Cosmic Book Club

Cosmic Book Club

Cosmic Flow Kundalini Yoga studio welcomes all to celebrate this year’s One Book One San Diego choice, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai.

All over San Diego country, diverse communities are reading this book. People are participating in discussions of this book at public libraries, service organizations, and educational institutions throughout the county. One Book One San Diego is a literary program with the purpose of bringing our community together over the shared experience of reading and discussing the same book. I like to imagine the city as a stadium hosting a huge rock concert; on stage is this one book, resting on a night table. Everyone in the stadium bends their heads over their own personal copy of the book open and reading together. This might be a sort of creepy or comforting image, depending on where your consciousness takes you…

Anyway…

As a fresh way to celebrate oneness and the community spirit of Cosmic Flow, we thought it would be fun to host a free event in which we practice a breath meditation and then discuss The Great Believers over tea at this yoga studio.

The meditation we will practice will be lovingly chosen from thousands taught by Yogi Bhajan, a meditation that relates specifically to the challenges faced by the characters in the book.

Suppose Yale, Charlie, Fiona, or Richard — some characters in Makkai’s book — came to Cosmic Flow yoga and asked for a special breath meditation they might practice every day to help them face their struggles. Well, this is the meditation we will practice. Suppose our lives have similar themes as those in the novel; maybe this particular meditation can help us through, too.

While reading a piece of fiction, a yogi might ask, what practice might serve the characters in this book to help them engage, focus, cope, heal, relax, and excel through the problems they face in the book?

Offering breath meditations to fictional characters in books is just a quirky way this yogi goes about reading fiction. It’s not something that The Vedas or The Puranas talked about. It’s not something mentioned in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib; nor is this something taught by Yogi Bhajan. Nowhere has it been written to contemplate the characters from books coming to your yoga class and imagine what meditation you might teach them and encourage them to practice every day. This is a line of inquiry that so far only I know only I would think up, and maybe I am the only yogi who thinks this is an interesting and fun way to be in this world. So be it. I have to be me. And may those sacred teachers to whom I bow and feel infinite respect please forgive me if there is any offense here. Offense is not intended. The only thing I wish to enjoy forever is my birthright to have reverence but also explore the fullest spectrum of freedom of expression. This is not an easy road to travel; that’s why I practice.

But let’s look at it with any characters from any books. Suppose Tsukuru Tazaki came to your yoga class, wouldn’t he benefit from Kirtan Kriya? And what about the unnamed narrator in Killing Commendatore ? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what would happen if he practiced forty days of Sitalee Pranayam? These are two examples from Haruki Murakami works because he is the novelist I happen to be reading a lot of lately. But this is a way of imaging works with any writer’s fiction. Imagine if Madame Bovary had bought a monthly unlimited class package at Cosmic Flow Yoga studio, surely her fate would have been totally different. Perhaps she would have experienced the Kriya for the Heart and Magnetic Field, and felt fresh tenderness and desire toward her boring husband. Perhaps not. She’s pretty categorically tragic… But I think it’s fun to wonder if the benefits of kundalini yoga would have helped Madame Bovary.

I swear: sitting around thinking about ways to improve the lives of fictional characters through yogic breathing and kriya is pure fun!

Perhaps in a typical book club discussion, people mention whether they liked or disliked the book and why. Sometimes the conversation goes deeper than that and people talk about the ways the book was crafted, whether the characters were believable or not, whether the ending seemed plausible. I’ve even been to a book club discussions in which women identified with the characters and then revealed their own personal stories of struggles. In these cases, the discussion led to therapeutic emotional release. Other times, readers have confessed that they fell so madly in love with the characters they could imagine marrying them and felt inspired to write their own fictional story based on that premise, and they proceeded to share that imagined story.

It is exciting to wonder what the discussion will be like for the Cosmic Book Club. But one thing is sure, we will begin the book club meeting with conscious breathing, a specific breath meditation that we can speculate may support the characters in the book as they face their challenges. This is a way to teach us to observe characters in a book in the way a yoga teacher might observe her students when they come to her wondering what meditation they should practice every day to help them get through life’s snags.

