When I first took up the practice of Yoga, I was spending a lot of time with a guitar in my hands. It was fifteen years ago and my band at the time, based in Boulder, Colorado, had just been signed. We were starting to tour with our first album and every night that we weren’t playing a show, we were at home together, rehearsing. I needed Yoga and even though I had taken my first class as an undergrad at the University of Colorado in Boulder, it was through the encouragement of a friend when my practice began in earnest at Radha Garcia’s Bikram Yoga Studio.
The intense routine and fiery practice were a perfect way (for me) to build confidence and stamina. Yet in the practice, on my first day with Garcia, I learned one of the most important lessons of Yoga: Don’t push yourself too much. While my pulled muscle later healed, the experience taught me how to pace my practice for sustainability. Now I practice three or four easy cobra poses before jumping headlong into upward facing dog and I carefully step into a forward bend on each side before I start floating. Throughout, I pay attention to feeling the moment of each movement.
I apply the same attitude toward my music. Part of my warm up before practice or performance involves stretching my fingers, easing in.
No matter where I was traveling on the road, the network of Bikram studios provided an anchor for my practice. Through this path, I discovered the preventative qualities of a regular commitment to Yoga as the twinges and tweaks I had been feeling in my back disappeared and with each day, my strength increased. Hours of guitar playing was balanced by the perfect routine to open my hands and arms. And Yoga enhanced everything – my newfound surfing habit, skiing, walking and even sex. Bikram Yoga strengthened and prepared me physically for a regular practice and helped me understand what poses came naturally to me and where I needed to increase my effort and attention.
After eight years with the connection to the environment fostered in Boulder, I moved to Venice to have opportunities to play more music to a wider audience. In LA, I felt like I had landed in the Yoga capital of the world. We’re blessed with dedicated teachers and beautiful studios, including many donation-based options. The first place my roommate suggested I check out was Santa Monica Power Yoga and within those walls I discovered other aspects of Yoga: the attention to the breath, calming the mind and opening the heart. Yet wherever I step into class in this city, at any hour of the day, I am a grateful student.
I’m grateful because the regenerative quality of my regular practice and the hours on the mat allow me to stay up all night playing 250 club shows a year and remain free from injury. With each session, my fingers are rejuvenated and I feel the positive effect of opening the arms and hands. For me, Yoga is a sustainable strengthening since the level of challenge can be regulated in each moment. These days I am working on arm balances, and although I haven’t yet even come close to mastery, even the act of attempting handstands and forearm balances is incredible. Slowly I feel myself becoming closer to a breakthrough, as I have with side plank, sidearm balances, tripod headstand, camel and others. Through my practice, it is exciting to work towards a place where I have enough strength, balance, and experience to find myself in a pose I’ve never been able to do before and breathe into the new sensation in my body, mind, heart and spirit.
Throughout the Winter, I continue to tour mountain towns, skiing by day and playing music by night. Yoga is both my preseason ski training and the ongoing cross-training that helps me prevent injury on the slopes. If I’m holding a difficult pose for an extended period of time, and my legs are burning, I visualize bombing down a groomer at Deer Valley or floating through bottomless powder in the backcountry, and changes my attitude instantly.
The ability of Yoga practice to influence the mind has never influenced me more than it did on one beautiful clear morning when I biked to the only Santa Monica Power Yoga studio open at the time, on Santa Monica Boulevard to attend Govinadas’ class, who at the time was known as Ira. As I rode through the streets, the city was filled with an eerie silence and I arrived to the studio to see students gathered around a TV in an adjacent room watching one of the Twin Towers in New York smoldering.
Just as Govindas walked in, a plane hit the other tower. Without hesitation, he called us into the studio. The TV was turned off, and he led us in an amazing class, invoking our practice of creating sacred space. It wasn’t until I returned home when I became fully aware of the entirety of events on that September 11, 2001. Yet with an hour and a half of yoga under my belt, I felt prepared to continue the day with a sense of peace and calm, no matter the outer circumstances. Through Yoga, I have learned to find that sacred space in any moment, in any situation, and as I continue to deepen my practice, I can access it with more ease.
Through the practice, through engaging in poses that literally stretch the upper body and open the heart, I have also felt the ability to be a vessel, to have an open channel to allow the music to come through me. Just as the best Yoga teachers are channeling as they instruct; the best musicians’ open heart is a channel. I’m striving to be able to channel more and more. I love improvisational music, and allowing the fingers to just find their way through the notes, and I’ve incorporated this when I’ve played for Yoga classes.
While a student in class, something a teacher says often sparks my creativity. My song “Meander,”was first inspired when Bryan Kest told us to “meander through the poses.” I spent the rest of that practice meditating on that word, playing with the components of it, “me and her,” and then I later paired it with a reggae skank. I love wordplay and lyrics with multiple meanings. Some of my recent themes include consciousness, and specifically, the idea of how and what we “know.” For instance, “Just What to Do,” is a playful holler on one level but the chorus, “I know just what to do,” is an empowering mantra that I find myself repeating regularly. “The More of You I Know” is essentially about allowing oneself to know more and more about someone, some place, or something unfamiliar. For the music in the chorus, I was inspired by kompa style taught to me by Haitian musicians when I was a kid. The lyrics, which came from a dream that took place my grandparents’ house in Haiti, speaks of traveling to distant places and embracing the unknown.
“How I Love You,” is an open-hearted acknowledgment of the consciousness of love, and it’s a song I was honored to have played by request at the wedding of my healer friend who introduced me to Yoga. It’s not the only time that my performing has accompanied expressions of love. One of my first paying engagements, after I began studying classical guitar, was for a teacher who hired me to perform for a dinner during which he proposed to his girlfriend. I continue to be inspired by love to write and play music. Music comes from love and the two are so intertwined, it’s hard to separate them.
Love is something that serves as a connection between us all. It’s a theme in Yoga, and I express it in “My Friends and Me,” a bluegrass sing-along that uses the metaphor of the roots and branches of a tree to illustrate our interconnectedness, no matter our apparent differences. “Home,” is a play on words with the sacred syllable “Om,” and it subtly touches on the fact that we all depend on the ocean, no matter where on Earth we live.
Music comes from love and the two are so intertwined, it’s hard to separate them.
The yogi’s perspective comes through in “War No More.” How many wars are we participating in right now? When we stop to think about it, it’s unreal how much money and energy is directed to killing other human beings in the name of profit, religion, natural resources and politics. We are conditioned to allow it through fear-based promotion of the idea that it is right and good, yet we’re in the midst of a time of unbelievable realities from 9/11 to corporate bailouts to unchecked environmental disasters that perpetuate the unbalance of our society.
Even in the midst of despair, music gives us hope. I love inspiring people to dance and to raise their awareness along with their spirit and I seek out melodies that lend themselves to rhythmic expression.
The journey through the practice of Yoga and the performance of music have enhanced my good times and helped me move through challenging ones. The connection between the practice and the playing provide not only balance but compliment my musical intentions of breaking down barriers, eliminating fear and providing positive vibration and an empowering spirit.
Follow Christopher Hawley’s music and schedule at: christopherhawley.net.