Stacey Coffey is a yogi, yoga teacher and studio owner. She is also a shaman, cranial sacral therapist and energy healer. She brings passion and skill to each class by guiding her students not only in breath and alignment but also by shining a light onto the personal stories they carry, allowing them to shed what no longer serves their authentic selves. The following conversation sheds light on the nature of shamanism and how, when combined with the path of yoga, leads to a mindful life lived with passion and purpose.
Kim Haas: It seems like every couple has a story of how they met and every yogi has a story of how they came to yoga. So, what’s your yoga story?
Stacey Bell Coffey: Yes! So, I actually used to make fun of yoga.
In my mind it was for people who were too lazy or too old to do anything else. Then I hurt my back and was going to the chiropractor a couple of times a week. He suggested that I might want to try yoga.
I tried it and never had to go back to the chiropractor. I was also able to give up drinking and smoking and all kinds of other really bad, nasty behaviors, let alone everything else that shifted.
KH: So you found yoga to be much more than the asanas right from the beginning.
SBC: Yes, for sure. I really liked that first class I took. It was a healthy backs class and the teacher was crazy hard. But I found it stimulating. My control, Type A brain really liked the challenge.
So from there I went and found new teachers. The unfortunate thing was I really didn’t like any of the studio teachers, but I really liked what was happening to my body. I liked how I was feeling in my own practice.
After taking three yoga classes with three different teachers then practicing at home for about six years, I came to a place where I was really lost. I sat and meditated and kept asking,
“Where am I going? What am I going to do with this? What’s next?”
And after 3 days of meditating for hours at a time random people would come up to me and say, ”You’re a yoga teacher, right?”
I’d say no and they’d say, “Oh, I thought for sure you were a yoga teacher.”
That kept happening.
Finally, my brother-in-law, who obviously knows me, introduced me to someone who I’d met before who was a yoga teacher. He introduced us with the commonality of “You guys did your yoga teacher training at the same place.”
I looked at her and she said, “Oh, you trained with Jonny.”
I said, “No, I’m not a yoga teacher. I don’t know who Jonny is.”
But at that moment I got the picture that that’s what I was supposed to do.
KH: The Universe was telling you that you need to be a yoga teacher.
SBC: Yes. And there was a very clear moment of me looking up and saying, “Okay. I get it.”
So, I found who Jonny Kest was the next day. I went and spent a weekend at Kripalu a couple of weeks later, met Jonny and started his teacher training and had only ever taken 3 yoga classes in my life.
KH: Okay, let’s go into shamanism. For anybody who has no idea what it is, what would be your basic, kindergarten definition of shamanism?
SBC: I read a great line once and I can’t remember who wrote it, but it said that shamans are midwives to miracles.
SBC: Right? I love that.
Shamanism has been around a long time. A shaman is the healer of the tribe. A spiritual leader as well as someone who is also able to do that emotional healing.
People come to me for a number of different reasons. I’m able to see things that they can’t see. Not necessarily energy and auras and that sort of thing but to see the pattern behind their story. To see the truth behind their ego and their story and what they project. A shaman is able to see through that and help the person to have a different perspective.
KH: So, what is your shamanism story? How did you find it? First you found yoga and that changed your life and changed your body and opened a new career for you. And then shamanism came to you…?
SBC: At the exact same time. The weekend I spent at Kripalu, I met Ray Crist. The first class I took at Kripalu was a moderate class. I wasn’t sure what Kripalu yoga was, if it was going to be too hard or too easy and so I went with the moderate. I was bored in about ten minutes. Don’t get me wrong. It was yummy, but I wanted more.
So the next morning I took the 6:00 a.m. class and it was Ray’s class. And I loved it. I was there for the R & R weekend and he led the R & R workshop. It was an introduction into shamanism. Loved it. So I left that class and went to take the noon vinyasa and Ray was the teacher. I went to the afternoon vinyasa and Ray taught that one too.
I had no idea who this man was. It just happened that every class I took, he was the teacher.
I realized something was happening.
KH: The Universe was stepping in once again saying that you 2 need to be together for some reason.
SBC: Oh, absolutely. That was the summer of 2006 and I’ve been studying with him ever since. .
KH: Were you aware of what shamanism was before you met Ray?
SBC: I’d heard the word. I was already a Reiki master. Already doing energy medicine.
KH: So this was all on your radar already?
SBC: Yes. I’d also had acupuncture. But to say that I was actually studying shamanism or working with a shaman, no. I had no idea what that meant. The Universe once again saw completely that that’s what needed to happen.
KH: Are there levels of teaching for shamans?
