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INTERNATIONAL MUSICIAN 7/08

 

YOGA ON A STRING  

Many musicians come to Yoga for health benefits, but ultimately find much more, says cellist Stefanie Fife of Local 47 (Los Angeles). She recently spoke with three fellow Local 47 musicians who found enhanced physical benefits through yoga, but also discovered something more – yoga improved their music as well.
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She breathes, closes her eyes, and feels the music. Becoming aware of her muscles, and their potential, she makes small imperceptible changes to accommodate the intent. The music flows.
Yogi or musician?

The parallels between yoga and music are profound and share more than a common thread. Many musicians have been drawn to Yoga because of the health benefits. Years of repetitive motion can wreak havoc on a body. But restoration is only the beginning. Yoga cannot help but enhance the mental and spiritual aspects of the practitioner.


YOGA AS A TOOL
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Local 47 musician Larry Tuttle lights up when talking about his other love. “It’s hard to understand why Yoga has just a strong hold on me as music. It just does.” After a moment the revelation hits. “I do it to be better,” he says.

Tuttle continues. “How does a person become a Michael Jordan, Meryl Streep, B.K.S. Iyengar or Yo-Yo Ma? A better mother, businessman or writer? Yoga is a tool. Anything will benefit from yoga practice.” In Larry’s case, the anything is music, and the connection is not new.

The Beatles introduced Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – founder and developer of transcendental meditation techniques - to the world. Famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin brought B.K.S. Iyengar to America. The two disciplines parallel, and interweave, and even the vocabulary used in each is similar - practice, breath, focus, awareness and space. And ultimately, in music, as in Yoga, “the path becomes the goal,” says professional cellist, Matt Cooker.

“I started Yoga to be a better bike rider,” he says. “I soon learned, that just like music, there are constant revelations that come from it.” Matt points to the pictures in Iyengar’s book, Light on Yoga. “These poses seem perfectly reasonable, until you try them.” Without resistance, his agile body, finds a flying pigeon pose. Impressive for a bendy teenager. Astonishing for a fifty four year old man.


UNEXPECTED BENEFITS

Violist Novi Novog came to Yoga for the physical benefits, but found the practice helped her in many unexpected ways. “It helps me deal with the little things,” she says. “I don’t get so upset in traffic. And of course, focus and concentration.”
Tuttle, a Chapman Stick master, explains how the body can look all twisted when playing instruments such as his. A hybrid of bass and guitar, the Stick’s melodies, harmonies and chords are supported by a grooving bass springing from 10 tapping fingers. It’s a fantastic instrument, but it’s hard on the body. “The body is put in such unnatural positions”, he explains. “After playing, I can repair some of the damage I’ve done to myself with a few well-chosen stretches and poses. That’s the same for other instrumentalists.”


FOCUS AND ENERGY

Novi agrees. “Larry and I put in long hours when were recording our latest album, Songs From the Home Planet. Yoga saved me. I would find a quiet corner, and do some stretches. It gave me the strength to do what I needed.”

Talking to Novi, it’s hard to believe she can run out of energy. Peppy and zippy, she has unending enthusiasm. Tuttle addresses this. “Yoga seems to benefit the individual needs of the practitioner. If you’re manic, it levels you out – or it can give you a shot in the arm, if that’s what you need. It ccnters Novi. It gives me energy. I take a class almost every day. I find by spending that hour and a half, I get a lot more done. I’m more efficient”.

Cooker offers additional insight into the centering aspects of yoga and music.
“The Maharishi Mahesh said that music is one of the quicker ways to enlightenment because you have to be aware of yourself in present moment,” Cooker explains.
“When I do Yoga or meditation, it kept me from falling into the hole of thinking other things while practicing. A little more present moment awareness,” That’s something every musician strives for.


MUSICAL PARALLELS

Cooker goes on to explain how the eight limbs of Yoga, as set forth by Patanjali (often called the founder of yoga) parallel what musicians deal with.

They are: Yama (ethical behavior); Niyama (internal disciplines -cleanliness, contentment, etc.); Asana (physical); Pranayama (managing energy through the breath); Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses, retreating inward); Dharaha (concentration); Dhyhana (meditation); Samadhi (transcendence). Every professional musician deals with these parallel challenges or conditions: . musical intent;. disciplined practice; technique; breathing; awareness ; focus; moving from the conscious mind to to the sub conscious; transcendence - the ultimate goal of the musical experience.

Other parallels include experimentation that takes place in both yoga and music. “The greatest yogis seem to be the ones who experiment more”, says Cooker. It’s the same in music. “Experimentation makes it possible to play in different styles and improvise instead of being a slavish adherent of someone else’s classical music formulas.” This includes both bringing something new to the written page and improvisation.

Improvisation is something Novog and Tuttle know about. “Novi approaches improvisation like no one else I’ve ever heard”, Tuttle laughs. She did that before Yoga, but Yoga definitely adds to the creative process.”

All three musicians agree that increased awareness allows for more fluid communication and exploration in music.

But perhaps Menuhin summed it up best in the foreward to “Light On Yoga”: “The practice of Yoga induces a primary sense of measurement and proportion. Reduced to our own body, our first instrument, we learn to play it, drawing from it maximum resonance and harmony.”
Who doesn’t want that?



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