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Sacred Music and the Yoga of Sound

Sacred Music and the Yoga of Sound

Today I will write about my journey with music and how my path with Yoga has evolved into a path of sharing sacred song, mantra, and devotional music.

I first picked up guitar at age 12 or 13. I asked my Dad to buy me one for Christmas. I don’t know where I get the idea. No one in my family was a musician. I think he got me a cheap electric guitar and amp from Costco. It was great for a beginner.

I started taking lessons. Every week for a half hour I met with Mark, my guitar teacher. He tried to teach me music theory, scales, chords and whatnot but all I really wanted to learn was how to play my favorite songs. So we would go in each week and I would bring a CD and he would play along to my tracks. He taught me the basics, of course, but beyond that I was just able to repeat what I heard. I wasn’t really becoming a musician, but rather someone who could play the guitar. Heavy metal!

Fast forward a decade. Ten years later my guitar is sitting in the corner of my room, collecting dust. It was more for show. I had finally got an acoustic guitar and was playing that, albeit rarely. My electric was stored away in the closet and almost never got played.

Somewhere around 22, 23 or 24 years old I started to doodle a little bit on the acoustic, here and there. It had been years since I’d really picked it up and played a whole song. I had forgotten most of what I’d learned, which was nearly all heavy metal anyways. I still knew chord shapes and strumming patterns.

When I started practicing yoga regularly in 2014 things started to shift. One interesting noteworthy shift was the Change to how I gave and received hugs. For whatever reason, before this time I was hesitant to hug and if I did so, it was for a brief moment before the awkward release. All of a sudden I had the courage to hug more fully, and for longer. It began to feel good to hug. It was around this time that I started telling my father that I loved him. Before that, the words “I love you” hung unspoken between us. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d said them to Dad or gave him a proper hug. But, as I mentioned, around the time I started practicing yoga everything started to shift. It’s like my heart started really opening for the first time.

Along with the heart opening shifts, my creative side started returning. I spontaneously, out of joy, would pick up my guitar and sing silly vocal melodies to simple

Chord progressions. It was mostly out of jest, sometimes in the company of my friends, but something inside me was turning on to the idea of singing and expression in that way. I realized that this felt good, too, just like hugging, and even though it was strange and uncomfortable at first, I didn’t want it to stop. Just like hugging. Or saying “I love you.”

Costa Rica 2021

In my early years on the yogic path I went ALL IN. Like, yoga was the only thing I thought about. I studied it, I practiced it, I taught it, and as best as possible I loved it. Somewhere along this timeline I stopped listening to music and started to crave silence. My jolly musical expressions were few and far between but my guitar sat there, in the corner of my room, like a silent witness to my gradual heart opening process.

In 2016, I went traveling. I was in Costa Rica to assist and teach anatomy at a yoga teacher training and was supposed to fly home to return to my life in Arizona. I decided to cancel my return flight. For the next seven months I was on the journey of a lifetime. It was a pilgrimage into my heart.

The journey took me from Costa Rica to Panama to India to England. You can read more that trip here (when the link is up because I haven’t written about it yet in depth 😜) . Basically, I was on the path of learning how to listen to and follow my heart. It took me right to meeting my teacher, Steve, and right into one of the most heart opening experiences of my entire life. And during this heart opening journey, as I severed the strings in my life that kept me from my highest, truest and most authentic version of self, I spontaneously began to write poetry. I began to really feel life. Like, really feel it. I felt the river and the tree in the same way that I felt the girl at the coffee counter in the same way I felt the impoverished beggar in the street. I felt my heart opening to simply FEEL what was occurring in my world - both in the inner realm and the outer realm. It was a beautiful process, painful, but beautiful. As my heart cracked open in this way, in poured light. And in poured creativity as I found one the ways I could alchemize the pain and injustice and despair and hopelessness that I felt at this stage in my journey into something of beauty - art. Self-expression. Something real in the storm of illusion. Something that I had created, which regardless of what anyone thought or said, I knew where it was coming from and I sensed it’s beauty for merely being created. All I was doing was attempting to add something of color to a world grays. I was finding the shred of beauty and hope within myself and I trying to bring it out into the world. My heart opened, and I felt people feeling me the first time. I no longer felt isolated. I no longer felt disconnected. I started to ... be. Instead of searching and seeking and ‘trying’ to heal, I started to be and from my being, creation started to pour forth.

