Have I mentioned that I practice Ashtanga yoga and that I’m in a band?
I do and I am. I’m a mediocre keyboard player for a modern rock band called Say Something. And by “mediocre,” I mean “really, really bad.” I can barely read music, I can’t play anything that involves using both hands, and I don’t know how to operate my electronic keyboard other than pressing buttons that clearly say “Piano” or “Strings.” Forget about adding effects. And what the hell is this “Transpose” button and why does it mess up me every time I accidentally hit it?
Anyway, I bring this up because surprisingly, of all the things I do in life, striving to be a good band member is most applicable to living through the eight limbs of Ashtanga. Don’t believe me? Here are the eight limbs and how they translate to being a model band member.
Limb numero uno, the “yamas” or the “don’ts,” actually has five sub-limbs. They are:
Ahimsa or non-violence. As in do not hurt your band members when they don’t want to play the song you want them to play.
Satya or truthfulness. I must however be honest if something sucks. It’s usually me, so I have no problem with this tenet.
Brachmacharya or control of the senses and celibacy. The celibacy part doesn’t really apply because I’m married to the guitar player. But the control of the senses, I interpret that to mean, “Pay attention!” As in “don’t be distracted during practice.”
Asteya or non-stealing. Well, this is easy. Whatever stuff I want to steal is really BIG and HEAVY and I cannot lift them by myself (e.g., an amp/snare drum). So that takes care of this tenet.
Aparigraha or non-covetousness. My band members are all dudes, so it’s not like I’m about to covet their smashing pair of stiletto leopard-print boots or their faux-but-really-authentic-looking Birkin bag. So this one is easy too. Actually, I’m the band member with the most fabulous accessories, so I’m thinking perhaps they covet mine!!!
Same with limb #2. The “niyamas” or the “dos” has five sub-limbs:
Saucha or purity/cleanliness. Basically, don’t stank up band practice.
Santosha or contentment. As in don’t be my usual diva self. I will admit this is the most challenging for me. Divas, by our very nature, are demanding creatures. While I don’t usually demand my way or the highway, I do on occasion like to pipe up and state my opinion even if I know nothing about anything. As a card-carrying R&B girl, what do I know about modern rock? I used to hate it back in the 90s! So I translate this limb to mean, Shut. The. F*ck. Up.
Tapas or austerity. Easy. This one means “Don’t spend your money on band stuff.” I leave that up to hubby. And Randy, our bassist and resident collector of musical instruments. Next time you come to one of our gigs, check out his incredibly cool upright bass.
Swadhyaya or self-study. This one means practice your parts on your own time instead of using band time. Band time is for the band to see if all the parts work together.
The last of the niyamas is Ishvara-Pranidhana or the act of surrendering to a higher source. As in I must defer control of band stuff to the higher sources that are my band mates. Which is how it should be because they know oodles more than I do about this here ye rock ‘n roll stuff. Some days this is easy; some days it’s hard. Just like yoga.
Limb #3, Asana is the most famous of all the limbs. It means steady posture. I interpret this one to mean that when I’m up on stage, to stand straight, look out at the audience instead of down on my keys, smile, give them a good show
Limb #4, Pranayama or “control of prana or life force” is the limb that’s all about breathing. This one is what addresses my stage fright. Deep breaths before going onstage should take care of the nerves.
Limb #5, Pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses is probably the one that doesn’t apply. Playing a gig = performance = external focus = connection with the audience. Totally different from a yoga practice which is internally focused. So we’ll skip this one.
Limb #6, Dharana or concentration totally applies. Have a good time but don’t mess up!
I apply limb #7, Dhyana or meditation for after the gig, as in mulling over how I did. Of course my natural tendency is to critique the entire band, which I have to constantly work to refrain from doing because, again, what do I really know about playing/music/singing?
And finally we have the last limb, Samadhi, or being in a super-conscious state. I interpret this one to mean being hyper aware of what’s going on with the band, being attuned to my bandmembers’ likes/dislikes/moods/preferences. Which means I must control the attitude and listen to people who know more than me.
See? What did I say about the Eight Limbs? Totally applicable to my role as Resident Mediocre Piano-Playing Diva, right? But do I apply them to the rest of my life? Baby steps.
Karmela Lejarde — novelist, dance teacher, mediocre piano player for a 90s tribute band, and mom to two dancer/athletes — originally shunned yoga as “something old people did.” Then she discovered power vinyasa, specifically ashtanga, and life was never the same after that. She self-practices the primary series most every day despite a mere 6 hours a night of sleep, a full working mom schedule, and the confounding challenge that is supta kurmasana.
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