Monday, May 5, 2014

Rockin' Yoga

Update:  This is from a few years ago.  I no longer teach at City Arts.  And in the interim, last year I was contacted out of the blue by a representative of ASCAP, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, informing me that I cannot legally play music during my yoga classes unless I purchase a license from ASCAP!  They did not tell me how much it would cost, but it's kind of a moot point since my budget at present is approximately zero.  I think it is a bit odd that I must pay, yet again, for these songs that I have bought several times, in several different formats, over the years - first on vinyl and cassette tapes, VHS concert tapes, CD and DVD, numerous tickets for live concerts, and most recently, i-tunes.  I would like to offer Rockin' Yoga again at my new studio but probably could not afford the license.


It is my great pleasure to teach a “Rockin’ Yoga and Pilates” class at City Arts Cooperative on Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.  This class is geared towards dancers and offers a bit more of a workout than my usual hatha yoga classes.  It includes a segment where we allow the breath to freestyle dance the body around the room, and ends with a brief meditation.  This is lots of fun and, best of all, we play classic rock music!!  I want to thank Steve Ross for making me realize I could get away with this when, to my delight, he played pop music on his yoga show “Inhale.”  Here is our current set list:

Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Power of Soul – Jimi Hendrix
It’s Love – King’s X
Free Your Mind – En Vogue
Baba – Alanis Morissette
If I Die Tomorrow – Motley Crue
Back on Earth – Ozzy Osbourne
Carry On Wayward Son – Kansas
Dream On – Aerosmith
Grand Illusion – Styx
High Hopes – Pink Floyd
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun – Pink Floyd

Now, it has been said that rock music is “unspiritual” and/or “inappropriate” for yoga and meditation.  (Rolls eyes.)  We will discuss the “unspiritual” part in a moment.  “Not appropriate”?  Who makes up these rules?!

I recall years ago a friend was leading a men’s spirituality group and he had planned to play Metallica including, “The House That Jack Built” and “King Nothing” during their meditation.  His wife, a Wiccan High Priestess, insisted that he turn off the Metallica and said, “New Age music would be more appropriate!”  Really?  Here are some lyrics from those Metallica songs:  “The higher you are/ The farther you fall/ The longer the walk/ The farther you crawl/ My body, my temple/ This temple, it tilts/ Yes, this is the house that Jack built” and, “Wish I may wish I might/  Have this I wish tonight/ Are you satisfied? / Dig for gold/ Dig for fame/ You dig to make your name/ Are you pacified? / All the wants you waste/ All the things you've chased/ Then it all crashes down/ And you break your crown...”  Sounds like pretty damn appropriate soul-searching music to me!

Truth be told, the Priestess simply hates heavy metal and did not wish to endure Metallica playing in her house.  Fair enough.  For this very same reason, we will NOT be playing country music during my class, because the effect it has on the teacher is to make me lie down on the floor writhing (but not in a good way) and screaming, “God, please make it stop, aaarrrgghhhh!!!”  But let’s be honest; it’s a matter of personal preference, not a divinely ordained rule.   If you really want to play country music while doing yoga in the privacy of your own home, far be it from me to stop you.  And I myself prefer Iron Maiden, Dio, Dream Theater or Metallica for my private practice, nice and LOUD, but I will not impose this on my students (unless you guys request it, in which case I will be thrilled).

Nearly everyone enjoys classic rock.  But, you may ask, won’t it drive away potential students who don’t like rock music?  Yes, it will, and I am totally ok with that.  They can come to the Friday Hatha Yoga and Meditation class where we play mellow music such as Mark Whitwell’s “Pure Love Project.”  Or they can stay at home and listen to country.

Now as to the question of “spirituality.”  I’ve been told since I was a child attending fundie “christian” schools (which, by the way, totally turned me off to Christ for many years) that rock music is from the devil.  This is clearly bullshit and it gives the devil way too much credit.  People especially accuse Ozzy of being the Prince of Darkness but I think this is unfair; you accidentally bite the head off of one bat and it haunts you the rest of your life.  Who among us hasn’t done crazy things in our youth?  (That’s why “drugs are bad, mkay?!”)  Consider the lyrics.  Many of our beloved classic rock songs, including those by Ozzy, have deeply spiritual themes, and I have selected the ones above specifically for that reason.*  Unfortunately, the songs do tend to express spirituality as a future goal or other-worldly attainment – “she’s buying a stairway to heaven,” or “now your life’s no longer empty/ surely heaven waits for you” – but this is a pervasive element in our culture.  I’m not saying that heaven isn’t a place that we hope to go someday after we die.  But, why wait?!  You can have Heaven here and now and yoga is the means to do that.

What?!  Am I serious?  Yes, I am dead serious.  What is your concept of “Heaven”?  For me, it is to experience the intimate presence of God.  I don’t know what it is for you; maybe to be at Peace, to feel One with everything, to be Free from limitations.  Whatever your ideal is, yoga is the technology to actually experience That using simple effective techniques of body and breath which have been handed down for thousands of years.  When I tell you “DO YOUR YOGA! at least 7 minutes every day,” I’m not saying it because I enjoy nagging you or because I want to make you feel guilty for not doing it.  I’m telling you because I want you to experience divine ecstasy right here and now, in this body, on this earth, which is not only possible but quite doable.  I told my students that Mark had commented at Omega, asana is “like a party.”  One student said in a skeptical tone, “Well, not quite!”  Oh, yes.  Quite.  Better than a party, actually.  I asked, “Are you doing it every day?”  “Um, no…”  Well there you go.  It’s not going to work if you don’t do it.

So, don’t believe me.  Do the experiment yourself.  Go for it.  And use the music.  Feel the drums grounding you to the earth.  Feel the bass in your heartbeat and the strength of your muscles.  Feel the electric guitar soaring in your spine and nerves.  Move and breathe with the music.  If you sincerely persist in your practice (with or without rock music) I promise you will experience Bliss, and some day it may even overflow and become your entire waking existence.  The piper’s calling you to join Him.  Set the controls for the Heart of the Sun.

*Note, I realize “Free Your Mind” is not rock, but it was included because I happened to have it on i-Tunes and my students all love it.

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