The Gong Show

This week I went to two Kundalini of Sound classes, and they were completely different than any other yoga or meditation I’ve done. This is the description of the class from the nifty YogaYoga brochure:

Kundalini of Sound uses mantra, movement, mediation, music and the sound of the gong to promote transformation and relaxation. Basic familiarity with Kundalini yoga is helpful, but this class is appropriate for all abilities.

I’d like to say it was those words that drew me to the class, but the truth is that my schedule and new Healing Experiment rules require me to do yoga in the morning, and this is the only class offered at 6:30 a.m. So… we have a winner – no matter how weird the class turns out to be.

I’m happy to report that while the 75-minute class was packed – chakra to chakra – with stuff that was (a) mostly new and (b) somewhat odd, I really enjoyed it. It feels healing and powerful. I might have referred to it disparagingly as “pussy yoga” when I was in my pouting stage about the whole Healing Experiment, I think it’s going to be good for me physically and emotionally. Here’s a run down of the stuff we did.

Rubbing Palms
On both Wednesday and Thursday, after the usual “eyes closed, deep breathing” intro thingy, we pressed our palms together and brought our hands to our heart – pretty standard – and then… we rubbed them together, really fast, like we were trying to start a fire between our palms. This was something new! Then we kept going and going and going. I mean, it went on and on. It was a test of stamina and also my ability to stay focused on what I was doing. Neat trick! The instructor encouraged us to be aware of all of our senses at once. Instead of turning my attention only to my breath, I was challenged to be aware of my breathing, the feeling of my skin, the sounds in the room, the top of my head – all without being too focused or distracted by any one of them. It’s kind of like the balance of spices in Ras El Hanout; you want to know they’re all there, but one shouldn’t take precedence over others.

Breath of Fire
I’ve mentioned before that I’m totally loving Ocean Breath right now. This week, I also learned Breath of Fire! It sounds like something from a fantasy movie, no? Like, if the black-clad superheroine doesn’t stop the villain in time, his breath of fire will destroy the planet. But it’s nothing like that. It’s “without a doubt the most sophisticated Pranayama (breath control). It is an amazing tool that fights against anxiety, nerves, fears, pain, and depression.” Hmmph… shows you what I know. Here’s a video that demonstrates Breath of Fire.

On Wednesday, we did Breath of Fire for a few minutes in a chilled out, seated position. Yesterday, for our Breath of Fire session, we had to raise our arms overhead and make Fonzie thumbs. This position and breathing went on from the beginning of time through all eternity. This is a theme that recurs throughout the Kundalini of Sound classes: In the focused-but-unfocused, meditative state, the experiences begin to feel like they have no beginning and no end. They just are. And in some cases, they just are… uncomfortable. I wonder if that’s what it’s like to be walnut-brained Smudge: you can’t remember when something started and you’re not sure when it will end, but there you are.

Downard Dog, Cat/Cow, and Child’s Pose
In between being the Fonz and destroying the world with my diaphragm and closing my eyes to look at my third eye, we also did some poses that are familiar and feel damn good. My flow from Downward Dog to Cat/Cow to Child’s Pose isn’t super smooth, but everybody’s got their eyes closed anyway. No one can see me clunking around, and honestly, I could sit in Child’s Pose for hours. Forget standing desks! How about a Child’s Pose computer setup?!

The “Exercises”
One of the things I love most about CrossFit is that it taught me how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I didn’t expect to have a similar experience at yoga, and I’m delighted… DELIGHTED!… to find that’s the case. We did three little “exercises” on Wednesday morning that tested my relentlessness.

I’m learning that the movements in yoga are small and precise and then there’s the endless (beginningless, timeless) holding period. When you just are. In the weird pose. Breathing. Being. Trying not to think about how much you want to move. Observing the feeling of your skin and your breath and the birdies singing in the trees… but no too much! I wonder when we’re going to be able to move. Don’t think about that! I’m thinking about nothing. But if I’m thinking about nothing, am I thinking about something?! JUST BREATHE!

Anyway. The exercises. We were told there were three.They don’t sound like much, but they pushed me to the limits of comfort just as much as a front squat.

We sat cross-legged, then bent our arms at 90-degree angles so our hands were near our shoulders and our elbows were tucked into our rib cages. We made peace signs with our hands, then brought our index and middle fingers together, “like antennas” our instruction said helpfully. With our eyes closed, we had to squeeze our elbows as tightly as possible into our rib cage… while thinking about extending our antennas to the sky… and breathing… and being aware of all of our senses. It went on forever and ever and always was. Then we would be reminded in a sweet voice that was still commanding: Squeeze your ribcage. Energy  through your antennas. So I would squeeze a little tighter and extend my fingers a scintilla more. My back and shoulders and arms were beginning to burn with a slow glow. After a millenium (OK, maybe 3 minutes?), we moved on to the second exercise.