SBC: Yes. I’m what’s called a pampamasayok, which is the first level. Ray is an altomesayok, and I believe one of the only Westerners to have that. .
We study Peruvian shamanism. There are a number of different shamanisms out there. It actually started in Russia but every culture has it—the Eskimoes, Native Americans—everyone has their version of shamans.
The Peruvian shamans, the Quero, have 4 different levels. The first two are the most common:
A pampamasayok shaman is someone who cares for individuals and the earth.
Altomesayok is someone who works on a community-wide basis of healing. You start out with the land; start off with yourself before you work on somebody else. Once you’re at that next level you can work on the community.
It’s amazing to watch how shamanism changes people.
Not only my own experience but clients come in and I see how that new perspective shifts them using tools like rattles and rocks.
Every once in a while someone will come in who is of scientific mind not believing that a rock, rattle or a feather is going to do anything. And they’re right. The rock and the rattle are not doing the majority of it. They are just tools to help. A screwdriver or hammer isn’t going to build the house but you have to have them to build the house.
KH: Can you talk a little bit about how it shifted you? In what ways did shamanism change you?
SBC: Wow…so many shifts.
First, it changed the perspective of who I am.
How I see the world. How I am in the world.
It also shifts your energies. It literally takes your chakras and spins them differently. It takes samskaras or wounds out of your energy body so you no longer have to believe in that story anymore.
We all have these stories that we believe: I’m Stacey. I’m a yoga teacher. I’m a wife.
Shamanism allows you to actually see your stories differently. If the story is no longer serving you, it gets pulled out of your energy so that you no longer have to believe it.
So the shifts that I saw were my relationships got better—with my parents, my biological parents, my siblings, my friends, my husband.
My relationship with myself got better.
I had more energy, literally. I’d had chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia when I found shamanism and that is completely gone. Now most days I need to find a way to release all my energy. Today at the gym I ran for four miles, still had more energy so went home and worked on my website and then took the dog for a two mile walk.
KH: So, no more chronic fatigue.
SBC: No. Most days I go to the gym to read while I’m burning off energy running. It’s crazy.
KH: Do you try to weave shamanism into your daily life?
SBC: Yes. So shamans connect into the energy of the world. They connect into the energy of Mother Earth, the sun, the stars, the directions of energy and the power of the elements.
On a daily basis, in the morning I’ll connect into the energy that’s around me. I offer a prayer, thanking the earth for sustaining me, thanking the sky for shining down on me. To the Universe for directing me, because it’s going to do it whether you want it to or not.
It allows me to connect into a really sacred place when I go into meditation to see what’s happening not only in my own world but how I’m affecting the world and how the world is affecting me.
KH: It sounds powerful.
SBC: It is powerful. I can’t imagine life without it. These are tools we used to have. Our grandmothers used to teach us these things. Then we became modern and civilized and we no longer have these tools.
KH: I want to talk about bringing shamanism into the yoga classes you teach. They work really well together. They’re both about energy and shifting so you find it’s a good combination, right?
SBC: Absolutely. One of the things my teachers talk about is that when we’re doing the sun salutes, we’re opening up our energy field and clearing it out. Most people walk around with a lot of negatively charged energy in their energy field. In the surya namaskars you’re reaching up and clearing out all of these cobwebs that are around you.
So, if you understand what you’re doing, you can do it with a clearer intention, as opposed to not understanding what’s happening and just going through the motions.
It’s intention that really proves to be the greatest healer ever.
There are so many different placebo studies where they talk about if someone doesn’t know that they’re sick they don’t behave sickly. If they know that they’re sick, all of a sudden they start to behave sick and think that they’re back is hurting because they have that bad back or are coughing because they’re sick. If you don’t know that you’re sick or if your intention is that you are no longer sick, your body starts listening to that and starts to heal.
KH: It’s as if once you have a name for it, it then has power.
SBC: Yes. Like with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Those aren’t actually real things. Fibromyaglia, especially. Chronic fatigue, okay, sure you can pinpoint that down to an actual virus in the body but fibromyalgia is undiagnosed because it’s an allover general malaise and once they name it, insurance can now take money for it.
But shamanism sees things as everything related to the energy.
Yogis see the same thing. Everything is energy first. Once it’s in the energy body it can then manifest in the physical body. But if we can take it out of the energy body, it doesn’t turn into a physical thing.
KH: Have you ever introduced any kind of shamanism into a class and have a student not be receptive at all?
SBC: No. My intention of teaching the yoga and shamanism together isn’t to make anyone a shaman. They don’t need to believe what I’m saying or have their life changed by it. But it offers that new perspective.
If during that hour-long class I can provide a different viewpoint and maybe they can shift slightly from where they are.
