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…
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:
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!