June 6 2016 11:44 AM

Finding the chill in a politically violent world through gong immersion

Gongification by Carolyn Ramos

I watch the San Diego Trump rally devolve in real-time, following tweets as the chaos unfolds. On the evening news, anchors point to the line of police moving down Harbor Drive—essentially turning our city into a militarized zone—and commend it. A candidate for city attorney gets himself arrested, a move that comes off as a publicity stunt considering that his Whiteness, money and power probably protect him from the legal ramifications that people of color face when they're arrested.

It's these moments—when it feels like the world is going to shit, when it feels like humanity is reaching its fever pitch, when the last straw is falling down to break our collective backs—that I yearn to disengage. To do so, I turn to the tradition of people in my privilege and social standing: yoga.

But today it's not just regular yoga. Tonight, I'm shedding my political duress through gong immersion.

The gist behind gong immersion is: You lie down in a room and yogis play various gongs and you, like, hallucinate and shit. Don't get me wrong, I've been to some seriously loud, droning concerts which have caused me to enter a heightened state of mind, but in most cases I was also high on drugs, so I'm curious to see if the effects of sound immersion are the same while sober.

Ginseng Yoga in South Park holds monthly, three-hour gong immersion sessions. According to the Dhyanjot (or "DJ"), the yogi who has been leading immersions at Gisneng for six years, they're designed to "de-stress, improve mental clarity, accelerate brain function for learning, relieve physical pain and facilitate healing in the mental and emotional body."

I take a second to pause and wonder if disengaging from the political turmoil by jumping head first into gong immersion makes me a shitty human. It's debatable. I take those second thoughts and push them way, way down into the repression zone. So while people at the Trump rally are being arrested for assembling in an area that law-enforcement has arbitrarily deemed off-limits, I am messaging with my friend—from whom I had initially learned about gong immersions—what I should wear tonight. I wonder if it's appropriate to wear sweatpants and bring my own pillows, because in my head, "gong immersion" is the same thing as "slumber party."

My friend tells me to just wear something comfortable, which I mistake as "casual" and end up wearing a pair of goddamn hipster skinny jeans, because I work for CityBeat, duhhhh.

The crowd is about 90 percent women. I place my yoga mat next to the exit in an effort to be inconspicuous and not creep anyone out as the out-of-place dude in the restrictive street clothes, but it probably looks like I'm purposely blocking everyone's escape.

DJ introduces the gongs: eight in the front of the room, three in the back—most of them representative of a planet in its current position/trajectory. DJ points to the Mercury gong and mentions that Mercury is no longer in retrograde, and this evokes audible relief from the group. Tonight, the Mars gong is the star of the show, front and center.

"I don't pick these positions," DJ says. "The gongs decide."

DJ leads us through a couple yoga positions to get the blood flowing. I'm no stranger to yoga, but, again, the pants aren't doing me any favors. We roll our hips in circular thrusts; I get a side-glance of myself in the mirror that runs the length of the studio and it looks like I'm a sausage with an invisible hula-hoop.

We sit. "This is the hard part," DJ warns us. He instructs us to form our hands into bear claws and wave them over our head, palms inward, like we're striking our brain. We do this for nine minutes. Nine minutes. DJ looks serene. He tells us that it's easier if we smile. I've never heard of this yoga move and vaguely suspect that he's punking us. Still, I'm not going to be the one who can't wave his arms in the air for nine minutes. Pain seeps into my shoulders. "Okay, now just hold your arms out," he says at the end of nine minutes. My arms tremble. "Hold it." He releases us. I collapse on my mat. My shoulders sing.

DJ darkens the room and projects a constellation of green lights on the ceiling. Everyone gets comfortable—the woman next to me pulls her yoga blanket up to her chin, so I do the same.

DJ and his assistants begin playing the gongs. It's the sound of an approaching wave. It's so subtle at first—more felt than heard. The green lights on the ceiling contract and expand with my breathing. I close my eyes and the sound grows, becoming almost too immersive. The vibrations make me feel anxious, but it's not altogether unpleasant. Just ride it out, says the logical part of my brain, which now seems very distant. I feel a single beard hair vibrate. I have a distinct vision of myself with a longer beard. Is this what I would look like in Viking times?

Am I dreaming?

I sink deeper into the blanket, and put my hand on my chest, a surface that no longer seems part of me. Both hand and chest seem to be vibrating together. My anger about Trump—the impotent protests, the violence he encourages, his ability to co-opt anger to feed his narrative—disappears. Briefly, everything in the world seems in sync.

(The next immersion at Ginseng is Aug. 5.)


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