Imagine you’re standing up against a wall and it’s not letting you move forward but all you have to do is turn 3 degrees to your left and take 2 steps to get away from the wall. If I can provide the opportunity to turn their head that 3 degrees to their left then that’s all that matters.
If they don’t believe it or hear it or understand it or if they prefer to look at the wall, that’s okay. That’s fine. That’s where they’re at. The stuff that we’re going through is there for a reason. When they are ready to be through with it the answer shows up.
The Universe comes in and says, “Okay. I’m putting everyone in your path that’s going to tell you that you’re a yoga teacher and then I’m going to introduce you to the person who you will study with who is then going to take you to Peru and introduce you to the head elders and this is the path that you’re taking.”
KH: That’s perfect. So let’s talk about Peru. You’ve gone once and are getting ready to go again.
SBC: Right. The first time was so exciting and so overwhelming. There was so much to look at, to take in. The sacred sites themselves hold the memory of something magical.
When you take regular trip to Peru on a tour bus, you get the historical facts. But because we went with the shamans we got the backstory. We would be in Machu Picchu and our guide would describe the history of a building and how it was built. Once the guide was done, our teacher, Jamie, would take over and describe what ceremony the shamans performed there and the sacred reason why.
We would sit and offer up the same prayers as the shamans had, offering that moment of thanks, that moment of prayer to the earth, to the sun, to the winds to carry it to where it needs to go.
KH: Is everyone in your group studying shamanism?
SBC: The tour is through my teacher and his program but you don’t have to be on the shaman path to go. Most people are. We do shamanic stuff so you definitely have to have an interest in shamanism to go otherwise, why would you go? Go to Cancun or to Mexico.
We do yoga every morning to open up our bodies. We do ceremonies to open up our energy fields.
There are people who have taken the trip who aren’t really that interested so they join us where it’s appropriate for them and go off on their own at other times. When they’re ready, that information will be waiting for them.
KH: Can you describe the people of Peru?
SBC: They are unbelievable. So nice. The poverty level is crazy. So poor but they’re all smiling. We went by a group of about ten kids playing in old downtown Cuzco. Some didn’t have shoes. They were all dirty and they were chasing a ball. Just laughing and running and it was fantastic. No iPhones or computers. Just outside playing.
With the poverty level, there are people selling woven bracelets. I once saw a child walking around holding a baby lamb trying to sell pictures of her and the lamb. I get that. They need to eat. Tourism is important to them.
But it really is such a beautiful place. To look at the mountains and to see all of the beauty and all of the history that is basically untouched. Sure, there’s a McDonald’s but they’re everywhere. But it really is pretty much untouched by the rest of the world.
KH: What would you say is the biggest impact this last trip to Peru had on you?
SBC: It was just such a profound shift—doing the ceremonies and the sacred rites, stepping out of life in our small town of Brighton. Stepping out of my role as a yoga teacher, business owner, wife, daughter and sister.
It’s about being able to step into the timelessness of what the sacred sites offer.
The sacred ceremonies that we did are life changing. They alter your perspective. We did a journey at one of the sacred sites leading us up into the level of Condor, which is where everything is just perfect exactly as it from this high view of where the condor would fly.
You get to look at your life not only in this moment but the whole picture of your energy from the beginning to the end.
It’s just magical.
It’s really hard to come back and have something small happen and be affected by it. I ran over a nail and had a flat tire on the expressway a couple of weeks ago. That would’ve been a really stressful before. But now it’s, Hey, it’s a tire. There’s a reason that this happened. It’s okay. Everything is okay.
KH: That almost brings us full circle, talking about yoga, shamanism, Peru and coming back to how this all affects your daily life. This is why you practice it. It just shifts everything.
SBC: I’ve had a daily yoga practice since 2000. Some days I do two hours on the mat, others it’s only ten minutes. But I’m no longer interested in just asana.
My whole life is yoga.
My whole life is this place of connecting into that higher picture and the energy of what’s happening more so than just how many Downdogs I did today. It’s about connecting into the level of breath, the awareness and focus of feeling my heart beat, feeling energy lines moving through me, clearing out that negative, stale energy that surrounds us.
Yoga has become such a mainstream thing but what’s happening is that we’re creating a bunch of people who like to move around on the mat. Who like to rock out a chaturanga or do some crazy arm balance and get sweaty for an hour. That’s great.
It’s awesome exercise but if that’s all it is, that’s all it will bring to you.
When you combine it with the ancient healing ideas, philosophies, techniques and tools of shamanism, of traditional Chinese Medicine then it really becomes a thing that can change your life.
It changed mine.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Courtesy Stacey Bell Coffey