About the Animal Spirit Discovery Cards
Learn how to be more mindful, manage emotions, and engage in self-care as a family – in a fun and magical way!
The Animal Spirit Discovery Card deck is based on the idea that we all have characteristics that reflect certain aspects of animals, depending on our personality, our experiences, and our current situation. One day, you could be like a frog – bouncy yet grounded. Another day, you could be more like a zebra – outgoing and looking fresh. Another day, you are like the earth element – grounded, organized, on a schedule. The next day, you could be more like water – emotional and creative.
The illustrations on the cards were designed, drawn and painted by Dr. S. Colby Peters, LCSW (follow Dr. Peters on Instagram @colbywpeters to see more of her art). Dr. Peters designed and developed the cards using mindfulness models, therapeutic models from social work and psychology, and her own interests and creativity. They are sturdy and laminated in plastic, perfect for kids and easy to clean.
The purpose of the deck is to promote self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-compassion, emotional balance, and growth in a fun and playful way. The information on each of the cards and the suggestions for growth reflect the HS Mindfulness Model of awareness, acceptance, compassion, and balance.
There are 28 cards in the deck, including:
- 20 animal cards
- 4 element cards
- 4 spirit cards
The ancient Greeks believed that everything was made of a combination of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. They also believed that an individual’s personality and behavior were determined by how much of each element they had in their body at a time. When the elements were in balance, that meant the person was healthy, both physically and mentally. When you have a lot of fire in you, you tend to be assertive, energetic, and powerful. A lot of air means you are quick, flexible, and visionary. When you have a lot of earth, you tend to be organized, responsible, and dependable. And when you have lots of water you are emotional, creative, and deep.
The elements cards have four pieces of information on them. The words right under the name of the element describe general characteristics of a person who has a lot of the element. The words next to “Balanced” are how that person is when they have all its needs met and are happy. The words next to “Unbalanced” describe how that person can be when they don’t have their needs met and are unhappy. The suggestion next to “To Balance” is a good way to get the that person back to serenity.
Each animal card has the same pieces of information that the element card has, plus a picture of the element associated with that animal at the very bottom. In addition to exploring the information on your animal card, you can then pull the corresponding element card to go deeper.
Spirit cards are special cards. They tap into forces that are not of this world, and they have no down side – they are never “unbalanced”, and all about positive growth. There are four spirit cards: dragon, fairy, mermaid, and unicorn. On each of these cards, there will be an action, characteristics, and a quest around one of four Human Systems mindfulness concepts: awareness, acceptance, compassion or balance.
How to Use the Animal Spirit Discovery Cards
First of all, there is no “right” way to use these cards – I encourage you to use them in whatever way is the most fun and useful to you. You can toss them in the air and choose the card that lands closest to you; you could put them in alphabetical order, call your friend and ask them to pick a number between 1 and 28 and choose the corresponding card; you could listen throughout your day to see if you get any “messages” about what card to pick.
That said, I will tell you how I use them, and you can try it that way until you find your own style. I may pull them out as a fun, non-competitive way to engage with my family, and they are very useful when my son is really upset and needs a little validation from the universe.
First, I shuffle the cards while thinking about a challenge I am having. If I am feeling pretty serene, I may clear my mind. Then I cut the cards into three piles, put them back together in whatever way seems right to me, and pull the top card.
The card I pull may be related to what I have been experiencing, or what I might experience in the future. Most of the time, I can immediately see how the card relates to my life at the moment. If it seems completely random, it could be guidance for the future. Let’s pretend that I just pulled the bat spirit card, and I will walk you through my thought process.
First, I see that the bat is about new beginnings and letting go. Bats sleep in dark caves, so every time they wake up and start their day, it’s like they are being reborn and can start over. I might think about whether there is something or someone that I’m hanging onto and I really need to let it go. For me, feeling really frustrated or afraid could mean I need to let something go. Alternatively, it could be that I have just ended a project or relationship and I have a fresh start.
When the bat is balanced, it’s accepting, adaptable, and flexible. If I’m feeling those things, great – it means I’m on the right path. When the bat is unbalanced, it refuses to let go, and becomes stuck in the past. If I am feeling that way, or I’m experiencing a lot of uncomfortable emotion (visit the Human System Emotion Wheels page for more info on emotions), I can see what the suggestion next to “To Balance” is. For a bat, it’s to watch the sun rise. So perhaps the next morning I will get up nice and early and watch the sun rise while I enjoy a leisurely breakfast and coffee.
