Rock music + yoga have merged in modern culture to create a strange but beautiful hybrid. Have you ever wondered why?
A strange evolution
Teaching yoga was my career choice by default.
There were two other dreams that came first. When I was a really young boy, my grandmother would always ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I always replied with childlike enthusiasm: “an Indian! (i.e. a native american or as we say in Canada, someone from the first nations)” And to that young me, a life in nature running through the forest with wolves in a loin-cloth and war paint sounded awesome to me.
When I was slightly older I wanted to be a rock star. Yet, in spite of all my hours dressed up in KISS outfits and my ability to rock out some serious air guitar to Van Halen and AC/DC, eventually I had to face the fact that I really wasn’t very good at singing.
So I put reality in check and got on with life. When I discovered yoga while in university, I realized that this was it. Here was something that lit people up the same way music did. It opened a door to the sublime and got us out of the world of the mundane. It made our hearts sing.
I’m not sure if the yogis who practiced in the palaces of Mysore, India; in the early 1900s ever expected that yoga would be taught at the top of a ski resort in Whistler or Tahoe to the sounds of Thievery Corporation in the not so distant future. Yet the evolution seems so natural when you step back and look at it.
That’s why I am so happy to see all three of these paths come together at Festivals like Wanderlust that combine Yoga with music in the splendor of nature (loin cloth optional). When I presented at Wanderlust last summer it felt like a modern Woodstock.
Both Wanderlust and Woodstock have music playing late into the night, along with vendors and caravans of smiling, free-spirited people talking about peace and love. What’s different? The brown acid has been replaced for the most part with downdogs, trikonasanas and Tantric philosophy.
The Yoga Music Hybrid
Yoga has undergone two big waves of popularity in the West and both of those waves have been tandem surfed with rock and roll music.
In the sixties and seventies not long after the British Invasion, the Beatles started a Yoga Invasion practicing with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Yogi Bhajan the founder of Kundalini Yoga’s was sponsored by the creator of the Musical “Hair” for his U.S. Visa and Larry Schulz, San Francisco’s ‘Rocket Man’ and owner of “It’s Yoga” toured with the Grateful Dead.
Then in the mid nineties Yoga experienced another massive resurgence fueled in part by celebrity musicians Sting and Madonna. These days there are countless musicians doing yoga. I am even told that Lady Ga Ga is into it, which would make her Lady Yoga Ga, I guess.
Yoga instructors are becoming like “Yoga rock stars” as well. Shiva Rea has been called the Madonna of Yoga by the Yoga Journal; New York’s YAMA Talent models itself after the Music Agencies for booking Yoga Instructors; Michael Franti plays routinely in the classes of Yogini’s Like Janet Stone and Seane Corn and even has a video with the Jivamukti founders; Terry McBride owner of Nettwerk Music who is an agent for the Barenaked Ladies, Coldplay and Sarah Mclaughlin even started Nutone, a Kirtan label for Bhakti (devotional) Yogis. Yoga teachers put a lot into their playlists and if you don’t know about Yogi Tunes, you should!
Yogi Rock Stars
Even though many in India view yogis as wondering ascetics in spiritual pursuit of Moksha or “release” from the trappings of material possessions and the Ego, there are Armies of “Yogi Rock Stars” who are content in the limelight, sharing their passions around the globe. You’ll see them hobnobbing with musical celebrities at music and yoga festivals this summer, no doubt.
Why the connection?
No matter what your opinion of Yoga Rock Stars the fact is that yoga and music are both great gifts for the elevation of the spirit.
Think about how many days you found yourself in a pretty mundane space and then that perfect song comes on the stereo that stops you in your tracks, has you singing along in your head or out loud. Your heart feels lighter, your hurts fade and gravity somehow tugs you down less.
This is the great gift of yoga, as well. Like music, it too restores our positive perspective, celebrates the splendor of life and the radiance of the heart. After just a few sun salutations all of us have wondered, “What was I worried about today anyway?” Our body becomes an antenna that picks up the music of the soul.
My current personal definition of Yoga is that “Yoga is the Art of getting out of your own way.” Good musicians know this, as do artists and athletes. When they are in the zone and playing something powerful, you will notice their eyes are closed. They are open to something coming through them. Reflecting back on these moments they ask themselves, “Who was playing this music?” They are masters of being a conduit.
And this is what I tell people in our Blissology Yoga teacher trainings. Of all the things a yoga teacher has to perfect, the main one is how to be a conduit for the force of love, joy, awe and bliss. I think that the best yoga teachers, like great musicians, get out of their own way. They are not encased in ego, but they let something powerful flow through them.
This is why one of the best Savasana’s I have heard is by musician and yogi, Michel Franti on the Jivamukti Yoga DVD. He channels something in his music that is also there in the words and energy he uses during Savasana.
As Shiva Rea says, “Music is a form of yoga and yoga attunes one’s whole being to the underlying pulse. Music and yoga uplifts, deepen and shifts consciousness. We have been gathering around music and breath and movement and the power of celebratory play under the open sky for a long time. Wanderlust is an epic setting that brings it all together.”
Let’s celebrate this great union of music and yoga. In the words of Hafiz, “let’s set this dry, boring place on fire.” If you attend one of these great music and yoga festivals you will see that the Cosmic Dance of Shiva has evolved to beat of our modern era and it’s a great thing. I say, “let’s ROCK!”
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