Keeping those antenna strong, we extended our arms overhead at a 60-degree angle (like the Y in YMCA). And we held it. For a lifetime. Shoulders and back are in flames now.

Part three: we brought our hands together overhead to make a circle (Like a halo, yoga-satan said). Two lifetimes passed. Flames shot out from my shoulder blades. And while the room was turning to ash around me, yoga-satan said, We’re more than halfway done now. Take a deep breath in and squeeze everything: your face, your ears, your little toes, your calves… hold it. Hold it. Hoooooooooooold it, and… exhale. We did that squeeze-hold thing three times. Yeah, very comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Yesterday, I learned an 8-word mantra. Because I was being a good yoga student, I was focused on the meditation and chant, even though I was super tempted to try to use a mental trick to remember the words to share here with you. I had to keep “bringing my attention back to the mantra” because thoughts like, “Oh! I can’t wait to tell my blog readers about this!” would rise up, unbidden. But thanks to the magical oracle (a.k.a., the internet), I needed only remember a tiny snippet for Google to find the whole mantra. The words mean, roughly,  “sustainer, liberator, enlightener, infinite, destroyer, creator, nameless, desireless.” It’s supposed to bring stability to the hemispheres of the brain and work on the heat center to develop compassion, patience and tolerance. Yeah, those are all things I need pretty desperately.

Gobinday Mukhanday Udharay Apaaray Harian Kariang Nirname Akhame

I think this was my favorite part. The chant had a pretty badass rhythm, and our instructor has a lovely voice. We did the chant for so long, it (again) had no beginning or end – we were just in it – and I totally couldn’t really feel myself sitting on the floor anymore. It was freeing and weird and magical and… you guys, it was pretty awesome to just be.

Bonus YouTube Awesomeness: hear the chant
(Our 7:00 a.m. chanting didn’t rock as much as this, but it gives you the idea.)

The Gongs!
Both classes ended with a lie-on-the-floor-and-breathe meditation. Fun fact: I LOVE to lie on the floor. So this last-blast meditation was right up my alley, except… both days the soundtrack was atonal gong “music” that started as a quiet rumble and grew to almost painfully loud crescendos that crashed through the room like a wave on the beach during a storm. The story I’m telling myself is that it’s meant as a reminder to not fight against the tide… to observe that the gong is loud and to observe my reaction to it (What the f*ck?! Why is that so loud?!) but to not be distracted by it. That’s what I’m telling myself. If any of you are experienced with Kundalini or gong useage, maybe you can fill us in on the shitty loud gong music.

Bonus ’70s-Inspired Sing Along
Yesterday, when our gong abuse was coming to a close, our instructor chant-sang for us in a sweet voice while we held down the floor with our breathing. When she invited us to sit up and open our eyes, she was holding a guitar (!). Then the craziest Kumbayah thing happened: she played the guitar and sang a verse of a song, then everyone joined in. The lyrics are pure good-vibes-and-shmaltz, something about the sun shining on us and all love being around us. It was super corny and reminded me of a hippy wedding in the ’70s and damn! if I didn’t find myself singing along and having a little cry.

WHAT THE F*CK, YOU GUYS?! I’m getting soft.

So far, the Experiment has been enlightening, ridiculous, challenging, reassuring, funny, mellow, and annoying… or, pretty much what I expected. Starting new habits is always unsettling, but I’m clinging to my sense of humor (most of the time) and keeping an open mind and heart.


(You see what I mean?! Soft!)

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  • Roberta says:

    Having participated in many many yoga classes over the years, this post cracked me up! Nicely done. Fire breath (kundalini?) was always one of my favorites. Your posts are making me miss yoga – not the chanty woo woo parts, but the focused breathing and the long held poses parts!

    • Mel says:

      YAY! Glad to know I made you laugh. That was kinda the goal… the breathing is so great. That’s the thing that’s been easiest to add into everyday life: deep, restorative breathing when I feel myself veering toward nutty.

  • Lydia says:

    I love reading about your yoga experiences, Mel. These stories are so great!

    The long holds sound amazing and intense. I’m going to give those a try. We don’t have any Kundalini classes around here, sadly.

    If you ever hear of Keshavacharya Das doing a chant/kirtan near you, check him out. He and his group are uh-MAY-zing. I go to their kirtans every time they’re in Lawrence.

