Kundalini Yoga ‘Gong Bath’ Meditation

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I work in social care -supporting children and their mothers who have become homeless as a result of domestic violence.  I really enjoy my job and find it so rewarding, but the work can be disturbing and challenging, and there is no doubt that at times it can impact on my own emotional well being.  You hear a lot of talk about the need for ‘self care’ in these sort of professions.  When I first began working in the field about five years ago, although I took this on board, I never really thought about putting it in to practice.  After a year or two however, and seeing several colleagues quit the role or take stress leave, it became clear that I needed to take responsibility in addressing the impact of the work on myself as I too was beginning to feel the effect in my own personal life.

There is an interesting theory called ‘vicarious trauma’ or ‘compassion fatigue’, a form of post traumatic stress, whereby a person working in a support profession dealing with trauma is negatively effected as a result of emphatic engagement with their clients reports of traumatic experience.  This is not as a result of poor boundary keeping with clients, but is a natural potential impact of the work which is far more likely to occur in the absence of self care methods, and where the worker has experienced their own personal traumas.  This vicarious trauma experienced by support workers generally parallel those of direct trauma, though are usually less intense.  A few of the main common symptoms are withdrawal, depression, anxiety, greater sensitivity to violence, sleep difficulties, and intrusive mental imagery.  I find this theory compelling as I can absolutely relate to it from my own experience of the profession.  There is no doubt that at times I have experienced all of the above symptoms, to a small or large, temporary or more prolonged, extent as a result of my work.  One clear example is that I definitely have a much greater sensitivity to violence due to my current role.  I now find it difficult to watch violent tv programmes or films, or to read books or articles depicting violence.  I find that violence effects me at a much greater level than it used to, and that emotionally I find it difficult to process depictions of violence outside of work.  In my opinion I think that I must be saturated with hearing depictions of violence during my job, and that I just cannot bare to address these issues also outside of work in my ‘down time’ when I am out of my role. This definitely irritates me sometimes, when I feel the need to pass on a cinema trip with friends, or I feel ignorant for not following an important global news story in depth.  At times I feel inclined to force myself to snap out of it, and at times I do feel less effected than other times, depending on what has been going on in work and in my own life. But ultimately self care is about awareness and listening to your mind and your body so this is something I will just have to accept and develop with!  This is similar to the related theory called ‘vicarious transformartion’, which promotes a process of active engagement with these negative changes.

