For week two of my reinstated fitness finds I booked into an unusual class I’d seen advertised at Chroma Yoga, an awesome studio in Shoreditch which I visited last year. Ganzsound is a form of sensory deprivation meditation and I was eager to give it a go.
If you’re thinking “last week she did sleep yoga, this week she’s meditating… where’s the fitness?!” don’t worry, I’ve got some more high heart-rate stuff coming up over the next couple of weeks!
I’ve done a bit of meditation over the last few years. I started off trying mindfulness with the Headspace app, which I couldn’t really get into. Then I used Calm, which I stuck with pretty consistently. Eventually I took the plunge and learned transcendental meditation, which is probably worthy of a post in itself another time. Meditation is basically just sitting still and there are lots of ways to do it (voice guidance, mantra, babbling brook noises, chanting, total silence…). It can be quite challenging at first and it’s not for everyone but, personally, I find I’m way more chilled out and positive-pants when I do it regularly. Like most things, the more you do the easier it gets. At first I struggled to switch off (trying too hard to relax is counterproductive) but now I get into the zone within 5 minutes or so most of the time and sometimes experience mildly hallucinatory sensations (more on these later).
When it comes to this kind of stuff I always want to look into the science. Anecdotal reports of the benefits of meditation abound, but concrete evidence is a bit thin on the ground. Some research has shown increased alpha wave activity in the brain during meditation, but positive bias and environment restrictions are issues (meditating with a load of electrodes stuck to your head is going to be different even for a Tibetan monk). Subjective responses are generally positive but they’re not necessarily causal; it might just be that the type of people who are open to trying meditatiation are also the type of people who have a positive outlook in general.
In any case, I like it, and I felt ready to try a new step: sensory deprivation.
What they say:
A modern way to meditate. Our Ganzsound class merges colour gradients and soundscapes to induce a deep state of relaxation. Using Beats By Dre Studio3 Headphones with advanced noise cancelling technology, this teacher-less class will allow you to dive deep into an immersive, modern meditation experience.
Inspired by the ‘Ganzfeld effect’, a form of perceptual deprivation that causes the brain to amplify neural noise in order to search for the missing sensory signals it’s so used to, the visual component of this class plays with concepts of colour perception, lucid dreaming and synesthesia.
Composed by Heloise Tunstall-Behrens, the soundscape uses rhythmic low frequencies which entrain the oscillatory activity of neurons in the brain to the alpha range, stimulating relaxation, internal focus, creative thinking and visualisation. The higher harmonics transport us to the celestial realm whilst affecting cell regeneration in the organs connected to the ears via the vagus nerve.
Chroma Yoga is a really lovely studio on a small side street in Shoreditch. I love coming over this way and felt like a complete tourist strolling along from Old Street tube. The streets just feel different; it’s not all Pret and Tesco Metro here, with independents everywhere you look – at quick glance I saw a craft beer emporium, doughnut shop, speciality Thai tea house and a blues bar all nestled together. There’s graffiti everywhere too, and there was even a graffiti artist spraying a Merry Christmas mural on the entrance to a Turkish coffee shop as I walked past.
The studio glows a soft orange light from a its front window as you approach and the moment you walk in you feel calm. It’s a one room studio, with a small shower and changing area. The thing that sets Chroma Yoga apart is its use of colour. The studio itself is stark white, with different shades of colour projected throughout their classes. The lighting is pretty intense and feels a bit other-worldly as soon as you step in, like sitting in the belly of an intergalactic spacecraft.
Before my 30 minute Ganzsound session I did a 75 minute myofascial release and yin class, which was the ultimate primer. I felt full-on zen before I had even started.
The room was really warm and mats were laid out. Four of us had stayed for the Ganzsound session, which is a teacher-less class. We were each given an iPhone and a set of headphones and told to press play when we were ready. I sat cross-legged, plugged in and shut my eyes…
For the first couple of minutes a voice instructs you to focus on your breathing, slowly in and out to the count of four. As the voice disappears, a soundscape rises and that’s all you hear for the duration of the session. To me it sounded like I imagine outer space might (is there sound in outer space?) – like magnetic waves and low frequency oscillations. It was very calming and I quickly got into the flow. While this was going on, I was aware that the lights were changing colour beyond my closed eyes. I wasn’t sure what the colours were, but that almost made it more intense.
As I zoned out, things started to get weird…
First of all, I had an odd sensation in my hands. This will probably sound strange, but it’s something I get all the time when I meditate so I wasn’t too freaked out. I felt like my hands were expanding to the fill the whole room, like they were huge marshmallowy things.
Next, my sense of smell suddenly became really strong. I could smell fake tan and I knew it must be the girl on the other side of the room.
Then I started to feel as if I was shrinking into a teeny tiny little being just hovering in my body. Hard to explain but it was a very real sensation and I started to feel as if my body and the space around me was a huge ocean and I was a tiny thing surfing on the enormous waves, with my heartbeat providing a consistent swell.
I felt overwhelmed and calm at the same time, it was a quite profound sense of interconnectedness of my self, my body and the space around me and I had absolutely no concept of how long I’d been there when the soundscape started to fade and the voice came back, instructing me to bring attention back to my fingers and toes. When the session finished and I took off the headphones and opened my eyes, I realised that my feet had lost all sensation from sitting cross-legged and I couldn’t actually get up for a minute or so!
The others in the room didn’t seem to be quite as spaced out as me. As there wasn’t any guidance it would probably be a bit hard to get into if you don’t have experience of meditation and, to a degree, I think you are probably either susceptible to this kind of thing or not. I honestly felt like I’d taken a hallucinogen.
A brilliant book which I dip into on a regular basis is Head Trip by Jeff Warren. It’s about the various states of consciousness – waking, sleeping, dreaming and everything in between. There’s a chapter on meditation which I’ve never really got into before, so I dug it out and had a read. I was excited to find there was a section describing exactly what I’d experienced… these strange bodily sensations are normal for beginners and are thought to be merely the second of eight stages of meditation progression. Buddhists call the type of experiences I had “samapatti” and they believe they simply tell you the meditation is having an effect. There’s no actual meaning or benefit from them and they happen less and less the more experienced you get.
I’m very much a novice but am intrigued to see what would happen if I meditated a bit more. The more people do it, the more they sing its praises. You can’t do it wrong and there’s no harm in sitting quietly for 15-20 minutes now and then. At the moment I manage three times a week, sometimes four. I think I’ll up it to a consistent four and take it from there.
I loved this and was exhilarated (and a little freaked out) by it. If you’ve never meditated before it might not have the same impact – there’s no guidance so it might feel a bit uncomfortable sitting still for that long. That said, it’s worth trying for the experience alone; shutting yourself off from external stimuli isn’t something you get to do every day! If you give it a go, try sitting up if you can get comfortable – if you lie down you’re more likely to drift into sleep. Whatever position you’re in, make sure it’s comfortable so you don’t fidget.
Location: Chroma Yoga, 45 Charlotte Road, EC2A 3PD
How to book: http://www.chromayoga.co.uk