So how do yoga and shamanism come together? In 2006, Kripalu presenter Ray Crist was recovering from a debilitating illness. A yoga teacher, martial artist, and Reiki practitioner, Ray had spent four years traveling the world seeking those who could heal him. His quest took him from the Buddhist monasteries on the borders of Cambodia to the clinics of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. But when he ventured into the jungles of Peru to study with Incan shamans, the experience opened new doors of perception—and healing—within himself.
Guided by Don Manuel Portugal, a shaman in Cuzco, Peru, Ray discovered the culture, mythology, and practices of Incan shamanism. “Shamans are the medicine people of their tribe,” Ray says. “Their methods of healing center on the ‘energy body’ and plant medicine.” The deeper he delved into Incan shamanism, the more he began to notice profound similarities with yoga. “Yogis and shamans view the world as a physical world,” he explains. “Traumatic experiences are embedded in the body—near a joint, muscle, meridian, internal organ, or chakra. Yoga and shamanism help us delve into the root of our traumas to find healing on physical and emotional levels.” Ray began incorporating shamanistic principles into his yoga practice, imbuing it with a new richness. “Shamanism brought to my practice a direct awareness of energy moving through my body, a visceral understanding of what each asana offers,” he says.
After two months, Ray returned to the United States not just in good physical health, but with a renewed sense of purpose. He established the Jaguar Path, a training that fuses the wisdom of yoga and Incan shamanism to create a system for empowerment using healing tools from both methodologies.
According to Ray, the serpent represents the body. Just as the serpent sheds its skin, so we let go of that which no longer serves us. “The serpent is linked to the asana practice,” Ray explains. “Through our physical yoga practice, we release toxins and let go of unnecessary layers.” The jaguar represents the mind and the heart of the path. “The human mind is driven by fear,” says Ray. “Jaguar practices create a strong, fearless mind, for in the jungle the jaguar is the ruler of its domain and knows no fear.” The condor represents the spirit, able to see the greater picture as it rises above. “The condor is meditation, shamanic journeying, flying wing to wing with the great spirit. What yoga and shamanism do that is so powerful is to use archetypes—the symbols of strength, wisdom, and courage that live within each of us. Archetypes, such as the serpent, condor, and jaguar, help us establish a better foundation of who we are.”
When the serpent, jaguar, condor (body, mind, spirit) merge, energetic shifts occur. This merger is union, which is the essence of yoga and shamanism. “The shamanic tools of the Jaguar Path give us new ways of perceiving ourselves, personal empowerment, and direction in life,” says Ray. “We journey from a place of lack (I want) to a place of abundance (what I can offer). Embarking on the Jaguar Path means tapping into the healer within, opening the mind and freeing the body to release deeply held samskaras, or energy blocks, that lie buried within the subconscious.”
Ray teaches that the word “shaman” means “the knower” in the Tungusic language. “In other words, knowing the self, being cognizant of what’s happening around you and within you,” he says. “We are all innately shamans, but we’re not trained to recognize it.” Ray hopes the Jaguar Path awakens the inner seer, the inner warrior and healer, that potential within all of us to carve our own path with clarity and strength.
Like ley lines running across time and space until they intersect, creating vortices of complimentary powers where the whole is measured to be greater than the sum of its parts, the ancient traditions of yoga and shamanism have naturally met in shamanic yoga.
Giving birth to an energetic and holistic psycho-spiritual technology that necessarily accounts for all parts of being, it’s as if the Amazon river has met with Mother Ganges, creating a powerful source that we have only just begun to dip our feet into.
Shamanic yoga philosophy holds that we create the reality around us, based on our experiences and insights—the problem is that these insights can be flawed, sometimes fatally.
These misconceptions are difficult to see and thus difficult to eradicate; this reality is known to yogis as Maya (illusion, delusion).
Shamanic yoga describes this as the multi-dimensional hologram of reality, constructed by the brain through perception, which is heavily modified by our expectations and past experiences—our stories—but this hardly gives a total (or accurate) experience of reality.
