As a Yoga teacher it is wonderful to see so many people connecting and resonating with the teachings and conceptual ideologies that have been passed down to us through the tradition of yoga. I feel that the world is waking up and many of us are beginning to find value in this ancient knowledge once more. Yet as an Australian, I believe it is also important to recognise the ancient teachings and wisdom of this land- which, like the yogic tradition, offers to us a wealth of knowledge that is our birthright to claim before it is lost!
The Ancient Knowledge of This Land
Many of us are starting to realise that our modern way of life cannot sustain us for much longer and are awakening to the planetary call to a new way of being. As we do so, many of us are returning to the great truths once known to all Indigenous cultures around the world; great truths and essential wisdom which we seem to have forgotten somewhere along the line between focusing on calorie counting and stockpiling our houses with more and more "stuff".
As an Australian I believe that we, more than most cultures, have struggled with our sense of belonging and our cultural heritage. In this melting pot of different cultures and races, with a history record that we'd much rather erase from our minds, we have lost our connection to our Australian heritage and the great wisdom that has been passed through the stories of this beautiful country that we call home. We have forgotten our birthright, which is to exist in harmony with our land. We have stopped hearing the call of our mother Nungeenat-ya (Aboriginal word for the Earth Spirit).
Being that I am a yoga teacher, I would love to be able to offer the wisdom of this ancient Indian tradition, yet also honour our very own teachings from this wise old land and it's people. This next section details some of the Australian Aboriginal Teachings and draws some similarities to some Yogic concepts and philosophies. Please understand that these are my own interpretations, used in an attempt to draw similarities to yogic traditions.
Australian Spiritual Teachings (Comparitive to Yoga)
Here is a list of a few of the important Australian Aboriginal Spiritual Teachings...
Nungeenat-ya = The Earth Spirit, similar to the Greek Gaia. She is our Mother Earth. We need to respect Nungeenat-ya because we are part of her. She sustains us and provides for us. We cannot separate ourselves from her. What we do to our planet, we do to ourselves. This is the teaching of Oneness. All of life is interconnected, delicately woven together in a sacred tapestry of life. We must look after our Earth, which is our teaching place on our life's journey.
Miwi = Our sprit, soul or consciousness. Similar to atma or atman in yoga. This is our higher self, which contains the blueprint or spiritual map for our life's journey. Our miwi resides in our heart-space and it is taught that we should learn to let our miwi guide us, rather than acting from our ego. It is up to us to make the choice to align with our miwi, as we are "boss of self" and we need to take responsibility for our life.
You will notice in drawings of miwi's that they have no mouths, as it is believed that it is our mouths that get us into trouble. The teaching here is to listen to our deeper truth, rather than letting our mind or our ego run the show.
Our Emotions = Australian Aboriginal traditions teach the importance of having intimacy with our emotions. Like in the tradition of yoga, we are taught to acknowledge our emotions and bring awareness to them. By learning to become comfortable with our emotions and sit with them, we learn to let them go.
Emotions are neither "good" nor "bad". Emotions like anger are only bad when they are used destructively. (This reminds me of what one of my yoga teachers used to say about anger, that "it is the power of change." Emotions are simply energy which we have attached a certain vibrational frequency to. We can learn to shift this by first becoming conscious of what we are feeling.) Real wisdom comes through undiluted processing of our emotions.
Cleansing = The importance of maintaining purity of our body, mind and energy is taught throughout Australian Aboriginal traditions. Our body must be kept healthy through movement and with the foods we eat, as well as by keeping check our our emotions, which can create negative energy in both the body and the surrounding environment, known as "bugeenge".
There are many cleansing traditions and practices which are used. There is an understanding that the skin is the most vital organ, which "breathes" and removes impurities and toxins via the sweat, therefore it is important to allow the skin to be exfoliated and have the chance to sweat so that toxins can be eliminated properly.
Smoking ceremonies are a way to purify the negative energy of a place or person, similar to the use of incense or sage. Often sacred gum is used to purify negative energy, which can cause our miwi to be under stress if we have prolonged exposure to any negativity. This diminishes our spiritual energy, similar to yoga's chakra system, which can also get blockages and be affected by our negative thoughts and emotions.
Reality's Veil= The goal of yoga has always been to remove the veil which prevents us from experiencing higher states of consciousness. In yoga we discuss the various kosha's or sheaths, which act as lamp shades, blocking us from experiencing the full light of consciousness flowing through us. Similar to this, in Australian Aboriginal culture there is the understanding of a veil that prevents us from seeing and experiencing the full totality of all of life's knowledge.
