Maybe this is an argument for music as you rest after Ashtanga?

First off: Savasana vs. “take rest.” I’m not sure the distinction is very important, but I know one is out there. Anyway, the time of practice I’m about to talk about is when you lie down to take rest after finishing your Ashtanga asana practice; call it what you will.

Whatever you call it, it may be a good time for music.

We’ll skip over the whole music during practice issue, about which it is fair to say there are some strong opinions. Maybe there is more accord on music post-practice.

The argument for adding in some music comes from an article in the April Trends in Cognitive Sciences , which takes a look at the scientific evidence that music can have therapeutic effects. You can download the whole thing right here. The researchers find that what evidence-based studies there have been hone in on four ways that music influences health:

  1. Reward, motivation and pleasure
  2. Stress and arousal
  3. Immunity
  4. Social affiliation

That first one hits right at the heart of the music-during-Ashtanga debate. Are we providing ourselves outside motivation and even pleasure to get through a difficult practice? Of course we are. I doubt anyone is arguing that, they are just arguing the benefits and negatives of that. (But, wait, I said I’d skip this.) The researchers, Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin (I’ll admit her name made me do an April Fool’s double take), link the four above areas to the following, respective, neuro-chemical systems:

  1. Dopamine and opiods
  2. Cortisol and related hormones
  3. Serotonin and related hormones
  4. Oxytocin

Here are a few more highlights (from a study with 155 footnotes), ones that seem to relate more directly to our yoga/Ashtanga-focused world:

  • A host of studies have shown that listening to “relaxing music” — slow tempo, low pitch, no lyrics — has a calming effect on healthy subjects, those undergoing surgery and patients with heart troubles. Specifically, the levels of cortisol dropped after listening to music.
  • Another study simulated the typical stresses of daily life and found that cortisol levels dropped more quickly after subjects listened to music than those who sat in silence. (That one really seems interesting.)
  • Harkening back to a recent side debate in our comments about yoga and drugs, another study found that patients who listened to music coordinated by a licensed music therapist had lower cortisol levels than ones who were given drugs. “Baseline anxiety was reduced significantly more by the music than by the drug.”
  • As part of their findings around the stress-reducing section of their study, the researchers write: “Music is among those lifestyle choices that may reduce stress, protect against disease, and manage pain.”
  • A study found that participating in a drum circle could lift immunity among older people. Another study found that “group drumming counteracted age-related declines in immune functioning.”
  • Group singing has more positive effects than listening on immunity. So I guess I have to participate more in those occasional kirtans.
  • Singing also can play a role in increased and improving our social interaction — i.e. increasing trust and social bonding. And it has a greater effect in this regard than just listening. (So see my second sentence directly above.)
  • Open-heart surgery patients who listened to music also had increased levels of oxytocin, which regulates social behavior. So maybe there is the possibility of improved attitude post-surgery when it comes to recuperation?

The researchers suggest three areas are ripe for further exploration: more controlled experiments of subjects who listen to music versus those who don’t; investigations into the “neurochemical basis of musical pleasure and reward”; and more on the social effects of music (on oxytocin).

So what does any of this mean for us when it comes to resting after Ashtanga? It suggest, I think, that music at that point may be especially beneficial. It sounds like a lot of what people say they are seeking via their Ashtanga practices — health, calmness, a sense of togetherness/connection to the world — can be influenced positively by the right kind of music. Again, I’d note the finding that listening to music is better as a stress reliever than being in silence.

It may also be an interesting subject for a study: Are people who practice yoga (including Ashtanga) more likely to see benefits from music in these realms? (I.e. does the yoga practice establish something that makes us more open to music’s effects?)

Most generally, I’d say the lesson is that is worth applying music to other parts of daily Sadhana.

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga and a ‘legal performance-enhancing drug’

We’ve touched on this touchy Ashtanga subject before: Playing music while practicing. Bobbie even referred to it as a “taboo,” and it might be the post that produced the most remarkably nasty emails to us. Seriously.

Via wikipedia

We understand those who don’t practice to music. We know how music can focus or unfocus a practice. But for some of us, a deep, inwardly focused practice without some motivation isn’t always possible. I’d also argue that those who dismiss practicing to music don’t know for sure it is going to keep them from experiencing “yoga” in its sense of union with [fill in with your choice].

