The Medicine Wheel

Medicine Wheel Basics

Often, our spiritual practices are tied to our culture. This holds true for some Indigenous communities, where ways of being and culture are mixed with spirituality. An example of this is the Medicine Wheel.

The Medicine Wheel is a symbol used by various Indigenous communities that represent Indigenous worldviews. It also represents core spiritual and cultural beliefs. It’s a circle that is divided into 4 different quadrants, with 4 different colours. Different nations have different medicine wheel teachings that align with their beliefs and values. However, each of the 4 quadrants usually symbolizes 4 different attributes.

In some communities these can include:

  • The 4 Directions (North, East, South, and West)
  • The 4 Sacred Medicines (Tobacco, Sage, Cedar, and Sweetgrass)
  • The 4 Different Stages of Life (birth, youth, adult, death)
  • The 4 Different States of Being (spiritual, physical, emotional, mental).

The Medicine Wheel teaches us that everything on Mother Earth is interconnected. It teaches us that our health is deeply connected to nature and other beings on Earth. We learn that health is about having balance in all 4 states of being.

In other words, our physical health, emotional health, mental health, and spiritual wellbeing are all interconnected. If we have an imbalance in one state of our being, it can cause an imbalance in all the other areas. For example, when we are not feeling well emotionally, it might lead to stress which might have an impact on our sleep. This can lead to negative physical health effects.

Spiritual Balance

In various Indigenous cultures, our spiritual being is defined in relation to its connection with the Creator, Mother Earth, the Universe, and those around us. Below are some tips on how we can apply the principles of the medicine wheel to maintain our spiritual balance, and nourish our spiritual being.

  • Prayer
    • Prayer can mean different things to different people.
    • At the core of it, prayer is often defined as communicating with what some may call Creator, or one’s ancestors (depending on spiritual beliefs).
    • A prayer can be a request or it can simply be a moment in which we take time to turn inward.
    • Prayer tips: specifically carve out some time in the day to say a prayer. It may help to set an alarm as a reminder or consider keeping a prayer journal.
  • Meditation/Mindfulness
    • Meditation is a mental exercise in which we reflect or reach a higher level of spiritual awareness.
    • One form of meditation is the practice of mindfulness.
    • Mindfulness is about becoming aware of our feelings, thoughts, and/or surroundings.
    • It is the practice of being present in the moment.
    • Check out Mindfulness for Teens & Foundry BC for more information and mindfulness tips.
  • Smudging
    • Smudging is the practice of using herbs and medicines. Usually, the 4 sacred medicines (sage, tobacco, sweetgrass, sage), are burned for the purpose of creating a cleansing smoke.
    • Smudging is traditionally done in rituals in some indigenous cultures across Turtle Island.
    • It can be used to clear a physical space of negative and unwanted energy, and can sometimes be done with a prayer. 
    • Smudging can be used as a way to connect with the Creator and to cleanse your spirit.
    • Everyone is welcome to partake in this practice but it is important to be aware and respectful of the spiritual heritage behind Indigenous customs.
    • Check out this video to better understand the difference between Indigenous smudging vs. “trendy” smudging. Also, check out this video for more information on what it is, and how to do it respectfully. 
  • Nature
    • Nature can be a source of healing.
    • According to Indigenous traditions, everything in nature is interconnected. We are also part of the grand equation of everything in the universe.
    • Taking time to explore nature, and use all of our senses to connect to it can help give us perspective. It can remind us of our place in the grand scheme of things.
    • One doesn’t have to love camping to explore and experience nature, a simple walk in a nearby park can be just as healing as time spent in the mountains or the woods.
  • Practice Gratitude
    • Practicing gratitude can have many positive effects on our well-being including our spiritual balance.
    • We don’t need to have major life events occur to be able to practice gratitude.
    • We can simply practice being thankful for even the little things in our lives. 
    • Consider keeping a gratitude journal to list the people, the things, and moments we feel grateful towards. Try this every day before bed for a few minutes.
    • This practice can help shift our perspectives and improve our mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
    • Check out this Introduction to Practicing Gratitude & Teens Health Guide to Gratitude for more tips on how we can incorporate gratitude into our daily life!
  • Community
    • No one is meant to be alone in this world; we all need people.
    • A community of like-minded peers can be a healing balm for our spirits.
    • If one is religious, then attending a temple, or church, or a mosque, or a gathering can help us find a community with whom we share spiritual beliefs. That community can eventually be a safe space.
    • However, we don’t need to be religious to find a good community. Instead finding a good group of friends can also be good for our spirit since good friendships can often act as a catalyst for emotional healing and health.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact emergency services (9-1-1) now.