October 18, 2010
Nada Yoga is a form of yoga that often falls under the radar. I have been practicing Nada yoga for about ten years, not knowing it is a form of yoga. Playing the sarod started out as being a chore, which soon developed into a passion, similar to many aspects of Hatha Yoga. Though it is hard to see the connection of music to yoga, some say that, “[t]he leisurely pace of the compositions is evocative of the stillness of being that the Hindu system of yoga advocates as the perfect means to reflection and self-realization,” (Balachandran). Despite taking sarod lessons for numerous years, a few weeks ago I had a very different nada yoga experience at an all day musical retreat.
This retreat was designed for the students of my Guruji, George Ruckert. His students-my peers-who were present, are all interested in classical Indian music, playing different stringed instruments, all of us ranging widely in age, ability, as well as ethnicities. This reminded me of how in our Yoga Theory and Culture class, we have students who have more experience in yoga than others. It was in a similar manner, not about who was at level, but satisfying the level each individual was at. We all met at a house, where we do not hold our usual one on one lessons. The idea behind a different location was to allow all of us students to be in a similar comfort level, that of not knowing our new musical environment. Though this particular location we were in does not have much nada yoga history, that does not mean our Guruji does not. George Ruckert not only has an extensive knowledge in Indian classical music, he originally was in school for western music (MIT Music Program). He found his way to Indian music while he was working on his masters in music theory and composition, which led to Georgeji’s move to California and over twenty years of training with the great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Though our specific location for the day may not have had much musical history, our Guruji sure does.
As people trickled into this house, in the true Indian manner, there was a lot of tea and snacks to go around. Finally when all the students arrived, we began our musical day with a rather long tuning session. With a total of six complicated instruments to tune, we took about a half hour to make sure everyone was tuned in a similar manner, in Raag Bhairavi-the word raag comes from the Sanskrit word raga, literally meaning tone or color. After this, we all began by playing warmup scales, taking turns initiating a new pattern. The biggest thing that differed from our normal lessons to this musical retreat was the idea of improvisation.
The improvisation aspect of Indian music, though very important to one’s style of playing, is difficult when only being used to set compositions. As we went around the circle of students, all struggling to stay with in certain limits given to us by our instructor, some tips came our way. Georgeji instructed us to let Ma Saraswati-the goddess of learning and music-lead us in the way. He would say, “Allow Saraswati to come out through your music,” (Ruckert). Though this seemed like a weird idea to me, now in reflection it makes sense, as our human power, or strength, often comes from these various gods and goddesses who exist throughout the world. I understand that may not be everyone’s views on things, but as an Indian instrument, the culture is given hand in hand through the music lesson.
After a break for lunch, we resumed our music workshops with a bit of musical theory. And in that conversation of musical theory, we addressed the navaras, or the Nine Rasas-words used to describe emotion in the arts. Though there are originally nine, four of them connect more to drama, so musicians replaced that with another five terms. Theses words describing emotion, at least in my opinion, was more of an explicit way of seeing the connection between music and yoga. It is thought that through music emotions such as love, compassion, humor, peace, solemnity, restlessness, surprise, devotion, and many others can become apparent, not only to the musician, but also to an audience - if there is one. It was at this time, our Guruji played a set of notes in various ways to demonstrate some of these different emotions to us-which I can only still attempt, and it would not strike the right emotions. It was about at this time when we were to go back to practicing music, but without picking up our instruments, for it was time to sing. Because we had just been discussing the navaras, we were instructed to learn and sing a devotional song.
This devotional piece which we worked on, has a set four verses. After the four verses are sung, comes the point in this piece where often some improvisation is done, however for the sake of examples, was written out for us. In this devotional piece, the first line of the song is used repeatedly, while improvising notes to accompany it. This was yet another way to show us how the different emotions can come through, while using the same words but changing the underlying notes. This then tied full circle for us, as instrumentalists, returning to our instruments, to again work on improvisation. Only this time, instead of warmups, we set it to a composition. As all students played the composition, there was an 8-beat gap for one student to improvise something for those beats, this time trying to be conscious of the different emotions of music. However the catch here was to be listening to the beats and be able to jump back into the composition when time. It sounds easy enough, however with such a variety of things to be concentrating on, this task is a lot more difficult than expected.
Indian classical music, as I imagine with other types of music as well, relies on many theories or ideas, which also relate to Yoga as a whole. As Patanjali put it, and my from my observations throughout my musical experience this is an overlap with the “eight steps of Classical Yoga,” as in music. Patanjali says observance is necessary, to allow “purity, contentment, tolerance, study, and remembrance,” (Boon). It is similar in music, the purity of the note, the contentment of a possible audience-or even teacher as well as self. Another big overlapping idea is concentration, Patanjali says it is for “being able to hold the mind on one object for a specified time,” (Boon). Again, it is this way in music as well, without concentration there could not be any sort of composition, or raag even. Another aspect of yoga, which does, though less often, interlaces into music, is the idea of absorption. As Patanjali puts it, absorption is the idea where “the realization of the essential nature of the self,” (Boon). Though I have not experienced this to the same level, speaking with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, who accompanied Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, had such an experience. He was saying how while on stage playing with Khansahib, all of a sudden he was asked if he was okay. Replying yes, he realized that he had been crying. Though he wouldn’t say what he may have been feeling at the time, Swapanji was speaking of how the music can absorb a person, and make them show a certain emotion without realizing.
Though it is not perceived as a form of yoga in this country, or many other countries for that matter, music, or nada yoga truly is a form of yoga. Not only can this music relax someone, but it can also give a person the energy needed to carry out a specific task. Before I knew this was a form of yoga, I would turn to this music to find my second wind of energy while doing my homework. Though at my musical retreat there was a religious outlook expressed in the music, as well as playing, I feel as though it is not essential to the music. I think the biggest sign that music is a form of yoga is from the cross over of Patanjali’s steps, or theories, of classical yoga. This is something I have enjoyed doing for a long time now, and am fascinated at the fact that I can now call this a form of yoga.
Boon, Brooke. "Classical Yoga Theories : Holy Yoga." ENotAlone: Relationship, Personal Growth, Health Advice and Articles. 23 Aug. 2007. Web. 16 Oct. 2010.
Chadhuri, Swapan Pandit. Personal Interview. 17, April 2010.
"MIT Music Program: Faculty/Staff - George Ruckert." MIT Music Program. Sept. 2009. Web. 16 Oct. 2010.
“Raag.” The Merriam Webster Dictionary. Online Edition. 2010.
Ruckert, George. Personal Interview. 25, September, 2010.