Photo: Andrew Kalat
Altered States of Consciousness
Living in a city that is not permeated by yoga, I maintain a schedule and lifestyle notably removed from the mainstream. Socially, I am frequently in the company of people who do not practice yoga. In those instances, I am often the only person not drinking or imbibing some mind-altering chemical. So I’m often in the company of people stoned or high.
Typically, the stoned/high/drunk people interpret my behavior in two ways: either as disapproval of their consumption (not true) and/or my own love of sobriety. In their words, they enjoy “altered” consciousness—insinuating that sobriety is “unaltered,” and thus boring. It’s as if they’re meaning to say, “You’re such a square, Stephanie.” I respect both their opinion and their expression of it, though I disagree with their definition.
My reasons are not what people imagine. Though I value shaucha (purity), my abstention is less for the sake of a limb of yoga and ultimately because I prefer mindfulness. So I tend to avoid situations that draw me away from it. I drink champagne toasts at weddings sometimes, but don’t feel compelled to drink on New Year’s Eve, for example.
Sobriety, as in non-drunk, un-stoned, dis-high, should not be synonymous with “unaltered” consciousness. Though I have used drugs recreationally in the past, my consciousness now is far more altered than any of the times I had those substances in my body. The practice of multiple limbs of yoga (including breath work and meditation) keeps my consciousness altered, at least in comparison to its state before I practice yoga.
Acknowledging the range of altered consciousnesses, what then, is “unaltered” consciousness? If I consider heightened awareness as different (altered), then the opposite (unaltered) becomes some distracted state. By that rationale, altered consciousness is a paradox, given that behaviors and consumption always change consciousness.
In fact, I mostly exist in altered consciousness, in this sense of un-normal. Like many, I have “seen” profound visions underneath closed eyelids during meditation. In savasana (corpse/rest pose) and yoga nidra (yoga “sleep,” as in supine meditation), I often feel as though I’m levitating. Those experiences, from what my friends claim (and I still remember from my own past), are not so profoundly different from their altered states of consciousness.
Regardless of labels, what I share with people who partake of intoxicants is an appreciation of enhanced mindfulness, of heightened sensation. And when we’re present, there’s expansion.
Stephanie Kohler lives a life of eclectic and ecstatic passion. In no particular order, she is a writer, yogini, musician, teacher, nomad, lover, thinker, reader, dancer. She strives to balance effort with surrender, precision with laughter. Live life, love life, live love. Read more: southernwithasmalls.com
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July’s Full Moon in Capricorn: The Heart wants what it Wants. How to Love a Woman who Scares You. Our Soulmates are Rarely Who We Expect. The 4 Stages of a Good Divorce. I Still Think of You. Men, Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves: Size Matters. Reading This Takes Guts. To the One Who Tried to Break Me. An Open Letter to the Fixers. How your Stored Memories in the Amygdala can lead to PTSD.