    • Mel says:

      I keep thinking the kundalini is really weird… but I like it, too, sooooo… yeah. That’s happening. The chanting is so cool — thanks for the tip on Keshavacharya Das!

  • Lady A says:

    What a great description of a kundalini class! You’re hilarious. Although I love a good hatha flow, nothing brings me to actual tears like Kundalini. It’s this weird emotional release that rises up out of nowhere. I hope you continue to explore all the healing that lies within yourself and is allowed to manifest through the practice of yoga. (My sappy New-Age talk).

    I used to practice at YY and even did my Kundalini teacher training with Robin (Dharampal). Thanks for bringing back happy memories. Inspiring, again!

    • Mel says:

      It’s true — I don’t feel ‘sad’ when the tears come, but it’s a huge emotional release. Very cleansing. I like it, although I was a smidge embarrassed ’cause I don’t know anyone in my class yet. “Who’s the weird girl that doesn’t talk to anyone and cries every time she comes?”

      Robin was our instructor on Thursday, and I really, really enjoyed her. I think I’m going to stick with her classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

  • Haha! Melissa, you are not getting soft. Girl- you are still using the f-bomb. You crack me up. 😀

    I like reading your yoga experience. I know exactly how you feel in the “holding” positions and you nailed it with the “JUST BREATHE”.

    My yoga instructor said something interested to me in class one day. While we were all falling over in our balance positon she said, “Balancing is more than standing on one foot. True balance In the your crazy life. These poses are to teach you how to ground yourself, take your time, and call your awareness back in your everyday tasks.”

    Of course as a mother of two I want to go into tree pose while the kids are running around the house screaming – but without looking weird I can now find balance in my mental state.

    Keep up the good work in yoga Melissa.

    • Mel says:

      Fucking yoga, right?! 😉

      I love those words about balance. We did some really challenging stuff on Saturday morning in our Hatha class, and I almost wiped out. For real. I’m going to write a post about it as soon as I’m done with cookbook proofing duties.

      Thanks for your support and encouragement!

  • Ehsa says:

    Wow!!! That “Gobinday” clip from YouTube is amazing! As was this post … I took a Kundalini class many years ago and had kind of forgotten about it, although I remember being very energized by it (once the pain was over LOL). Am going to try the antenna sequence and see what happens. Keep keeping us informed on your adventures with the yoga, etc. (Loved the recent Smupdate — such a totally cool CEO!)

  • Tom R. says:

    I’m still reading. I have no idea how to comment on these posts, but I’m still reading and rooting for you. Good Lord.

    • Mel says:

      I know… weird, right? Where’s the 3-2-1-GO!

      Thanks for reading! I’m lifting weights tomorrow, so we’ll be able to bond over that. 😉

  • barb says:

    Hi Mel – your getting soft and I can’t think of a more courageous thing to do! you getting soft but at the same time also more resilient. As Rilke wrote – Our fears are dragons guarding our treasures – so in a way your a dragonslayer 🙂

    • Mel says:

      I LOVE that quote. Thanks for sharing! And I figure as long as I can still make my mean face and cuss like a sailor, I’m still me 😉

  • Laura says:

    I broke my ankle in January. Started CrossFit with The Solier when the boot came off, and then two months ago, I went into the ortho doc to find that I had broken my ankle again. So…I have been doing yin yoga (OMG…love that stuff. Love the flow) and then decided to dive into Bikram yoga and it has done so much for my mind, body and soul. SO…thanks for these post, Mel!! Thank you! Its nice to have one of your hero’s love yoga too.

  • I love this post. I love everything about this post. I love chanting. I just typed I love “changing”, so that too.

    You are so awesome, Mel. I’m going to listen to chanting today. Love.

  • dana g says:

    I can’t get over how much your posts (and the responses) have made me THINK about stuff I’m doing with my life. Very weird! Good…and I’m searching out yoga stuff near me. I finally found a place quite close that has Kundalini….and armed (quite the image, right?) with your blog posts, I may be able to relax into whatever is going on.

    I am sooo waiting for your cookbook and blog posts and whatever. I feel excited for you although, as I said in a previous post, it’s “excited and happy” like when a good friend beats me in a wod by a few seconds. Happy and, like….”Oh, yeah, I’m….Wow I wish I were there, too.”

    • Mel says:

      Dana, if you try the Kundalini, definitely come back and let me know what you think. I’ve been a few more times since I wrote this post, and every time, I think “This is weird.” and also, “I like it” and “It really seems to work.” We did a really hard meditation yesterday that I want to tell y’all about in a post — I was WORKING. Really interesting to be doing something that’s challenging me in such a new way.

      Thanks for sharing my excitement. I feel so great knowing you’re on this ride with me.