t have to be profound to be worthy of my time. But the act of making time to recharge and relax is infinitely worth it.

Candles on medicine wheel altar

When I change the narrative, I can see a different side to the story. And if I learn my lesson, maybe the next time someone comes zooming past me dangerously on the highway I won’t let the moment rattle me. I’ll take a deep breath and remember that person might have a very good reason for their behavior.

For example, another way to retell the same story from above…you just received “the” call. Your child has been badly hurt and has been rushed to the hospital. You’re panicked and just want to get there and see her. Everywhere you look there’s a car in the way, blocking your path to your child. Get out of the way, people! Your foot presses down hard on the pedal and you race toward your destination, flying past the other cars. Hang in there, kiddo. Mom is on the way.

In short, the yoga studio gives me a space to do all of this. The instructor, Kelly, brought the Native American medicine wheel into the studio. And that decision changed the configuration of the studio. Now yoga practitioners sit around the altar in a circle where we all face each other. No one’s view is blocked. In other studios, I might be shoved into the back corner of the room. In that environment I might choose to wimp out and lose focus. But in the open circle I am a part of the tribe. My involvement is noticed.


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4 thoughts on “Medicine wheel

  1. How fortunate you are to have been able to find a safe haven for your body, spirit and soul. To be able to recharge, learn and grow is priceless.

    1. I am truly blessed, Bella.
      I’m continually amazed by the diversity and talent that hides in such a small town. And I’m thankful for the people who are willing to share their knowledge and welcome the rest of us into their hearts and minds.
      Thanks for visiting my little ol’ blog, and for sharing your supportive comments with me. It’s fun to make virtual friends across the world…and closer.

  2. Great post, Jenn! This is my first time hearing of a medicine wheel before and I love the idea of incorporating it into yoga practice. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get out there to join you. Also, your driving story is one that I relate to. I always imagine stories about why someone is driving in what seems to me like a stupid way. One of my favorites is that when someone is driving exceedingly slow, or especially when they take a corner super slow, I always imagine that they’re transporting a wedding cake.

    1. That’s a great visual, Annie. The next time I’m behind someone pulling out of a parking space at a snail’s pace, I’ll have to remember “wedding cake”. 😉

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