Recent studies, as summed up by Scientific American, may actually argue for the possibility of that union.

But first, in the way asana is our first limb, let’s think about music’s benefits on a physical level. From the Scientific American (SA) article:

In the last 10 years the body of research on workout music has swelled considerably, helping psychologists refine their ideas about why exercise and music are such an effective pairing for so many people as well as how music changes the body and mind during physical exertion. Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it. In a 2012 review of the research, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that one could think of music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”

Of greater note is that these studies are suggesting there’s more to matching music to your workout than just putting your iPod on random:

Selecting the most effective workout music is not as simple as queuing up a series of fast, high-energy songs. One should also consider the memories, emotions and associations that different songs evoke. For some people, the extent to which they identify with the singer’s emotional state and viewpoint determines how motivated they feel. And, in some cases, the rhythms of the underlying melody may not be as important as the cadence of the lyrics.

The studies also find, of course, that one of the reasons music helps with workouts is because it can act as a distraction. And that’s the center of the argument against playing music while practicing Ashtanga. But what if it could actually help? (A quick reminder of the Yoga of Music focus by Sangita Yoga. You can’t say music and yoga never mix or are intrinsically at odds.) More from SA:

Music also increases endurance by keeping people awash in strong emotions. Listening to music is often an incredibly pleasurable experience and certain songs open the mental floodgates with which people control their emotions in everyday situations. If one strongly identifies with the singer’s emotions or perspective, the song becomes all the more motivational.

I’d say that suggests that a carefully crafted playlist of songs could offer a new, and certainly different, experience of an Ashtanga practice, one that might inform and strength later asana practices done without any music. Maybe timing Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir to Kapotasana would bring out the emotional aspects to that deep backbend that otherwise aren’t accessible for a person. But once accessed, perhaps they could be explored.

Bottom-line: You don’t know until you try. Which isn’t to say you have to try. But this SA article made me curious to think more fully about a playlist timed to the practice. With Ashtanga, with the breath count, it certainly is possible to build a playlist around the asana sequence (kind of like Dark Side of the Moon syncing with The Wizard of Oz).

Posted by Steve

Sangita Yoga on a cool San Diego evening

A wonderful addition to this year’s Confluence was having Naren from Sangita Yoga perform on Saturday night.

We’ve posted about him before: here (and especially here, about his album release).

Naren and his partners, notably Hansel on the tabla, bring an honest, traditional approach to their music. They emphasize the sacredness, and its long history, and how the music flows through our own understanding and inner workings.

His description on Saturday of kirtan’s being full of simple words so the audience can lose themselves in the devotion was the clearest, and really most beautiful, way of describing this bhakti practice that I’ve encountered. (I tend to want things more difficult. But here’s a time when simple is best.)

Below is just a taste, which doesn’t do them justice. This is from a song to Saraswati, which they always sing:

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence kirtan leader releases album

There’s news around the wonderful musician who will be performing at the 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence (coming in less than three months now), Naren Schreiner.

He both has out a new CD / album / downloadable set of songs and a new website to accompany them.

You can get the songs at the website (no surprise!) right here. Here’s a little about the new album from the website:

In 2012, the Kali Mandir in Laguna Beach commissioned Naren and Sangita Yoga to oversee the musical direction of a traditional “Shyama Sangeet” album. Thus Esho Ma was born.

Naren was delighted when his first choice, Pankaj Mishra, agreed to play sarangi for the album. The sarangi is the most subtle and heart-stirring instrument for voice-accompaniment. A bowed string instrument, it is played by a very few in India.

The percussion was provided by Adi Keshava (Brian Campbell), an ardent devotee and gifted musician who studied tabla for over 9 years. For the album he played khol, which is a more traditional drum of Bengal, in order to preserve the authenticity of these old songs.

The recording features real acoustic tanpuras , traditional cymbals and a beautiful 4-reed harmonium, to create a rich and authentic sound-scape that compliments the devotional and mystical songs. The album is a journey into another world–one that is ancient, sacred, beautiful and mysteriously close to our own.

