CANADIAN MUSICIAN June 2013
FINDING BALANCE IN A ROCK ‘N’ ROLL WORLD
PART TWO: YOGA EXERCISES FOR MUSICIANS
By Parvati Devi
In the last issue, we looked at how yoga is relevant to you as a musician. In this issue, I will guide you through exercises from my practice called YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine. You can do them anywhere to keep you fit in body, mind and spirit. But first, a couple things:
Keep the Body-Instrument in the Tune of Health
Hatha yoga helps your body-instrument stay in the tune of health. When you practice, be aware of your spine. Think of the spine like a flute, through which vital life-force flows. We don’t want to force our sound or damage our instrument. We learn to allow the music of life to flow us.
The spine is also like a piano. Each key on a piano must be in tune to make good music. Similarly, when one of our vertebrae is out, we know it through pain and discomfort.
String players know that a string must be neither too tight nor too slack. The spine is like a string instrument tuned in perfect resonance, for optimal musicality.
Before You Start
It is best to practice yoga on an empty stomach. When you do a little light stretching, this does not matter as much, but it is good to keep in mind.
Yoga is not competitive. There is no need to push or pull at the exercises. Do 80% your maximum so there is lot of room to breathe.
Go slowly so you can keep in touch with what you feel and what is going on in your body. Before you can move quickly, you must first master the poses at a slower speed.
Most importantly, have fun. A slight smile relaxes your entire body.
Lying: Support and Rejuvenation
There are two zero points in yoga. One is horizontal, the other vertical. These are the foundations upon which all poses are built, and points of reference we can consider as we move through more complex physical sequences. Whenever you may be, you can practice these to help you manage nerves, center and deliver your best. They help you find your sense of worth that comes from your unique connection to life-force energy.
The horizontal zero point is Savasana (Corpse Pose). Let’s give it a try:
- Lie on your back, feet one foot apart and arms alongside the body.
- Breathe. Allow yourself to settle and feel supported by the ground, letting yourself open to your breath and meet this moment as it is.
- Allow your mind to settle.
- Scan your body. Where do you hold tension or feel relaxed?
- Allow your breath to deepen and your body and mind to relax.
- Breathe in and draw energy down your spine through the crown of your head.
- Breath out. Allow that energy to fill up every cell of your being. Continue breathing in and out, going deeper into relaxation without falling asleep.
A ten-minute deep relaxation is like hours of sleep. You can do this before or after any show, or if you are in the middle of a stressful day. It is an excellent for rejuvenation and centering.
Standing: Roots and Inspiration
The vertical zero point is called Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Let’s give Mountain Pose a try:
- Stand, feet hip width apart, knees relaxed. Your navel moves gently back towards your spine, tailbone slightly tilted towards the front of your body so that it releases like a plumb line towards the Earth. Eyes are relaxed yet focused on a point in front of you. The crown of your head broadens and floats gently upward. Shoulders are relaxed.
- Breathe in. Breathe out. Awareness of your breath deepens. Notice what you feel in your body. Imagine that your spine is the central channel of energy that runs through your body/being. It connects the sky and the earth through you.
- Feel your feet. Feel your energy move downward, towards the core of the Earth.
- Notice the crown of your head. Let it float upward. Feel your connection to the sky and the whole. As your feet release into the ground, the Earth meets you. A wave of energy flows up through your body towards the crown of your head.
- Inhale, draw energy through the crown of your head, through your spine, into your body/being.
- Exhale. Allow this energy to fill your entire being.
- Continue breathing in and out this way, feeling rooted and inspired.
The Sun Salutation: Your Portable Gym
Bearing the above breathing exercises in mind, here is a simple flow, called Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), which touches all the basic muscle groups and nerve centers:
- READY: Stand at the front of a yoga mat or non-slip surface, feet hip width apart.
- PRAYER: Inhale. Bring your palms together in front of your chest. Breathe. Become aware of your breath and bodily sensations. Imagine your body is a tube of breath. You breathe in life-force from the crown of your head, through your spine, right down to your toes. Root into the ground and allow the crown of your head to gently float and broaden. Your spine feels open and long, not stretched. Do not rush this process.
- FORWARD BEND: Inhale. Raise your arms above your head, palms together. Exhale. Roll forward, vertebra by vertebra, so you end up folded over, hands by your feet. Keep your knees slightly bent to protect your lower back. Take a few breaths. Feel your head respond to gravity, and your legs and spine lengthen.
- LUNGE: Bend your knees to place both hands on the floor by your feet. Inhale. Step your right leg back, placing the knee on the floor. Your left knee is over the left ankle, spine arched. Your pelvis releases and crown floats. Breathe.
- PLANK: Inhale. Left leg moves back to join the right. Legs, arms, spine and neck are straight. Engage your abdominals by bringing your navel back to your spine and curling your tailbone in slightly. Imagine you are breathing through your tube-like spine from the crown to your toes. Breathe.
- PUSHUP: Exhale. Bend your elbows, bringing your chest to the floor, keeping your elbows close to your body, shoulders relaxed. Your buttocks stay in the air, toes curled under. Breathe.
- COBRA: Inhale. Slide your torso along the floor, through your hands so you are flat on the floor, soles of the feet open to the ceiling. Gently push up to open your chest, shoulders relaxed. Overdoing it will hurt your lower back. Breathe.
- DOWNWARD DOG: Exhale. Press into your hands, tuck your toes under, move your hips up. Legs are straight, feet parallel, hip width apart, ears by your elbows. Palms are flat on the floor. Relax your neck and jaw. Breathe.
- LUNGE: Inhale, right leg forward, knee over the ankle, left knee on the floor. Breathe.
- FORWARD BEND: Exhale, left foot joins the right, head by your knees. Your knees are slightly bent to protect your lower back. Allow your head and spine to easily respond to gravity. Breathe.
- ROLL UP: Inhale. Feel your feet release into the ground as you gently roll up, vertebra by vertebrae. Your arms follow. Still inhaling, arch back gently.
- STANDING: Exhale, bringing your arms to your side. Breathe in through the crown of your head, into your whole body. Exhale. Feel alive.
For one complete Sun Salutation, repeat these steps for the left leg. With practice, each step will be just one inhale or exhale. Never rush or you may cause injury. The goal is not speed, but ease and focus. Maintain awareness of your breath and sensations in your body. Notice the movement of energy through your body/being. This is what makes the practice of yoga unique and powerful and a perfect asset to any musician’s tool kit, on the road, and in the studio.
There is nothing like working with a qualified instructor, whether you are learning guitar or yoga. But this is not always possible. Here are some books and recordings that may inspire:
The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice (T. K. V. Desikachar)
Yoga and You: Energizing and Relaxing Yoga for New and Experienced Students (Esther Myers)
YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine – A Guided Practice for All Levels (CD) (74 min, Parvati Devi)
YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine (DVD) (4hrs, Parvati Devi)