I started my yoga journey when I was sixteen. What began as a weekly bonding session with my mom and Aunt eventually evolved into a twice-daily ritual for me. Initially, I was keen on the idea of a one-size-fits-all workout routine that included a neat package of stretching, strength-building, and cardio. I later discovered that yoga does a lot more than make you physically fit; it also helped me gradually cultivate patience, confidence, and gratitude. Through years of practicing yoga daily, I learned many lessons on my mat that translated into both my life and my music.
It’s about the journey, not the destination.
I hear this everywhere, but actually living life by this proverb is easier said than done. My mind wants everything done yesterday and my body always wants to put it off until tomorrow. When studying music, I feel like the more I learn, the more I realize I didn’t know. Practicing yoga gave me the patience to appreciate where I am today and also have gratitude for all of the time and resources I have to dedicate to my practice. Even as I work my way into advanced postures like headstand and bird of paradise, there are always new things for me to learn and improve upon. Instead of stressing about all of the things that I can’t do yet, I now have the patience to appreciate where I am and take small steps towards where I want to be.
It taught me not to compare myself with others.
When we see people doing yoga in movies, it’s often portrayed as a simple, quiet and peaceful practice. Quiet? Sure. Simple and peaceful? Definitely not most of the time! Before yoga, I’d never been quiet with myself and observed my thoughts- but boy, do I have a lot of them! When I first started my practice, I was terribly self-conscious and always negatively compared myself to everyone else in the room. I felt like everyone was watching and judging me; eventually, I realized that I consistently felt that way off of my mat, too! As I confronted those thoughts in my yoga practice, I realized that I’m on my journey and they were on theirs; it doesn’t really matter who can do what pose on a particular day. It’s about showing up and doing the best you can.
I eventually came to the same realization with my music; I have my own unique gifts and style to offer, but my talents can only shine through if I learn to be myself. It takes a lot of courage to show who you are through your art, but that sort of confidence and vulnerability is what I love about all of my favorite artists. There’s no point in constantly comparing myself to other musicians; I’m not them and I never will be. When I’m confident in who I am, playing music isn’t about being better or worse than anyone else; it’s about sharing something that I created and that I’m passionate about.
I developed a heightened awareness of my body and strong muscle coordination.
As a beginner in yoga, I can’t tell you how many times I got into a pose and found myself stretching tense muscles that I didn’t even know I had. Yoga is also a breath practice, which means as you move through the poses, you focus on the breath and sensations in the body while letting thoughts and distractions pass. This intense mental focus gave me more awareness and eventually more control over my mind and individual muscles in my body.
Advanced technique on every instrument I play, from guitar to piano to even vocals, has required a level of awareness of my mind and body that I simply didn’t have before my yoga practice. When I’m playing music, I can more easily dissect my sound and make subtle changes in my playing and technique. This gives me much more control over artistic expression and makes it easier for my muscles to produce the music that I hear in my head.
I learned to consciously relax my muscles and my mind.
In Yoga, they say that every pose should have an equal amount of relaxation and strength. I used to think that was impossible; how was I supposed to be as relaxed in a standing balancing pose as I would be lying on the floor? Eventually, I realized that the harder the pose was, the more relaxed your mind and body need to be. The key to holding an intense balancing pose like headstand is to not only be strong in your shoulders, legs, and core but to also keep a steady breath and relax any muscles that you don’t need.
The same rules apply to playing fast and difficult passages of music. It’s almost impossible to play technically demanding pieces if our mind and muscles are tense; unfortunately, tensing up is typically our default response to increasing the speed and difficulty of the music. Only through conscious retraining of the mind and muscles can we artfully master more advanced pieces. When my body is relaxed and my mind is focused, I’m able to turn my attention away from the mechanics and to more artistic aspects of my playing.
It taught me to push myself but honor my limits.
Many yoga poses are difficult and uncomfortable, but there’s a difference between discomfort and pain. By working through discomfort, we become stronger and more flexible, however, working through pain will only injure your body.
The same concept applies when I’m pushing myself to become a better musician. There are times when I find myself feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the number of things on my plate; sometimes I need to push through and find out what I’m made of, but sometimes I need to give myself a break. Learning to listen to my body and recognize my limits has been a key part of preventing burnout and keeping myself learning at a steady pace.
Yoga is more than a workout routine; it’s journey of self-discovery and fulfillment. When we live our lives with mindful intention, everything we do can be used to learn more about ourselves and grow as people. Becoming a better musician doesn’t always mean sitting down and practicing; sometimes the best lessons are learned when we simply live in the present and pay attention to what’s going on around us.