In one of his presentations Dr. Joe Tafur, an American medical doctor and co-founder of Peruvian healing center Nihue Rao, relates that from the indigenous shamanic perspective, issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction, autoimmune disease and psychosomatic illness are caused by an accumulation of negative energies due to physical and emotional traumas, environmental toxins, poor diet, grief, sadness, anger and related blockages.
In the indigenous context, it’s the healer’s work to remove these malas energias (bad energies) and oscuridad (darkness) through limpieza (cleaning) with diet, plant medicines, healing songs and the other therapies that make up Traditional Amazonian Plant Medicine (TAPM). If not treated, these blocked energies result in illness. Dr. Tafur’s teacher and resident master healer at Nihue Rao, Ricardo Amaringo, stresses that if we don’t have a shaman to clean those blockages, over time they start to manifest as physical illness. Ricardo says that the work they do in the maloca, the ceremonial long house that acts as a sort of jungle hospital, is primarily limpiar, centrar, y abrir — to clean, to center, and to open.
This approach is in alignment with the path of yoga, where the initial focus is on first clearing and purifying the physical and energetic bodies through postures and breathwork, allowing the practitioner to establish their awareness in the heart center, which opens them to an experience of unity, wholeness, joy and unconditional love. Both traditions recognize that in order to truly love another and live a creative and fulfilling life, we need to first know and love our self on the deepest level.
The problem for those of us living in a secular, materialist, consumer culture is that we’ve become disconnected from our own shamanic traditions and don’t have someone to clean us out when we need it. Modern allopathic medicine doesn’t have the answer for much of the physical, mental and emotional illnesses that many Westerners are suffering from, so we’ve started to look elsewhere for healing. Many people have found help in travelling to places like South America where shamanism is still actively practiced, but that’s only an option if you can afford the time and expense to make the trip. Besides, an over-reliance on something like ayahuasca tourism raises a myriad of other complex sociological and ecological issues.
The thing that makes yoga such a valuable gift is that it enables you to clean and center yourself on a daily basis wherever you might be, with nothing more than a little space to move and sit comfortably, so that you can remain healthy and open to the fullness of life.
Travelling to South America and participating in ayahuasca ceremonies may, in cases of physical/emotional/spiritual crisis, be necessary to receive an initial deep cleaning — like an emergency treatment — but it’s not financially or ecologically possible to rely on it to maintain our mental and physical health long term. Also, because shamanism and yoga work in much the same way, engaging in a regular personal yoga practice helps to integrate the peak experience of the plant medicine ceremony and bring the magic, mystery and inspiration of the jungle into your everyday life. All of this points to yoga as a valuable complement to any shamanic healing work, specifically because it is an ancient shamanic healing technology itself.
Based on the problems that we’re seeing in the wake of the global rise in ayahuasca and other plant medicine use, it’s imperative that we city-dwellers find some way, in the absence of the local village healer, to be our own shaman and take a proactive role in our ongoing health and healing that is financially and ecologically sustainable.
You can watch Dr. Joe Tafur’s excellent presentation in full on YouTube: