The medicine wheel is an important symbol in the Indigenous culture, and is used to represent different teaching, values, stories, and beliefs. Divided into four quadrants, each quadrant of the medicine wheel represents a variety of different attributes like the four seasons, the four sacred medicines, the four directions, and more. The circular shape (sometimes referred to as a “hoop”) represents the interconnectivity of all elements represented by the medicine wheel, and helps to remind us of the importance of balance in all aspects of life.
Among the many meanings attributed to the medicine wheel are the four states of being, which will be the topic of this blog! The four states of being include the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental states, each represented by a separate quadrant on the medicine wheel. In the Indigenous culture, balance is emphasized in all things, including in the four states of being.
Being balanced between your four states of being is also referred to as having a mind-body-spirit connection. The mind-body-spirit connection has been referenced by Indigenous peoples for hundreds of years, and is a common central belief system. According to Indigenous belief, achieving a balanced mind-body-soul connection also enables the individual to connect with all that is: Mother Earth, the Creator, Nature, and so on.
In order to achieve balance, it is essential to address the needs of each of the four states of being. Neglecting one aspect of the self can throw off the balance, which is why the Indigenous culture emphasizes the importance of life’s interconnectedness. Here, we’ll cover the four states of being as represented on the medicine wheel, and share tips, tricks, and advice for improving your spiritual health and finding internal balance.
Spiritual Wellness and Overall Health
Because balance is so heavily emphasized by the Indigenous culture, the connection between spiritual wellness and overall health is widely recognized. For Indigenous peoples, fostering a connection between themselves and the universe is deeply important, and one of the key foundations of spirituality. When the spirit is aligned and balanced, our overall health and wellbeing is improved.
Indigenous people use the medicine wheel to help to pass on and maintain traditional teachings, such as the four states of being. Each state of being, represented by a quadrant on the medicine wheel, makes up a portion of the whole, and without one the others cannot be balanced.
The physical being is represented on the medicine wheel by the red quadrant, which also represents the direction South, the element of fire, the sacred medicine sage, and the season of Summer. The physical being or body is, as you might suspect, your physical form. The bones and muscles that make up your form are those things that physically carry you through life, and represent an important part of your existence.
Most people believe they already know what it takes to keep the physical being happy and balanced, and will usually mention things like exercise and healthy eating when asked about the health of their physical body. While eating healthy and exercising are important, they are not the only means of achieving physical health and balance.
The amount of mental toll and physical stress we carry around with us on a daily basis also have an impact on our physical health. Stress especially can be damaging in the long term, and many individuals who struggle to manage their stress find themselves experiencing both emotional and physical symptoms. Health is about more than not having a cold or being able to run a mile; health has to do with the balance and harmony of the four states of being.
Some practices for improving your physical wellbeing include:
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Spending time connecting to nature
- Smudging with sage to cleanse the air of your home
- Stretching, gentle movement, massage
The spiritual being is represented on the medicine wheel by the yellow quadrant, which also represents the direction East, the element of Earth, the sacred medicine tobacco, and the season of Spring. Your spiritual being manifests itself as a connection to the greater world. In the Indigenous culture, the spiritual being is often referred to in reference to a connection with the Creator.
Spiritual energy is thought to “trickle-down” to the other states of being, helping them to remain balanced with a steady flow of energy and information from the spiritual realm. Your spiritual being may be connected with the Creator (or whoever you pray to), Mother Earth, the universe, nature, and so on. Spiritual wellness is all about maintaining a state of openness to the energies of the universe, which in turn helps us to develop intuition and a spiritual connection.
Some practices for improving your spiritual wellbeing include:
- Practicing meditation
- Smudging with intention
- Studying openness and curiosity
The emotional being is represented on the medicine wheel by the black quadrant, which also represents the direction West, the element of water, the sacred medicine sweetgrass, and the season of Fall. The emotional being is the aspect of ourselves that carries our feelings and emotions and recalls our past experiences to inform our future ones. The emotional body stores our feelings, fears, anxieties, and triumphs, and recalls them for us when the time is appropriate.
In some cases, the emotional being can experience a blockage, either due to the storing of a particularly painful or traumatic memory, or because of a buildup of negative emotions and energy. When this happens, we can experience additional stress or emotional pain, which may manifest itself in the three other bodies.
While negative energy and emotions are an inevitable part of life, an excess of these emotions can create an imbalance, and cause us to become emotionally volatile, easily angered, easily frustrated, and so on. When the emotional being is unbalanced, it impacts the whole of a person’s wellbeing, so it is imperative to develop emotional intelligence and tools for addressing moments of imbalance.
Some practices for improving your emotional wellbeing include:
- Self-reflection; try while smudging with sweetgrass
- Taking mental note of points of gratitude
- Spending time with family, friends, and neighbors to develop deeper emotional connections
The mental being is represented on the medicine wheel by the white quadrant, which also represents the direction North, the element of air, the sacred medicine cedar, and the season of Winter. On a basic level, your mental being exists as your conscious thoughts, but on a deeper level, the mental being represents your deepest desires and beliefs. In other words: your values.
When the mental body is balanced, we are able to make decisions and move through the world with our goals and values in mind. When the flow of energy is disrupted, the mental being can become stuck in a loop of thought, destroying your forward trajectory. Anxiety, stress, self-doubt, and other negative thoughts can fully occupy the energy of your mental being, leaving no room for your deeper desires or goals.
While imbalance causes doubt and chaos, balance helps to drive our actions and to help us make the wisest decisions. Balance helps us to focus more clearly on our goals, and to take the correct steps on our path to them.
Some practices for improving your mental wellbeing include:
- Setting goals
- Recapping the day’s failures and successes; try while smudging
- Expanding the mind through education, reading, writing, travel, etc.