Originally written for Down Under School of Yoga's 'Voices' blog, by Sabbi Lall
Music has been there with me from the earliest moments I remember. The scratchy recordings of Bollywood songs that punctuated my childhood, the sad and defiant songs I blasted after breakups (BTW, I did survive), road tripping under the big blue skies of the American west to equally big country music… I remember exactly what was coming through the speakers as these moments played out.
Music has a complex and profound effect on us, despite its relatively straightforward (but endlessly creative) building blocks. Dictionary definitions of music list these building blocks, but also get surprisingly poetic in their attempts to capture the experience of music:
Music: an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color. (Merriam Webster)
Live music, in particular, is an art of sound in real time, a fleeting and shared experience by a sangha (community) of people that come together. That’s why it was a no brainer for me when Alper Tuzcu contacted me and asked about playing acoustic guitar in my restorative music class. His idea was inspiring, to improvise on his compositions, feeling the flow of the class and accompanying us as we journey into deep relaxation. Aristotle once talked about the ability of music to evoke almost any emotion, but it also has the ability to calm emotion, to help that journey into relaxation. I know music can help me float in and really occupy a moment, allow me to calmly be with any emotions that arrive, and sometimes watch them drift away as the music moves on.
Music also has a profound effect on the physical motivation of the body: rhythm can make movement absolutely irresistible as a beat kicks in (rhythm is gonna get you), but can equally encourage the body to be still, to let go and immerse itself in a moment. But just as potent is the magnetic pull of melody. When we hear a voice, or a guitar, sing, it pulls on the heart and the mind, calling us on a mental journey, or cradling the mind as it sinks into the yoga pose and moment. And harmony, the way notes can reinforce and support one another, the way notes can work together to create a greater whole: this again calls to mind the sangha of our yoga room as it fills with people arriving for a collective experience of renewal and replenishment through yoga.
There is a question of whether silence can better support a deep practice, especially a restorative practice. Sometimes (probably most of the time) soft and quiet is important for yoga practice, but, to be honest, it was an incredible collective experience when we got together to practice with Alper’s music. We’ll meet again (at the Brookline studio) and each time is unique, something that is the truth of live music. But something definitely happens in the yoga room when live music is there.
Something very special emerges, as rhythm, melody, and harmony intertwine and build a shared experience of strength through calm, a floating-on-air feeling that I can’t describe precisely in words. But that’s in the end what music and yoga both do: they present experience in a language that is very real, but that goes far beyond the restraint of words.
Yoga, I often say, is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life. (BKS Iyengar)