Marie Claire Cover Story: Spiritual Healing, Why Young Women Are Turning to Shamans

photo courtesy Cassi Alexandra/

photo courtesy Cassi Alexandra/

Spiritual Healing: Why Young Women Are Turning to Shamans to Fix Themselves

On a sunny morning last fall, I swallowed my innate skepticism and visited Alyson Charles, a former college track-and-field coach and one-time radio DJ whose fit physique and bubbly personality are more Laker Girl, less spiritual healer. Charles, 37, who has been practicing shamanism for three years, began under another shaman by taking online courses and workshops, and working with other healers at the Golden Drum, a spiritual center in Brooklyn. Charles conducts guided group shamanic journeys at the Breathe salt cave in Manhattan for $40, and one-on-one sessions in clients' homes (prices vary). Mine was comped and done at the LuliTonix juice store she manages in Nolita. Sounds totally insane, I know.

Dressed in a fur vest and high-heeled booties, Charles sat me down in a pillow-strewn corner of the shop, as she lit a piece of palo santo ("holy wood"), which is believed by South American healers to help purify the air of malevolent spirits, and started to play soothing tribal music from her iPod. Then she took me on a 30-minute guided meditation, shaking handmade Native American and Peruvian wooden rattles around my head as she encouraged me to imagine each one of my chakras becoming vibrant and "juicy." The belief in chakras, or energy disks, comes from Hindu philosophy. There are seven chakras from the root of the spine to the crown of the head, each corresponding to a different color and aspect of life. For example, the second chakra, located above the pubic bone, is orange and relates to sexual health and creativity; stagnation in either can be remedied by specific yoga moves, certain foods, breathing techniques, and meditation. According to Charles, we must clear our chakras from "childhood wounds, traumas, aspects from other lifetimes, things that aren't even ours to carry"—so we can "truly be the fully flourishing light being we are meant to be." 

When she asked me to imagine my chakras, I saw dark spots representing past traumas and pain lifting away from my root, heart, and throat chakras, revealing bright red, green, and blue energy centers. I liken these "dark spots" to smudges on a gemstone that have to be wiped away to reveal the glow beneath. Near the end of our session, she told me to envision my "goddess" self. What does she look like? What is she doing? How does she feel? Suddenly, a very clear picture of myself appeared in my mind. I had masses of long, wavy brown hair, and my legs and arms looked long, tan, and toned. I was wearing a white bohemian dress and walking down a sun-dappled cobblestone street. Charles ended the session with a hug. "You were just so present and ready," she said, giving me some of the wood, a feather, and an amethyst, which she said the spirits had told her to give me.

Alyson Charles