Monday, September 17, 2007

OM Circle

This evening, something I've wanted began to form itself.

I don't know whether it will survive to maturity or not, but there is more to it than there was before this evening.

Though I have yoga teachers and studios and students and co-practitioners in various settings, I have realized in recent months a lack of a community linked by yoga within which to grow and share and support and provide contrast.

Several weeks ago, one of my teacher/friends and I met for tea. We talked about our respective interests in forming a community that could explore more of Yoga than asana practices alone. Her resolve and my willingness to join the effort resulted in the first meeting this evening of an OM circle. Whatever it may become, this evening, it was small and simple: five people sitting on the floor of a small office above a bustling yoga studio. Heather -- the organizer, Jean -- Heather's mother, and three yogis Heather seemed to have collected from various interactions, myself included. Heather instructed us in the simple process -- we would sit in a comfortable meditation position in a circle, one person in the center, close our eyes, and chant OM, each person ending to take new breath as needed, then resuming. Each of us would take turns sitting in the center for a few minutes at a time.

Heather advised that her guru, whose name I forget, encouraged her to implement this. I tried to suspend my skepticism about all things guru-ic, remembering that I, too, have found important relationships with teachers and mentors at different stages of my life, and that I yet would welcome a teacher to guide my efforts. I managed to keep the mental gymnastics quiet -- I could honor her guru as manifested in the creative and energetic and kind person that she is. She then described various effects that could be anticipated from this exercise, ranging from audible experiences of additional or enhanced sounds, to perceptions of energy movements.

Even without that discussion, I was interested and mildly expectant. We began.

It was, in essence, singing a single syllable. I have sung in many situations and in many combinations of voices throughout my life. So this felt rather natural to me. My attention, as it always does when singing, went first to the breath, then to the intonation, the blend, the harmonies. After a few minutes, I modulated my tones, shifting from a bass register to a more natural baritone. At that level, I was chanting in thirds and fourths to the base tone. Once the harmonies developed, they would constantly change, as each other voice entered or dropped out, and as I chanted to the extent of the breath, and then stopped to inhale.

Dimensionally, the OM-ing crescendoed and softened, intonations droned and sharpened, I could feel the sounds being shaped by my vocal cords, by the lifting of my soft palate. I could feel the vibration of the tones in my belly, my chest, my throat, my facial mask. My mind shifted and drifted, always readily coming back to the present-sense experience of the chant. I was aware when the others' breath shifted, as one person moved out of the center, and another moved in. I noticed when others were running out of breath and sustained my OM until they resumed. At points, I felt that the sound was both a tool I could use, and a thing itself. Singer -- song. Dancer -- dance. It seemed a kind of energy. At other points, I felt slight energy effects in my arms and hands. Once, I felt a shakti kind of surge. The experience at the center of the circle, when my turn came, was not different in kind from the experience at the edge of the circle, though the sense of immersion in sound was more complete. Finally, at Heather's verbal instruction, we concluded the OM-ing.

At the end, we chanted a brief mantra in honor of Shiva and the lineage of instruction to which Heather pertains.

It felt devotional, but I was mildly disappointed that it had seemed quite so familiar -- singing with others always, in my experience, entails connection to and with them, always entails harmonies and, when done well, overtones, always entails intonation and timbre and involvement of the mind and body with the sound and the perception.

Then we opened our eyes. And I realized that we'd been chanting OM for about forty minutes -- I'd lost attention to time after the first few minutes. Eyes open, I also realized that my perceptions were different. It's hard to put a label on exactly how different, but I felt mildly high -- not really hyperventilating high, but mildly euphoric. As we shared our respective experiences, the euphoria gradually subsided. I wondered whether it was a result of the vibration of the chant, the concentration of the mind (once ended, I had realized how strongly focused my mind had been on the chant), the pranayama elements to the practice, or something else.

After a few more minutes, we ended the meeting and departed, agreeing to meet again on Monday evenings in the future for more.

Perhaps this is the beginning of a community.