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Ritual is not a Dirty Word

I recently had the privilege of staying at the beautiful Fivelements retreat in Ubud Bali and participating in a fire ceremony called Agni Hotra while writing a story on ritual and healing.

I quite honestly forgot about the simple benefits of including the five elements of earth, fire, water, air and space into our every day rituals while attending to our busy lifestyles.

It made me think about the calming effects that running water or even being surrounded by bodies of water can have on us. Even clean air, space just to be, feeling the earth between our toes (because we are always wearing shoes) and the hypnotic embers of a fire can breathe life into us again.

The Balinese people practice rituals everyday which include these elements. And they are happier for it. You can see it in their smiles, their eyes and their ridiculously youthful looking skin. It also means they take time out of their days to appreciate what surrounds them and also understand that they are a part of the elements themselves - not a separate entity.

Agni Hotra is an ancient fire ceremony which originated from the Hindu sacred scriptures - the Vedas. Agni refers to fire and Hotras means, healing. Specially trained priests make offerings into the fire while reciting Sanskrit mantras to invoke blessings of health and abundance.

During the ceremony, I sat next to my priest and recited the OM mantra 21 times (to help purify and cleanse) while setting my intention or wish for the future and adding ghee to the fire one spoon at a time while exclaiming ‘Svaha’ or ‘So be it!’ at the end of each chant.

Offerings of seeds (food), sugar (for forgiveness) were added to the fire as I was told to drink the holy water. My involvement was not impartial and even though I was unsure of my role in this ceremony it somehow came naturally to me and our movements and voices moved in time with each other as the fire grew hot and somewhat uncomfortable on my face - it felt like my presence was known - I was no longer just sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to happen. It gave me the understanding that I am continually adding the fuel to the fire and I have to be careful about what I add.

The most intriguing offering was the coconut. It's metophorical and also symbolic reference as the human 'ego', was poignant for me at this time - I needed to let go of who I thought I was and who others thought I should be - and as I cracked open the coconut (well, the priest did anyway as I tried and failed a few times) and threw it into the burning fire - it felt like a release of the old ego and the creation of a new and better one.

So really, it is all about symbols that we can relate to and potentially use to rid our minds and bodies of unworthy thoughts and make sense of time and space. It doesn’t mean you should build a bonfire out the back of your house and start throwing tubs of lard in. It can just be the ritual of lighting candles, surrounding yourself with flowers, creating a lush sanctuary with water flowing (a small water feature or bird bath in the garden), that can be appreciated every day in some sort of ritual.

So, there are a number of things you can try at home, but there really are no rules:

1. Wake up and be thankful for all the goodness in your life. Purely focus on those good things and they wll grow.

2. Set your intention for the day: what would you like to achieve? I have a mantelpiece with lots of candles and crystals and a vision board that I focus on in my thoughts. Hold a crystal to your heart and make some wishes.

3. Have a cup of tea or coffee and sit and appreciate nature in your backyard or balcony before you start your hectic day. It only takes 10 minutes of your time and it really just helps to wake up every cell in the body to function at an optimal level.

4. Take a bath - add oils, bath salts (Epsom salts are amazing), light some candles and put some music on at the end of a long day. If you don't have a bath, or the time, then make your shower a ritual - with a natural body scrub, face mask and then apply body oils.

5. Go to bed in peace. We often deal with difficult relationships, money issues, work dynamics and family problems that niggle at us and make us feel angry when we go to bed. Try practicing 10 deep breathes (lying down or sitting up), focusing on the nose and the air shooting up through each nostril and out again. Only focus on the nose and this will instantly calm the whole body. When the mind wanders, don't beat yourself up about it, just go back to focusing on the breathe.

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