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Dreaming in Gong Land With Don Conreaux

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One Saturday night a few months ago, I immersed myself in a really delicious gong bath -- and no, there's no water involved. It's all about bathing in gong music. Now, if you've read my post on therapeutic yoga, you probably already know that I am very much the "reluctant yogi." So its not all that surprising that when some friends at Integral Yoga suggested I come along to the gong bath being given by Grand Gong Master Don Conreaux that I rolled my eyes, smiled a little and said no. Yet eventually, with some perfunctory prodding, I gave in.

Once there, I was desperately looking for a spot by the door just in case I wanted to sneak out. And just when I was about to claim a spot my friend Laksmi intervened with her yogic ways, and I somehow ended up on a mat nowhere near the door, surrounded by friends in a room filled with an excited air of anticipation. In the front of the room gongs, big and small, all handcrafted by master craftsmen chanting mantras while they worked, had been set up by Don and his associates, who were just about ready to start.

After the briefest of talks, the lights were dimmed, everyone settled in, lying down on mats, covering themselves up with blankets and getting quiet, and I settled down too, minus the blanket, waiting to see what this gong bath was all about. While clearly there's no water involved, in some ways it really did feel like a warm luxurious bath, as waves upon waves of oceanic-like gong music and the accompanying gong energy washed over my skin.

At times I could feel the music vibrating in my heart, and lungs and all the cells in my body --invigorating, exciting, and even a little freeing at times, while at others disconcerting, as if bits of old brittleness were being chipped off from hidden spaces in my psyche. An hour passed, and I hardily noticed, feeling energized and rested when the lights came on.

Now, NYC is a big city, but in some ways it's a very small town too, and after the gong bath I realized that Don actually lives on my block. So during the Hurricane Sandy blackout I wasn't all that surprised when we bumped into each other, but this time he agreed to have a chat with me about -- you guessed it -- gonging... once the lights came on.

Don actually began his spiritual quest with yoga and meditation in 1952 and in 1969 became one of the five original Kundalini Yoga Teachers trained by Yogi Bhajan. What's also significant about that year is that it's the year he fell in love with the gong. Relaxing in corpse pose after a yoga set, while the gong was being played, Don found himself floating up to the ceiling, looking down at himself, realizing then and there what a powerful tool the gong could be for "helping people."

That began an odyssey for him of learning the strokes needed to actually play the gong. Back then, unlike today, when there are "gong babies," as Don calls them, all around the world, playing and teaching, there was no one to teach him, so he had to figure it out for himself -- and that's exactly what he did.

That was 40 years ago, and after all these years of playing, Don says, "We try to master the gong, but it masters us." Why? The answer is simple: The gong actually takes away the player's ego, having its own creative force, forged in the hammer strokes and chants used to create it, ensuring that no two gongs are alike.

Everyone at the gong bath seemed to have their own "personal" experience, whether emotional, physical or spiritual. Some said they felt energized and rested, like they had a "really great night's sleep," while others reported feeling "blissed or traced out" or having a cathartic moment. Still others saw lights and colors behind their eyes, and one lucky friend reported having a "waking dream." According to Don, this isn't all that unusual: "We all live in our own universe, and the gong brings out what you need."

These days, when so many of us are stressed out, sleep-deprived, anxious and maybe even overwhelmed by the noise of the city, a gong bath can be used to relax, de-stress and get some rest. Some individuals use gong music instead of a pick-me-up nap or during situations where they need a little, or a lot, of soothing, including while in the dentist chair or during childbirth.

Since picking up the gong, Don has trained gong babies all over the world, and this winter the Integral Yoga Institute in NYC, along with their usual yoga classes, workshops and special programs, will be a little bit like "gong central," hosting a series of gong events and even a gong yoga teacher training starting in the New Year.

The gong fest starts off with a gong bath on Dec. 12, followed by other events, including a special all-night gong puja, the first one in the U.S., on Dec. 21. This all-nighter is a little bit like a gong pajama party, and just in case you think you will miss your sleep, don't worry: According to Don, the 450 minutes of continuous gong sound immersion you'll get at the puja equals 7.5 hours of deep and relaxing sleep.

Since it's being held on Dec. 21, I had to ask whether or not we would be gonging and chanting in "Armageddon" or "the end of days" so many people are talking about with the ending of the Mayan Calendar. Don's answer was simply no. He's convinced, as so many others are, that it's a time of new beginnings. That's it, and frankly that's enough for me, especially if there's some gonging involved.

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