When people think of postures for spiritual work, they usually think of ones used for meditation or yoga. Postures used to produce a trance state or to send you into a journey, are different than postures for quieting the mind or aligning the muscles in your body.
What are Ecstatic Postures?
The cross legged position seen in Buddhist meditation are designed to still the mind. One could assume the meditative position and perform a journey, there is no “one right way” to sit while journeying. However, ecstatic postures are positions for the body and arms that will produce a trance state and often specific journey experiences.
Yoga shares a similar principal with ecstatic postures. Certain yoga postures are meant to promote energy to move through your body in specific ways. Ecstatic postures do that as well, but the positions used are one that are meant to produce a change in your state of consciousness and create a trance. This trance state is one that allows you to journey. Unlike yoga poses, they are ones that you are meant to hold for a longer duration so that you can journey to and connect with the spirit world.
In addition to producing a trance state, specific postures support different experiences, such as healing, divination, and transformation.
In a trance posture, the practitioners might stand with their knees slightly bent and place their arms and hands in specific places on their bodies. In others, the they might sit or partially kneel, positioning their legs in specific positions. Some positions require cupped hands, or opening the mouth, or sticking one’s tongue out slightly. In this article, I tried to show images that resemble ecstatic postures. Although, I could not locate ones that I was certain showed an exact posture.
Ecstatic Postures Are A Human Birthright
Representations of ecstatic postures have been found as long as 16 to 17 thousand years ago, and ecstatic postures are still be being used in some cultures today.
The purpose of trance postures was rediscovered by an Anthropologist Dr. Felicitas Goodman, who found that it was common for ecstatic postures to be represented in statues and sacred images. Some postures were specific to cultures, and some were found in various cultures around the globe. As an example, representations of The Bear Posture were found as early as 6000 BC, and as recently as the late 19th Century.
Upon discovering statues or image such as the one on the right, ones found in cave paintings, or other spiritual art, groups led by Dr. Goodman would test the posture to see if it would produce a trance sate. Through experimentation she was able discover about 70 postures that produced trance states. Through her research, Dr. Goodman also found that people had common experiences which were distinct to using a specific posture.
“Suddenly and unexpectedly, the door swung open to a realm of mysterious depth and expanse, far beyond what we could have envisioned.”
Felicitas Goodman, Ecstatic Trance: A Workbook (out of print)
Can Anyone Use Trance Postures?
Many of the postures that Goodman discovered produced journeys or trances that are useful for modern spiritual experiences. They produce an ecstatic state that is often missing from modern spiritual practice.
In many cases, postures were used as part of group ritual. In these rituals, the entire community participated in some way, so they weren’t reserved for the shaman or spiritual specialist of the community. They were also used to effect healing, to gain information from the spirit world, and to achieve transformation or shape shifting (called Metamorphosis by Goodman). Some postures were for purposes specific to a culture, such as for hunting, and may not be as applicable to modern purposes.
How Do I Use Trance Postures?
The best way would be to purchase a book that explains the posture in detail so you can assume it properly. The primary book for this was written by Dr. Goodman’s student Belinda Gore: Ecstatic Body Postures. The book is a workbook that explains in detail how to use assume each ecstatic posture.
Similar to shamanic journeying using the drum, a sound such as rattling or other meditative sounds helps achieve the trance once the posture is assumed. To experience the trance of a given posture, one would use a rattle or drum recording or meditative music. Then the individual would assume the posture. It is common to use the posture for about 15 minutes.
Heaven Ross wrote an Shaman Portal article about Ecstatic Trance Postures, which describes his experience using three postures with students in his own workshops.
The Cuyamungue Institute has various articles on ecstatic postures on their website.
Dr Goodman’s book on Ecstatic postures is called Where the Spirits Ride the Wind. This book describes how she came to use postures, gives accounts of her discoveries with specific postures including the accounts of people’s experiences.
You can also view a List of Ecstatic / Trance Posture Books on Shaman Books, we will update with more books as we find them.