My reality is mine alone; at most I can only have a superficial connection to the world, as it is perceived by other beings. Biological and learned patterns determine what will be perceived by me—and how my brain (and its patterns of thought) decides how perception is interpreted.
Based on this interpretation, I make decisions about what I will think, say, do. Based on the mind’s assessment of the results of this interpretation, it will, like self-correcting (or self-reinforcing) software, rewrite the model from my perception, all the way up to cognition.
But the assessment of the results is based on the original model. The decision of how to rewrite is not necessarily based on any better information than was originally there, which is how we can keep making the same actions based on the same perceptions, even when they clearly do not serve us.
In active alcoholism, this is one definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.
The information coming in to the brain is encoded in neurochemical signals—but so much is dropped along the way; organizational processes, such as pattern recognition, deletion, compression and conditioning, filter and simplify the information.
With the simplified and usually ego-reinforcing information being selected, we begin building our hologram. We make our dream hologram come alive and keep it breathing through the stories we tell ourselves about the world.
In cognitive psychology, these stories are known as schemata, stereotyping or archetypes. Groupings are not just intellectual—they can be perceptual, experiential and fully emotional. They give rise to our verbal cognitive selves.
The sum total, in combination with your moment-to-moment sensory inflow, is your experience of consciousness.
Schemata are used to decide what to perceive or not, decide how something is to be perceived, assess value and quality (assigning a positive or negative value charge), evaluate background meaning or interpretation, decide what to remember or not, silently add new information, objects and events that were never there and take away that which was there, help us know how to do things–all elements that can easily be flawed.
We often tell ourselves stories to just believe what we are most comfortable believing and any information that conflicts with this is simply deleted or ignored.
This isn’t good enough, especially for the the enlightened way of thinking the planet requires now—yoga is the technology of understanding the human organism.
Shamans (including ancient yogis) have sought to penetrate, transform and understand their consciousness, probably since long before recorded history. One of the main tools for the transformation of consciousness is shifting perception; this is how shamans learn the details of the organic machine they inhabit.
Moving into their subconscious to know their schemata from the ground up, so they can harness the power to gain greater understanding; they are the original “scientists of consciousness.”
The true shamans/yogis/gnostics/mystics/sufis stretch the limits of their outward perception in every possible way as part of their (ritualized or not) external process. Their internal process constitutes learning everything about their instrument.
Shamans recognize that other beings (and even things) have different consciousness; therefore they study how to communicate as deeply as possible with other parts of creation by dissolving their sense of identity into other people, plants, animals, rocks, starscapes, etc.
Yoga equals samadhi; shamanism equals fusion—all of it means ego dissolution.
Our job in shamanic yoga is to become aware of the hologram we are in and reprogram our consciousness to expand it.
To concretize this abstraction, we can consider the loop of consciousness in shamanic yoga and how our arising perception/experience of the present moment and the consciousness which encompasses that moment are formed from the personality matrix of past learning.
We can then teach ourselves to understand why this matrix is composed of conditioned responses or what the Buddha called, sankharas.
Qualitative conclusions are then drawn from this unique (limited) perception of the world around us; this is where we label people, places and things as good or bad, positive or negative.
Once we have labelled something according to our own limited world view, we react to these labels, either internally or externally—and these reactions are also based on our identity and the experiences that forms it. We then engage in relearning, reconditioning and subconsciously reinforcing our sankharas from our conclusions and our responses to them.
This reforms and rebuilds our identity and perception itself, making the cycle even stronger for the next repetition.
If the core tenet of karma yoga is that action stems from the depths of the subconscious, we must somehow learn to really penetrate, communicate with and practice in these deep subconscious regions.
The stated goal of shamanic yoga is to understand and then break into this loop of consciousness, to intentionally “rewire” it; this is vital if we are at all interested in breaking free of illusion and delusion and eventually entering into a reality beyond mind and matter, i.e. samadhi.