The Alchemy of Yoga
Yoga Instructor Elizabeth Rowan Transforms Pain into Passion
lthough yoga is a thousands-of-years-old practice, Elizabeth Rowan is changing the way we use and view this ancient tool for personal transformation—reminding us all that we are inherently alchemists.
“When we first think of alchemy, it is often as the ancient practice of turning lead into gold,” says Rowan. “Looking deeper, we find that alchemy was and is very much a spiritual pursuit. Like yoga, it’s an inside job.”
Upon the difficult discovery that she wasn’t living her truth or honoring her calling, Rowan quit her corporate job, ended her marriage, and began to walk the path of light. She set aflame a life that was no longer serving her highest good and single-handedly built her desired reality as a yoga instructor, soul igniter, and modern day alchemist.
Now an instructor, retreat hostess, empowering goddess, ritual creatrix, spiritual writer, and fearless wanderluster, Rowan lights the path for truth seekers and soul searchers through classes, workshops, and retreats designed to ignite the fire within us and remind us of our infinite personal power. The Alchemy of Yoga is the embodiment of her journey, passions, calling, and soul fire.
Spirit Guides spoke with Rowan about how her personal journey began and how to use yoga for the alchemical transformation from suffering to surrender—“the practice of a lifetime.”
When and how did your yoga journey begin?
Wow. It’s such an incredible reminder of how unpredictable but exquisitely connected and divinely timed everything in life is to reflect on this. Years ago, over six now, I was living an entirely different life. I was married, living in Hong Kong, and working a corporate gig like my life depended on it. I thought it did, that my life depended on the external: the title, the surface, the impression, the rapid ticking of accomplishment boxes created by a hungry, aggressive, and masculine world. I was winning—on the outside. On a deep level, I knew my daily diet of superficiality was certainly starving my soul.
As a child, I was always deeply connected to the natural world, listening to and communicating with the universe, feeling others without words. I dressed as a gypsy, slept in a tent in the backyard, spoke to the birds and falling leaves as signs from Spirit. A child mystic. In what seemed like a blink, I was an adult working for something that wasn’t touching my heart; I was physically ill from trying to keep up with the demands of my job and the accompanying expectations I’d granted it and my marriage. As the discord of these things amplified, I didn’t resist: the soft, certain soul-speak of my long hidden truth felt like a sigh of relief. She whispered, “You’re still here,” as if she thought I’d forgotten. I exhaled, relieved to the marrow to receive what felt like permission to return. Thus my yoga journey and spiritual path began.
I started a regular practice while keeping my life as I then knew it. Aware that yoga was doing its work, slowly, methodically shifting and thawing and remembering me, I offered it increasing presence in my life. Practice led to a training led to more and more study. More and more, I exhaled.
My return to the States imminent after an extended expat assignment, the perfect timing arrived to exit my job and change careers entirely. Within 18 months, I’d completely redesigned my life, was teaching yoga full time, had left my marriage, moved, the works. Coming home, as it were. My yoga and spiritual practices are now that home.
“The Alchemy of Yoga” is a powerful slogan. In what ways do you feel yoga alchemizes?
I say this often: “As truth seekers and yogis, we are inherently alchemists.”
Constantly in pursuit of our highest selves and that of one another, we are on an eyes wide open quest for challenges as a means to evolution—again and again and again. We experience many a shift-show and we live to tell. When we first think of alchemy, it is often as the ancient practice of turning lead into gold. Looking deeper, we find that alchemy was and is very much a spiritual pursuit. Like yoga, it’s an inside job.
Alchemy’s transformation of materials from base metal to gold, of beings from mortal to immortal, of our very essence from ego to enlightened, aligns beautifully with the practice of yoga. Alchemy and yoga alike present fascinating similarities in terms of this transformation. A union of opposites, the harnessing and raising of energy and quest for our highest selves permeate both.
A mix of scientific principles, religions, magic, spirituality, metaphor, and mythology, alchemy’s end goal manifests in yoga as one of surrender, self-realization, and freedom from suffering. This is the practice of a lifetime, to be sure: pursuing a continual cycle toward rebirth, refinement, enlightenment. Transforming our most base characteristics, experiences, baggage into something of superlative value, even when it takes effort and sweat and tears. This is the alchemy of yoga.
What/Who are your Spirit Guides?
I have a veritable roll call! As yoga reminds us, truth is one and paths are many, so essentially I seek to connect with various qualities of Spirit depending on what I’m seeking or working on that day. When I’m dropping in, I call on Spirit, Source, God, Goddess, Gaia, angels, and saints to come in.
I consciously met Kali for the first time last year on a healing journey to Peru, and she’s held me in and through the fire of tough love ever since. Spirit guides manifest throughout my days as various encounters, often within the natural world, with others, animals, synchronicity, signs. The conscious pursuit of Spirit everywhere and in all beings is the keystone of my yoga and spiritual practice.
Where is the most spiritually moving place you’ve traveled to?
A priestess retreat last year to Peru instigated profound personal transformation and connection for me that is still acutely underway as we speak. A dear friend and brilliant guide on the path of the divine feminine, Sarah Durham Wilson, guided a group of women through over a week of goddess work there that culminated with a shaman leading us on a plant medicine journey in the Andes.
I went on the trip to exorcise a very specific source of pain in my life, and in doing so, met Kali, Pachamama, Grandfather Huachuma as the medicine is known, and of course, my truest self. To so completely immerse myself into goddess worship and plant medicine in such a sacred land truly awakened my sense of connection, self, and spiritual practice. Our guided journey took place outside, a sisterhood climbing the sacred mountains together throughout a day and into the night.
I found there a tremendous sense of oneness with that land, our natural world, those women who shared such a journey. I’m hoping to get back to Peru again and again and again. So much medicine and healing wisdom is held in that land.
How do you combine the ancient flow of yoga with intentional ritual? Do they work hand-in-hand or as complements to each other?
If we consider yoga, alchemy, and ritual all as tools for working with the subtle body to heal and clear our pathway to the divine, they are deeply complimentary. Yoga’s purpose was subtle, energetic, and spiritual long before it was the physical manifestation we see today. When I work with clients, I pull from all of these modalities and experiences to prompt transformation and healing across the physical, spiritual, and emotional planes.
The body gives us clues on the physical plane that nearly always trace to what’s afoot spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, even and especially when we aren’t consciously aware. My rituals manifest via various components of yoga, meditation, subtle body work, self-care, goddess work, and mysticism.
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