No Place Like Ohm
When I first heard about the women’s moon lodge event happening at Athens Yoga, I was instantly curious. I had never heard of a moon lodge, and I had no idea what the practice entailed. But I didn’t want my ignorance to stop me, so I packed up my yoga mat and headed down East State Street to the yoga studio.
I couldn’t have predicted the positive energy that was waiting inside.
A moon lodge, also called a menstrual hut or red hut, was part of a common ritual in ancient Mayan and Greek cultures in which women would retreat together once a month to recharge themselves while connecting with others. The main purpose of a moon lodge, historically, was to synchronize with the wisdom of the moon and its lunar cycles. That allowed groups of women to become in tune with their bodies and the divine feminity surrounding them. Some moon lodge sessions have a particular message or focus, while others grant freedom to do whatever feels natural: reading, journaling, meditating or resting.
Upon walking into the yoga studio, I came to a circle of women. Some sat on blankets, others yoga mats, but all wore the same inviting smile. I met Ashleigh Vale, a yoga instructor at Athens Yoga and leader of the moon lodge. I chose a spot near the wall and laid my yoga mat on the floor, folded neatly in half for comfort. In the middle of the circle was an array of jars and bowls as well as a variety of feathers and pinecones all arranged around a beautiful orange glass-blown centerpiece. We found out the piece was made by Vale’s boyfriend, who is a glass artist.
As the women of the group engaged in introductory conversation, Caitlyn Rack, one of the regular attendees, brewed chamomile tea. An eclectic assortment of mugs were passed around the circle, and we were free to fill our cups with the tea. In addition to the tea, dark chocolate and coconut drops were offered.
As an icebreaker activity, Rack laid out a set of oracle herbal cards from the book on either side of the glass centerpiece with a corresponding book called The Herbal Healing Deck by Sarah Baldwin. Each card represented a herbal spirit in the category of a root, herb, flower or tree. We each took a card and read it aloud with our names. The card I received was from the flower category and depicted a rose, which corresponded to openheartedness. The reading stated letting go of anger, resentment and regret was very important at this time in my life. I also read about finding courage within myself.
Then, Vale read aloud “Wild Geese,” a poem by Mary Oliver. We closed our eyes and focused on the poem’s words while sinking into our bodies and getting used to the space around us. There was a line in the poem that stuck with me that I thought pertained to the purpose of the moon lodge itself. The line read: “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile, the world goes on.” The truth and veracity of the line resonated with me. Through individual hardships and injustices, the world continues to spin, but that doesn’t mean we need to suffer by ourselves. We find strong relationships that we can rely on through the bad times and then we can continue on, just as the world does.
After we immersed ourselves in the overall message of Oliver’s poem, we opened our eyes and engaged in a series of meditation exercises including breath awareness and spine elongation.
One breathing exercise we did that is often implemented in meditation techniques is called Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, or Alternate Nostril Breathing. To use the technique, first you touch the tips of your right index and middle fingers to your palm. Then, using the thumb of your right hand, close the right nostril while taking a deep exhale. Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale deeply and pause, holding your breath just for a few moments. Then remove your thumb, opening the right nostril, and simultaneously close the left nostril with your ring and pinky finger. Exhale deeply through the right nostril before inhaling again. Alternate breathing through each nostril for a few minutes.
When our bodies were at peace, we were invited to say whatever was on our minds. No advice. No judgement. Just women listening to other women. One of the members brought a long woven stick that we used as a “talking stick,” so as not to talk over one another. The stick was passed around to each woman who had something to share. There were personal and private stories that evoked emotions and tears throughout the room.
When I was handed the talking stick, I spoke about my current hardships and the things I was dealing with, both inside and out. It was relieving to speak my mind to a room full of women who understood what I was going through. It helped me feel at peace knowing that I wasn’t carrying my burdens alone and that I had a support system of strong women who were there when I needed them.
It was fascinating to take part in something so pure between women. It was empowering to hear the support that the women in the group were giving to others, even women they had never met before. That is, in a large sense, the purpose of a moon lodge: connecting not only with yourself, but with others as well.