They believe that we are born with a deeper spiritual knowing in which we have a full memory of knowledge beyond this life, however from the age of about 3-5 years old, the veil descends cutting us off from this knowledge and making us focus in on our experiences in this life only. Yet, sometimes people can have a tear in this veil. Sometimes this tear will manifest in the form of psychic abilities, at other times it can manifest as mental disorders such as schizophrenia. (This also explains why many children have imaginary friends!)
For these reasons, in yoga, great care is taken along the journey of opening ourselves to higher states of consciousness. Firstly we can develop physic abilities which we risk becoming attached to, or we may open the veil too soon with forced shakti-pat or vigorous breathing practices to make the kundalini rise before we are mentally and physically ready. This results in all of our samskaras (negative mental impressions) rising to the surface and causing problems in the students life. The journey of removing the veil of maya is therefore a slow process.
Koshas/Sheaths= In Australian Aboriginal Culture, like in yoga, they discuss sheaths or koshas, which form separate layers of our energy body. The innermost layer is the miwi, like the atma, as discussed above. The second outer layer is known as "mullawahl", which is a thin blinding white/gold light. The veil is part of this sheath. It is said that the colour of this sheath may vary slightly at the edges from person to person, with either a gold or rose gold line around the edges. Gold meaning that the person has lived many lives and rose meaning that they are very kind.
The next outer sheath is known as "Dahwie", which is comprised of tougher or more dense energy. (Like in yoga philosophy, with the outer sheaths becoming gradually more solid until we reach the physical body.) This energy is what gets affected by the "bugeenge", or negative energy around us. It should be kept blue white.
Energy= Like in many ancient traditions, Australian Aboriginal culture discusses energy. More than most cultures, they are aware of the energetic vibrations that run through not only us, but through the Earth. They have an understanding of the song-lines and dreaming tracks that run along the Earth, and their paintings and art reflects how their vision has adjusted to see the underlying energy of all things. Everything is energy. They are able to see through the physical outer layer of reality and see the underlying essence of life. (It is interesting to note that quantum science is only now proving the underlying energetic field of all that we believe to be solid and real.)
They believe that not only can we learn to see the energy, but we can learn to control and manipulate it (as we are part of it). This can be done in many ways, some similar to yoga, are with the use of hand gestures, like the mudras (see below...)
They also, see energy as having different colours, which seem to parallel other traditions. ie) Blue light = Spiritual Protection, Safety & Purity. Green light = the highest form of healing.
Hand Gestures & Techniques= Hand gestures are used, like in yoga, to control energy flow. A few examples of this are: Placing your hands together with only fingertips touching. This builds a warm energy in your palms. Think blue and white light whilst you are doing this, then draw your hands over your body to coat yourself in the protection of blue-white light. Seal with a pinch in front of your body.
Another hand gesture or mudra used is by taking your middle finger to search for light in the body. If you imagine that light is like liquid mercury, you can feel the light moving, like liquid mercury as you run your finger through it.
The Rainbow Serpent= The creation stories talk about a great rainbow serpent. Serpents are often depicted in ancient traditions as symbols of power and change. In yoga, we are familiar with the idea of the kundalini being represented by a coiled serpent which resides at the base of the spine and symbolises our spiritual journey towards enlightenment through the chakras (which vibrate in the colours of the rainbow).
What most of us don't know is that many of the original Aboriginal creation stories talk about a rainbow serpent that had two heads. This mythical character gives us the story of the first born and encapsulates the idea of duality. The snake's two heads represent the two emotions: anger & compassion. One head of the serpent expresses the fire of anger, which becomes the sun. The other head of the serpent, whose name is Baloo (which means moon) cries tears of compassion for his brother, giving us the rain. The sun and the rain together create the rainbow, but what's interesting is the similarity of this story to the idea of the ida & pingala nadi's in yoga, which crisscross their way up the spine, intersecting as the pass through the rainbow of the chakras (imagine the image to the two intertwining snakes of the medical symbol's staff). Our ida and pingala nadis are also represented by the sun and the moon!
In yoga, when we can learn to unite these two opposing energies in that delicate yin/yang balance, these energies merge together and allow the snake of kundalini energy to ascend through the chakras, taking the journey of "the rainbow serpent" towards our spiritual enlightenment.
References: I'd like to thank and credit Minmia with much of the wisdom that has been shared here. I recommend her book Under The Quandong Tree for those who are interested in learning more about Australian Aboriginal Spirituality. Another brilliant source is Voices of The First Day by Robert Lawlor.