Here’s MC Yogi’s latest video

He wasn’t at this year’s Confluence, but I suppose we still can be nudged to share MC Yogi’s latest video: “Breath Control.”

We all could use a little of that, right?

Posted by Steve

A beautiful Hanuman devotional aid from Sangita Yoga

Here’s a little something just in time for Hanuman Jayanthi.

Naren Schreiner of Sangita Yoga — which performed the sacred music at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this year — has uploaded a track recorded at the Confluence. The song? (Is “song” the right word?) Jai Bolo Hanuman Ki, which he wrote just for the Confluence.

Here’s the link. The cost, by the way: Whatever you want to donate.

Here’s what Naren has to say about it:

I composed this kirtan especially for the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence as a tribute to the many Hanuman-bhaktas present there. The words are traditional verses that honor Sri Hanuman, the great devotee and servant of Ram, Lakshman, and Janaki (Sita).

In celebration of Hanuman Jayanti on April 25, 2013, Sangita Yoga is releasing this single on a donation basis.

My desire is to make this song available for everyone all over the world to download and sing along with joy and devotion to Hanuman, who is the embodiment of strength, wisdom, devotion and humility. If you wish to give a donation, it will directly support my sacred music and my mission at Sangita Yoga. Thank you and I hope this recording uplifts your mind and heart in praise of Sri Hanuman!

I remember when he led us through this song (and I’m pretty sure his sound engineer managed to drop the level on the mic that picked me up, so no fears in listening!), and it was one of those that — if you’re a Hanuman-bhakta — reminds you all the reasons why. (Alternately, you know what I mean if a devotional to your great guide plays — one to Ganesh, Siva, Krishna or Kali, for instance.) The feelings come. The goosebumps. The pulse quickening. The tears of happiness. The peace.

Naren, I believe, captures that all in this piece. Thanks to him for sharing it.

Posted by Steve

The Yoga of Music at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

I’m considering changing this blog’s name to the Confluence Music Countdown. Music, music, music. We can’t get away from it, despite my best efforts.

This time, though, I’m more than happy to fill a post with some sacred music. Below is video produced by Sangita Yoga, who performed the sacred music at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. Perhaps some of what Naren Schreiner says in the voice over will be a way to tie up the ongoing discussion about music’s role in yoga.



And no, I don’t think either Bobbie or I are anywhere in the video.

Posted by Steve

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