It began on a regular Chiang Mai afternoon. I was sitting at local hippy haunt Tea Tree Caf้e, sipping a cup of chai and minding my own business when I noticed something interesting going on around me. One by one, people were taking turns under a flashing box of light, and emerging blissed out and calm.
Curious, I asked what was going on. As it turns out, these people were receiving an innovative new form of light therapy invented right here in Chiang Mai. Called Ajna Light, the therapy’s goal is to help the receiver achieve a relaxed, meditative, trancelike state through brainwave stimulation. Light sequences produced by a small box aim to open up and activate the pineal gland, purportedly stimulating the production of natural dimethyltryptamine, which provides intense inner visionary experiences. Its effects can be similar to those of hallucinogenic drugs like Ayahuasca, ecstasy, LSD, magic mushrooms and the manufactured hallucinogen known as DMT.
With Ajna Light Therapy, the trance state can be induced easily, quickly, and naturally – with the added bonus that once the light is switched off, the receiver quickly returns to a normal condition without the side effects experienced by drug users, due to the fact that the effects are produced by the brain rather than thrust upon it (as they are with drug use).
Dimethyltryptamine is similar in structure to serotonin – a chemical linked to happiness and a sense of wellbeing – and one which occurs naturally in the human brain. Usually, this is only naturally released at birth and death, but Ajna Light devotees say that this simple box of light can bring it out in the living.
Trying It Out
Hearing all this, I was intrigued, but reticent. I occasionally suffer from migraines brought on by flickering lights. Surely, this would be asking for trouble?
But the Ajna operator, or self-described “Ambassador of the Light” Marilyn Issel้e, urged me to give it a try, assuring me that I could back out at any time, and that she would put the light onto the lowest setting for just ten minutes. Once she had calmed my initial fears (and in spite of feeling like I was about to be microwaved through the eyes), I relented.
I was promised a relaxing experience as I settled down on a mattress with some traditional meditation music on a headset. However, as the lights began to play, I realised the experience was going to be somewhat different to what I had anticipated.
I can only describe it as a full-on trip. From the very outset, I began to experience elaborate 3D patterns and mandala type visions, iterations of sacred geometry generated by my brain’s pineal gland in response to the specific Ajna Light frequencies. Then came bright primary colours, whizzing around in an animated cartoon-like fashion. I realised quickly that this box is no toy, but provides an intense experience which at times felt like sensory assault.
Afterwards, feeling surprisingly relaxed and refreshed despite the intensity of the experience, I was stunned to learn that the LEDs used are in fact all white – the vivid colours I saw, dancing with the sound and patterns, were somehow all the result of my own pineal stimulation. As Issel้e told me, “It’s all you!”
Straight to the Source
At the LannaYoga Healing Centre in Saraphi, I met with Ajna Light’s inventor, a 59-year-old American expat named Guy Harriman who has lived in Chiang Mai for many years. A relaxed and soft-spoken man with a slight build and a bald head, Harriman was tending the garden when I arrived, and greeted me with a warm smile and a delicious plate of fresh-picked organic salad.
As the son of two British doctors, a psychiatrist and a pathologist, Harriman grew up around frank discussions about the workings of the brain and was routinely taken to his parents’ laboratories. He eventually entered medical school himself but his training left him disillusioned, and despite doing well he eventually dropped out – instead opting to study computing and information technology.
After completing a degree in electronics at the University of Manchester, Harriman moved stateside to enter the then-burgeoning tech world of Silicon Valley. He spent his early years working with the one and only Steve Jobs at NeXT Computer (the company Jobs founded after initially being forced out of Apple), and recalls, with a laugh, feeling like they were the only two vegans in the valley. He remembers being inspired by Jobs’s approach to life – to follow his heart and listen to his gut, even in the highly logical world of business and tech.
After many years, Harriman retired from the world of IT, and felt an inexplicable yet irresistible pull to Thailand, where he acquired some land and started LannaYoga, allowing him an unprecedented opportunity to focus full-time on the healing arts.
The initial inspiration for the Ajna Light itself came when Harriman was introduced to a similar, less developed machine here in Chiang Mai. This light system was beautiful, with expensive furnishings and flashy looks, but lacked the latest technology. Intrigued, Harriman decided to combine his own medical, wellness and technological expertise to create a new machine, one that used cutting edge equipment. As he puts it, “I saw that I could create a machine that was ten times better, and for a tenth of the price.”
The whole design came to him after a short brainstorming session, which he describes (clearly not completely free from techie nerdspeak) as “a three hour download.” Without fully understanding how he would make his vision work, Harriman put together the blueprints for the machine that he wanted to see, using the simple credit card sized computer Raspberry Pi as his base. The first box took a total of three months to complete, from the drawing board to physical, fully functioning reality.
Today, all Ajna Lights are funded and handmade by Harriman himself at his centre, individually and to order. In line with his strict personal beliefs, he promises there will never be any mass production or corporate involvement. He wants all light boxes to be sold and distributed by word of mouth, or as he sees it, “the chain of love.” So far, Harriman has sold six, and says he is halfway toward breaking even on his personal investment.
Behind the Light
Ajna Light therapy is influenced by the work of both Czech anatomist Jan Purkyne and psychiatrist and medical hypnosis pioneer Milton Hyland Erickson, who both focused their research on the mysterious states which lie between consciousness and sleep.
“Results show the Ajna Light is a powerful aid to relaxation and meditation, as well as accessing and reconnecting to ancient inner shamanic wisdom,” says Harriman. He explains that light can induce a trance, “verified by measuring the brainwaves of those under treatment,” by manipulating the cerebellum with specific frequencies, which is then heightened by adding relaxing music or shamanic drumming.
Harriman hopes to sell the $3,000 USD light boxes to those who can afford them, and recently sold three to an oil company in Singapore that hopes to use them to reduce corporate stress levels. But for those who can’t afford a box, or who just want to try it out, Harriman’s door is never closed. His true goal is simply to share the light, which is why Ajna Light sessions at LannaYoga are free and open to anyone and everyone willing to try.