I’m in the studio with friends, colleagues, and a photographer for a photo shoot. When I walk to the front of the room to teach my segment, it feels odd transitioning from student to teacher. Before long I settle into my own teaching rhythm and get everyone rolling around on the floor, preparing to rest. We’ve agreed that a few of us will circulate during savasana to offer assists while another teacher gives a “gong bath”–which I haven’t thought too much about except to assume there will be gentle gong sounds. This seems ok with me.
I manage expectations carefully, asking people to place props to specifically indicate whether and where they’d like to be touched. I see that most of them are asking for the Thai work I planned on offering feet and legs. As my colleague goes for her mallet bag, I explain that there will be sounds from the gong implements being prepared. Then I stop talking and kneel before the pair of feet at the end of the row. I rub my hands together and breathe a silent Wai Kru, then I begin to work. She’s relaxed and yields easily. I move and press her feet a few times and then go to the next person. I sit in front of her on the floor, prop my own lower leg below her knee and mobilize her ankle with my hands. As I work, the vibrations of the gong continue softly in the background. I feel distracted by my colleagues moving around the room–and irritated, which perplexes me. I break contact and shake my hands a few times. I take a breath. I keep working.
I usually move predictably among my students, down each row until the end. Now I stand up and skip to the back row. I’m not breathing very well as I work on two more people, then I notice I’m feeling confused and unable to think clearly. I make eye contact with my friend and studio manager, who gestures to me. I have no idea what she’s indicated. I stand there a minute and eye the row of bodies lying on the floor. The gong is louder in the background, and the camera is trained on it. She must have wanted to tell me we’re almost done. There are two mats open. I can’t think. What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t touch people when I’m like this.
I go lay down on an open mat, put my hands on my abdomen and close my eyes. I am not relaxed. I don’t like this. I remind myself I’m in the middle of a room filled with nice people. I have friends in this room. This is the room where I work. I can relax here. Except every time she strikes the gong I jump out of my skin. It’s possible we’re being photographed. I want to lay on my side, or pile sandbags on myself. I want to leave the room. I want to do anything but lay on my back and keep listening to that sound. I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. I try to breathe. I startle every time she strikes the instrument again.
When it is finally over, I spring up from my mat as soon as I can. I glance around the room and immediately spot Ben in the corner, still sitting on his mat. Ben is my student and my friend, and he has PTSD too. His shoulders are hunched, his eyes wider than usual. I walk to him, bend and hiss in his ear “You fucking hated that too, right?” He nods vigorously. I asked him to join us; I feel like an asshole. I feel sick and jittery, but I force myself to be normal, talking to people as we prepare to leave. I pretend I don’t want to sprint out of there. I smile at people. I ask people to join us for lunch. I flinch slightly as my colleague passes me with the gong. She’s a nice lady. She didn’t mean to hurt us. I smile thinly.
With my friend Shanice in the car, I haul ass to the restaurant. I don’t mean to, but I’m so wound up. At the restaurant, it takes forever to comprehend my choices and I hunch my shoulders when strangers pass by. We get a table in the corner where I sit on a bench between my friends, inhaling my food. Ben and Shanice don’t know each other, and I do little to ease the conversation between the two introverts–I’m trying to concentrate, and every so often I look at Ben and mutter “fucking gong bath” and laugh a little. We’re both on edge. When I finish my food, I get a piece of cake even though neither of my friends is having dessert. The sweet taste soothes my neurosis somewhat.
After we part ways, I continue to feel sick and irritable for the rest of the day. At night I can’t sleep, and then I don’t bother to get up Sunday morning. I am tearful all day long. My neck is a mess. I can’t concentrate on anything.
I’m working on a teacher training about this very thing; how each choice we make as teachers can help or hurt trauma survivors. I didn’t know any better, so I put myself in the situation not realizing it would be harmful. I resolve to talk in my training about “healing sounds”–and then return to the work of healing myself.