There's a hidden sanctuary in Kampong Bugis where you can go for a little escape. Situated on the fourth floor of a nondescript building, Altered States offers wellness classes and workshops like mudra movement meditation, ecstatic dance and yin yoga to help practitioners work the mind, body and spirit.
We're here to try something on the restful side today – gong meditation. This sound therapy class makes use of the gong to 'bathe' you in healing sound vibrations, which is believed to promote relaxation, release and even pain relief. Great for the stressed-out folks out there, or so we hope. Here's what went down.
Starting with the breath
Stepping into the Altered States studio immediately puts you at ease – it's decked out with calming white walls, arching doorways, cosy beanbag chairs and lush plants in the main hall, while the single classroom has a wall of windows to allow in natural light.
The gong meditation class begins with a seated meditation, where we systematically release tension from the tops of our heads down to our toes. Instructor Kristin's calm voice guides us through this section.
Soon, it's time for the meat of the class. Unlike other sound bath classes, this session incorporates light movement through the practice of qigong. Translating to 'life energy cultivation', qigong is an age-old practice rooted in traditional Chinese medicine that's all about circulating 'qi' or life energy throughout the body. It's believed to reduce stress and improve immunity, among a host of other health benefits.
The movements we practice today all have suitably poetic names, like 'embracing the mountain' and 'painting the rainbow'. Kristin shares helpful visualisations to help us achieve the right form and flow. My favourite is when she tells us to imagine ourselves as a balloon, breathing in to 'inflate' and lift our arms overhead and breathing out to 'deflate' as we float our arms back down.
Qigong is harder than it looks. As Kristin says to me after class, the practice is like 'an onion', with layered elements of breath, form and flow to think about. Indeed, I found myself having to focus pretty hard to keep my weight shifting properly, my breath in sync, and my mind present but relaxed.
Getting down to the sound bath
This is the part that most people are sure to enjoy. For gong meditation, we're invited to sit up or lie down. Most of us opt to stretch out on our backs, settling pillows behind our heads and curling up with blankets.
When we begin, the sound of the gong is louder than expected and reverberates through the ground. Kristin starts off relatively soft, with widely spaced beats on the gong. As we progress, the space between beats contracts, and her playing gets louder and more intense.
It's challenging at first to sink into it. There are so many thoughts in my head – I'm thinking about work tomorrow, how to make the long way home, how my arm is itchy, and why am I thinking so much?
My fellow classmates don't seem to be having the same problem, because snores soon punctuate the chiming of the gong. But eventually, the harried thoughts start to slip away and the 30 minutes on the mat fly by. When the sound of the gong fades away, I'm suddenly aware that I'd drifted off into a trance-like state and need to consciously pull myself back into my body.
We take a few cleansing breaths to end the session, and Kristin advises us to drink lots of water to help the body to release toxins, which she says is one benefit of gong meditation.
I do a check-in with myself as I walk out of class, and am glad to note that I feel looser, calmer and more content. I can certainly see how a consistent and combined practice of qigong and gong meditation can help to cultivate strength, balance, focus and relaxation.
The walk from Kampong Bugis to the bus stop requires me to take a winding walk by a canal, and I find myself smiling at the cool breeze and night lights twinkling off the water. It was a good hour and 15 minutes well spent, and worth repeat visits for a break from our everyday hustle.
Sign up for a gong meditation class ($35) at alteredstates.sg and check out its other wellness sessions and workshops.