I feel it’s worth noting that the Kali Mandir temple was one of two that our Yatra leader, Robert Moses, pointed Bobbie and me to when we asked for suggestions to get us prepared for our trip.

I also should note that the last time I mentioned Naren is was while I was toying with the idea of attending a workshop he was leading. I was decidedly on the fence.

I went. And it was terrific. Naren covered both some practical aspects to bhajans and kirtans and their history and how they fit into the religious traditions of India. He is very traditional and respectful in his approach, but equally warm and inviting. It is in no way dogmatic — if one takes “traditional” that way. He brings a peaceful, open and devoted manner to both his teaching and his singing and playing. But it also was fun, easy-going and very helpful.

Sadly, I haven’t been able to follow up on the workshop with as much harmonium playing as I should have. The Yatra reading list — I’m nearly done with the book we were told we absolutely had to read — has dominated a chunk of my free time.

But, more importantly, the afternoon with Naren added depth and my understanding of music as an aspect of yoga and of devotion, and that will serve me well — I hope — during our Indian pilgrimage.

Naren also will be great at the Confluence, I can promise you. Give his site a look.

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga Taboo: Playing Music

I know. Touchy subject.

There are lots of reasons why it’s a touchy subject. It’s not traditional. It’s distracting. It drowns out the sound of your breath. I could go on.

But my early Ashtanga teacher, Shayna Liebbe, played music. And I don’t mean ambient groove or chanting. Shayna played Pink Floyd and Tool.

Eventually her students started making mixes for class—me included. I made maybe over a dozen mixes for Shayna. She often took requests from the class. But it wasn’t all fun and games. She managed to get us through the entire  First Series in the hour and a half allotted to her by YogaWorks. She made us recite the Yamas or the Niyamas during navasana. She read us the Yoga Sutras in savasana. But her class was always fun. We still miss her, Steve and I.

Shayna got some push back for playing music, but it was the reason I kept doing Ashtanga. I was down to the wire: Either yoga was going to help, or I was going to get spinal fusion surgery. I was in intense pain all throughout practice. The music gave me a place to go while I learned to get control of that pain. The music was an asana delivery device for me.

Divine Fits got me through surya A. Via NPR.

Flash forward. Here I am with a mostly home practice. I’m long years away from those first, agonizing forward folds; I’ve spent hours in silent Mysore practice, listening to the breath. But it’s tough—as a lot of you know—to motivate yourself to roll out the mat, face the front, begin, and stay going right through the closing sequence.

So it was yesterday. I had a thousand things to do. I was tired. My knee hurt. I didn’t wanna do anything. Then, a memory of something Nancy Gilgoff said came back to me. “I practice at home. Sometimes I have trouble getting started,” someone remarked. “Music helps,” Nancy said, “I listen to Santana.”

As a result, I felt pretty justified when I sat myself down, opened up the computer, and made myself a playlist. I rolled out my mat. I said the opening prayer, and hit play (the list is below if you’re curious). Thanks, Shayna. And thanks, Nancy.

Would That Not Be Nice, Divine Fits

The Wolves, Ben Howard

River to Consider, White Denim

Summer-Blink, Cocteau Twins

Black Tin Box (feat. Lykke Li), Miike Snow

Mausam, Nitin Sawhney

No Diggity, Chet Faker

Trip, Vacationer

Nothing But Our Love, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Unto Caesar, Dirty Projectors

100 Other Lovers, DeVotchKa

Bittersweet Symphony, The Verve

Ritual Union, Little Dragon

Champagne Coast, Blood Orange

Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car, Iron & Wine

Bring the Mountain Down (feat. Grant Lee Phillips), Carmen Rizzo

City Don’t Cry, Page & Plant

Over the Ocean, Here We Go Magic

Beloved, Anoushka Shankar

Tambura Evening Meditation, Harish Johari

Posted by Bobbie

Friday asana aid: ‘Open your heart, damn it’

Today’s asana aid is in intended for our overnight guests from Wednesday: Thad (our elephant journal contact) and Frances (who blogs over at LilaBlog). They are among the 3,000 or so who are at Joshua Tree right now for Bhakti Fest.

