“A trained body is not necessarily a sign of a trained mind.” ~ David Robson
David Robson leads one of the world’s largest Mysore programs at Ashtanga Yoga Center of Toronto (AYCT). He’s also created a Led Primary Series MP3 to the beat of a hypnotic, subtle drum beat played by Matthew Stephens…and, he let me ask him a few questions about it…
1. What inspired you to incorporate the drums into the Ashtanga practice?
David: I made the Led Primary Drum MP3 for a couple of reasons. One was to provide a clear record of the traditional vinyasa count for Primary Series as taught by Sharath. Setting the count to the drum makes the distinctions between each vinyasa very clear, and I think it’s important to know when one vinyasa ends and another begins.
The second reason is that the drum itself provides us with a tool for focusing. I’ve led workshops where we just sit and breath to the drumbeat, and this can be an incredibly powerful experience. The drum props up our attention on the breath, making it easier to sustain focus and ultimately enter states of deep concentration and meditation.
2. How did you come up with the drum beat?
David: Drums and liberation techniques go hand in hand. There were probably drums playing in history’s first yoga class: “Power Flow with Urg.” I can see the cave painting now: “Join Urg for an evening of drumming and moving and breathing around the big fire near the cave.” You know what I mean. Drums were playing when the first inklings of ritual started to pop up. I’m just going with an idea that’s been around since the dawn of time.
3. How has it impacted your practice?
David: The steady beat has revealed so much to me about my breath. When I have that external, unbiased rythmn, it becomes very plain to see where my breath moves off the count. And I’ve found that the drumbeat tends to echo in my practice for weeks after I’ve used it. My breath is steadier, and I am more committed to staying with the vinyasa.
That said, I also see the limitations of working with such a rigid metronome. The reality is that our breath probably does need to change with the practice, slightly speeding up and slowing down according to the different sections of the series.
4. The practice of Ashtanga is quite traditional—did you feel you were expanding/breaking any unspoken rules?
David: I didn’t make the drum track to break any rules. It’s a prop, and I meant for the track to be used like a workshop, to educate and inform our daily practice. I identify as a traditional practitioner of Ashtanga, and that means that I don’t use props in my daily practice, or in my teaching. In my community, that actually makes me a bit of rebel. Most of the studios and practices in my city don’t follow a tradition.
The traditional practice of Ashtanga is much less marketable than a vinyasa class with music, for the simple reason that it’s harder. It’s hard to do this practice everyday, with nothing but my breath and my thoughts and my ugly monkey mind for company. Some days it’s starkly apparent that I’m a crazy rebel for doing Ashtanga as it has been taught to me by Sharath.
This article was originally published on Rebelle Society.