“That was terrifying.”
When the teacher’s benign, charming eyes rested upon me after class, and he asked me how my first Kundalini Yoga class went, that was the first thing I could think of saying.
I mean, it was seriously terrifying.
Before I move on: Kundalini yoga is a more aesthetic form of yoga, attempting to awaken the Kundalini energy within the body (an energy that shoots up from your root chakra in the coccyx all the way to the crown chakra in the top of your head).
Think Hercules, or something of the sort, when all the planets align and the titans pop out of the ground. But this is in your own body. When this happens, you hit some unspeakable realm of creative energy and your life is transformed forever.
Kundalini Yoga 101:
During the 1960’s, Yogi Bhajan was in California at the pinnacle of the hippie movement and witnessed the whirlwind of drugs. He realized the youth of America was unknowingly trying to reach for something more holistic and beautiful, some connection with other people and humanity that had never been sought out before in American history.
His response? What the hell are you guys doing.
That was when Yogi Bhajan introduced Kundalini Yoga to the US. His intention was to introduce a much safer practice without side effects to the American youth. The website claims “busloads of people” joined his movement. I don’t know how legitimate that is. But what I do believe is the claim that yoga, or at least awakening Kundalini energy within the body, can achieve the exact same mental effect as drugs.
Why do I believe this? Well, 1) after marginally studying the brain, I am convinced on several levels (quantum physics, molecular biology, psychological, philosophical) of the power of intention and willpower to shape something more than we could have originally thought to conceive of 2) Richard Alpert (who’s yogi name is Ram Daas and is buddies with notorious LSD-experimenter and ex-Harvard professor Timothy Leary) traveled to India, gave yogis LSD and watched with amazement at how they were totally unaffected by the drugs. He picked up on their skills and brought it back to the states. At the ripe old age of 32, he tried LSD again to compare how it felt to a deep meditative state. Alas, both felt the same. But he could control the meditative state, whereas he lost complete control with the drug.
If we truly have this potential to control the body and produce an experience (whether it be emulating the experience of LSD or the placebo effect), we can harness this skill and implement it into medical practice to help the effects of or maybe even partially substitute pharmaceutical drugs (sorry for the HUGE divergence here).
I’m taking a class on the comparison of Eastern and Western medicine in history. Professor Kuriyama proposed that modern Western medicine has alienated itself from its classical medicinal history and its remedies, and in fact is more closely linked to the preclassical ages (before the publication of the Hippocratic corpus, 450-350 BCE). The link? Modern Western doctors emphasize how microbes and bacteria are totally in charge of our susceptibility to illness (check out a hospital’s guide to avoiding the cold – it focuses only on avoiding crowded spaces and washing hands), and during the preclassical ages, Gods were completely in charge of a person’s susceptibility to illness.
Kuriyama asked of us: What ever happened to the Western classical age of treatment – listening to our own bodies? Why have we turned back to assigning total responsibility to something beyond our sensual perception? (obviously, viruses and microbes do cause the common cold, but that’s not the point). Classical remedies involved things like keeping your feet warm, or eating certain foods – basically, listening to your body. We can also alter the effect of these simple remedies via the power of belief and intuition. We have more control than we think we do, and that’s thanks to the power of the human mind.
See why I’m obsessed with the brain?
Acupuncture: in the mind, in the experience of the body, or both?
So, back to the class.
Kundalini is totally different than anything I’ve experimented with. I came across an article in the midst of my neuro research on meditation that talked about creativity and Kundalini Yoga. I bought this book, Art and Yoga, and got a background debrief to the practice:
The author’s daughter actually teaches at this studio. Hunting her down, obvis.
It was a lot of breathing and repetitive movements, and was actually really hard. I really liked the chants, which were beautifully lead by the teacher, Ek Ong Kar, with overlapping, rippling syllables (the leading chant: “ONG NAMO GURU DEV NAMO”, as well as inwardly chanting “SAT NAM”).
After an hour of exhausting our bodies, we lay down in corpose pose (Savasana) and began to fully relax our minds. That was when the part that scared the hell out of me began.
He used a regular gong that looked like this…
…to produce the most intense experience I have ever had thus far in my life. It was so powerful, so mesmerizing, so disturbing. He described it to me after class: “Your body paradoxically hates it but also finds it irrisistable.” The sounds of it can’t be recorded to the same effect, because one’s body has to be in the room in order to feel the vibrations.
The sounds overlapped, creating arcs and waves of constructive and destructive interference that shook my body. My eyes were uncontrollably twitching under my closed eyelids, and there was a steady buildup of bright light. I think it would be a bit of an understatement that I was freaking out a little bit.
At the same time, I knew what this was. If I just let go, I would be in an ultimate state of relaxation. But I couldn’t let go.
I talked to myself, especially during the most intense parts of sound permeating my body, and found myself saying: “This too shall pass.” (Kind of like what people say when they can’t handle too big of a hit or too strong of a drug). I was so fearful of letting myself go and relaxing. I was scared of seeing what was ‘on the other side’ of myself and reality. Time distorted, my body was distorting…it was trippy, to say the least.
And then it ended, and it was silent. My heart was racing at God knows what rate.
Chatting with the teacher afterwards helped me a lot. He told me my reaction was natural, and that he had given us beginners a rather intense class. Talking to him kept me sane.
Seeing him dressed in his white turban and robes, I wondered to myself what it must be like to almost always be in touch with infinity. That unfathomable number and concept beyond any known paradigm, any known assumption. It is the hardest concept for the prefrontal cortex to comprehend, so much so that when connected with an EEG, a brain trying to solve a problem involving infinity goes berserk.
It also reminded me of something Professor Roy Horan said: “Einstein transcended assumptions. Creativity transcends paradigms. Yoga transcends these as well.”
One thing I took away today from my Hindu Gods class (that I’m illegally auditing) is that there’s no one right way to approach divinity. Everyone can be a Hindu – it’s a philosophy of reaching the Supreme – and can go to it in their own way. In fact, the word “yoga” simply means to unite. There is no reference to the physical workout at the Harvard Mac Gym.
The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu traditional and philosophical text, brings up three possible ways of moving closer to the One:
Bhakti Yoga: the yoga of devotion (worshipping the transcendent meanings of symbols and shrines)
Jnana Yoga: the yoga of knowledge and retreat (think people who disappear off somewhere)
Karma Yoga: the yoga of action (serving society and helping humanity)
I took that message to heart and realized Kundalini Yoga might not be it for me. Roy told me that in the Yoga Sutras, over 180 classes of meditation are mentioned. Although yoga nowadays is Americanized, it is still yoga, and simply provides a different path for culturally different people. The destination is still the same. Who knows, studying science or social studies at college can even be a form of yoga, as long as it isn’t self-serving the ego.
I’ll go back and try it again, for sure. I just don’t think day tripping is a regular thing for me.
Daily Nutritional Facts: being back at Harvard makes it hard to actually explore food, thanks to our lovely unlimited supply dining hall food. Although I will be a strong advocate for my new obsession: ginger chocolate. I especially love the one from New Tree.