April 4, 2012

The Yoga of Song: Krishna Rose and Her Music.

 Sometimes yoga asks us to do something we never expected it would. 

This is exactly what happened to my friend, Krishna Rose, when she left England to explore her Kashmiri roots, and instead encountered a yoga teacher that changed her life forever.

Krishna’s teacher had such a moving effect on her, not because he had taught her endless asanas, or bestowed her with a secret mantra, but because he connected her with her own heart, and inspired her to connect with the hearts of others. And he did this by asking her to do one simple thing: sing.

Her yoga teacher asked her to sing with all her heart!

Krishna Rose

Here, in the west, it is quite popular to engage one’s body as a vehicle to connect with the more nuanced aspects of yoga. We see this reflected in the asana craze devouring America. In the land in which yoga originated, however, asana is not as prominent as song.

 For, in India, it is music and song that dominate the yoga scene, making our voices the main parts of our practice.  

As Krishna Rose says: “Each of us has an inner voice yearning to express itself — a soul, made of divine energy and love, longing to be set free. Yet some of us have difficulty expressing who we really are at the core, feeling fearful of how others may perceive us, or that our voices may not be heard at all.” So we shut our voice inside out hearts.

What does it mean to sing from one’s heart? And how can this become one’s yoga practice?

Ever since receiving that guidance from her yoga teacher around eighteen years ago, Krishna’s life has become a journey in discovering just that! She has devoted herself to unlocking the yoga secrets contained in our voice and how we can musically express ourselves through it.

Our voices are our very first means of expression. As infants we cry to be heard, to express our needs, to assert our existence and declare: I am alive!

But not all the cries of infants are attended to. Thus we have entire generations of humans whose first assertions of being were ignored. Many mothers were asked to feed their babies on schedules, and not respond to the crying in between. This is just one of the many ways in which humans have damaged their relationship with their own voices. And because our voice is so integral to our sense of self, the damage runs deep.

 It is no wonder then that my friend’s yoga teacher asked her to sing, for singing is a powerful means to help heal deep heart wounds, and tend to the parts of us that need the most mending. Anything that helps us becomes an important part of our yoga practice. 

In the bhakti yoga linage Krishna Rose’s teacher belonged to, they say that once we heal all our heart’s wounds and connect with our own essence beneath all those wounds, every word we speak will pour out of us like a song, and each step we take will become a dance.

Although this beautiful poetic vision of Samadhi comes to us from an ancient yoga text composed in Sanskrit called the Sri Brahma Samhita (Chapter 5, verse 56), Krishna’s yoga teacher asked her to write and perform songs in English instead. Her songs didn’t have to be written in Sanskrit, he told her, to be considered yoga, the way kirtans are. But they had to “make others weep”.

My friend’s teacher asked that she compose and perform songs that touch people’s hearts. For yoga, is a process that penetrates our hearts!

All around the world, song is one of the most powerful ways to move another person.

Krishna Rose and Robin Wing

In the yoga tradition song is typically engaged as both an instrument to deliver the yoga teachings, and as a means to assist the absorption of those teachings. Because humans connect more powerfully with subjects that grip their emotions, rather than their intellect, yoga has engaged the emotional component in song since antiquity!

But yoga warns us that we not just mindlessly repeat the songs of the past. But instead pour our voices into whatever we sing with true emotion: “There are two ways to express your voice. One is parrot-like, the other is with rasa, or feeling…When someone sings with feeling instead of mimicking the words or tunes perfectly, the listener becomes emotionally involved. Remember that feeling is more important than technique. This is true for any form of yoga.”

Interestingly, the ancient yoga tradition refers to the most critical yoga texts as songs, or gitas, in Sanskrit, as in the Bhagavad Gita, the Uddhava Gita, the Gopi Gita, the Gita Govinda, etc. For these gitas were thought to reflect the feelings of the divine Self.

 Especially in the bhakti tradition, which is best represented by Chaitanya, who sang and danced his way through India, heartfelt singing is believe to transform consciousness in the most powerful ways. 

Just as my friend was asked to compose songs in English, Caitanya’s songs weren’t all in Sanskrit either. Many of them were in the local Bengali dialect. For yoga uses everything we have available to us. Yoga teachings, therefore, are not exclusive to those who know Sanskrit. Yoga practices include all languages!

The most universal language of all is music. It speaks to the whole planet!

My friend Krishna Rose describes the energetic effect of sound according to yoga texts: “Everything we speak and sing, reverberates around the ether of the world seven times…So, we have a great responsibility to speak and sing about things that are good, not just for us, but for the benefit of the others sharing the earth with us… the humans, animals, birds, aquatics, plants, tree’s, rivers and oceans….”

Chaitanya Singing and Dancing Wildly

This interconnectedness between species through song echoes Caitanya’s own singing, which was said to affect even the wild animals he would encounter in the forests and jungles. In the same way, when we make singing our yoga practice, and sing with feeling and confidence, we tame the wild beasts of our unruly minds and achy hearts.