It was terrific getting to know them offline. We’d known them only from emails and, obviously, reading of each other’s blogs. Another big side benefit (actually, the central benefit) to blogging: getting to know great people.

I’m sorry our visit was as short as it was, but I had to get to work (boo!) and they had to get to Bhakti Fest (yay!).

As a nod to the festival, this week’s asana aid tackles what, for me, is the hardest of all poses: opening up. The headline, I’ll admit, is a version of Tim Miller’s tongue-in-cheek version of the more heart-opening yogas out there (the ones that are counter to our “yoga of no”). I toyed with going with “Bhakti Fest-edition,” but I thought this better captures my own struggle with opening to grace.

Here are a few aids to doing so:

Sacred music to point you to the ‘higher goal of yoga’

Among the many highlights from Bobbie’s two weeks and my one week down with Tim Miller in August was the chance to get a sneak peak of the musical performer who will take center stage on Saturday night at the 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.

Well, performer seems not the right word, although Naren Schreiner — the director of Sangita Yoga — is absolutely a wonderful harmonium (and other Indian instruments) player and a hauntingly clear and beautiful singer. The experience watching him during this “musical gathering” (we steal that phrase from him) was deeply moving, both extremely personal and open and shared. We posted about it here.

We also wanted to learn more. And we thought it made sense to give you all — obviously those planning to attend the Confluence, especially, but also anyone reading — more background and perspective on Schreiner and his musical explorations.

Performance at Ashtanga Yoga Center by Sangita Yoga

Naren was kind enough to reflect on five (well, more than five) questions we sent him. There is also more at both the Sangita Yoga website and its Facebook page. We encourage you to check them out, and we thank Naren for taking the time to provide us with thoughtful, interesting, introspective and compelling answers.

1. First of all, the basic question: How did you come to start Sangita Yoga? I know you’ve spent time studying in India, can you talk a little about that and what you’ve learned there? And what drew you to experiencing yoga via music?

It all started when my dad took me to my first kirtan when I was 5 years old.  I started playing harmonium when I was 9.  In my teens I got into all kinds of music, even studied flamenco.  My love for kirtan was very strong, though I kept it hidden. In 1993 I saw Amma, back when only 700 people came for her darshan, and I was deeply moved to see the musician-devotees seated on the floor, facing their guru (not the audience), and chanting all night.  At that time I read “Autobiography of a Yogi” and that changed my life.  I was intensely drawn to follow Paramahansa Yogananda and his lineage and tradition, which emphasizes yoga meditation but includes devotional chanting, and so I began the sadhana he teaches, and eventually entered his ashram where I studies, practiced, and served for about 14 years.

My bhakti nature led me to focus on chanting, and I learned Yoganandaji’s way, which comes from the Bengali devotional style and the Nada Yoga methods.  Those were the years that I began to experience how my study and practice of yoga meditation were directly enhanced by my devotional chanting, and vice versa.

I went deeper into Indian music when I was in the ashram as a brahmachari.  A monk from India stayed with us for a few years; he was trained in India’s oldest classical music style, Dhrupad.  From him I learned how to play the tanpura and develop the voice in that style.  I would practice the “swarsadhana” for hours, in combination with my yoga practices and study.  This was about 7 years ago.

In 2010 I was invited to India to train with real maestros of classical music at the prestigious ITC-Sangeet Research Academy. It was intense— many hours a day. By then I had 17 years of experience in yoga, and I had developed many theories about devotional music.  All that I learned at the Academy filled so many gaps, answered small questions, missing pieces to the puzzle… and I just took off!   A few months after I returned from India, I had a vision of two sacred rivers converging.  One river was the sacred music of India.  The other river represented Yoga.  The convergence of those two rivers is Sangita Yoga – The Yoga of Music. This has been my life experience and is what I desire to teach and support.

2. You spoke on Saturday night about trying to determine how different bhajans, different time signatures (6 beats vs 16, for instance) produce different experiences and emotional reactions — essentially, I assume, different ways of approaching yoga (in the sense of union). You suggested that perhaps a result could be having certain songs or bhajans that would be appropriate to different moods or needs. How are you going about investigating this and what are you finding?

