Hear the terms shaman and spiritual renewal in the same sentence and perhaps peyote-popping vision quests come to mind. These words are familiar yet still somewhat foreign, so when we heard that shamanic guide Linda Star Wolf would be hosting two days of Shamanic Breathwork in our concrete jungle, YogaCity NYC’s Jessica Mahler sat down to chat with her for a better understanding of shamanism and what kind of power can be found in our breath.
“Anyone can be considered a shaman, explained Star, a 60-year old woman with long blond locks and a kind face. “It’s a calling, really.” But it was a long, painful journey for Star to fully understand hers in this life.
Star always felt different growing up in western Kentucky in the ’60s. “I was one of those people who was gluten and lactose intolerant, and no one had ever heard of such a thing,” she says. On top of that, she had psychic, intuitive abilities—abilities that she shared with her grandmother, creating a special bond between them.
When she was 12, her grandmother died. “It was a time of pain and suffering for me missing my best friend, mentor, teacher,” she says. “The ’60s came along, and everything was happening. I had been such a sweet little girl and then became this wild child.”
Giving into the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, Star soon found herself spiraling into a world of addiction as she struggled with her desire to feel normal, turning to various spiritualities in hopes to find some peace within herself. It was drugs that led her to a near-death experience, the wake-up call she needed in her twenties to finally sober up and become an addictions counselor to help others who suffered with similar demons, the first step in preparing her for what was to come.
“A shaman is frequently seen as the wounded healer,” she explains, “one who has overcome some sort of hardship”—what Star calls a “shamanic initiation”—”and has learned how to embody spirit and heal themselves, becoming a teacher, prophet or mystical being...someone who learned to be a walker between the worlds.”
But Star wouldn’t discover the world of shamanism until her thirties, when she discovered books on medicine men and women and Native American ceremonies. “I was very drawn to that,” she recalled. So she set out to find people who could teach her what they knew about these special healing powers and rituals, a hard task to embark on during an era without the Internet. Eventually, though, she found a Cherokee teacher whom she worked with, which led her to have a vision where she met renowned Seneca elder Grandmother Twylah Nitsch, who anointed her with her spirit name, Star Wolf.
Years later, Star would meet Grandmother Twylah face to face. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘What took you so long? I called you many years ago and gave you a name.’ I was being called inside of me not knowing what it was, but it was something that I couldn’t not follow. It was something outside of my ego saying, ‘You’ve got to go beyond the drugs, sobriety, psychology—there’s more. There’s something bigger.’”
Studying with various teachers, though, Star found that most “just wanted me to stick with one tradition, and that didn’t feel right to me.”
At 35, her studies led her to Jaclyn Small, a woman using breathwork as a tool to heal. After participating in one of her workshops, “I immediately got up off the floor and thought, This is probably the most amazing experience of my life ever,” she recalls. “I experienced more healing in a three-hour session in a room of 500 people in a Red Roof Hotel than all my years in therapy put together.”
With Small as her breathwork guide, Star eventually broke out on her own after she pieced together what would become Shamanic Breathwork. “Shamanic Breathwork really is saying, it’s not one tradition, it’s not one religion, it’s not one profession, it’s not one race of people,” says Star. “The breath belongs to all of us, and using the shamanic breath and the processes that I had been integrating my whole life comprised the Shamanic Breathwork and journey.”
Using breath, music, bodywork and art, Shamanic Breathwork allows people to go within themselves and release the things that have been getting in their way, helping to find clarity on how to live a life of passionate purpose. In her workshops, Star has participants engage in a circular, rhythmic, continuous breath. “During that breathing,” she says, “you are journeying into many different worlds—different experiences from your past, past lives, childhood, from the womb, death and rebirth experiences, transpersonal experiences.
“It’s not just about seeking spirituality, it’s not just about having otherworldly experiences or gaining the keys to the universe. It’s really about healing ourselves. And in healing ourselves, we gain that wisdom, that deeper embodied knowledge of who it is, why we’re here, what our sacred purpose is and what our deep spiritual roots and connections to the universe as well as the earth. As we look within, we are going to find within us what we are looking for outside of us.”