When it was first released in 2013, the sternum-rattling Subpac wearable bass system—essentially a giant speaker you strap to your back—was targeted towards electronic music nerds, mainly as a replacement for installing a neighbor-annoying sub bass system in your home studio. But the meditation community has never let good vibrations go to waste, and it was only a matter of time before someone incorporated the tactile low-end experience into an enlightened practice.
The result of this chocolate-and-peanut-butter combination is Yoga of Bass' Sound Healing event, an experience that I—as a modest meditator and serious bass head—had to try for myself. I got my chance to strap on a Subpac and check my chakras at Temple Days, a late March pre-party for the Lucent Temple of Consciousness, i.e.—the most vibey tent at the vibey-by-definition Lightning In A Bottle event, hosted over Memorial Day Weekend in Bradley, CA by transformational festival frontrunners, The DoLab.
The Temple itself is a temporary zone erected over the long weekend to host "new spiritual and scientific modalities, heart-opening wisdom, whimsical teachings for the Aquarian Age, group ceremonies and life changing rituals, deep healing, potent unveiling of ancient technologies and breakthroughs in next-level consciousness." For those not fluent in New Age lexicon, that means yoga and dance practices, plus talks and panels about life, love, health and enlightenment. For Temple Days, the sanctuary was the new Wanderlust Studios in Hollywood, which offered a full day of similar fare.
Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was the crowd. Sure there were plenty of the well-off and well-toned hedonists that one typically associates with the transformational festival scene, with a respectable smattering of career hippies and free-spirited families mixed in. But there was also a lot of clean-cut, college-aged youths, indicating that the mindfulness movement might actually be making inroads to younger Millennials.
Grabbing a yoga blanket and pillow, I found an open patch of floor and sat down in Sukhasana pose (crosslegged), wondering how long it would take for my foot to fall asleep. Soon we were all strapped into our Subpacs, which were equipped with headphones and radio receivers for connecting wirelessly. We were also given blindfolds to put on once the practice began, which many attendees, for whatever reason, decided to tie on like headbands in preparation.
But first, there was a brief introduction by the two gurus behind the event: Claire Thompson and FreQ Nasty, a heavily dreaded DJ and producer widely known in Burning Man-esque circles. The two first connected with Subpac when it was in its Kickstarter infancy, and have been developing their practice—which they call Yoga of Bass—by combining concepts from the Yoga Sutras and other ancient texts with cognitive psychology and neuroscience, disciplines that are beginning to confirm claims about improvements in mood and focus that come from frequent meditative activities. Donning an ultramodern $300 wireless wearable bass system may seem at odds with these ancient traditions, but the pair points out that even the great Buddha used what was available to him in his day to achieve transcendental states 2500 years ago, even if that was limited to knowledge of yoga asanas and the ability to modify external factors like nutrition (fasting) and environment (sleeping in graveyards).
Fortunately, Wanderlust's spanking new location, with it's cozy yoga studio and delicious vegan cafe, was a whole lot more plush than back in Buddha's day. And the only yoga asana we'd be required to do was sitting still, which I was still thinking might pose a problem, since pins and needles were already shooting up my leg as I covered my eyes with the blindfold and prepared to finally try bass yoga for myself.
Soon, FreQ Nasty began to play a specially designed soundscape off his laptop, which fed into each Subpac and headphones. At first it was your basic ambient sounds with some simple spatial stereo effects—the same sort of hard panning devices and reversed delays that stoned teenagers with headphones have been getting off on since the Beatles went psychedelic in the mid-60s. Slowly, a mid-range rumble began to buzz on my back, the Subpac finally kicking on. For the next 10 or so minutes, the bass note gracefully moved up and down the Subpac's 5 Hz-125 Hz spectrum while the washing ambient synths cascaded around my head. Throughout, I tried to breath deeply and block out all thoughts of the outside world. Sadly, my legs began throbbing and I end up spending a good chunk of my transcendent time focused on the discomfort and trying to fidget quietly.
When it was over, I slid off the blindfold and began to unstrap the Subpac. Looking around the room, there were a few blissful smiles, but mostly just silence. I wondered if everyone else was so elated from the experience that they couldn't speak, or similarly disappointed and too polite to say anything. My girlfriend would later agree to the latter.
After my first yoga bass experience, I can say I've had far more profound moments in my low tech (albeit, app-aided) meditation practice, or in a good deep Shavasana (corpse pose) after a vigorous yoga session. Never mind the sort of drug-fueled dance-floor euphoria so many music fans make a regular part of their weekend routine. When cast against that inevitable comparison, pretty much all spirituality practices fall short.
Then again, the point isn't a quick hit of bliss, but the opposite. A sustained mindfulness practice is intended to increase general feelings of well-being over the long term, not to blow your mind for a few minutes then make you crash. I'd venture that repeat bass yoga exercises could start to have an effect on someone willing to invest the effort. Also, given that most mindfulness traditions come from ancient sources, it's unfair to expect a two-year old practice to have all the kinks worked out.
And I'd still like to check out the Subpac under more conventional circumstances, when the whoomp of a kick drum might light my pleasure centers like it does when standing in front of a stack of sub woofers on the dance floor. At least if I'm moving, I know my leg won't fall asleep.