Showing posts with label cleansing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cleansing. Show all posts

Friday, 28 November 2014

gong gone weekly!

Exciting times: the monthly gong meditation is going weekly. We have a new home at The Well Garden, in Hackney Downs Studios, every Friday from 5th Dec, which happens to be the next shiny bright full moon to grace London's skyline. 

So what's the gong experience all about? 

There is nothing to do...except undo with gong. You lie in a snuggly shavasana for an hour enjoying sound "bath" (literally like bathing in an ocean of gong, singing bowls and natural sounds).  

Sometimes sounding like a UFO crashing into the core of the earth; at times industrial; other sounds coming as if from the depth of the ocean, the gong leads us like an AUM-ing pied piper into states of healing and bliss that our everyday rational mind clouds. Many people who 'can't do meditation' get a little window into its world. 

It can be a powerful cleansing experience, washing away physical, energetic and mental stuck-ness. 

I really don't want to say more... expect come and experience it, without any expectations, but maybe a little bit of background is useful. 

The beauty of the gong sound is one thing (gong legend Don Conreaux believes it takes less than a minute to hook ANY listener), but the vibration does the inner work - and for long after the mallets are hung up - shaking through the spaces and watery contents of our body. The brain is also re-patterned - its left side gives up, the right blooms; alpha waves slow and harmonise to states akin to deep sleep or trance. Scientists are even showing the effect of sound work on DNA structure. The possibilities are endless with sound, it seems like we are rediscovering the power of vibration which is so primordial and so essential to our daily sensory lives. 

My first experience of gong was with a sound healer friend and it blew my mind, a few months later he had me playing and the collecting of these mysterious instruments began. Gong originated in Persia over 3500 years ago and has been used in Tibet and China for ceremony and healing for centuries. Like a singing bowl they are crafted from a special alloy of metals - the modern day gong meditation phenomena is largely due to master cymbal maker Paiste who cottoned onto the healing effects of gong and started making ranges based on the planets and elements, plus the orchestral sounding symphonics. 

It can be a mystical and magical experience playing or receiving gong. Or it can bring you a few moments peace in a stressful time. No one experience is better or more special than anothers'. No matter how we look on the outside or feel inside, gong is a leveller - eyes closed, all laying on our backs there is no comparison or competition (which can creep up in even the most practised yogi right?). 

Gong affects us on many levels depending what we need at the time. It is the gong that is the energy channel rather than the player, a fact confirmed by gong teacher and author Sheila Whitaker to me on a training weekend (2 incredible days of either gonging or being gonged). We step aside from ego and it's notions of technique and just play what's needed for the group energy presenting itself. Gong is perhaps the most powerful instrument for sound work as it offers so many different overtones that a broad range people's needs can be accessed in one session. 

Speaking to my own experience, gong connects me to my intuition. It also connects me to simplicity and love, where sometimes I can get carried away with this philosophy and that, to endless wondering and watching my self (this is obviously key but sometimes we just need to say less and hug more people). It makes me feel grounded and expanded all at once, but has also helped me release physical blocks. And sometimes we need tangible proof. It's not like teacher or healer emerges from the gong to provide the answers, simply that following it's merry journey strips back my layers, thoughts and defences so much that I can experience that all are within. 

Gong meditation 
Every Friday 7.30pm
£10 in advance by paypal or BACS (email me for details)/ £12 on the night
The Well Garden 

The Village Green 
Hackney Downs Studios 
17 Amhurst Terrace 

From the beaches of southern portugal, back to hackney this full moon. OM : ) 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Hitting the re-set (rather than self destruct) button

The first time I encountered shatkriya or shatkarma I was on a YTT in the middle of Keralan jungle. I had just left the UK and the dregs of my 30th birthday party: feeling less than healthy.

Several people on the course thought it was all a bit bonkers; rising with the sun to drink a litre of salt water, throw it back up again (dhauti), then drinking another 16 glasses until it runs clear out the other end (shankprakshalana, which I'll be describing). Then rinse the nose and floss the back of the throat via the nose (see post about Neti). A lot of salt water! Being a lover of extremes, challenges and anything slightly out there, I of course was first in the queue with my Neti pot and silver ashram cup.

Since then I have come to a more understanding and respectful place about this practise called Shankaprakshalana. "Shanka" means conch, the shell being thought to reflect the shape of the digestive tract. "Prakshalana" is to clean out. We undertake this 'internal wash' at the changes of the seasons – pre-winter and pre-sumer. But also at a time when you can give yourself head space.

One of the 6 cleansing practises of traditional Hatha Yoga, it washes the entire intestinal tract, from mouth to rectum, removing a stuck food (like up to 10 days old) and entangled toxins and restoring the balance between the 5 vital pranas. Yogis claim that it stabilises weight for those needing to gain as well as lose it.

