Long before modern-day medicine and technology, shamans have been healing people spiritually, mentally, and physically.
Shamanism, and shamanic healing, has been practiced in many cultures around the world, and is still popular today, with many seeking more traditional methods of healing.
The goal of shamanic healing is to work out the root of a person’s problems and resolve them, with the help of a shaman — a spiritual healer — who guides the person through the process.
We often hear about shamans being associated with ayahuasca, chanting, and spirits. These are all valid associations, but there’s a lot more involved in a shamanic healing journey.
So what exactly is shamanic healing, and how does it work? In this article, we’ll look into the practices of shamanism, the role of a shaman, and an overview of what a healing journey looks like.
What is shamanism?
Shamanism has been around for thousands of years and is considered to be one of the world’s oldest religions. But there are some core differences to religions such as Christianity, Islam or Judaism.
The word religion comes from Latin: re-ligare – re-connecting humans to God. From a shamanic perspective, we can’t even exist disconnect from God since shamans consider God as the pure essence of life. We may be unaware of it, but we are always connected to life and nature since this is what sustains our very existence.
While religions provide a set of “divine” rules you must follow, shamanism works to deconstruct such external references so you can find your own way to exist on the planet and find your own connection with nature within and around you.
Shamanism isn’t a formalized set of beliefs. There isn’t one leader or a single set of scripts to follow.
Instead, there are different shamanic practices that differ from one another depending on the country and region. It’s adaptable, as the activities and experiences are often tailored to the environment and culture of the country.
In shamanism, the practices are centered around building the connection within yourself, to nature and the world around us.
In his article, “The air you breathe”, Rudá Iandê, a world-renowned shaman, mentions the importance of this connection between ourselves and the world around us:
“If you really want to enjoy your life, it’s essential that you start breaking through the hypnotic state of your thinking mind to develop your presence, grounding your consciousness in the movement of life.”
It is believed that by activating one’s inner sense of self, better relationships can be formed with others and with the world. Humans are seen as an integral part of the world; everything is connected and practicing shamanism can open the gateway within one’s self to feeling these connections.
Many people are drawn to shamanism from all walks of life. As there’s no rigid, set way of practising shamanism, people use the help of a shaman whose role is to guide them through the process.
“Claiming your true self and grounding your roots in this first nature puts you in touch with your primal source of creative power,” says Iandê in his book Laughing in the Face of Chaos.
Those who embark on a shamanic journey wish to be more connected with their inner core and feel spiritually connected to all things around them.
What is a shaman?
The role of a shaman is to guide a person on their journey back to their nature where they can find their inner power.
A shaman is believed to journey through three different realms: the human world, the spirit world, and the world of nature. They help individuals and whole communities, and they can guide those with physical or mental issues, as well as those who wish to have a deeper spiritual awareness.
Iandê, who has spent more than 30 years practicing shamanism, explains spirituality as follows:
“Spirituality doesn’t need to be ‘up there’ in the sky. It’s much more real when it happens down here in our embodied form. From a shamanic perspective, spirituality is about fully embodying the self, not transcending it.”
A shaman will use different techniques to help the person reach this level of inner awareness, from rituals, chanting, plants, music, and shamanic breathwork.
Once a shaman has worked out what type of healing the patient needs, they may guide them in a journey of self-knowledge and healing to remove or restore energy, communicate with different dimensions of being and meet the source of health and wellbeing within.
They are able to do this by entering into altered states of consciousness and will be trained and experienced with moving through different states whilst still being fully in control.
How does shamanic healing work?
Outside of shamanism, we often see illness as being caused by viruses or bacteria. When it comes to mental illnesses, a chemical imbalance in the brain is seen as the cause. Doctors prescribe medicine or use therapy to help patients recover from their illnesses.
Shamanic healing takes a very different approach. Illnesses, both physical and mental, are seen to be effects. The illness and the suffering that comes with it is seen as an effect of an imbalance at the core of the person.
Modern-day medicines often mask the issues; they won’t necessarily heal the person completely. The shaman, on the other hand, will look for the cause of the issue, which can be a bad habit, an emotional trauma, or a psychological imbalance.
In shamanic healing, healing can’t be achieved just on a physical level. It requires returning to the core of the person, and although a shaman can guide and help the patient, healing ultimately depends on them as it should be a “self-healing” process.
This means that the patient must play an active role in their healing. The shaman can move around energy, remove blockages, seek wisdom from the spiritual realm, and advise the patient, but real, complete healing needs to come from the patient’s spirit.
Here’s an outline of how a shamanic healing might take place. This can differ depending on the shaman and their healing specialty:
Setting and environment
The environment that healing takes place should be calm, quiet, and relaxing. It’s important for the patient to feel comfortable so that they can immerse themselves fully in the healing experience. Sometimes the session can be held outdoors, in nature.
The shaman will choose the set and the elements for each patient according to their needs.
The shaman Rudá Iandê, for example, takes people once a year for a one-week walk in the desert, to help them empty their mind and reconnect with their flow of life.
First conversation with the shaman
Before beginning the process, an open, honest conversation should take place between the patient and the shaman. During this chat, the shaman will try to get an understanding of the patient’s history, how they feel and what problems they are facing.
There shouldn’t be any judgment from the shaman, as this part of the process is for the shaman to find out what type of healing is needed. Both the shaman and patient need to be transparent and delve deep into the issues affecting the patient.
Once the shaman has worked out what the patient’s issues are, they will design a path for helping the patient breaking though it and finding their balance. There’s no preconceived formula here. The shaman will play with the knowledge and tools they have, in an intuitive way.
Shamanic breathwork, body exercises, movement, dance, chanting, and a whole set of techniques can be employed according to the flow of the moment.
