I’m a fairly open-minded person, but I harbor a lot of skepticism and doubtful thinking, too. (Case in point: Believing the benefits of doing a yoga social media challenge, for example.) Don’t get me wrong, I love sound healing, Himalayan salt rooms, and candlelight yin yoga on a Sunday night just as much as the next yogini. But I still don’t entirely get reiki (I know, I know) or energy crystals, or most stuff on Goop (Apitherapy?! Seriously, get out of here.)
So, when my editor at Yoga Journal asked me to try a month of pulling a Wild Unknown Tarot card each morning, journal about it, and see how it affected my yoga practice—and daily wellbeing—I raised an eyebrow. Actually, more like both eyebrows.
What did Tarot have to do with yoga?
Tarot originated (depending on who you ask) either in ancient Egypt or in Europe in the 18th century, when the deck of somewhat spooky and archaic playing cards started being used for divinations. Now, it’s a widespread practice with tons of varieties of decks, and practices on how to use and read the cards correctly.
Before I began this YJ quest, I knew very little about Tarot at all, to be honest, other than the fact that my college roommate and a few other pals had been very into it. So, I asked her about what drew her to it most. Her answer definitely surprised me.
Wait, so Tarot isn’t all about mysticism?
“I like Tarot as a self-reflection practice, a way to organize and take control of my thoughts,” my Tarot-loving friend told me. “Some people scoff that the situations and advice in divination practices are so vague they could mean anything, but I think that's actually the point: They're archetypal, so they sort of prompt you to look at yourself and your life, take stock of what knowledge and resources you already have, and also look at what decisions you have to make. She went on to tell me that doing a Tarot spread makes her construct a narrative—quite literally, physically storyboarding it out with cards— about what's going on in her life, which often leads her to whatever answers or inner wisdom was within her all along.
This answer surprised me, but it also made sense. Though Tarot could be used capital S Spiritually and capital M Mystically, maybe it’s actual use was for simple meditation—which made it, in essence, the perfect complement to a yoga practice.
Surprising mental health benefits
Days later, I came across Jessica Dore, a tarot reader and behavioral scientist, who pulls a tarot card a day and then posts it on Twitter for a growing social media audience. I asked Dore what she thought was drawing so many people to Tarot cards lately.
“I think by now we all know that we should be practicing self-care, but sometimes it can be challenging to figure out what that actually looks like,” Dore told me. “Pulling a card a day could be considered a self-care practice that gives us the space to attend to our inner lives. It creates a container within which we can process unresolved thoughts and emotions, practice being still, and listen to ourselves. I also think that seeing our experiences displayed visually is incredibly helpful in allowing us to step back from and be more mindful about those experiences.”
That very same skill is a bonafide mental health tool from psychology, something referred to as "perspective taking" in clinical research. Dore explained to me she actually uses Tarot cards (and the Tarot Circle she runs weekly in West Philadelphia) as therapy. She says the cards can be more like counseling aids than some magic trick to tell the future.
Huh, I mused for days. Maybe there was more to this than I thought.
Meditation, Yoga and Tarot: Pulling My Own Cards for a Month
I got Kim Krans’ The Wild Unknown tarot decks and journal to give my experiment some structure. Her decks come in two sets: Tarot and Animal Spirit. You can use either for pulling a card a day, so having both on hand allowed me to introduce some variety into the process. And, the best part: Krans includes lots of thoughtful, easy-to-read introductory information for the Tarot-uninitiated (like myself) to feel at home getting started. She’s also an incredibly talented artist and illustrator, so a big part of her Tarot practice is the drawings (and her drawings help guide you through the month of Tarot.)
I tried the single-card reading first. It’s a daily practice where, as Krans’ book explains, you simply meditate on the thought: What do I need to focus on today? Then, you shuffle the cards, cut the deck once, and turn over the top card. Once you’ve looked at the image and read about what it means, you meditate on the card, think about how you could apply the concept to your life, and, if you’d like, write a short journal entry about it.
See also A Beginner's Guide to Meditation
Within days, this practice of pulling a card, meditating on what it meant in my life, and writing about it became a moment I looked forward to. I started doing it in the morning with my coffee—even if I was busy and would’ve otherwise brushed off my meditation practice. I couldn’t believe how quickly this grounding routine helped to give me a sense of stability that stayed with me through for the rest of my day.
The Ups and Downs of Meditating on the cards
Soon after I started pulling the cards, I realized that some were very positive and helped me focus—and some were, well, not so positive, and helped me think about the negative things I might be doing in my life without realizing it.
To wit: a “Rabbit” card in the Animal Spirit deck told me I might be indulging in my fears too much, then a “Shark” card told me I might have issues lurking below the surface that I wasn’t dealing with. But, after those two cards, I pulled a mighty “Bear” card, which, Krans writes, indicates that it was time for me to “wake from spiritual slumber, begin anew, embrace inner strength, and learn to grow.”
The thing is, I wasn’t feeling as powerful as a Bear in the moment I pulled the card— but suddenly, I was granted the opportunity to think about how I could be. It changed my perspective in a way I never expected. When I went to yoga class that evening, I had a renewed focus for my practice: I was thinking about waking myself up, about doing each pose with intention, and pushing myself further both mentally and physically. It gave me an image to hold in my mind when I got tired—and something to shoot for when I felt myself weaken. And, what made it even better? The prompt on the journal page I turned to for that day read “Enlarge.” Okay, Universe. Message received.
On another day, a Saturday where I was feeling particularly moody. I was behind on my writing assignments for both my day job and my freelance work, my apartment was a mess, and I woke up later than planned, threatening an on-time arrival at my favorite yoga class. Tempting fate, I still sat down and had coffee and pulled a Tarot card (from the Tarot deck this time)—even though at this point I was pushing the limit of reasonable time to get to yoga. I had been so looking forward to yoga, and I was just plain mad that I had woken up so late. Why couldn’t I just get my life together? Was it really so hard?
I sat there, sighing and bemoaning my disorganization, and pulled a card. Temperance. There was a beautiful heron, who, I wrote in my journal, “looks like she’s crying, but she’s actually balancing both fire and water.”
Temperance signifies healing and renewal. Temperance signifies balance. I realized in the crazy schedule I had built out for myself this summer, what was missing was balance. I ran out the door to yoga only to arrive to a locked door. Class was beginning without me. But, with the card in mind, I felt suddenly guilty and childish for my earlier anger. I laced up my sneakers and went for a run instead, meditating on the thought of balance and temperance the whole time. The next day, I pulled “Strength.” It felt like an invisible guru was giving me wisdom on how to stop being so negative and get out of my self-imposed rut. My journal page prompt? “Emanate.” The card advised me to master my emotions and to “find the courage in my heart muscle.”
So, find it I would.
What I also found by pulling Tarot cards for a month to complement my yoga and meditation practice wasn’t that the Tarot cards magically “knew” what I needed. What I found was that I knew what I needed, and pulling the Tarot cards helped me to remember that.
About the Author
Gina Tomaine is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor. She is currently Deputy Lifestyle Editor of Philadelphia magazine, and previously served as Associate Deputy Editor of Rodale’s Organic Life. Her work can be seen in Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Prevention and elsewhere. Learn more at ginatomaine.com.