feathers bird of paradise dance

The squirrels in my backyard teach me quite a lot about the balance between work, play, and rest. The rush of spring and the still of winter help me learn about letting myself have seasons too. Nature’s kaleidoscopic rhythms and motions play out in tiny cells and vast galaxies, and through plants, animals, landforms, and elements. From a shamanic perspective, everything is interconnected. By modeling nature’s ancient patterns of movement, we can find harmonious ways of moving through our world today.

Nature is a perfect guide for practically everything about finding our best and healthiest selves. When we pay attention to the movements of the natural world, we learn about ourselves by focusing outside ourselves. Movement is important to our health, but exercise trends come and go. How, and how often, we should move is a frequent topic of speculation and advice. Fortunately, nature offers free and readily available guidance, not only for the physical movement of exercise, but for the more complex symbolic levels of how movement affects our total health.

Fast and Slow

Literally and figuratively, is it time for you to move quickly or slowly? Pacing is one of the first qualities of motion to consider. Are you ready for a sprint or would a gentle stretch be a better choice? How do different speeds complement each other? If you’ve ever dashed out for a run without warming up, you know it can do more harm than good. This works symbolically too. Think about how you pace yourself energetically, emotionally, and mentally. Which situations benefit from speed, and which from slower, more deliberate actions?

Ebb and Flow

Tides move away from and back toward the shore in recurring cycles. They ebb and flow. How do you move forward and back? Again, consider this literally and symbolically. For physical movement, what kinds of consistent, repeated movements help you to be strong and flexible? On the energetic, emotional, and interpersonal levels, are there areas where you consistently rush in? Do you fall in love and attach too quickly? Do you overwhelm people over with the “strong wave” of your opinions, actions, or presence? If so, try letting yourself ebb a little, easing back. If you tend to hang back, reluctant to “make a splash” or commit, let yourself gather some forward momentum like the incoming tide.

Spiraling and Straight Lines

The spiral is found everywhere in nature, from the double helix of DNA to swirling hurricanes, from shells to the seed pattern of sunflowers, from tendrils of climbing vines to the fiddleheads of new ferns. The spiral form is also part of sacred geometry, architecture, and art. Growth in this pattern creates an extremely strong structure, each turn building on the next. The patterns of nature are often curved, but straight movement is needed at times. Have you watched slow-motion footage of a frog’s tongue catching a bug, or a new green shoot reaching for the sun? Sometimes we need to move straight towards our goal, and that directness pays off. Spiraled movement is not as fast or direct as a straight line, but it’s sustainable and elegant. Which kind of movement do you need right now?

Stillness and Dancing

Stillness holds peace and power, like the tranquil surface of a calm lake or a dark starry night after a big snowfall. But sometimes it’s time to move and dance, letting yourself be free of thought and sinking into pure expression, or dancing with a specific purpose for yourself or with others. The elaborate mating rituals of the bird of paradise are dancing as high art. If you haven’t seen this, watch the Planet Earth segment with David Attenborough narrating. These little guys have some sweet moves! When was the last time you were very still, or danced wildly with yourself or someone special?

Here’s a sample from Shamanism for Every Day: 365 Journeys which you can use as a journey, meditation, journaling prompt, or simply fuel for thought:

Healing Movement Journey

Movement is an integral part of life, from the micro level of our cellular functions, to the macro level of the seasonally shifting patterns of the environment. In our bodies, movement stimulates synovial fluid to flush the tissues of our joints, keeping them flexible. On the earth, the movement of air and ocean currents prevents stagnation, and helps plant and animal life breathe, reproduce and migrate effectively. Movement sustains individual and environmental health.

Journey and ask, “How can I bring movement into my life for healing?”

When the balance of movement and energy gets out of kilter, a practitioner can help. Shamanic counselors work by shifting energy patterns, removing or clearing blocks, infusing the body with what should be there all along, and providing guidance about habits and relationships that affect “movement” of all kinds.

Whether on our own through observing and emulating nature, with the help of our own spiritual allies and resources, and/or with the support of a trained practitioner, nature’s ancient patterns of movement can help us move through our world with better mental and emotional health today.

©2021 Mara Bishop