During this process, the shaman will work to find out where unnecessary energy is being held, where useless energy can be removed, and where empowering energy can be placed.
The shamanic healing journey
After finishing the energy work, the shaman will then explain to the patient what will happen in the next part of the process. The healing process can often include feelings of tingling, emotional releases, euphoria, and profound meditative states of consciousness.
The shaman might practice either hands-on or hands-off energy work. They’ll identify areas of the body where the energy is stuck or unbalanced and will use bodywork, breath techniques, and other elements to realign the patient on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.
One the shamanic journey has come to an end, another discussion will take place between the shaman and the patient. This conversation will include talking about how both of them felt throughout the process.
The shaman will also use this time to advise the patient of any wisdom that came to light from their knowledge and intuition, and ways in which the client can begin to make changes in their lives in order to continue the healing process.
What happens after a shamanic healing journey?
Once the shamanic healing journey is complete, the next steps are very important. As energy will have been moved around the body, the patient might feel changes in their feelings and emotions.
During this time, patients are advised to keep note of these shifts in feelings, and remain open and willing to accept these changes which take place in their emotional, physical, and mental states. It’s during this time that toxic energy will be released from the body, making space for new, positive, empowering energy.
Is shamanic healing right for you?
There are many reasons why people turn to shamanic healing, and no two experiences will be the same.
For a shamanic healing to be successful, you should be willing to accept the process and all the changes that come with it.
It’s important to remember that this type of healing delves much deeper than taking medicine or using modern day forms of healing. The process can be intense, and ultimately your healing will depend on your openness and willingness to change your inner self.
Here are some of the characteristics of someone who might seek shamanic healing:
- Wanting to break and evolve from old, unhealthy patterns of behaviour, thinking and beliefs
- Searching for a way to form a deeper connection with themselves, others and nature.
- Willing to embrace the experience and remain open to change
- Wanting to reach their greater self, and experience spirituality both within themselves and in the world around them
- Wishes for guidance to help overcome negative or stagnant energy which blocks them from progressing in life
Shamanic healing can be beneficial to people who seek a change within themselves, but feel lost when it comes to putting that change into action.
Iandê talks about the importance of understanding your social being in his workshop Out of the Box.
“Your true nature is your place of power, a whole universe of magic and possibilities. From this place, you can develop your own personal mythology. You can dream according to your soul and your true passion, setting meaningful goals for your life and materializing those goals.”
Finding the right shaman for you
Finding a shaman is a different process to that of finding a doctor. Shamans don’t come with official qualifications so there’s an element of trust that must be given to their knowledge and experience.
A lot also comes down to how you feel when you’re with your shaman. You will need to use your gut instinct, alongside recommendations given by others. Here are a few things to look out for when searching for the right shaman for you:
As with anything, we all have our own preferences. A shaman might be perfect for one person, but not for you, as their methods might not suit you or make you feel comfortable.
For example, some shamans will use instruments or chanting during their healing session, whilst others prefer to use crystals or stones. Other shamans, such as Rudá Iandê, develop unique and personalized techniques that speak to the context of our modern lives and consider the background of each of their patients.
Some shamans will work with you one-on-one and others use a group setting. There are also different fields which shamans will specialize in, such as energy balance, PTSD, and soul-retrieval (to name just a few).
It’s important to find a shaman that you feel comfortable with and that can provide a setting that will help you get the most out of your healing journey.
The qualities of the shaman
As with any profession, some people are more genuine in their intentions and services, so it’s important to find a shaman who has a real passion for helping others and guiding people on a positive journey.
Here are some qualities a trustworthy shaman should have:
- A genuine shaman will not pressure you into shamanic healing; instead, they will let you come to them when you feel ready
- There shouldn’t be any judgment from the shaman towards you or others
- Shamans are human like the rest of us, but they should live according to their life teachings
- Your problems should remain confidential between you and your shaman — there should always be a level of trust
A genuine shaman will tell you uncomfortable truths instead of just telling you what you want to hear.
As Jessica Brinton writes for Vice, “they are there to hold up a mirror and lead you towards the real story of you, a place from which you will be better able to heal yourself.”
You should feel safe with your shaman guiding you through your healing process and have a relationship with your shaman which is comfortable enough for you to be transparent and open with your shaman about your problems and feelings.
Experience and reputation
A final point to remember when you’re looking for a shaman is their reputation. There isn’t an official certificate or governing body that can confirm a shaman’s skills or experience, so you may want to be guided by other people’s testimonials.
It’s a good idea to speak to the shaman about the type of healing they specialize in as this will reveal how much experience and confidence they have in their method.
Shamanic healing isn’t a one time fix it all pill. It’s a journey that you embark upon, alongside the help, guidance and wisdom of your shaman.
We all have problems which we face at different stages in our life, and in some cases, choosing a traditional method of healing such as shamanism can be much more fulfilling than modern day medicines (or even used alongside depending on the conditions of the person).
In the words of Iandê,
“Awakening is a process of distillation of the consciousness. Through deep self-knowledge we separate our essence, what we really are, from the role we’re playing in the world.”
This process described by Iandê goes far beyond the simple healing and emotional or physical healing. It’s a way back to our deepest nature, where we can find fulfillment for meeting our true self and living a life of authenticity.
So, regardless of the reasons why you might seek shamanic healing, prepare to take a step into healing your inner spirit, and journey to a better, more positive place in your life — a journey back to your nature.
Choosing which shaman to guide you in shamanic healing is a personal choice. Only you can make it. We do recommend the work of Rudá Iandê, which is why we have partnered with him in making his shamanic teachings available in the online workshop Out of the Box. Rudá Iandê recently published his first book, Laughing in the Face of Chaos.