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Our ancestors appear to have used defined postures to
achieve altered states of consciousness. Louise Gilmore
learns to trust her body's wisdom.
Have you ever sat cross legged
on the floor and had a memory
from childhood suddenly return?
Have you ever rolled into a new
position as you wake up and remembered
a dream from earlier in the night? Have you
taken up a yoga posture such as warrior,
mountain or lion, and felt a rush of the
energy of that archetype?
This is the power of posture: the way we
place or hold our bodies. Some postures can
be instantly recognized, for example, kneeling
with hands together at the heart is familiar
to many as the posture of prayer. Or sitting
upright in the lotus position is seen as the
classic meditation posture.
It has become so well known because the
way we place our bodies is crucial to pract-
ices such as meditation. Through centuries
of tradition we sit, either on the floor or in a
chair, and keep our spines straight.
Sitting like this, with the back free to
move a little, has the practical benefit of
allowing the spine to make subtle adjustments
to find and maintain perfect balance. When
we get it just right we have located the "sweet
spot", a blissful space, in which remaining
upright and centred becomes effortless.
The right posture also has the esoteric
effect of allowing spiritual energy from the
reservoir at the base chakra to flow freely
up to the crown. Over time, as we hold this
posture in our daily practice, the energy
body is detoxified, blockages are cleared and
we can access higher (or deeper) levels of
This is why most meditation teachers
guide new students very precisely to find
a position that balances the slight tension
of the erect spine, neck and head, with a
deep letting go around that upright core.
Getting our posture right is also one of the
most important tools for maintaining longer
periods of meditation.
An extension of this, which goes back
to ancient times, is to deliberately hold
the body in defined postures that have the
documented ability to alter consciousness
in very specific ways.
About 40 years ago, an American
anthropologist, Dr Felicitas Goodman,
began studying the art of ancient peoples
from as far back as 36,000 years ago --
Neolithic times. The first posture she worked
with was from the famous Stone Age cave
paintings in Lascaux, France. She also studied
other statues and carvings, some of which
are held in museums around the world.
Many of these figures are in very precise
postures, often with the knees and elbows
bent and heads held at angles that suggest
trance or inner ecstasy.
Dr Goodman realised that these figures
not only represented gods and goddesses,
fertility symbols or seasonal deities, but that
their body positions were actually coded
instructions on how to enter non-ordinary
states of consciousness.
She believed that the human body
holds the memory or resonance of altered
states that were accessed ritually by our
ancient ancestors. Remarkably, if we adopt
the postures today, they still have powerful
effects on our consciousness. Her research
showed that various postures led to
experiences of healing, transformation, spirit
journeys, divination, initiation or celebration,
She called them Ecstatic Trance Postures
and spent many years testing her theories
by inviting groups of people to take up the
postures and record their experiences. In the
light trance states they accessed, the visual
images and energetic experiences that came
to them were amazingly similar.
They also discovered that certain
preparations made their experiences more
intense. These included:
● carefully creating a sacred space for the
● entering meditation while holding the
● cueing the nervous system with rattling
or drumming to synchronise the vibration
for the group
● returning decisively to everyday reality
These steps enable ordinary people to
enter non-ordinary consciousness, because
we share one important thing in common:
the human body. Our nervous and endocrine
systems have remained basically unchanged
since ancient times. This means that right
now, in the modern world of cities and traffic,
we can adopt these postures, prime ourselves
with the steps above and trust our bodies
to take us into the experience of the inner (or
In Sydney, a group of us meet once a
week to experiment with the postures from
the books written by Dr Goodman and her
colleague Belinda Gore, as well as choosing
postures from other figurines, statues and
paintings. Again and again, we observe that
there is something about our bodies that is
hard wired to experience altered states and
that the postures physiologically open the
doorway. To get the most from an Ecstatic
Trance Posture group, it's important to enter
the experience in a safe place, with a deep
sense of trust.
One of our favourite postures is called
the Sleeping Lady of Malta, a spirit journey
posture from Belinda Gore's book, The
Ecstatic Experience. The Sleeping Lady
is a tiny clay statue that was found in the
underground Hypogeum Temple in Malta.
She lies on her right side, with arms and
legs very specifically placed and her right
hand in a loose fist, tucked under her cheek.
We play a CD of rattling and drumming
in the theta brainwave frequency of between
four and seven beats per second and wait
for signs that we have entered a light trance.
These include changes in body temperature
-- often heat, but sometimes also feeling
unusually cold, involuntary movements or
jerking of arms, legs or head, hearing unusual
sounds or tingling/pressure at the heart,
hand and feet, or solar plexus.
Ecstatic Trance Postures are best
performed no more than weekly as they are
"high gradient" and our systems need time
to integrate the new levels of consciousness.
They are most powerful when performed
in groups. Everyone benefits from the
combined energies, which can lead to richer
and more profound experiences.
An important part of the process is
sharing our experiences at the end of each
session. Hearing each other 's story helps us
to understand the full meaning and expand
the possibilities of our own journey.
This is the power of the group and a pointer
to the future development of the human race.
We live in a narcissistic, competitive culture
where the idea of teamwork is often given only
lip service. Working with ecstatic postures, we
feel our deep connection to each other and
we have the opportunity to honour our own
and others' experiences.
When the drumming or rattling stops,
we rest in a space of gratitude. We thank our
bodies for the deep teaching they hold for us
and allow the process of integration of our
experiences to begin before we return to the
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