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As with all jobs, some employers handle their responsibility to their employees better than others.  I have worked in a place which offered free, external counselling to it’s employees, set up under a system so that the employers never even knew which people availed of it, let alone why.  Employees were encouraged to attend for any reason, be it an issue related to the impact of the work, or a completely unrelated personal issue.   I have also worked in places which offered little to no support, and alleged supervision from managers was little more than case management meetings.  I am firmly of the opinion that social care employers have a massive responsibility to their staff in relation to the subject, and that most organisations could do with updating their practice!  There is no doubt that supported workers can better support service users.
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Regardless of the best practice, or lack thereof, of employers, I realised that looking at my own self care was ultimately my own responsibility.  I therefore endeavored to begin looking after myself more, both physically and emotionally.  My lifestyle has changed considerably over the past few years.  I am less of a party girl and more of a wholesome hippy!  I think this tied in with a natural desire to change as I got older.  I definitely still have my wild nights out as I believe that these are also integral to self care and stress relief, but I have definitely reduced the amount and the severity of the weekend hangovers, completely by choice, as previously I found myself on many Mondays not feeling physically or mentally prepared for the week of work ahead, and the related problems this would cause for my own well being and mood.
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In my renewed quest for better self care, stress relief and relaxation, I have tried meditation myself over the past year or two, either by myself, or via guided mediation using cds, youtube and iphone apps.  I found that even with guided meditations, although in theory I quite enjoyed them, I just didn’t have the discipline or desire to develop a regular practice.  For my self care to date I have tended to rely predominantly on nature and the outdoors, fitness and exercise, yoga, plenty of sleep, and natural stress busters such as spending time with friends and family and going on trips away.  I am however always very open to new things and know that meditation can be such a powerful tool if used properly.
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With this in mind, I decided to give it another go and went along to a ‘gong bath’ mediation in a local yoga centre. The principal of a gong or sound bath is that one is ‘bathed’ in the sounds and vibrations of gongs.  These instruments create unique sound vibrations and frequencies which put the human brain in the alpha-tetha border of brain waves, which is said to promote great benefits and healing for the body, mind and spirit.  This narrow band of waves is known as the Schuman Resonance.  It produces waves that travel at 7-8 (Hertz) cycles per second, which is the precise frequency of the earth’s electromagnetic field. It is said that when our brains are producing these same waves, as induced by the vibration of the gongs and bowls, the body is in a state of harmony and expanded function, as the central nervous system reduces input from the peripheral nervous system.  It is said that this enhances the body’s self healing mechanism and over time can re-balance the brain wave patterns which may have become disrupted.
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Being unfamiliar with all of this theory previously, I was unsure what I thought of it, but definitely quite fascinated!  I went with an open mind and the belief that if nothing else it was bound to still be a relaxing, interesting and unique experience!  The woman who was delivering the session has been a Kundalini yoga teacher for the past twenty years -this is a very traditonal form of yoga which focuses on awakening Kundalini energy through meditation, mantra chanting, asana (the restful yoga pose) and pranayama (use of breath).  I have never tried Kundalini yoga before as I am much more focussed on the more physical schools of yoga and it’s effect on the flexibility of the body, but I was looking forward to trying it.
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We began with some group mantra chanting, something which I have done before in some yoga classes, but only for several seconds rather than for such a prolonged period of time.  I was interested to find that I found it really enjoyable and somewhat cathartic.  At first I was a little bit reserved and low pitched, being unsure of the melody and not having a very good singing voice, but the group voice really swept me up and after a few rounds I was really belting it out!  There is something very amazing about group voice work like that when everyone becomes in sync and the combined voices are so loud and powerful.  Although I am not a spiritual or religious person, it sounds very ‘sacred!’.
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The gong bath part was really enjoyable and fascinating, lying on the floor with our heads towards the centre of the room, the facilitator played the gong with varying tempo, rhythm and strength.  There was a total harmonic spectrum and it was incredibly relaxing to be immersed in the sounds, and to hear and feel them at the same time . I could feel them washing over me in waves and at times it felt like the vibrations were coming from within me.   It was mesmerising to listen to the initial tone, and then the overtones and to feel the related vibration extend for up to a minute afterwards.
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After a few minutes I began to get an unexpected sensation of pins and needles in my body, and the muscles in my legs, arms, and shoulders began to involuntarily twitch and jump occasionally.  I found this really intriguing as I had experienced this before during a reiki session, and had been told that my body must be quite uniquely very sensitive to shifts and unblockages of energy.   Following the class I questioned what I had experienced and this teacher told me the same thing.   I am still not entirely sure what that means for me but it is an interesting concept to mull over!
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After the gong bath we did another meditation and mantra.  I still really struggled with keeping my mind focused and halting the flood of thoughts.  I thought perhaps in that environment I might be able to focus more easily but I definitely have a long road to go in terms of learning how to meditate.  That said, any effort is beneficial and it is easy to re-focus and constantly bring your mind back to the practice.   I left feeling very relaxed and peaceful so it was definitely a positive experience.   I would be interested to try it again sometime, and with more meditation practice perhaps the gong bath would be an increased experience for me.   I have seen it advertised in other places with the addition of Tibetan singing bowls and so will keep an eye out for the next session of those to see what they add to the aural and sensory experience!  I am not a converted sound bath fanatic following it, but I am happy to have tried out a new experience and a new form of ‘self care’ and I am definitely feeling relaxed, content and ready for the week of work ahead :-)

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3 thoughts on “Kundalini Yoga ‘Gong Bath’ Meditation

  1. Pingback: Chocolate Hazelnut Oat Bars | Natural Fuel

    • Thanks, glad you liked it!! That means a lot because it’s my first non-food related post so I was a bit unsure about it!
      Rowena

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