A Sleep Science Conference

by Stephen Parker (Stoma)

A Sleep Science Conference and a Visit to South India

In the Fall of 2016, Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) received a visit from a number of the members of the Indian Society for Sleep Research at the suggestion of HIHT psychiatrist Dr. Ravi Gupta. Swami Ritavan asked me to do an evening talk about yoga and neuroscience, and we all had a good time. Two of the leaders of the group, Dr. V. Mohan Kumar and Dr. Hrudananda Mallick, suggested that I join their society’s 25th annual meeting in Goa in September 2017. At that time, it appeared there would be a schedule conflict. Drs. Mohan Kumar and Mallick came again in Spring for the subtle body practice and yoga nidra workshop, and they began again trying to persuade me to come. Since my conflict had evaporated, I agreed to attend.

This was a formidable undertaking. I have been reading in neuroscience, but really didn’t have a deep knowledge of sleep science and so I purchased a course offered by a professor from Stanford University, H. Craig Heller, Ph.D., who is one of the pre-eminent sleep researchers in the world. It was a fascinating study, both in terms of the synergies with yoga, but also in terms of the importance of sleep to systems like our immune function. For example, one night’s sleep deprivation causes one of the immune system’s first line defenses, the killer t-cells to drop by 73%!—And the deficit is not made up in just one night of sleep. It takes weeks. So I did my homework and worked on a paper for the conference about the opportunities for collaboration between yoga and sleep science through the study of yoga nidrā. (The paper has been submitted to the Society’s journal Sleep and Vigilance.)

On September 19th I arrived in Delhi and met Dr. Mallick and several others and we flew down to Goa together. The conference was a wonderful experience. ISSR is an organization of professional friends, more than just a professional association where people meet each other out of their heads. The first day was a training for technicians in sleep labs, which deepened my background. The next day was a continuing medical education event to which I contributed a segment on yoga-nidrā. The last two days were the scientific conference at which I presented my paper. I have to say I made many new friends. In addition to Dr. Mallick and Dr. Mohan Kumar, there was Dr. Bindu Kutty from the National Institute of Mental Health in Bengaluru and Dr. Kamlesh Gulia from the Shri Citra Technical Institute in Trivandrum. Dr. Kamlesh was my guide after the conference to see some of the sites around Trivandrum including a trip to Kanya Kumari at the very tip of India. I was sufficiently taken with this new group of friends and colleagues that I took out a life membership in the Society.

Then on 28 September I traveled to Pondicherry, the former French colony on the Southeast coast of India. I had arranged to meet my friend Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, who, in addition to being a physician, is also the successor of an important yoga lineage and is also the director of one of the first doctoral level yoga therapy training programs in the world at Shri Balaji Vidyapeetha Medical College. When I first met Anandaji, from the first moment we both felt an ancient friendship. His infectious laugh is what first won me over. We toured his small ashram there where many, many children receive training in yoga, Indian classical music and dance in a gurukulam environment. The ashram is also overseen by Anandaji’s mother, Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi who is the former wife of Swami Gitananda Giri, Anandaji’s father.

Swamiji was a disciple of Swami Kanakananda (the sleepless swami) better known to many as Ram Gopal Majumdar from Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. Majumdar is the yogi to whom Yogananda ran off just before Sri Yukteshvara gave him his first glimpse of Samadhi. I had always been curious about him since I found out that Lahiri Mahashaya described him as one of his two completely liberated disciples

Later in the evening we had a tour of Pondicherry town and a visit to the local Vinayaka (Ganesha) temple, presided over by a beautiful elephant named Lakshmi who will gratefully accept your offering, deposit it in the box and then bless you with her trunk. (If you bring a piece of fruit it does not go into the box.)

Dr. Bhavanani invited me to give a satsang/lecture on “Yoga and Psychotherapy” to students and faculty of the yoga therapy program. It turned out to be three hours that went very quickly. Many of this group then boarded a bus after lunch and drove to the famous Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. This is the temple most associated with Patañjali. Many of you may have heard Salvatore Zambito’s stories about his time with Pandit Ganapati from that temple. Ganapati was our guide in a thorough tour of the temple which included the Śiva lingam which was installed by Patañjali, a Śrī-cakra installed by Śankarācārya and, of course, the temple of Śiva Natarāja.

The next day, the last day of my stay, I sat for a while with Ammaji (Meenakshi Devi). She was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the USA, lived most of her childhood in Madison in eastern South Dakota, and did her college education at the University of Minnesota a few years before Dr. Arya, a.k.a. Swami Veda, arrived. She had met Swami Veda and Swami Rama a number of times. We had a wonderful conversation and I have to say that I felt so very much at home there. This is a very genuine lineage which teaches in very much the same way we do and they has a very refined approach to hatha yoga and pranayama. I am hoping that SRSG can catch Dr. Bhavanani at some point for a program on yoga therapy. He is an extremely knowledgeable and engaging presenter, the rare combination of traditional yogic knowledge in a fine scientist and clinician. Watch the website!

Editor’s Note:

Abstracts of Goasleep 2017 - The International Conference on
Sleep Medicine and Research, Goa, 22nd and 23rd September 2017,
The Silver Jubilee Conference of Indian Society for Sleep Research (ISSR): https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs41782-017-0013-x.pdf

Chapter 13, “The Sleepless Saint”: https://www.crystalclarity.com/yogananda/chap13.php

There will be a Yoga Nidra Retreat 26th - 31st March 2018 at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) in Rishikesh, India. Please see: http://ahymsin.org/main/ashram/yoga-nidra-retreat-in-2018.html



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