I began this research 12 years ago in the ashram, in the lab of my own meditation room, with my harmonium and tanpura. Along with all my study, I went into the actual practice to deepen my understanding. When I learned about India’s system of ragas and their association with certain emotions and times of day, I began to connect the dots with yoga.  Many ragas and rhythmic meters were developed long ago by enlightened seers and rishis.  There is a science behind it all, a spiritual power inherent in them. But there is no comprehensive source to learn from; there are various schools of thought in India.  The Natyashastra by Sage Bharat touches on “rasa” (emotions for music), but this scripture is largely devoted to dance and drama.  So I’m pulling from various sources of music and yoga to develop a list of 10 foundational states of consciousness (bhavas) that are essential in yoga practice, and the ragas that create or promote those states.  Rhythm is also very important in all of this, and has a direct effect on mood and even the rate of breathing.  The chakras are at the core of the experience of vibration, so it’s all very esoteric.  I strive to keep it very experiential, and not too intellectual. There are musicologists and music therapists that research this, but I am approaching it strictly as a yogi, concentrating on that esoteric level, keeping in mind that it all must point towards the higher goal of yoga.

3. You also spoke at one point at the performance on Saturday about appreciating how Ashtanga yoga practitioners tend to try to conform themselves to the traditions and practices of India rather than the other way around. It is obvious you are doing the same with your approach to traditional Indian chanting and devotional music. That runs, in some ways, counter to the growing kirtan movement in America and the West, which incorporates Western musical traditions, instruments, etc. Do you find there are differences in the experience that more traditional Indian music produces compared to a kirtan based more on Western music? I’m not trying to suggest one is better, just that with your focus on the moods, feelings and emotions that music produces there might be noticeable differences.

Yes, I have found that the experience of India’s traditional music is quite different from the Western style of kirtan that we hear today.  There are many factors to all of this.  But that’s a vast subject.  There is a musical side, and a yogic side.  I am sensitive to music; but I turn that part of my mind off when I go to a true kirtan.  I concentrate on the intention, the “vibe” of the leader. I have been deeply moved by someone chanting even though they were off key, because their devotion was contagious.  Others might be musically perfect, with lots of polished performance, but it can be dry to me. Some people play kirtan music in the background while they clean the house.  And some bhajan is so deep that you have to sit quietly at night and listen to it in a meditative mood.

Classical training has enabled me to go deeper into the experience of kirtan and bhajan. I teach the essence of this to my students, and as a result they appreciate kirtan more, even the ones that are not musicians.  So that element of Indian music is important to me, and I would like to see more of that in the West.

But knowing classical Indian music is not necessary. The harmonium is a very simple instrument.  It is an East-West hybrid, perfect for kirtan in the West.  Many devotees have used it to go very deep into devotional chanting. The introduction of Western instruments (not counting the harmonium, which is actually Western) has really changed kirtan.  The musical creativity is great, and it is reaching out to a broader audience.  But in my personal experience, acoustic Indian instruments have a subtle effect on the body and emotions more than electric.

I also believe that correct pronunciation of the words is important, but not as important as sincerity and devotion.  Understanding the meaning of the words is very important to me; I cannot convey the true feeling if I don’t understand all the meaning and background of a chant.  This is also what I look for when I listen to other kirtan musicians…the feeling, the sadhana behind the words.

The tune itself is important to me as well.  Certain Western melodies and rhythms were developed to create human emotions of romance, sensuality, fun, etc. and often these tunes are used in modern kirtan. I have had the deepest experiences with kirtan that uses the ragas and rhythmic cycles of India.  These were developed by rishis and yogis long ago for specific results.  So they are tried and true…I can feel it when I hear a devotional bhajan or kirtan that is sung in that way.  I think there is a similarity with hatha yoga—there’s a lot of variety, a lot of adaptation.  But when you go to a place that is rooted in tradition, a discipline that has not changed much, it is evident.  This is one reason why I enjoy being with the core of Ashtanga Yoga teachers and practitioners.

4. I want to transition to your participating in the 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. I know it is far ahead, but do you have an idea of what you might be performing or how? You mixed bhajans and kirtan, and even discussion, on Saturday. Will you do that — with a bigger audience — or might you perform kirtan in the way most Westerners think of it? And, further, how do you decide how to put together a performance more generally?

