"There are days when everything I see seems to me charged with meaning: messages it would be difficult for me to communicate to others, define, translate into words" - Italo Calvino 6/365
Originally uploaded by Amanda's Weekly Zen
This morning Norwood and I were talking about my long yoga weekend that just passed and he brought up a beautiful metaphor to think about when doing yoga. Norwood has played many string instruments in his life and as such he is quite knowledgeable about building songs from notes and cords. As I was describing the sequences we did yesterday in Power Yoga (tough stuff by the way) he told me that I was like a musician creating a song to tune my body. 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 his theory of the music of yoga…
Let’s start by thinking of a single posture, Uttanasana (Forward Fold), and break down what we do step by step:
1.We usually enter Uttanasana from Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Slowly we will bring our hands to our hips.
2.We then will begin our exhale 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 are making our descent we draw the front torso out of the groin so we are lengthening the torso as we continue our fold pointing 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 to or towards the floor.
6.If we want to deepen we will inhale and allow gravity to take us farther into the pose.
7.When we are ready to come up we bring our hand back out and up as press the tailbone down and into the pelvis allowing up to come up 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 of 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 prana or in our musical terminology our Vibrato. Vibrato is a musical effect consisting of a regular, pulsating change of pitch. It is used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music. Vibrato is typically characterized in terms of two factors: the amount of pitch variation ("extent of vibrato") and the speed with which the pitch is varied ("rate of vibrato") (from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibrato). 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 A and B.
Now that we have the foundation of our metaphor in line let us now return to how we actually make music when we do yoga. In the above description you will notice that our five fingers are used; our two arms move out and up, are two legs are firmly grounding and connecting us to the earth and our spine is straightening and staying strong and we bend over. We just used all five of our notes (arms, legs and spine) to create the cord Uttansana. 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 are descending in Uttanasana we are exhaling and each time we are letting gravity work its magic to descend lower we are inhaling and exhaling. All the time we have energy moving through us (our prana) and we are breathing so we are always varying the pitch of our music thus 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 will craft a class around the Muladhara chakra (the root chakra). We will choose to focus on poses such as Tadasana, Warrior I or Uttanasana. Our practice will keep bringing us back to postures that will 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).
Now that we are thoroughly immersed in the music of yoga theory let’s think about what it feels 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 practice 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 the 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 joy and accomplished 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 is also a way for those who do not want to embrace the idea of divinity in yoga that sometimes comes up. Music, whether you play it or listen to it, can be very spiritual and it is also a universal expression of emotions therefore if you listen to the music of your body you can embrace that as your spiritual practice without having to embrace a traditional religion. I hope you all have lovely songs produced from your practices today.