 Through song we confront the things we don’t like about ourselves and sing them away! 

“Most people dislike the sound of their own voice. When they hear their own voices on a recording, they cringe and ‘hate’ themselves. My joy is in helping people embrace their voices through love and positive change.”

True to the yoga tradition, Krishna Rose engages her audiences every time she performs, and makes singing a shared experience. In the call and response character of a traditional kirtan, Krishna creates an inviting atmosphere in which others can feel safe to release themselves into song. Through music, she and her husband Robin Wing, foster a sense of community, or sangha, during which others can enter into the yoga of song, and share a musical dialogue.

Like any deep yoga practice, however, singing does not initially come without its challenges as Krishna Rose explains: “Performing is an amazing experience. But first, I had to overcome and face my deepest fears. Fear and insecurity hide inside the voice….”

“Singing is like being naked: everything is revealed within the voice.”

We can unclothe our bodies all we want in any of the trendy naked-yoga classes, but until we unclothe the emotional weaknesses and vulnerabilities accessible to us via our voice, we are only removing the surface layers. Singing reaches deep inside of us and removes the dust that dulls our own inner essence.

Krishna Rose in meditation

The more practiced we are at accessing the essence of our being, the more free we will feel at releasing our voice. And the more freely we release our voice, the more we will be able to access the essence of our being. This is the wonderful circuitous nature of yoga that merges the path and the goal, or the means and the end into one!

 When we are situated in this oneness, we allow for something truly uplifting to flow through our songs. It requires that we trust our own voices and value. The two are very connected. 

After years of practicing exercises to release her voice, as she drove up and down the Haleakala Highway in Maui, which lead to her home, my friend Krishna broke through all the negative conditionings that were causing her to hide her voice.

“I now trust my voice, love my voice and know that everything and anything that wishes to flow through me, is perfect, wholesome, healing and devoted, for it is that place from which I come from that creates the healing, for myself and others.” Fulfilling her teacher’s vision of her, Krishna now shares her beautiful voice, for yoga is not an isolated practice. It occurs in the company of others. It is something we give and receive, just like love.

 Most of the time our most powerful experiences in yoga occur when we are surrounded by other people who share the same intention we do. 

The most beneficial yoga communities are those in which the members consciously share a singular intention. We can see from struggling yoga societies around us that it is not always easy to achieve this. Yet yogis have known for thousands of years that this shared intention happens spontaneously through the use of song and music in yoga. When in the midst of song, everyone is in agreement that we are engaging it as a means to uplift our consciousness, our mood, and our state of being, so the effects are swift to take hold of us, and our hearts!

When our intention resonates with those with whom we share our music, taking turns singing in unison and listening to the song leader becomes one of the most powerful meditations in yoga. Taking turns between heartfelt listening and singing also reflects the reciprocal dialogue that occurs in a loving relationship.

In the practice of bhakti yoga all songs are traditionally love songs.

The supreme beloved in bhakti yoga is Sri Krishna, and he is said to be calling us all toward him with his transcendental love songs, which he plays on his bamboo flute.

In Krishna Rose’s personal meditation she visualizes herself turning into a flute through which the divine can play its tune to the souls in this world: “During each performance I slowly move from external consciousness, to internal, and invite the audience to do so with me, as together we go within and share in the experience of sacred bliss.”

  According to the yoga tradition, at our core we are all made of bliss! 

Robin and Krishna

This musical doorway to bliss became the yoga my friend Krishna Rose was given on her journey to India. Over many years she has opened that doorway to others, as she shares her music, and invites all yoga practitioners to consider engaging their own voice as a means to access their very core and all its beautiful splendor!

“Slowly but surely, where weakness once held us back, strength and power bloom, and within a short while the pure and natural voice which is divine in nature, is set free to express itself.”

As Krishna Rose worked on her latest album, Beneath the Rose -a celebration of the masculine and feminine aspects of divinity- she filled her lyrics with messages that speak to people of all cultures and traditions, meditating on that unifying force that is yoga.

Homeschooling their two daughters, in a lovely rural setting in Northern Florida, Krishna and her guitar-playing husband, make their simple lifestyle a living testament to the yoga principles they inject in their songs.

 Together, Krishna and Robin encourage you to sing your heart out as part of your yoga practice. Who cares what anyone thinks yoga should look like? Who cares what language you sing in?  Just sing from your heart and you’ll be amazed at the extraordinary places it takes you!

“To be our perfect, whole, creative, expressive self is a gift. Even if we find ourselves too busy, living a stressed-out life, which goes for many of us these days—taking time to self-express through art, music or dance, we can fully satisfy even the most estranged feelings of isolation.”

~For more information about Krishna Rose, and the devotional and enchanting yoga music she composes and performs with her husband Robin Wing, please visit her website by clicking here. You may also access the bhakti teachings of the yoga teacher who inspired her to sing, by clicking here.~

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