Tuesday, December 27, 2016

BREATHING TECHNIQUE MAKES YOU THAT TRAVEL TRIP WITH DRUGS MAKE NEW YEARS RESOLUTION

The gathering began like whatever other. Forty or so ladies, and two men, had amassed under the guise of "Om for Christmas and Thanksgiving," a health themed occasional soiree in a moment floor hang on the Bowery called the Woom Center. I was a last-minute in addition to one, attracted by a content promising free-streaming kombucha and a gourmet veggie lover buffet. For the principal hour, I gamely tasted and organized in a room looking like a hip bistro, pondering resoundingly a few circumstances when the sustenance was coming. At long last, an unnervingly gorgeous, since quite a while ago haired couple clad in liquid jeans and Eastern gems allured us through an entryway into a vast, austere chamber peppered with the gleam of pink Himalayan salt lights. We appropriated ourselves onto yoga tangles as the couple—Woom Center authors David and Elian Zach-Shemesh—bowed rapturously before a phalanx of oversize gongs. Is it safe to say that we were eating in here?                                                                                                                                                                                                                       We weren’t. This was a sound meditation, they explained, which would include seven minutes of holotropic breathwork—a technique developed in the ’70s by Czech-born psychiatrist Dr. Stanislav Grof, one of the earliest researchers of LSD and the therapeutic effects of psychedelics on the mind (a freshly relevant topic, thanks to much-tweeted recent studies on the anti-depressant and anti-anxiety benefits of psilocybin, the ingredient in magic mushrooms, for cancer patients). When the federal government cracked down on such research by the early ’70s, Grof, who was working in the U.S. at the time, was defunded. And so together with his wife, Christina, he sought to develop a drug-free alternative—which became a breathing technique, perfected at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur (naturally), designed to be accompanied by sound, and named for the Greek words holos, meaning whole or wholeness, and trepein, meaning to turn towards. 

By forcefully inhaling and exhaling for equal lengths of time, at increasing speed, practitioners, the Zach-Shemeshes explained, are able to enter an altered state of consciousness. The proper experience, Elian explained, lasts for three hours. “It can be incredibly intense,” she said. “It gives access to parts of the psyche that aren’t as accessible in our daily lives, as well as to the collective unconscious and the unity of everything and everyone, similarly to a psychedelic or plant-medicine ceremony experience. People report an array of physiological, emotional, mental, and spiritual effects, which are far too vast to name and can move from individual past trauma and past-life regression and into universal truths, encounters with deities, and many more.” Even this abbreviated sample session would, as she put it, “quiet the constant chatter of the monkey mind.” Having lately developed what might be described as a simian compulsion to check for doomsday political news, I was up for it.

We were instructed to put on blackout eye masks and begin chanting—taking the traditional “om” and twisting it freestyle, changing the pitch, adding consonants. (This felt uplifting, and could alone warrant a story.) Once the holotropic segment began, I breathed in and out relatively slowly, for a few seconds on each side, even as the haaah-haaahs around me picked up speed. Then I tried to catch up. My limbs began to tickle, eventually seeming to evaporate. A few times, I felt dizzy, as if I might pass out. To my right, the friend who’d invited me erupted in cathartic sobs.

Then, as the gongs thundered in and we were told to breathe normally, something strange happened. I’ve had my share of sound baths—and undergrad-era dalliances with the sort of chemical compounds Dr. Grof is interested in—but never before has a rotating purple floral mandala appeared in front of me, nor has a vision of my mother’s face, rendered in the same purple, sprouted at its center. As it did, I understood that my job, for a while, was to reconnect with her.

At a couple of points, I experienced memories of my ex and our beloved dog, bittersweet but not consuming, as if I was simply releasing them. Each time that happened, as if telepathically summoned, one of the Zach-Shemeshes would materialize (I sensed them) and play an instrument directly above my head—bells, maybe a didgeridoo—sending waves of yellow light (I saw it, I swear) into my field of consciousness. Grand ideas for what I might do with my life—angles I’d never even considered—manifested alongside new bluish purple patterns. It all felt delightful, like—how to describe it?—swimming in a waterfall of crystal juice, or forest bathing in Fantasia. Or something.

By the time it was over, an hour had passed. We slowly sat up, and spent 10 minutes as a group discussing our experiences, which were sublime across the board. I hugged, and exchanged digits with, my neighbors. I shared my career revelations with my friend, and we agreed on a plot to right the wrongs of the Trump administration. I’d never felt clearer, more beautiful or rested, more blissfully confident that I’d find a purpose in this world. I didn’t even care that dinner was ready.
  

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