Dark Meditation: An ancient practice in modern times

Dark meditation isn’t exactly common practice (there are only two places that offer dark retreats in North America) so we were very curious to explore what exactly this meditation practice offers in terms of healing and transformation. Especially after we learned about the opening of the Amaya Centre, a spiritual retreat center offering a variety of dark meditation journeys in the heart of the Columbia Valley.

In this Q&A, we’ve connected with the co-owner of Amaya, Tania Edwards who explains the healing and transformative benefits and history of dark meditation, below.

Tania is a Yoga and Ayurveda teacher with a background in Zen Buddhist Meditation who runs Amaya with her partner Fabrice L’Heureux. Each dark meditation retreat is led by these two, who together, bring decades of meditation experience, spiritual practice and study to their dark meditation offerings. We hope you enjoy this Q&A as much as we did!

Head + Heart: Can you explain the philosophy and history behind the dark meditation?

Tania Edwards: The process of secluding oneself in complete darkness has been practiced for thousands of years as a way of obtaining spiritual evolution or deep spiritual growth. It’s really amazing to see how many cultures all over the world hold practices of darkness meditation.

In Egypt, the darkroom was found in the pyramids; in Tibet and India dark meditation happened in mountainside caves; in Europe, it took the form of underground tunnels and catacombs and even in the Amazon jungle in conjunction with plant medicine, dark meditation is used as a way to heal, transform and awaken.

The dark meditation practice is probably most known today from the work of Quigong Master Mantak Chia and the dark room retreats he runs at Tao Garden in Thailand.

In the Taoist tradition, the benefits of spending extended periods of time in the dark is a higher level practice to advance one’s spirituality. As Mantak Chia explains in his book, Darkness Technology, when one is in the darkness, the mind and soul can wander through psychic and spiritual realms so that you can reunite with your truest, highest state of being.

What are the benefits of the dark meditation?

Tania Edwards: There are so many physical, mental and emotional benefits to the practice of dark meditation that are very beneficial to living in our modern world today.

Having a background in Ayurveda I learned that in India, in Ayurvedic medicine, immersing into darkness is a form of Kaya Kalpa. The term kaya meaning “body” and kalpa meaning “ageless” or “immortal”. This Ayurvedic treatment aims to maintain excellent physical health of the body so that one can delay death long enough to achieve jivamukta, which is the release of karma. This technique is highly rejuvenating and is said to slow down the aging process.

When we were doing our extensive research into darkness meditation before opening Amaya Centre I found it fascinating to learn that 90 to 95% of our thoughts come directly from our visual stimuli. When you shut down this visual stimuli you are left with your own inner eye and inner voice. The eyes will literally keep searching for light until you settle and allow all to merge as one. The rest and peace that comes to the mind is so deep.

Understanding the biochemical reactions that occur in the brain while in complete darkness is extremely interesting. Melatonin, which is the chemical in our brains that send us to sleep, keeps building up while in the darkness. It does not stop building up so, in extended darkness, you become very relaxed and sleepy. It’s very common to do a lot of sleeping during the first 24 hours in darkness. If you spend multiple days in darkness the brain begins to realize it no longer needs the melatonin and shifts into producing another chemical called Pinolene. Pinolene can cause somewhat of a light show where you can have visions that are directly linked to the inner workings of the mind. If one were to seclude in darkness for 7-14 days there is DMT that will release from the brain naturally that brings a state of complete altered consciousness. In this state, people experience immense feelings of universal compassion and can work deeply on that which needs healing within.

Overall, I would describe darkness meditation, especially our 24hr dark room journeys, as a way to become rejuvenated and rested from the noisy culture we live in while at the same time, connecting deeply to the inner voice that can tell us a lot about what we need to hear in this very moment.

At Amaya, we have had many participants leave the dark room saying that they now know their next move in life or that they feel like they have been on a week’s vacation. We also have participants who come in a state of dealing with chronic pain wondering if they are even able to sit in meditation at all and leave totally surprised at how long they can actually sit and receive the healing energy that occurs while in complete darkness.

Whether people simply need rest and rejuvenation or are looking for deep inner work and expanded consciousness, dark meditation meets both of these needs.

Head + Heart: Please describe how the weekend retreats go. Is it literally dark all the time? Is there talking? What’s the format? Do the teachers receive specific type of training?

Tania Edwards: Our 24 hr Dark Room Journeys are our most popular offering. We begin our time together with an opening circle where we get to know one another. Given that we will be spending time together in darkness, we always allow time and space for talking and sharing to create a safe environment before entering the dark room.

