Riding Rails

Wake state, open eyed meditation is accessible to everybody. Often we fall into this trance-like flow without ever realising. 

Have you stared at something for so long that your eyesight changes? Maybe the view become a little darker or the finer details begin to stand out. Perhaps you become aware of distant sounds and gentle vibrations in the ground. A classic symptom, is the noticeable lack of a train of thought. Perhaps you are still having thoughts, but they seemed detached and lack the regular temporal progression that signifies your recognition of them. You preference your focus to the overwhelming sensual input, rather than the internal dialogue of your thinking mind. Or perhaps both?

If any of that resonates with you, it is true that you have been in this experiential state before. It often reminds me of the boundary between wake and sleep of a sneaky afternoon nap. Sensations blend together with thoughts and the regular, conscious delineation of these phenomena are all but gone. 

I discovered a tried and tested technique for falling into this trance when I first moved to Melbourne and was using public transport almost exclusively. This is not to say others haven’t also stumbled onto this. 

It involves tadasana and trains. 

Mountain pose is normally executed on the even surface of a yoga studio. But why does it always have to be so?

Let’s say you’re on an early morning train, the only person on the carriage is you. What do you do? Enjoy the silence before the rush of day, maybe close your eyes in the seat and meditate? For me, this is a golden opportunity to practice. 

Stand up in the carriage, and face a side window or door, at first near a handhold for stability. Plant your feet firmly and evenly on the ground. The stronger you set your foundations now the less work you have to do later, I typically point my toes on about a 20 degree angle   with my feet hip distance apart. The further apart your feet, the more stable you will become. 

This is about feeling the gravity of the train in motion, you want your awareness in the realm of sounds, this will give you cues to predict what the train is doing when you eventually close your eyes. 

Ok now that your feet are set in place it’s time to release the knees, you want them unlocked and fluid. The legs are transmitting somatic information from the motion of the train to your centre of balance at the hips. Turn your core on and tuck your tailbone under, this locks the lower torso in place – Of your entire body during this practice, the core and pelvis are the only parts of you that should be under your conscious control. 

Eventually, you want to let go of the handrail and free the upper body to respond naturally to the changes in the gravity of the train, you want to feel every bump and jolt like a wave travelling up your body. You want to, for lack of a better word, become one with the train. 

This practice is all about releasing control of the body to its naturally responses to changes in ground motion. Have you ever seen a dog try to balance on the back seat of a car? My guess is that in the dogs mind, it has already fallen over and is gripping and tensing with all its might to prevent that future from happening. 

The mind struggles for purchase on uneven ground with the only tool at its disposal, the body. Except it is clumsy and inefficient in its response to immediate changes in motion. The intelligent body however, is perfectly suited for navigating these chaotic environments with poise and grace. 

So we give the mind a task that exploits its natural inclinations for future prediction by focusing on the sound of the train on the rails. You can hear the future by listening to the forward carriages as they roll over tracks, freeing up the mind from desperately grasping the body. 

Polynesian oceanic navigators can, using a form of meditation where they sit for days on the bottom of the boat,  hear the subtle changes in ocean currents and even predict land masses based on the structure of the different magnitudes of waves in the ocean. 

The power of sound should never be underestimated and this method should be more that enough focus to transcend the mental chatter. 

There is a reason why trains are the perfect candidate for this form of kinetic meditation – They move in straight lines mostly. Anymore added environmental chaos such as a tram or bus, and you are likely to be thrown out of trance or quite literally thrown around the cabin. 

You may feel goofy on a crowded train carriage closing your eyes and letting go, so pick a spot on the ground in front of you to look at and release your hand a few inches off the rail at first, until you feel comfortable in your ability to ride the gravity of the train. 

There are many directions to take this, I’m working on vrikshasana at the moment. Be curious and be safe.