Panama, June 2016

India, July 2016

I think in all instances of art and self-expression this is sort of the case. That the artist creates their art out of an emergence of something real inside of them, that is their creative response to the world. It is the inner alchemy that comes from mixing the ingredients in one’s soul with the world by bringing the unseen into contact with the seen. And out pops something we call art. The creation of something out of nothing. Some would call it ‘magick’. I would. Creating something out of nothing. It’s not a parlor trick, it is actual manifestation. Magick.

So towards the end of 2016, after a long and deep dark night of the soul (which I will talk about also in a different post), I rediscovered music. But not music for fun. Music to heal. Music that helped me work through the traumas I carried inside of me that made me feel like I was living a doomed life in a doomed world. Music that became sacred to me, because it was my own and it was coming from somewhere deep inside of me, beyond the corners where my mind thought it controlled life. I started to free myself, free my mind, to let down the walls I’d created with my mind to protect me from the world, and I started to sing about it and chant about it.

Mantras were a great doorway for me, because it meant I could use my voice to simply repeat syllables that had no real meaning to me (at least not initially). I could chant the sacred names and sounds that I’d received from the various teachers I’d met and travels that I’d been on and pretend that I was somehow holy. I didn’t really know what any of them met, but I definitely had the sense that there was something special happening when I was doing the chanting. If nothing else, the chanting helped me regulate my breathing, which is a core component of yoga practice and can lead to physiological shifts in the aspirant. I’ve discovered many years later that chanting is indeed backed by science and is proven to transmit very real and very powerful affects to the practitioner. But at the time in the early days, I just did it because I thought it would help me. I figured mantras wouldn’t remain existent and in practice by millions of practitioners over millennia of genuine practice if they didn’t have some positive affect. I was determined to find out for myself and set to it.

I’d had a daily chant practice with on mala beads for a few years before I began to toy with the idea of bringing the chanting together with the guitar. Sometime around 2015 or 2016 I went to a Kirtan, a devotional, call-and-response style musical gathering where mantras (mostly in Sanskrit) were sung by the Kirtan wallah (the musical guide) and I saw how mantra chanting could become musical and that I did not need to be done strictly in the candlelit room in the early hours of the morning with murmuring lips. I realized I could combine my joyous jovial musical expressions with the spiritual practices I’d learned to love. Yoga had met the other things I cared about: music, vocal expression, sound, community, healing, and authenticity. I think I knew back then I had found something with Kirtan but it took a few more years for me to start to really dive in. I was still very much into the ‘ascetic’ style yogic practices - performing hours of Kriya and pranayama and meditation in isolation, on retreat, and with myself. But I was teaching yoga, and I started to bring my guitar to yoga classes and play it softly while singing my favorite mantras at the end of class when everyone was resting. I could feel myself transmitting my own healing energy into the words I sung and the chords I strummed. People gave me great feedback. The year was 2017. This was the start.

In the summer of 2018, I got a last minute invite to teach yoga at a festival. It would be my first gig at a large scale gathering like a festival. It was Univibe - a very sweet family style gathering in Tucson, Arizona. I had two days to decide. I was nervous. On the day of, I packed up my gear for three days of camping, threw my guitar in the back seat of my car, and headed down to teach. That day was one of the most notable of my life because of how I showed up to the space and how this helped me really solidify my path moving forward. I ended up teaching a yoga class Friday morning at the festival and at the end of class I had everyone sit up and gather round as we chanting and sang a simple mantra together accompanied by the guitar - Om Namah Sivaya. The energy of the class was incredible and the energy of the group and the experience singing together - my first time leading something like that - was honestly life changing. I felt the depth of everyone’s authentic heart, the depth of their authenticity, and the openness and courage it took from everyone to gather and sing together. Vocal expression is a vulnerable thing. And I found that if the energy was right and the instructions clear, mantra chanting with a group could make it easier to open up and be vulnerable with each other. The repetition helped as well as the fact that something about mantras (especially Sanskrit) made it possible to let go of the mind a little bit. Probably because when we sing something that is not in our native tongue we aren’t attaching our mental construct to it, and thereby freeing ourselves from the aspect of the mind that is always trying to create meaning. We are then able to FEEL the meaning instead of create a mental construct for it, which begets separation. To be vulnerable and to open the heart we have to let these mental barriers down. Chanting mantra in a group, as I had experienced, allowed this to take place. It was beautiful.

