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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."

This coming week­end, Star invites you to join her at the Open Center in New York City on February 2 or at Maha Rose in Greenpoint on February 3 for a daylong work­shop of Shamanic Breathwork to take a jour­ney inside your­self to learn how to heal old wounds and discov­er the your destiny.

– By Jessica Mahler
reprint­ed from Yoga City NYC