Category Archives: Yoga

Lost & Found

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Although normally an optimistic person by nature, there are days when the relentless little disappointments of life wear me down and leave me feeling discouraged.  When this happens, my instinct is to do what has always brought me comfort: retreat to nature.  Whenever I am feeling lost, I can always find myself again in the woods.

Throughout my childhood, my family used to spend the summer on a small little island in the middle of a fairly large lake in Massachusetts.  There were about a dozen families that owned cottages on this little rock in the pond, but the island isolation helped to create our own little paradise.  It was very rustic; there was no electricity, running water, or flush toilets.  We floated tanks of propane over to the island to run our refrigerator and stove, but otherwise, there were no modern amenities.  Water was pumped by hand from the well and hauled up a hill where our cottage stood overlooking the lake, and our outhouse was, well, it was just something you got used to.  When it rained, we entertained ourselves with endless card games.  When the weather was nice, I was out in the woods.

I could hardly help it. The island was heavily wooded from shore to shore.  Just being there meant being among the company of trees.  I learned to climb them, and run among them in the dark without breaking my toes on the roots.  (That lesson took a few years and many broken toes.)  I learned to listen to their whisperings and tell when the weather would change by the sound they made.  I watched trees grow up, and sadly, I watched trees fade, fail, and die.  Summer after summer after summer, it was me amongst the trees.  I watched birds build their nests, and squirrels raise their families.  I watched bats roost among the branches, and a legion of insects make their way in and around the leafy canopy.  Trees were ever-present, and although it may sound unusual for a child, I counted the trees among my friends.   I was a woodland creature as much as any squirrel.

I still am.  Now, as an adult, I find myself returning to the woods again and again whenever I need to find comfort and peace.  Our family no longer has the cottage on the island, but I still live in the extensive woodlands of upstate New York.  I do not lack for woods or trails to hike through them.  So when the going gets tough, I grab my walking stick and instinctively head into the shelter of trees.

I was feeling discouraged and depleted this week.  I needed to find my internal reset switch.  So I took up my walking stick, filled my knapsack with what I would need to sustain me, and made my way to the nearest trail head.  I started my hike with a bit of yoga stretching.  Sun Salutations became a moving meditation as I used them to get grounded and open myself to being present.  Then I sat at a picnic table and took out my journal, where I wrote for a bit to clarify my intention to cultivate peace.  It’s hard to drop baggage that you don’t know you’re carrying, and I find journaling to be a good process to identify the things that are weighing down my journey.  This wasn’t just a random hike, but a journey to find myself again.  Thus prepared physically and mentally, I entered the woods.

I chose a path through the mountains above my home on a trail that crossed over many streams that carved their way through the landscape seeking sea level far below.  The trail began at a waterfall splashing down merrily among the fossil-laden limestone, evidence of an ancient inland sea from a time so long ago my mind boggles.  Meditating upon the presence of a clamshell fossil up in the mountains is a great way to find perspective.  It’s hard to stay trapped in the fleeting fears of the moment when confronted with time on such a vast scale.  Humbled, I rambled on, more peaceful and reflective than before.

Everywhere I look, the stones preserve the memory of the inland sea that this mountain used to be.

I walked steadily, but as silently as possible, pausing frequently to peer through the trees to see what wildlife might be sharing this trail with me.  I’d walk, and pause, and listen, then continue on.  I paused at another waterfall, and sat for awhile letting the sound wash over me.  I went further along the trail and found a fallen log in a sunny spot off the beaten path, and sat there for awhile and listened to the trees and birds exchanging news of the day.  I watched a spider reinforce her spiral web against the wind.  I saw a millipede hunt along the log where I sat.  Farther along, I found a large flat boulder and used it for another seated meditation where, anchored by the stone, I allowed my thoughts to become untethered and roam freely on the breeze.  I was hardly aware of myself as I rose and continued my journey.  As I continued my solitary drift through the woods, I allowed thoughts to form and pass.  I noted them, followed them, and let them go.  I spoke to the trees about what was in my heart, and let the breeze carry those words away.  I opened all my senses, and received the grace of the woods.

I thought I’d hike for an hour or so, but when I finally emerged from the woods, four hours had passed.  I felt a bit like I had slid down Alice’s rabbit hole.  I couldn’t possibly have been gone that long?  But it was time well spent.  I emerged from the woods feeling more settled, peaceful, and hopeful again.  I was pulled from my own petty worries back into a place of timeless beauty.  I dipped the ladle of my soul into a deep well of peace, and was refreshed.

Where do you go to restore yourself and find peace?

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Gong Bath

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The sound of the gongs are tuned to the frequencies of the planets, creating the “Music of the Spheres”

As a drummer, I’m keenly aware of the effect that sound vibrations can have on a person physically and psychologically.  I can physically feel the vibrations of drums resonating in my body when I play, and I have observed the psychological uplift typically experienced by people immersed in the rhythmic environments of drum circles.  So when I had the opportunity to experience a special “Gong Bath,” I couldn’t resist.