The sacred music that I share is the same whether for 10 people or 500.  Before I prepare for a musical gathering, there are a few important factors that I consider.  Sacred music should be very enjoyable, but it’s not about entertainment.  It is a question of experience and purpose.  The guiding principles of a yogi, a teacher and a musician are each different.  If I sing at a temple, for example, it is for worship, the other musicians and I will face the altar, the “audience” is God, and there is no talking or teaching. On the other hand, in a workshop I face the students, there is talking and musical demonstrations.  And then there is the form of sacred music that is meant to be practiced alone.

I’m really looking forward to the Confluence.  I am sensitive to the fact that everyone will be taking in a lot of advanced information from the teachers. So the purpose of Saturday night’s musical evening is mostly to give an experience that will balance out the intensity of the training (to cool off the fire of tapas). I won’t give much information, and I will focus on creating an experience of sacred rhythm, melody, and words.  I want to be as true and authentic as possible in my presentation of this sacred music tradition that has blessed my life. With such a large gathering at the Confluence, it will be a powerful exchange.

5. Finally, what are your plans and goals (a very non-yogic question!) with Sangita Yoga? 

Actually, goals are very yogic! (But I get what you mean). I want to help people experience sacred music themselves, not just to perform for them.   Yes, everyone should listen to music, and many will enjoy my concerts and CD’s, but I want to teach people how to create their own experience of yogic music, whether or not they are musical.  Just recently I taught a middle-aged engineer from Germany his first chant on his new harmonium; he was overjoyed, he had goose bumps all over his arms, and watery eyes.  It was powerful, and an honor to help make that connection for him.

My first goal is to reach out and introduce the concept of music as a form of yoga, and present the true roots and traditions of kirtan and bhajan.  This will be done mostly by Sangita Yoga presentations, workshops for students and yoga teachers, and musical programs.  It’s a lot of education and information in the beginning, but it also has to be experiential—just like music and yoga.  A lot of my research and what I teach will be up on our website later in the year.

We will be bringing new musicians from India and also teaching musicians here.  We will also help guide other yoga organizations, conferences, and centers to create sacred music, both for one-time events and ongoing programs.

In the West, there is a huge movement for yoga, kirtan, and Vedic thought. Sangita Yoga seeks to emphasize the musical part of it and show its roots in yoga.  Music is powerful, and when it is used as a form of yoga and sacred experience, it can be a tremendous source of joy and spiritual support for yogis and devotees.

Posted by Steve

Moving beyond asana into the yoga of music

We got a sneak peak at the musical part of the 2013 Confluence on Saturday night. In a single word? Wonderful.

I know there were some at the first Confluence who thought that MC Yogi was, perhaps, a bit too electronic, a bit too DJ. You’ll be very happy with the musical focus this coming time by Sangita Yoga.

Saturday night performance by Sangrita Yoga

The director of Sangita Yoga is Naren Schreiner, who has been studying Indian devotional music in India. (I’ve heard his background second hand, and so don’t want to pass on misinformation, but let’s say he’s been studying meditation and other Hindu-based spiritual practices for more than a decade, including at the Self-Realization Fellowship.) He was accompanied Saturday night by tabla player Janzel Martinez. (It wouldn’t surprise me if Martinez, who lives on the East Coast, made it out for the Confluence.) Schreiner is at the harmonium, and played mostly in the Indian style of single notes rather than the Western way of playing chords.

Here is a quick bit from Sangita Yoga’s About page on Facebook:

Based in Encinitas, CA, Sangita Yoga is dedicated to teaching, preserving, and sharing India’s sacred tradition of music and yoga in America. In India, long before organized religion, music was taught as a form of Yoga—the path to union with Spirit, or enlightenment. For millennia, this sacred music has been developed by India’s saints and yogis, and taught by guru to student. Sangita encompasses sacred sound, devotional bhajan, group kirtan, meditative chanting of mantra and stotra, Indian classical music, and mystical folk music.

As that description suggests, Schreiner weaves a variety of different forms of music together, plus he spent time explaining the differences and even going through the different beats — six beats or even 16 — and had Martinez explain a bit about the different drumming on the tabla. He spoke of how the music can help achieve different states of consciousness — you know, on the path toward yoga. It was a balanced mix of explanation and then demonstration, participation and observation.

