After a long weekend of Yoga Teacher Training my husband and I started to talk about yoga and spirituality. We started to throw around ideas that spirituality can exist in so many of our daily motions or hobbies.
My husband has played stringed instruments throughout much of his life and one of his favorites is the guitar. While I was describing a sequence from a Power Yoga class I recently took at a local yoga fest, my husband compared his knowledge of song building through notes and cords to the sequence building in a yoga class. Both potentially create music, and the music that is created can tune our bodies to the universe around us.
Intrigued, I asked him to break down his idea for those of us (me) who are musically challenged (because the idea that I could be musical at all is very appealing). So here is the theory of the music of yoga that we came up with.
Let’s start by thinking of a single posture, uttanasana (standing forward fold), and break down what we do step-by-step:
1. We usually enter uttanasana from tadasana (mountain pose). Slowly we bring our hands to our hips.
2. We then begin our inhale as we bring our arms out and up.
3. Next, we begin to bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist.
4. As we make our descent, we draw the front torso out of the pelvis so that we lengthen the torso. As we continue our fold, we point the crown of our head towards the floor.
5. During this pose we keep our knees as straight as possible and bring our palms or finger tips towards the floor.
6. To deepen the post, we inhale and exhale and allow gravity to do the work.
7. When we are ready to come up, we inhale and bring our hands back out and up as we press the tailbone down and into the pelvis, allowing us to rise with a long front torso.
It is so automatic when we come into forward fold that we often do not think about each little movement and sometimes we do not think about the body parts or muscles that are moving.
So let’s imagine that our body is like the hands of a guitarist. The five fingers that depress the strings are our body. And we can think of our two arms, two legs and spine as the five fingers on that hand. The hand that strums the strings is our breath or possibly our prana (life force), or in musical terminology our vibrato. Vibrato is a musical effect consisting of a regular, pulsating change of pitch and is used to add expression to music. The guitar, in this metaphor, would then be the universe. The use of our fingers (arms, legs and spine) will create notes. For example, if we use both arms let’s say that we just used the notes C and E.
Now that we have the foundation of our metaphor, let us now return to how we actually make music when we do yoga. In the above description you will notice that all five guitar fingers are used: our two arms move out and up, our two legs are firmly grounded and connect us to the earth and our spine is straight and staying strong as we bend. We just used all five of our notes (arms, legs and spine) to create the cord uttanasana. And when we reverse and come back up we are using the same five notes in a different way to create another cord. So the pose uttanasana is a song created from two cords.
But let’s not forget our strumming hand. While we descend in uttanasana we are exhaling and each time we let gravity work its magic while we inhale and exhale in the posture. All the time we have energy moving through us and we are breathing and changing the expression of our song.
The song we create can be as simple as one pose or as complex as an entire sequence. We pick and create our songs to create a harmony between us and the universe, or, if you will, we are tuning ourselves to the universe. So for example let’s say a yoga teacher wants to craft a class around the Muladhara chakra (the root chakra). We will choose to focus on poses such as tadasana, warrior I, or uttanasana. An ideal practice to harness Muladhara chakra will keep bringing us back to postures that encourage us to root ourselves into the ground, and our song will be one of feeling grounded, centered, energetic, and strong (well, only if we play the song correctly).
What does it feel like to practice our songs in a group? If you have been to any yoga class in which you and at least one other person have practiced the same poses at the same time, you may have noticed a different feeling than when you practice alone. Personally, I have noticed that when I practice with others there is a heat that builds up naturally from the use of all the bodies in one space but there is also something more. When we as a group are engaged in ujjayi breath during our practice, there is a vibration that occurs in the room that will resonate with me even a few hours after the practice. There is also a certain feeling of joy and accomplishment that I can sometimes feel in the room (stronger than just my own feelings).
This is such a beautiful way to think about how we move in yoga (not that yoga is not already beautiful) and I think it expresses a sort of non-denominational spiritual side of yoga. Music, whether you play it or listen to it, can be very spiritual, and it is also a universal expression of emotions. If you listen to the music of your body, you can embrace a spiritual practice. I hope you all have lovely songs produced from your practices today.
Amanda Perez and her husband have been living an alternative lifestyle since 2004 that has allowed them to travel the majority of the United States. Both currently reside on a sailboat in Florida and once Amanda’s yoga teacher training ends in January 2012, they will set sail for a yet to be determined destination. Amanda has been blogging since 2004.