Conducted by Universal Sounds of Saratoga Springs, NY using a wide range of singing bowls and planetary gongs, participants are immersed in a rich vibrational soundscape. Based on the premise that all matter has a vibrational frequency, they believe this resonant gong bath will help people retune themselves to find harmony.  They are called Planetary Gongs because each one is tuned to the vibrational frequency of each planet, as calculated by Swiss mathematician and musicologist Hans Cousto.  When played together, the air throbs with the music of the spheres.

It was a beautiful spring morning.  I arrived at the Hindu Temple with my yoga gear and an attitude of hopefulness.   I have been managing heavy stress loads lately, and I hoped this experience would help me hit the mental and emotional “reset” button.  Although I normally have a regular yoga practice to rely on in difficult times, my practice had evaporated over the past month, leaving me stiff and shaky on many levels.  My meditation practice has had to double down to compensate, but my internal resources were stretched too thinly. This special event was a yoga class followed by a gong bath, and I was equally looking forward to both.

The event was held in a large carpeted room with a stage running the length of the far wall.  Approximately 50 people had pre-registered, but I saw many walk-ins register at the door.  The room easily accommodated all of our mats without feeling too crowded.  I unrolled my mat, wrapped my blanket around me, anointed my chakras with essential oils that support meditation, and settled myself in to wait for the class to begin.

We began with a yoga class led by Jim Whiting, a Kripalu Yoga instructor from Body Mind Spirit Yoga in Delmar, NY.  Suitable for all levels, the practice consisted of gentle stretches that left us grounded and open for what was to come.  After a brief break to allow people to get settled and comfortable, the gong bath began.

I was laying down with an eye bag over my eyes when the sound began, and I had an immediate experience of synesthesia where  I perceived sound as color. I was quite surprised by the psychedelic light show that appeared against the inside of my eyelids as the gongs began to resonate.  It was a bit like Fantasia; each time a gong was struck, a different splash of color would appear in my mind’s eye, rippling out wider as the sound of the gong spread.  I was surprised by this experience simply because it seemed so unexpectedly cliché, and it happened so immediately.  This synesthesia only lasted a few minutes, but I found it fascinating.  But as the gongs began to overlap and the sounds became more layered, I became untethered in ways that are difficult to describe.

As the gong bath began, our only instruction was to get comfortable, stay present and immerse ourselves in sound.  As a seasoned meditator, “stay present” means something very specific.  Our minds all have the tendency to jump around from thought to thought.  We spend much of our thinking lives either dwelling on past events or thinking/planning/scheming/worrying over future events.  To be focused entirely on the here and now is a meditation practice precisely because we do it so rarely we NEED to practice.  For after all, life only really happens here and now.  We miss the richness of many experiences because we are mentally checked out.  Staying present is at the heart of Mindfulness Meditation techniques.  Just about any activity can be done mindfully, with focused awareness.  I’m not perfect at this, and my success varies according to my internal landscape, but I’m generally able to put aside distracting thoughts and focus on one thing attentively, especially if it’s something as lush and interesting as the rich soundscape of gongs that was making the whole room vibrate.

And yet, I could not.  As much as I returned my attention again and again to the sound of the gongs, as each wave of sound washed over me, I was swept away again and again.  Images arose, disconnected and unfathomable.  I saw a strange bearded man eating peanuts.  I saw a friend in a wedding dress. I saw fragments of images that never held still long enough to identify.  It was very much like a dream, yet I was very aware of and observant of this experience.  Interesting visual phenomenon replaced the color splashes of the synesthesia; the images in my mind wavered and spun, brightened and dimmed, shattered and reformed.  I was completely unable to bring any kind of mental discipline to the idea of staying present.  I was swept away.

I eventually sat up so I could hear and feel the sound of the gongs completely surround me.  There was a very physical sensation associated with the vibrations.  There were at least eight large gongs, and the sound was palpable.  An hour flew by in what seemed like only a few minutes.  Gradually the sounds tapered off, and there was silence.

I have had experiences that left me feeling charged and energized, but surprisingly, this wasn’t one of them.  What I mostly felt was emptied. I could clearly feel a residual sensation of vibration throughout my body, but it didn’t leave me bursting with new energy like I had expected.  Instead, I tapped a pool of exhaustion I didn’t know I had in me.  I went home and slept like the dead for two hours, an extremely rare event for me unless I’m ill.  As I explored this after-effect, I believe this result is because the gong bath actually did what I was hoping for.  I’ve been too tightly wound up for too long, and this gong bath managed to unravel that tight knot of tension.  The nap was my body’s response to my spirit unknotting.

It was a beautiful experience; one that I will seek out again.