If I pull this card for my son (8), I might say something like, “oh, that is really interesting, looks like you might be beginning a new project, or learning something new, or maybe learning a new way of behaving in situations, what do you think?” I might point out that if he’s feeling good about that, he will be “Balanced”, accepting of the situation, and flexible, able to “go with the flow.” I will let him make some comments about that if he wants to. I might then say “but learning and growing are really hard – change is hard. Sometimes when I am going through a change, or things are changing around me, I don’t want to let go of how things used to be. Do you ever feel that way?” After I let him answer, I will point out that it suggests that he could watch the sun rise one day to feel better and see if that’s an activity he would want to try together sometime. No pressure, only if he’s interested. If none of this seems to be resonating with him, I might suggest that we try pulling a different card, perhaps there was an “energy interference”.
When I get a spirit card, I am excited, because it means that something really wonderful is happening in my life. Let’s say that I picked the unicorn spirit card. Since the action is “connecting a higher wisdom”, I would probably be thinking about what I have experienced lately that has helped me shift my perspective. I will check myself for curiosity and the urge to explore, and consider how my spirituality may be coming into play today. Finally, I will think about the quest, which is balance. What have I been trying to bring into balance lately? My emotions? The way I spend my time? My relationships? If I bring something into balance, how might that help me connect to a higher wisdom?
If I pull this card for my son, I might say “oh my gosh a unicorn, that is really special! Do you feel like you are becoming more wise?” We might have a conversation about what it means to be wise and how we use our wisdom in life. I might point out the characteristics to him and ask him if he’s felt curious lately. I may also ask him if he believes in something “bigger than himself” or magical – like spirits, or God, or nature, and how does that feel? Then we might have a discussion about balance, and what it means to be balanced, or find a happy medium.
About the “To balance” suggestions
Most of the balancing suggestions of the cards are fairly self-explanatory. There are a few, however, that you may not be familiar with.
Breathwork (Water Element)
If you are at all familiar with any breathing exercises, “breathwork” just means breathing in a mindful way. You could do specific breathing exercises, such as counting out your breaths or making sure to fill your belly with air when you breathe, or you could just be aware of your breath moving in and out of your body.
Box Breath (Wolf)
Box breathing is a good way to notice your breathing and relax. It’s called “box breathing” because you breathe in, then hold your breath, then breath out, and hold your breath again for equal counts, creating four equal sides of a box.
Heart-Calming Breath (Cheetah)
This is my favorite breathing exercise – I use it on an almost daily basis to calm my anxiety. All you do is make your out-breath shorter than your in-breath. So for example, I might breath in for 4 counts, and then breathe out for 7 counts. When your out-breath is longer than your in-breath, your brain sends a calming message to your vital organs via the vagal nerve, your heart slows down, and your body relaxes.
Cat/Cow & Down/Up Dog Poses (Bear)
The cat/cow and down/up dog poses are four of the most common poses in yoga. The cat/cow poses are wonderful spine stretches and energizers, and the down/up dog poses engage your entire body – they are little harder than cat/cow. Instead of attempting to describe the poses here, see below for links to YouTube videos that I think are helpful.
Macarasana (Crocodile) Pose (Crocodile)
If you look up “macarasana pose” or “crocodile pose”, there are many variations. I looked at several videos and the one I have linked below reflects what seems to be the majority view of what the macarasana pose should look like, and offers very specific instructions on how to do it. It’s great for reducing uncomfortable feelings and offers a gentle stretch for your ankles and the outsides of your thighs. It’s also great for beginners.
I hope these suggestions and explanations on the Animal Spirit Discovery Cards have been helpful for you. Remember that, especially when playing with kids, to keep it fun and very low-pressure. I don’t expect my son to get excited about every card, or always let me know what he thinks about the card or the information I’m giving him. Sometimes he is interested in doing the balancing activity or the quest, sometimes not, and that’s okay.
Please contact me with any questions, or just tell me how you use the cards and what you think – I love feedback!
How Others Are Using the Animal Spirit Discovery Cards
“They’re so versatile! I usually ask [my client] to pick an element/animal they most identify with, and which one they wish they could identify with more. Or I’ll ask them to pick an animal that represents their past, present and hope for the future. And the kids love the illustrations! — Katy S., Outpatient Mental Health Therapist