Nadiya Nottingham's Shamanistic Roots
“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” —T.S. Eliot
It is hard to look into Nadiya Nottingham’s crystal blue eyes and not assume that she came out of the womb breathing deeply, intuitively understanding her body’s needs, and communing easily with the natural forces of life.
Not so. The former professional make-up artist in the fashion world had the late-night lifestyle that went with it, until her body said “enough!” and she wound up in the hospital. After that, she began to look into very different healing modalities that, in fact, could be traced to feelings, concepts, and forces that kept her safe in childhood. YogaCity NYC’s Editor, Cynthia Kling, sat down with Nottingham to find out more about her story.
Cynthia Kling: You teach yoga, Qigong, and forms of shamanism. Tell me how it all started.
Nadiya Nottingham: I had a vibrant career and social life in the '80s—Danceteria, Area, etc. I was a heavy smoker and my lung collapsed. In the hospital, across from me was a close friend dying of AIDS who had about a week left to live. He looked at me with such love; it was a transformative moment because I could still turn my life around.
CK: Then what did you do?
NN: My sister said that she’d started yoga and "it was like being filled with breath." I knew this was my path. When I was 12, we lived in a small fishing village by the sea, in Ireland. I would watch the waves and the gulls, releasing my cares to the sea and letting the sea replenish me with my breath. Returning to these things felt very natural to me.
NN: I went to India and one of my yoga teachers warmed us up with Qigong that took me back to the chi of the Irish sea. I came home and found medical Qigong.
CK: What is that exactly?
NN: Do you know when you can feel that wah-wahhh feeling between your hands? In medical Qigong you learn to feel that around another person’s body. Maybe they have an indentation or an outsized feeling of protrusion that needs to be adjusted. This is what I teach at Integral.
CK: Who taught you?
NN: I met someone who’d studied with Master Liu He. I loved that form so much that I went to Seattle to the Ling Gui School to study with him, myself. He and his sister are the grandchildren of the physician of the last Emperor of China, and so it is quite a long lineage.
CK: I see your yoga/Qigong class on the Integral schedule. How and why did you get interested in shamanism?
NN: It all goes back to Ireland. I was at the Loretto Convent in County Dublin from age four until my teens and felt really claustrophobic. I would look out the window at the gulls and ask them to help me be free like they were.
Every time I needed a boost or reassurance, a seagull would show up. But that’s classical in shamanism, your power animal will show up at the moment you need them.
CK: Remembering your own power animal took you on a voyage of exploring shamanism?
NN: Yes, I wanted to study in the Michael Harner tradition. He was the chief anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, had traveled over all five continents to visit shamanic cultures and discovered they all shared the same healing modalities: drumming, fire, going into the deep lower world which is sort of like savasana, soul retrieval, spirit animals, the power of the earth’s directional points, and clearing negative energy, similar to medical Qigong.
We have a long history and respect for this in Ireland, and I realized I had come from a shamanic culture. In fact, these traditions are having a great resurgence all over the British Isles. I go back to County Waterford to teach every year and I feel great community and support.
CK: You do this work here too. How does one actually find one’s power animal in a session?
NN: You start out lying down. The shaman then drums for you, asking you to visualize a place where you’ve seen an opening in the earth—a cave, behind a waterfall, an opening in a rock formation—and asks you to visualize yourself going down there to meet your power animal.
CK: What do you say to your power animal when you meet it?
NN: Usually you have an intentional, a medicine you need shared with you.
CK: Give me an example
NN: I had a client being harassed at her office by her male boss. She felt she couldn’t complain or she’d get fired, but the situation was untenable. I wasn’t sure what would come up. She had a great journey, asked for help her with help situation and met a skunk. After I’d called her back, she said she was hoping to get a lion or tiger. I said, "What does a skunk do? It keeps people at arm’s length." Within a couple of weeks, the situation turned around. The skunk gave her protection and somehow defused it. She came back two years later to meet her new animal.
CK: Does it always work?
NN: About 99% of the time, but some people are not that visual and so I tell them to think about Alice dropping down that rabbit hole and what they’ll see or think of an animal memory or animal smell from childhood that was important to them.
CK: You said that you'd usually pair two healing sessions—shamanic work with yoga, or Qigong. Why?