Expanding Consciousness Among the Dead: Hypno-yoga in Hollywood Cemetery | Culture & Leisure

It’s early on a cool, gray September morning at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and people gather among the graves to do Kundalini yoga – with a little hypnosis.

The organizers call it ‘hypno-yoga’, and as unusual as it sounds, they are not the only ones to combine the millennial Indian practice with the therapeutic technique invented by Franz Mesmer in the 18th century. Hypno-yoga practitioners are scattered across the country and on the Internet.

But only Ellen Heuer and Monique Reymond do hypno-yoga at Hollywood Forever and offer it for free.

That morning, people in sweatshirts and workout pants filter through the site minutes before the 8am start time, wearing rolled up yoga mats and tarps to protect them from the dew. Reymond greets them with a song that might be a bit too much on the nose for a cemetery: “Ashes to Ashes” by David Bowie. This being LA, students continue to roam well after the start of the 75 minute class.

The sessions take place every Wednesday on the Fairbanks Lawn, which you might mistake for an upscale park if it weren’t for the imposing grave of famous actors Douglas Fairbanks and his son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., at the ‘south end. The west side is dotted with mausoleums and stone carvings, while the east side is bordered by a two-story stone wall formed of tombs.

“When you do this expanded breathing work, you change your brain wave patterns into an alpha state, which mimics a mild hypnotic state,” said Heuer, who has been a trained hypnotherapist for 30 years. Even in this moderate state, “you are more receptive to the feedback I give.”

On this day, the comments are meant to help people deal with the stress and anxiety of their busy lives. And with COVID-19 filling hospitals again, there is a lot of stress and anxiety.

Even if you are doing yoga with your eyes closed, there is no mistaking the main purpose of the field. Just getting to Fairbanks Lawn requires you to walk through acres of waste.

Reymond began teaching yoga classes on the Fairbanks lawn last year in large part because, with the pandemic taking off, outdoor sessions posed a lower risk of infection. And she turned out to be a friend of Tyler Cassity, the president and co-owner of Hollywood Forever who practices yoga and turned the cemetery into an event space. Nowadays, people go to the cemetery for concerts, films, festivals and Monday night Buddhist meditations.

Yet Reymond, Heuer, and many students also argue that there is something appropriate about giving hypno-yoga classes among the dead.

“It’s not a haunted space,” says Beau Hoffman, a regular in the class. “It’s a relaxing space. “

Another student, Jennifer Drake from Los Angeles, admitted that some people called the setting scary. She does not agree. “It’s a really, really peaceful place.

Stefanie Carimati, who came to the session with a friend, is a fan of hypno-yoga, saying it allows you to “connect with yourself and get work done.”

Let’s stop here and recognize the obvious: this is the kind of thing that has earned Los Angeles its reputation as a la-la-land. There is a distinctly LA, entertainment industry vibe to Reunion. And no, yoga and hypnotherapy are not for everyone. The combination requires flexibility of body and mind, as well as a knack for removing distractions from the world.

But these sessions are not exclusive. Reymond explains to the students the movements of each exercise, explains the meaning of each mantra, and suggests alternative poses for people who cannot quite transform into the ones she is taking.

Kundalini yoga is a good example of the good and the bad mix. The man credited with introducing the practice to the United States in the late 1960s is Yogi Bhajan, a charismatic former Indian customs inspector who turned his Los Angeles-based yoga studio into an empire. lucrative. After his death in 2004, he was credibly accused of sexually abusing several followers.

The class sings briefly together, then the students get on all fours for the backbend “cow-cat” kriya. The music, meanwhile, changes to the country-pop crooner of Lady Gaga “Million Reasons”.

As everyone moves from one kriya to another, Reymond tells the students what to do with their minds and bodies. “In this position,” she teaches us at one point, “say a silent prayer – to yourself, to yourself future, to yourself past, to yourself present. … Take a moment and be grateful for every lesson you have had the privilege of learning.

After leading the students into the “easy pose” with their legs crossed, Reymond leads them into a lower back stretching maneuver by saying, “It helps digestion. Digestion is not only about digesting food, it is also about digesting emotions.

The students follow quietly, usually with their eyes closed. After half an hour of kriyas, it’s time for meditation. Usually, Kundalini yoga sessions end with students lying on their backs in “savasana” or “corpse pose”, to continue meditating on their own. But today, Heuer will guide them through hypnotherapy.

“Don’t worry,” Reymond assures the class. “You’re not going to jump in the pool.”

Heuer speaks to college students as the soundtrack shifts from pop to a slow, mystical Indian track.

“Demystified hypnosis is just about changing your brain wave patterns so that they slow down and you are more receptive to positive changes and to access the imagination, which is the window to your subconscious,” Heuer explains. This is, she adds, “the area we want to influence”.

The purpose of exercise, Heuer says, is to root out bad emotional energy for the sake of healing. “So for the next 15 minutes, I’m going to ask you to suspend your disbelief and use the power of your imagination to redirect those thoughts, emotions, and attitudes.”

With a lawn of students stretched out in front of her, Heuer takes on the role of a tour guide on a whimsical, detailed and cinematic virtual journey.

“Let’s start by visualizing yourself floating in a warm pool of pristine light,” she said, unrolling her sentences softly and deliberately. “Smell the air and notice your favorite scent – jasmine, rose or pine, lavender, night-blooming eucalyptus – then notice the color of the sky, the texture of the clouds and smell a gentle breeze. Continue to float in this pool of gentle and peaceful waves that bring you down this river of light.

As the journey continues, Heuer directs students to virtual traveling companions: first a “cosmic being of light, a guardian angel or spiritual master,” then a horse or elephant that is at hand. listening to their own heartbeat.

The hypnotherapy session ends with Heuer planting any suggestions she wants the students to take with them. There are seven positive statements in all, including “My subconscious is powerfully supporting my immune system.” I am strong, healthy and full of vitality ”, and“ Every time I drink a glass of water I am reminded of my connection to a higher source, and I will experience healing and transformation on all levels. “

The students open their eyes and sit down, and the class ends with Reymond leading a final series of recumbent chants “Sat Nam” (“Truth is my essence,” in Reymond’s translation) to pray for some members of the community.

And with that, the students roll up their mats and tarps and start to leave the cemetery, perhaps with no lighter steps than when they arrived, to return to the world of the living.

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