We start each journey with an orientation, when we explain all of the rules and regulations for those entering into the dark room. This includes practical info like how to go to the bathroom and return in darkness. This experience offers complete darkness for a 24 hour period, and we always do a practice run with everyone beforehand where we guide them to and from the bathroom while wearing a blindfold. Everyone is usually surprised how easy the process is.

After our orientation we enter into more of a sacred space where we prepare the physical body with yoga and qigong and enter more meditative state by candlelight. We also offer a tea made of Blue Lotus. Blue Lotus is also called the flower of intuition and can help you enter a state of deep consciousness and also lucid dreaming. It is very mild and is not psychoactive.

We end our first evening together with a yoga Nidra practice to send you off to sleep as we enter into our time in darkness. Everyone stays together in our 1600 square foot hexagonal dark room. We keep the numbers very small, usually 6 participants, so that everyone has enough personal space for their beds, yoga mats and meditation space.

When awaking the following morning the day is usually divided into sections of 2-3 hours. There is usually a guided and silent meditation or sometimes a shamanic journey with weavings of sound healing. There is at least one hour every 3 hours that we give as silent time where people can choose to sit in silent meditation or sleep. Besides the facilitation of meditations, or guidance from Fabrice or I, we encourage silence during the process. It really is very intuitive and we always find that everything merges as one. Everyone begins to feel the collective energy of everyone in the room together. Although everyone is doing their own inner work the room almost seems as one mind together.

The dark room journey is also a fasting experience where only fluids are consumed during the 24hr period. This is the best way to do inner work and the body is moving so little that even for those not familiar with fasting, this is comfortable. We end the 24 hour meditation with an organic plant based meal.

Head + Heart: How did you decide to open this type of retreat centre in BC? Are there others like it in North America?

Tania Edwards: Before opening Amaya Centre as a centre specializing is dark room meditation there was a lot of research done. We learned a lot from speaking with a friend who works at Tao garden facilitating dark room retreats. Fabrice is also trained in Tao practices of meditation and qigong and spoke to many people in this community who had attended darkness retreats. The feedback was always very profound. After months of researching we began to dive into the practice ourselves. Fabrice and I would go into the dark room together, or sometimes in solitude, for multiple days and this became a regular practice for us. We really discovered for ourselves the profound effects of dark room therapy and became very passionate about sharing it with others. We first began to offer retreats for groups of friends to test the waters and we saw first hand the effects on others.

We officially opened our dark room retreats to the public in January 2018 and are amazed at the response we are getting. The dark room journeys are becoming full before I get to even advertise them.

There are very few places offering dark room retreats in North America. The most popular places to attend a darkness retreat or overseas in Thailand, India, Europe or in Guatemala. We receive inquiries from all over Canada, from people in California and from as far away as South America. We are very humbled and beyond grateful to share our space and the practice of darkness meditation with others. It truly is a gift.

Head + Heart: Why do people typically come to your meditation centre and what can they expect to take away from the experience?

Tania Edwards: We don’t find a particular type of person coming into our Dark Room Journeys at all. It can really vary from the exhausted parent who really needs some deep rest and rejuvenation on all levels to someone with many years of meditation and spiritual practice. We do get a lot of healers and spiritual practitioners that join the Dark Room journey as a way to do their own deep inner work in order to serve others but you don’t have to be at that level to receive the multitude of benefits. The model we work with really serves all levels.

During our last Dark Room journey there was a Mother of multiple children who has been to one yoga retreat in her life and had minimal meditation experience sitting next to a 28 year old who has a practice of going on silent Vipassana retreats for months at a time. Both emerged with equally wonderful experiences. The Dark room has a beautiful way of giving you what you need as long as you are willing to stay open and do your own inner work.

Darkness meditation is such a beautiful practice to incorporate during this time where we live in a very busy, noisy culture that can make us feel very bombarded in our everyday lives. Dark Room Meditation provides the right environment to look and listen deeply into your own world accessing your own inner wisdom. For those who need additional support during each journey, Fabrice and I are always there and available to support during each journey. Fabrice offers Vibrational sound therapy though the use of tuning forks and I am trained in Ayurvedic Indian head massage that can help participants connect to their upper chakras or energy fields as well as deeply relax.

Our world really needs more people coming alive and sharing their gifts; dark meditation is one great tool that can help people connect to those, and thus help the world become a place where we can thrive together.

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Learn more about Amaya here and on Instagram. If you’d like to explore dark meditation or have any questions about Amaya, please connect with Tania Edwards here! Have you experienced a dark meditation for yourself and want to tell us about it? Please do- we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!