A few highlights:

  • They started with a mantra to the Guru as well as a quick devotional song to the Ishta Devata of his host — Hanuman.
  • There was a a kirtan, and then Schreiner explained the difference between kirtan and bhajan. Kirtan, as call and response, is simpler — fewer words, a simpler melody and beat. Bhajan, meant to be performed alone, allows for a deeper experience because it isn’t necessarily so tightly formed, one can takeoff from the feelings you’re having (I believe he said early on we should “feel what we sing and then sing what we feel”) and explore things more deeply. The Hanuman Chalisa in this sense if a bhajan; call-and-response around “Sri Ram, Jai Ram / Jai Sita Ram / Jai Hanuman” is a kirtan cousin (that’s my way of putting it, not his).
  • He performed several medieval Indian songs that were very beautiful and, with their Indian beats, very different from Western music. I wish I could remember the name of the princess who gave everything up and wandered through India, with Krishna as her husband. I’m guessing (yes, I searched) it was Meera.
  • Schreiner and Martinez chanted, very traditionally, the bhakti yoga chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. It’s something you can find online, but hearing it live was great.
  • Keep in mind, throughout he is talking and explaining, offering insights into how the different ragas are perhaps producing different responses, suggesting ways the music can affect us. Once he played the same song with a different raga — the first very happy and light, the second much more intense and “stronger.” We both really appreciated how we blended the exposition into the performance.
  • He finished with a kirtan to Ram, Sita and Hanuman. I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff.

It was all very moving, and a terrific counter to the emphasis on asana this week (plus plenty of study of texts not to mention my surfing). It is a reminder of the different paths and how each complements the other and can help deepen what may be your “main” path of choice.

And if I haven’t made it clear enough, it struck us as more traditional than most kirtan as performed in the West, perhaps because it wasn’t just kirtan and the musical basis was more heavily rooted in Indian raga and classical music and less so in Western sensibilities. Schreiner, in fact, at one point said something that I think resonated with the audience. He talked about how he had come to appreciate Ashtanga yoga practitioners, in particular, because they tend to try to conform themselves to the traditions and practices of India and not conform the Indian traditions to the West. He obviously is trying to do that, and so I think it will be a great marriage at the Confluence.

In other words, anyone planning to go to the Confluence should definitely add the Saturday night musical performance to their “excited about” list.

Posted by Steve

A Hanuman Chalisa for a lazy Sunday

Hat tip to Frances at Lilablog (whose partner is Thad, our contact at elephant journal) for finding this version of the Hanuman Chalisa.

I feel like maybe we should have discovered it first; the artist, Trevor Hall, lives in Laguna Beach, CA. That’s about five miles from where we lived for about seven years and still just 50 or so from us now.

I guess Frances’ bhatki has ours beat!

Here is what Frances has to say about him on her blog, Lilablog:

He writes the most beautifully poetic devotional songs, but in a very contemporary style.  If you’ve never heard of him, I highly recommend you check him out. Definitely give a listen to his song “My Baba” that he does with Krishna Das – it’s one of my favorites!  He’s actually coming to Charlottesville in July….FY and I very psyched for that show.

FY is Thad; I believe it stands for Fiance Yogi.

And here’s the Chalisa video:


As MC Yogi might say, Hanuman rocks. Frances’ blog does, too.

Posted by Steve

The Krishna Das documentary gets a release date: June 17

I know I was a little skeptical about the release of the Krishna Das documentary, which originally was only “coming soon,” so I’m happy to report a date and place for the film’s release: June 17 at the Maui Film Festival.

You can click on the movie website for info or the film fest’s one. It looks like there might be a few Indian-themed films in the queue there; not sure if that’s a coincidence or not. That might be characterizing them too loosely. One film is called Samsara. Link to its trailer is here. There is a Borat-like take on a guru, Kumare. It may not be funny, though. There’s a documentary on Deepak Chopra by his son.

And there’s several films about surfing, no surprise. One is on the big-wave spot Jaws. Another is called Immersion, It looks awesome.

Posted by Steve