Without giving away too much of the story details, here is an example of how this approach looks reading The Great Believers:

Charlie experiences acute anxiety, paranoid that Yale will break his heart. He could practice a breath meditation to “Re-vitalize the Heart Area.” In this meditation, sit in easy pose, bring the palms together, and raise the arms up to a sixty-degree angle as far left as possible. Inhale powerfully through the nose and exhale powerfully through the mouth, using the navel point to press the air out. Do this for 8 minutes. Would this help relieve someone like Charlie who continually fears losing a loved one?

Fiona must find her daughter who has joined a cult and is in some kind of trouble. Fiona is continually remembering conflicts from the past during which her daughters way of coping was to run away. Fiona could benefit from a meditation called, “To Know and Experience the Unknown.” This meditation is more complex and involves pressing on the rib cage on the left side to breathe through the right nostril and pressing on the rib cage on the right side to trigger breath through the left nostril. I won’t go into more detail than that here, but the effect of the meditation is to help learn how to consciously switch which nostril you breathe from. When you are in a difficult mental state, if you consciously switch the breath to go through the opposite nostril, you will release yourself from that mucky mental state.

Yale could benefit from a meditation that brings the entire nervous system and glandular system into balance. This meditation involves holding a particular mudra (hand position) in front of the heart as you inhale deeply, then calmly suspend the breath in for 15 seconds; then exhale and calmly suspend the breath out for 15 seconds.

As a devoted yogi, I have absolute faith that Yale could face his process with more presence, consciousness, and elevation if he practiced this meditation for 3 to 5 minutes every day.

These meditations don’t necessarily cure or make our problems go away, but they help us go through these difficulties with refined grace and awareness.

During our book club meeting at Cosmic Flow, we will practice one of these breath meditations and then the discussion of the book can launch in any direction from there.

We will also enjoy yogi tea. Here are the five ingredients used for making classic yogi tea:

black pepper

cinnamon

cardamom

clove

ginger

The Cosmic Book Club is intended to be a fun way to hold space for two beautiful arts to enjoy fresh collaboration, the art of fiction and the art of conscious breathing. What unfolds when we bring our love for yoga together with our love for reading good literature? Let’s explore the possibilities! Sat Naam!

Garland of Words

Garland of Words

This garland of words attempts to engage in an intimate reading of the bestselling novel Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens with the sensibility and sensitivity of a yogi.

Just for fun, I tried this breathing pattern: while reading Owens novel, I inhale slowly and deeply through the pursed lips as if drinking in Life, and exhale very slowly and completely through the nose.  Breathing and reading so slowly and deeply, I place my gaze and easygoing concentration on one word then the next. This makes the act of reading a very slow and sensual meditation.

In this way, let us awaken the wisdom of the ecstatic tremor here and now.

Try it, Beloved Friend. For now, breathe slowly and deeply through the pursed lips while we focus together closely on this one scene in the novel.

Tate is the young man who teaches Kya to read. Eventually their physical desire to touch each other reaches the climactic point where they must kiss.

In this moment, Tate asks Kya a loaded question, “Where is your Ma?” Kya reveals the heartbreak: her mother abandoned her. In his turn, Tate shares the loss of his mother and sister in a fatal car accident. United in the psychological scar of Losing Mother revs up to the moment when they smash lip to lip. Here goes:

“And just at that second, the wind picked up, and thousands upon thousands of yellow sycamore leaves broke from their life support and streamed across the sky. Autumn leaves don’t fall; they fly. They take their time and wander on this, their only chance to soar. Reflecting sunlight, they swirl and sail and flutter on the wind drafts.”

These leaves, flying, no, soaring into death, spark joy. In the spirit of feeling the freedom that is Death, Tate rises and invites Kya to play, to catch as many leaves as they can before the leaves touch the ground. In the height of fun, they bump and lock in their gaze.

“He took her shoulders, hesitated an instant, then kissed her lips as the leaves rained and danced around them as silently as snow.”

