The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Focus: Gratitude – Inter-Faith & Cultural Fusion November 25, 2010

Around Thanksgiving, some might grunt and gripe about family dynamics (me included) This year I want to offer huge gratitude to my parents. Because Mom and Dad motivated my passion for fusing spiritual and cultural influences.

Mom (rest her soul) was a blue-eyed Church of Christ farm girl born to Irish settlers near Nashville, TN. Her love for singing was rooted in songs from black culture. I have her 1948 “Negro Spirituals” song book and newspaper clippings from talent shows where she performed the jazz standard “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” She converted to Judaism before marrying my father. Dad came from a gypsy-like Russian-Jewish family and grew from adolescence to early adulthood in Phoenix, AZ, where he gravitated toward Mexican culture. To this day, he tries to remember his Spanish vocabulary, brightens up when he hears Mariachi music and takes himself out for enchiladas just to be around Hispanic families.

Both Mom and Dad brought their musical and religious influences into our home; and I grew up with an appreciation of pretty much every aspect of their eclectic tastes and backgrounds. As my cultural interests matured, I traveled right down the middle of Dad’s Spanish-tinged path and Mom’s Afro-centric inspirations to find myself impassioned for Puerto Rico. Spiritually, I’ve presently evolved into a somewhat pagan yogini who religiously observes the Jewish New Year!

So when I recently saw an advertisement for a “Bomba Kirtan” – an event blending yogic devotional chanting and Puerto Rican folkloric “party” music – I was beyond excited!

When I first heard about the event, I asked myself – is it “OK” to fuse a purely spiritual practice with a primarily social activity? The answer for me – particularly after last weekend’s amazing experience – is a hearty “yes!”

The “Bomba Kirtan” at Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio was beyond my dreams. What a beautifully diverse community of yoga teachers, yogis and yoginis, dancers, musicians, artists, parents, children and all! After a meet-n-greet with tea and homemade cacao/fruit balls, we circled up and prepared to pray in the Bhakti Yoga tradition. After Pranayama and meditation – with mellow guitar and drum accompaniment – we transitioned to responsive Sanskrit chanting to various deities. We even included a Native American chant urging each other to “Be Here Now.” Clearly Ganesha heard us because the devotional energy was unobstructed, pure and high!

After a short break the drummers re-directed the room with rhythms rooted in the Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba tradition. People bravely jumped in on instruments, jumped into the middle of the dance floor, jumped into a culture that they were primarily unfamiliar with before those moments. Dancers and drummers played off each others’ movements and hits; chanters offered songs; and singers offered chants. In my tradition of Inter-Faith exploration, I even snuck in a chant to Oshun during a gorgeous 6/8 groove. The freedom! The smiles! When I left to drive home to DC, more drummers were arriving! I heard that the Bomberos carried through into the wee hours.

To me, the seemingly separate traditions of Kirtan and Bomba actually have much in common. The call-response of chanting and singing; the soulful call to sway, move, dance; the conversations between chanter and spirit, dancer and drummer, dancer and dancer, chanter and chanter; the movement toward ecstasy.

To blend Kirtan and Bomba in the sober and sacred space of a yoga studio was ideal for me. I felt 100% comfortable being my Self, and 100% authentic embodying all of my culturally eclectic “selves.” I can’t remember, ever, feeling so loved and loving, accepted and accepting, moved, inspired, true, awake.

Liberated.

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for bringing your spiritual and cultural curiosities, passions, traditions and backgrounds into our home. Also much, much gratitude to those that created and shared the magic of perhaps the world’s 1st (but certainly not last!) Bomba Kirtan: the owners of Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio; the musicians gathered by Michael Harris; my fellow OM-Zoners Kendra and Justina; photographer Monica Sizemore (for these beautiful shots!); and so many more who are now connected by this unique bond.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

To view Monica Sizemore’s complete album of Bomba Kirtan photos, visit http://www.4thchakraphotography.com/. To learn more about Baltimore’s Utkatasana studio, visit http://www.utkatasanayoga.com/live/. For more information about future Bomba Kirtan events, subscribe to my Yoga Update newsletter by e-mailing hmeyers65@yahoo.com or stay tuned to the Events page of this Urban Yoga Den blog.

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To Rock or Not to Rock December 11, 2009

It IS difficult to please everyone, eh?!

What is “appropriate” (or non-) music during yoga classes?

Coldplay

As a yoga student, I’ve been through phases of liking/disliking lyric-based or non-devotional music during class.  Pop music, like Coldplay, for example.  Sometimes I felt “put-upon” by the teachers’ tastes or moods.  Many, many years ago, I even wrote a similar complaint to the owner of DC’s premiere yoga studio stating this opinion!  I’m quite certain these complaints pop up in studios around the world.

These days, I simply understand and accept music as part of the teacher’s unique voice and spirit.

As a teacher, during the Integral Yoga classes taught at Past Tense Studio, I typically do not use music during Asana – just a meditative sound CD if anything, then something meditative or devotional for Nidra.  The studio is on the first floor of a city intersection, so I like to dull the street sounds with yoga sounds at times.  IY teachers are trained to not use music, so I try to follow suit out of respect for Satchidananda’s teachings.

However…

…lately I am choosing lyric-based Yoga Nidra songs to match our “comfort” theme for December (see set list in the “Comfort…” post).  I admit that I could be forcing my idea of “comfort” onto the class!  But I’m letting them know ahead of time that we’re trying it out for this month only.

On the other hand, for this month’s special Sunday Seva Nidras (see “Events” page), I’m using relaxing devotional Sanskrit chants only.

When I choose music for sub-ing non-IY classes, I use set-lists of rhythms and lyrics that support the feel of the class style.  For example, swinging and groove-y for Vinyasa’s dance; or driving and energizing for Hatha’s longer holds.  Indeed, a mix of genres – singer/songwriter, folk, Brazilian, Latin pop, R&B, Sanskrit devotional, American gospel, and so on – but all themed to a spiritual and encouraging nature.  (In my opinion, of course!)  Even on most current yoga-mix CDs (i.e. Shiva Rea’s collections), there is a mix of genres – from reggae to new age to chant – that are mostly devotional songs.

I recently attended a very intense Iyengar class where the teacher matter-

B.K.S. Iyengar

of-factly instructed a crowded list of detailed anatomical directions with little space to breathe (I’m out of breath just typing that sentence) – but with a soundtrack of beautifully moving Sanskrit chants of many styles.  Eventually, the odd juxtaposition faded and I melted into his amazing yogic knowledge and authentic yogic sounds.

And not so long ago, I attended an Anusara-inspired class where the teacher played Cuban “Timba” (like Puerto Rican Salsa, but better) – with lyrics that might be inappropriate for a yoga atmosphere.  But the energy of the music drove the class, who probably didn’t know Spanish!  I loved it, honestly.

Then there was the time I was outside the door of a Jivamukti class and heard the teacher blasting “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin.  I figured it was a heart chakra focus!

All that to say – lord only knows what people think of our music at any time!  I know one student who cringes when he hears Krishna Das – a well-respected yogi and Kirtan musician!  To this friend, it’s over-used and really distracts his peaceful practice.

Go figure!

There is probably world-wide debate on the subject of “yoga music.”  Frankly, as a yoga teacher AND musician, I can have a very liberal opinion of what’s “appropriate” music for a yoga class.  But mostly, I try not to analyze it too much – instead, I trust the teacher’s intention to pass on teachings and share vibrations.  I hope others can allow that freedom, as well.

If not, there are millions of classes and teachers to choose from!

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.