photo: Stephanie Flor

The Mayans believed we were all born with an animal spirit. From the jaguar, who represents courage and power. to the Eagle, who represents freedom, enlightenment, and vision, each animal is associated with different traits. Even the snake holds a healing power and represents transformational change.

On a recent trip to Cancun, Mexico, I got a massage called the Kukulkan at Le Blanc Spa Resort, a poetic massage where two masseuses use four hands in a choreographed simulation of sacred animals. 

Something to always remember is that a spirit animal chooses you, you don't choose it. I was guided into the treatment room and noticed items like a jaguar's head, a feather, caracol, and the burning of copal, which symbolized the releasing of spirits holding us back.

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To begin, a palo de lluvia was used to start the ceremony. The stick, which is filled with pebbles, is turned from one side to mimic the calming sound of rain falling. Traditionally rain sticks were used for closing cycles and sacred ceremonies for when Mayans wanted the gods to bless them rain.

In my hand, I held a small piece copal, a resin from a tree used as ceremonial incense for rituals from pre-Mesoamerica. It’s used all throughout Mexico to deposit negative energies and to cleanse the body. I was asked to put bad memories and feelings into the copal, and burn it into the fire as a sign of purification and letting go. 

My guide informed me that many times we bring in things from the outside world that don't serve us and that this treatment was about liberation. 

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During the massage, it was important to focus on intention, as this ritual is based on the ancient Mayan belief in rebirth. Letting go and focusing on a bigger sense of self through the animal spirit of strength, compassion, and forgiveness. As the two therapists worked, I could feel the paws of the jaguars jumping on my back, and the snake slithering along my spine. All the synchronization made me feel like my spirit animal was awakening.

The name of the Kukulkan massage is inspired by their supreme god, who is represented by a serpent in Mayan culture. 

The jaguar was seen as a king throughout Central and South America. It represents the power to face one's fears. It was a key part of Mayan celebrations, symbolizing rites of passage. Warriors often aspired to having the jaguar as their spirit animal, as they walk fearlessly, proud, unafraid, and live in the moment. 

Many times clients cry during the service as it's a very emotional experience that releases negative energy and releases the natural animal spirit within. From beginning to end, you are present. You are welcomed into your room, which is what they call a sacred space. It's all meant to make you look deeper; you start to feel your body and mind as one. The service incorporates the five senses, from the smell of the copal burning to the touch using local ingredients like salvia, aloe vera, and hearing the palo de lluvia. 

Here are the best three ways to tap into you animal spirit:

1. Meditate. Take 25 minutes to yourself and see what animals come to mind.

2. Go to the beach. Water is a powerful tool for rites of passage and remembrance. Go for a walk near water and visualize your spirit animal. What comes to mind? Does any animal land near you? Talk to you? These are clues to your animal spirit.

3. Altered states of mind like meditation, daydreaming, and sleeping activate one's third eye. The best way to tap into your sacred animal is to close your eyes and imagine your characteristics in an animal form. Turn off the lights and play background music to notice your breathing change or your body movements. 

The experience was enlightening. I instantly felt lighter, as if something was pulled off my shoulders. I also was filled with a sense of gratitude to the animal kingdom that I never knew could be so magical. By feeling the eagle, jaguar, and snake on my body, I felt empowered by the strength of each animal. Each one different, but each left a statement just by their touch. It inspired me to walk proud, stand tall, and let every step make an impact. Let my animal spirit guide me and like Katy Perry sings in her song "Roar": "I got the eye of the tiger." 

Stephanie Flor is a Founding Creator and beauty and travel blogger. When she's not writing for Vivala.com, you can find her at aroundtheworldbeauty.org.