Where the Crawdads Sing, page 124

Owens writes the scene with the grace of a wildlife lover. Her expression gives a sense that the bliss these characters enjoy in this kiss is the bliss always in the trees, the leaves, the birds, the sky, the marsh, and the stars — all joined together in the Dance of Life. What’s more, Tate and Kya’s kiss brings awareness to the inner life of trees, leaves, birds, sky, and star as these beings eternally tremble with the same energy that humans tremble with when two humans kiss.

Tate and Kya’s moment of union creates bliss in the human physical body, the intense pleasure of two beings kissing. Often it takes kissing for humans to remember the bliss quiver of life that is always present in every piece of life. This is a state of being that we long to connect to with a human physical body; but what does it take to maintain the human body to be completely free of any pain or discomfort and to abandon all that we are to pure thrill and excitement? We long for this state of pleasure because in this state it is easiest to sense the Sacred Tremor that is always there, or what tantrikas* refer to as Spanda. (*Please note that tantrika is simply a spiritual adept who knows how to weave the energies of the sacred into every dimension of life: eating, shitting, fucking, fighting, the comic and the tragic — to a tantrika, it is all sacred). The question is this: how do we sustain this state of pleasure, freedom, and ease every moment?

In certain yogic breathing exercises, we purse the lips and breathe through the mouth. This way of breathing stimulates the tenth cranial nerve, the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve, which goes all the way from the head to the abdomen, stimulating heart, lungs, and digestion. The vagus nerve, when stimulated and refined, brings circulation, respiration, and digestion into synchronicity.

Kissing the lips of another being feels so satisfying because we engage in a moment in which one being’s vagus nerve syncs up with another being’s vagus nerve, creating a moment of physical union. The vagus nerves of two bodies spark simultaneously. Two hearts drum at once. Lungs lift and shift. Digestive dance within two bodies comes to a welcome pause. The link is so gratifying that one kiss can even unite two beings for years or even lifetimes. One kiss united Kya and Tate. And kept them tangled psychologically and spiritually long after their physical bodies endured years of separation.

Kundalini Yoga Master and Maha Tantric Yogi Bhajan once taught the Trikuti Kriya.  In this kriya, we chant the Wahe Guru mantra. When we chant, we focus the sound Wa at the belly, Hey at the heart, and Guru at the lips. On Guru, the lips purse out stimulating the vagus nerve. If the yogi maintains one-pointed focus on the lips while vibrating Guru very powerfully through the lips, then the exercise reveals itself not as a physical exercise but as a sensual and playful act of kissing the Wah Hey Guru mantra. 

If humans think it feels nice to lip kiss each other, well contemplate all the possible pleasure of kissing the Wahe Guru Mantra! Kissing Wahe Guru gives the sensation of kissing infinity, and it continues as an Infinite Kiss. Embracing the Trikuti Kriya as a Sadhana while one reads Where the Crawdads Sing can possibly give exalted pleasures because the tremor in the words and the nerve tremor in the body can collaborate to give a perception that every moment is a divine smooch, a mystical merge with a marsh, and a grand, exalted, salty coupling of wildlife with humanity.

I guess this is what it means to read with the sensibility of a yogi. It means to perceive the story dissolved until it is no longer about Kya and Tate, but about polarities coming into union: reader and writer, wild and tame, boy and girl, past and future, up and down, spring and autumn, hot and cold, literate and illiterate, leaves and roots, modern pubescent physical desire and ancient yogic mystical wisdom, pleasure and pain, on and off, loneliness and companionship, life and death. The totality of polarities included. No polarity left behind…

All polarities unite that is a state of yoga. Pure and simple union.

May all beings realize the ways reading while breathing through the pursed lips creates unity with the Infinite. May all beings realize the deep pleasure of practicing Yogi Bhajan’s Trikuti Kriya every day as a way to experience Sacred Kiss. And may all beings continue to feel the ecstatic tremor within making out with G.O.D.

Sat Naam!

Cover of Where the Crawdads Sing designed by Meighan Cavanaugh