What feels like a very physical practise has of course many deeper effects. My dear room mate in Rishikesh (this was round 2 for me) told me she could literally feel herself "shitting out the past". Undoubtedly the practise has a strong effect on the muladhara chakra system which guides our relationship to food. As much as the solids, feelings and emotions are flushed out: an internal and even more inner 'saucha'. As for all of Yoga, we are cleansing the past and shaping our future actions.

After drinking fresh and warm salt water at a specific concentration we practise a set of 5 asanas 8 times each then it's back to the bucket for a top up x 2. The twisting, side bending and stretching movements, from top to tail, encourage natural peristalsis and after several rounds the visits to the toilet begin. Depending on your diet, lifestyle and how relaxed you can remain it takes 5,6,8...cycles to eventually find almost clear water running through, all food eliminated.

Then it's a short rest, but no sleeping (not so easy), before a brunch of kichari (a special meal prepared in advance from mung dahl, basmati rice, teeny bit turmeric and cumin) laced with ghee (laden with ghee if guruji passes your plate), or olive oil for us vegans. This gentle and complete meal encourages a new film to form on the stomach and restores energy levels. Over the course of the next two days it's kichari again and again, with a few green veg gradually creeping in as the oil quota decreases. Faces around the ashram canteen are pining for the chapatis landing on the plates of those who haven't cleansed.

My experience has always been feeling wiped out, wobbly legged and looking a bit grey on the day itself - but the next, pinging out of bed with shining white eyes and teeth, ready to take on the world.

I'm writing this as shankaprakshalana has been coming up in lots of conversations lately with people keen to try it. Without wanting to sound like a Yoga kill-joy, I feel it's important to emphasise that this isn't just a quick fix and your off full-pelt again; a re-set button without consequences.

Shankaprakshalana is part of a system of cleansing on all levels of our being - in order to purify the body, energy and mind on route to higher yogic practises. The Hatha Yoga texts recommend following it up with a diet free from certain foods for 1 week, some up to 1 month: citrus fruit, gas forming veg, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, spices, sugar, excess salt, carbonated drinks and processed/ refined foods! Not easy when you are working/ on the run/ feeding a family. And there are certain conditions which contraindicate the technique like weak kidneys/ stones, hernia, acute diabetes, pregnancy.

The stomach and sense of taste become super sensitive: essentially we are like babies on the inside once again; pure and delicate, it puts us into a sattvic state and provides an opportunity for the re birth of eating habits and diet.

For most people the adjustment extends beyond their dietary probation – our digestion improves and we draw more nutrition from foods. Mentally it affects the type of foods we desire, bringing greater awareness to how as well as what we eat.

After my first teacher training I stayed in a posh-ish hotel in Cochin. There was a mini bar. I was so excited to see beer and salted cashews but the first sip tasted like chemicals and by the end of the bottle I just felt flat.

I also think its important to undertake the practise in a place where's it's understood and catered for i.e. an ashram. As anyone who's stayed in this environment knows, toilet talk is normal, encouraged and incredibly bonding. Here the energy of our surroundings matches the inner state we are cultivating. Wherever you are, supervision by an experienced teacher is always recommended.

The third time I went for it I was at home and I admit there were moments when I had to swallow panic (as I threw up salty water) - "this didn't happen on the ashram - is something going wrong - how the hell do I explain this if I have to call for help - I'm on a narrow boat in the middle of nowhere, how would I even get that help!" type thoughts. Of course I was totally fine and again the experience had positive effects - each time the process is quicker and quicker.

However I found it hard to honour the recommended amount of rest and reflection - the processing of the process. I had to move my boat, teach, meet some friends in a pub. All choices of course. But I started to enjoy having this reason to come home and cook my own meals rather than compromising on sattvic (pure, cooked with the right intention) food in order to be sociable.

There is an option for lagoo shankaprakshalana - a half version of the cleanse which requires less strict follow up. I've just done this - compromising (not a word I knew much about pre-Yoga)  between my desire to re set and the current demands on my time. I certainly feel better energetically after a flat few weeks, starting to feel a shift away from summer.

Shankaprakshalana and many other Yoga practises have made me think about food a LOT! I was the kind of girl who lived on a few slices of toast and peanut butter and would always rather dance on tables than dine at them. So at first I feared I was becoming greedy, I was losing another element of control, crumbling away a wall of the big strong fortress "me". But gradually I have realised that we have to face things, to fully experience and understand our behaviour around them, before finding a healthy balance.

Sure we will hit the self destruct button a few more times after we've re set, but each time the urge to becomes less and less strong...Until naturally choosing the things we need at that very moment, without a battle between "good" and "bad".

Hari OM x

Ali Piriamvada Gunning - I teach Akhanda and Kundalini Yoga in East London. Me and my narrow boat Bokissa are away - cruising the rivers Lee and Stort