Painting with the Breath (an exploration of Shakti)
In the hot summer of a broken heart, I found yoga. Or it found me. In my first few experiences with the practice, I felt something sweet and huge and deep beginning to crack open within me. It felt the way a baby chick must feel as it taps its beak through the outside of its shell for the first time. I couldn’t name it or really even explain it, but I remember feeling overwhelmingly relieved because I knew, as I lay there in my very first savasana, that I was not alone.
After I graduated from college, I enrolled in a semester long program at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health to learn more about myself. During that time, I took part in a Shamanic cleansing ceremony that would forever change my life.
When it was my turn to be cleared, the Shaman looked at me and quietly said, “it’s time to be who you really are.” I stood there blinking at him dumbly. As he gazed at me wordlessly, I felt this sudden pulling from deep within and this strong, powerful, fierce feminine energy arose inside of me. I felt it rise up and instantly, even though I said nothing and hadn’t moved at all, the Shaman looked intensely at me and said in a quiet, but firm voice, “Be Her.”
I still get chills every time I think about this experience and I’ve come to realize that I was experiencing “Her” during those early yoga experiences, as I released the built up layers of misguided beliefs I held about myself. I also recognized this energy as something I’d experienced so many times in my art-making. And now that I have seen this energy more clearly, I recognized “Her” in my past too---like a shadow suddenly shedding light.
Here’s how I remember “Her:”
- I’m seven. And even though I barely talk in my second grade classroom, I audition for “The Sound of Music.” Something brave shakes me and I sing my shy little heart out loud in the role of “Gretel.”
- I’m 14, quiet as can be. Deemed “most quiet” in my 8th grade year book. I sign up for theater. I am loud enough to be heard in the back of the auditorium. By the time I’m a senior, the burning creative energy inside has me audition for a lead role in Alice in Wonderland. Fierce Brave something, comes from nowhere and I am Alice, belting out my part on stage (in front of hundreds, eek!)
- I’m 19, lost in who I am. I board a plane and travel to Italy. Drawn by the fiery energy to go into the unknown, to risk looking foolish in a new tongue, new territory. “She” pulls me through my own looking glass to find, that on the other side, I am much bigger than I realize.
- I’m 20 and I meet “Her” face to face on a bamboo floor in a tiny yoga studio, eyes closed, feeling sore in every part of my body and soul. Both stretch in ways I never knew were possible. It is there and then that I became aware of “Her” presence. She helps me to hold my pain and I realize, for the first time, that I am not alone.
- I am where I am now, realizing that not only does this energy exist, but also “She” is working with me and through me all the time.
What exactly is Shakti?
If I were to give this energy a creative name, I might call her muse, guide, inner coach, creative spirit. But my study of yoga and Tantra, has helped me to identify her as “Shakti,” the principle of creativity, the current of grace that flows through each of us (Feuerstein).
But what exactly is Shakti?
She is the creative pulse that powers us along. Shakti guides us to be more fearless, and open hearted in not only our creative pursuits, but also our life.
When we make art or practice yoga with the intention of experiencing and engaging with this goddess, shakti energy, our art making and our practice becomes a path for better understanding ourselves.
And because Shakti is within everything that exists, you can access her in any infinite number of ways. Yoga and art are my favorites but some other examples of access points besides are:
- performance arts
- spending time in nature
- traveling + experiencing new cultures
What I’ve learned from this is that the point of access to Shakti is less important than the act of accessing.
If you approach the point of access with the intention to co-create with Shakti, the gateway swings open wider.
Shakti energy in yoga + art
So what does shakti energy feel like? My sense is that it probably feels a little bit different for everyone, but however it feels to you, at the core of it, it makes you feel whole, it brings you closer to yourself.
In yoga, shakti energy feels like spaciousness in the body, it feels light and vibrant. It feels bubbly and exciting, sometimes even a little wild, but in a passionate and fun way. You have awareness of yourself as observer, luster in your eyes and skin. You feel alive and awake. You know what move to make in the moment, even if you’re not sure where it’s leading you.
In art making, Shakti energy feels flowy, like an outpouring of vibrating energy, it’s tingling, intuitive. You loose your sense of time and space, absorbed in your work. You knowing what move to make in the moment, even if you’re not sure where it’s leading you.
Why you might want to engage with the creative energy of Shakti
When you become more connected to the creative energy of shakti,
- You feel empowered
- You feel confident, determined because you are being moved by a higher power
- You feel supported, uplifted, cared for
- You move through the world courageously and passionately
Experience Shakti for yourself
Goddess Breathing You Meditation
This is a beautiful breathing exercise that I learned in my teacher training that will allow you to access Shakti energy right now, right here in this moment.
Take a comfortable seat. Take a deep inhalation and let it out through your mouth. Settle into this moment. Take another inhaltion and exhale, releasing anything stuck in your mind or body.
Begin to deepen your breath. Let each inhalation fill you up from the bottom of your pelvic floor, through your belly and low back, up into the ribcage and all the way to your coller bone. Exhale and release the breath back down, through the collar bone, ribcage, belly and low back, all the way back down to your pelvic floor. Continue to breath in 10 deep cycles through the whole cavity of your body.
Then release that for a moment and let yourself breath gently once more. Bring one hand to your belly and another to your chest and feel into the rise and fall of your breath. Watch carefully for the first impulse to inhale and then at the top of the breath, notice the tiny pause before your exhale begins to unfold.
In this way, you are being breathed. You don’t have to initiate the inhalation. It happens for you, and the exhalation appears naturally in response. Notice the breath as it expands into the back of your ribs, at the bottom tips of your shoulder blades. Feel how the breath supports you, holds you, floats you up, grounds you down.
The breath carries this shakti energy, and she in return, moves the breath gently in and out of you. Continue to allow the breath to breathe you.
Painting with the Breath Exercise
This exercise is a simple painting practice to help you connect to your breath. It’s a painting meditation that invites you to let the breath move you into the flow the creative energy of Shakti.
Gather your materials. Pick a waterbased paint, like fluid acrylics or watercolors or inks. I use golden fluid acrylics, with these watercolor brushes. Use thick watercolor paper that will hold up to a lot of water (I use this paper). Choose 1-3 colors you are drawn to keeping it to a limited palette. If you are using fluid acrylics or tube watercolors, squeeze them out onto wax paper taped to cardboard or a paper plate.
Connect with your breath. Use the guided breathing exercise from above or just spend a few minutes taking deep inhales and exhalations.
Use a brush to wet your paper down with water.
While the paper is still wet, pick up some paint with a paint brush and take a deep inhalation.
As you exhale, drop paint onto your paper and watch as it moves + spreads across the surface. Inhale as you lift the brush and then exhale, to put it back down again, perhaps in a different spot.
Allow your breath to lead the movement and continue to fill the page with paint, inhaling each time you lift the brush, exhaling each time you put it to the paper. Add more water as needed to keep the page wet.
You can also put paint onto the page, inhale and bring the page close to your mouth and then blow your exhale out through your mouth, using the exhalation breath to move the paint across the page. Do this a few times, bringing your inhalation through your nose and exhaling to gently blow the paint around the page.
Continue to focus on your breath and, just as you would in your yoga practice, see if you can allow the breath to arise before you make a movement with the brush. Allow the painting to be a meditative practice connecting the Shakti energy moving you to fill the page, one breath at a time.
To know Shakti, is to know yourself as you truly are, awake and alive and beautiful in all your forms of imperfection and truth. Step into that knowing, step into that flicker and breathe into it until it becomes a flame and nourish it until it becomes your fire. Now is the time and you are ready.
How have you experienced Shakti, creative energy, in your own life?