at Univibe, cerca 2018

After my yoga class, a dear friend of mine who was randomly and serendipitously in attendance, invited me to meet her partner. Tara, my dear friend, was one of the staff members at the yoga teacher training that I’d attended in Costa Rica back in August 2015. I hadn’t seen her for three years! And here she was, at the yoga class in Arizona, inviting me to meet her partner Eric, who was vending the only vegan food truck for the festival Univibe. Eric told me he’d watched my class and saw how it went, and wanted to invite me to come present and teach in Costa Rica in March for the festival that he was creating called Manafest. And just like that, through a series of risk-taking and heart opening adventures filled with serendipity and choices to overcome fear and nervousness, I was on the path of offering my authentic self-expression as the truest and purest form of ‘teaching’ and it was being not only recognized, but it was landing me more opportunities to do what I loved. Which was evidently bringing yoga and music together. After years of chanting mantra quietly in my bedroom, I had slowly initiated myself into the path of sharing Sacred Song, and sharing my devotion and heart with the world in this way, and this had begun to bare its fruits in my life.

Univibe 2018

Univibe 2018

Mana-fest, Costa Rica, 2019

This marks the beginning. At the time of writing this, it has been just over three years since I began holding musical space, which happened for the first time at the Univibe festival in July 2018 (as reflected in the above paragraphs). In those three years so much has happened, which will need to be the subject of additional essays. As we conclude with this entry, what I would like to say is this. No matter where you are or what you are doing, finding a way to alchemize and transmute the pain and suffering that you feel in the world is imperative. No, we cannot turn away from it nor should we avoid it. But to enter the caves of darkness and to fight off the great disease of fear that keeps us from feeling ourselves at the deepest levels of our being is our work. I say this because in my experience, I was afraid to feel. I was afraid to open. I didn’t want the word to see who I was. I wanted to hide. To hide my anger, my frustration, my sadness, my disappointment. But I learned that I could take these feelings and show them to the world through my vulnerable self-expression. For me, the music and mantras that I sang, chanted and shared with others gave me an opportunity to emit and vibrate my feelings without needing to suppress them or hide them. It allowed me to face my fears. And by facing my fears, I was able to overcome them. But until I overcame them, I was forced to suffer through them and I projected them onto the world. My path with sacred music gave me (and continues to give me) many opportunities to learn about what plagues humanity because I get to learn about what plagues me at my deepest layers of being. I get to learn what I am still keeping hidden, and in its hiddenness I am remaining separate from and judgmental of the world. Because I have something to hide! Gratefully, due to these practices and the path and process I’ve so far shared, and continue to share through my work, I’ve found an outlet. One that not only gives us doorways of hope, but one that shows us a way to work through this together. Through Song, we can sing our fears away and invoke joy into our lives. Because love is the answer to all the questions we have, but we must learn how to vibrate with this frequency. Sound and voice are amazing tools to create literal changes to our fundamental vibration and to tune ourselves to the natural and intrinsic harmony of the universe. The more we sing, with our entire heart and our whole being, the more we bring ourselves to the table of life. And somewhere along the way in this process we might ask, “who is it that is singing?” and “who is it that is being sung to?” The question lingers in my own mind long after I’ve finished the song.... but when I tune in to listen, I realize the music never really stops....

The Uni-verse. One verse. One song.

Everything we see is an echo from the Big Bang. But where does the Big Bang originate? Following the sound to its Source, we can come to our own conclusion.


Mexico, September 2021

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