May 18, 2013
Welcome to YOGA for MUSICIANS and my website for YOGA CLASSES and WORKSHOPS.
As you will discover through this website, I have a passion for yoga and the ways that it can bring harmony and balance to our being so that we may express our creativity and live our lives to the fullest extent.
Whether you are beginning yoga student or advanced, an aspiring musician or professional, you can be assured that I will help you find a way of practicing that meets your specific capabilities and needs.
IYENGAR YOGA is known for the therapeutic applications of yoga and is beneficial in the treatment of musculo-skeletal and other medical conditions. The revolutionary use of yoga props and the intelligent selection and modification of the postures enable students of all abilities to work to their greatest potential and overcome difficulties of all kinds.
January 20, 2013
I am endlessly fascinated how yoga informs and helps me with my ongoing piano studies. Since last summer, I have been gradually learning a piece by Chopin, or “Freddie” as one of my teachers calls him. It is one of his most beautiful and sensuous pieces called the “Barcarolle”, and is also a difficult piece which has given me enormous challenges.
For the first few months I would go to lessons and attempt to communicate the subtleties and swells of the piece, the sublimely lyrical, sumptuous melodies and rich chords. However, even the slightest bit of tension in one’s arms, or in one’s fingers, gets in the way of the music, and my teachers mantra became, “relax, relax…relax”. We would barely get past the opening bars. Each week I would return sure that I had relaxed enough, and she would shake her head, and find yet other ways to help me sink weight into the keys, to relax the tension in my arms, and to listen through the tips of my fingers.
One of the biggest challenges for me is to maintain ease and steadiness as the piece builds in intensity, particularly if I am feeling any nervous anxiety while performing. I have to be honest that I have never found performing natural or easy and am amazed how everything shifts as soon as someone is there listening!
When I become nervous, it feels to me like I am climbing steep, rocky mountains. One moment everything is blissful and you feel one with the universe and the next moment, if feeling fear, you stop breathing, your legs shake, you lean into the steepness of the slope which throws off your balance and makes the situation even more precarious!
With the piano, thank goodness nothing life threatening is going to happen. Yet it may feel just the same for your nervous system… one tends to restrict the breath, to carry tension in the body, to lose postural balance, to distort the tempo of the music, and to definitely lose the blissful connection to the moment.
Well, after eight months, I am beginning to find the ease and the breath that must be found if I ever am going to be able to perform this piece. I feel that Chopins’ Barcarolle has been so precise in it’s teaching- that the key to the piece is SLOWING DOWN, and the ability to RELAX. It is about calming the nervous system when under siege, of cultivating a moment-to-moment awareness of the breath, the arising and passing of sensations in the body, as well as letting go of any inhibiting thoughts that surface in the mind. Which brings me to SAVASANA…
Thank goodness for the teachings of yoga. Yoga has been the gateway for me to cultivate an awareness of body, the breath, the moment to moment sensations that are there as my fingers come into contact with the keys. For me, I know if I can’t find a deep place of relaxation, of subtle awareness on my yoga mat in savasana, then there is no way I will be able to find it at the piano. Savasana continually gives me the opportunity to stop, to listen, to relax accumulated tensions, to dive into the felt experience of my body and breath, and to release all the encrusted preoccupations of my mind.
I feel that when lying in savasana, there are deeper and deeper layers of release that are possible- at first, dropping into one level, and then sinking further into another deeper level of letting go, and further and further until we dissolve completely into a place of no separation- the experience of bliss and emptiness. There is a great documentary on called “The Art of Piano”. In it, the great Chilean concert pianist Claudio Arrau says:
“If you keep your body relaxed, your body is in contact with the depths of your soul. If you are stiff in any joint, you impede the current of emotion, physical current, what the music dictates to you. If you have stiff joint you don’t let it go through the keyboard.”
Well, I have no doubt he has mastered that, the sublime genius that he is. Yet for me, this may require a life time of practice both on the mat and at the keyboard, continually observing the tensions that surface, continually finding ease, continually connecting with the breath and emptying the mind.
So, I continue on the journey of the Barcarolle- filling my mind and my heart with its sensuous beauty, letting go of neurotic tendencies, tensions, and notions of perfection…and instead being with the current of emotion, the physical current, relaxing my body-mind to be in contact with the depths of my soul.
Here is the first half of Chopin’s Barcarolle:
“Perfection is when you do something without looking over the horizon, when you are completely in the moment. Perfection is not that you do something technically perfect, it does not have to be technically perfect. Perfection is when your mind and your heart fill the body completely in the pose, in the asana, in whatever you do. This is skill in action, this is stillness- being wholeheartedly present with what you do, awakening to life.” – Dona Holleman
Here is a more recent video of the entire piece. It is still a work in progress, and finally completely memorized! Step by step…
November 12, 2012
“We are the earth through the animals and plants that nourish us. We are the rains and oceans that flow through our veins. We are the breath of the forests of the land and the plants of the sea…”
-David Suzuki & Tara Cullis from “The Declaration of Interdependence”
I have recently been spending time with Sam Snidal who is building a Website called “ALIVE AND WELL” where she will post short films exploring the creative process and healing through contemplative practices, yoga, nutrition and other things. Sam approached me in the summer about doing a small profile focusing on my journey of yoga and piano studies and the interface between yoga and music. So, a few weeks ago a group of us went to Stoney Lake to film me practicing yoga in one of the places where I feel most connected and part of the interdependent web of life.
Since then we have spent time together discussing all aspects of yoga and music, recording the sublime sounds of Bach and Rachmaninoff, and playing creatively together. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to articulate my passion for yoga and music. However, it has been a challenge for me to get my head around being interviewed, as I am not sure that there is anything so special about what I am doing in life. I am just a perpetual student!
There is so much more for me to learn, and the journey feels always as if it is just beginning. When I am with my teachers and see what they have accomplished in their lives- to see their skill, their wisdom, their years of devotion- I am so humbled. And so I hope to live a long life- 50 more years to keep practicing, to keep exploring, to integrate and penetrate to the levels, the subtleties, the deeply creative places that they have accessed and realized.
There is no limit to the possibility of finding deeper levels of intelligence and wakefulness in the body. The greatest example of this is B.K.S. Iyengar who has practiced 70+ years fine tuning all the subtleties of every asana- the movement of the skin, the muscles, the bones, the energy, the nerves. He has sculpted his body like an artist incorporating every aspect of body, mind and breath.
In an interview B.K.S. Iyengar was asked: “You have said that yoga is a long and arduous path to realization. Could the process be quickened? B.K.S. Iyengar responded:
“My friend, it’s a very impertinent question. Today yoga has become like a cheap thing in the market…. Dancers, how much they have to struggle to learn. Musicians, how much they have to work to get the quality, the sensitivity of presentation of resonance. Do you mean to say in Yoga there is no resonance? We use the body as an instrument, the fibers inside are the strings. So we have to tune those strings to the sound…. the element of ether which is nothing but sound. So we have to get the fine tuning of each fiber. Can you make that in a day or two? Ordinary intelligence only scratches the surface, so you have to sharpen your intelligence to go deep inside the body; this is where I devoted my time, that’s why I said I am a devotee.”
All these artistic paths require an astounding amount of devotion, and I feel there is a deep similarity in the levels of concentration, subtlety of execution, and expansiveness of mind that are required. A while back I read an interview with Michael Stone and Chip Hartranft, who is one of the most respected yoga philosophy scholars. In the interview Chip commented that the concert pianist Maurizio Pollini was “the most accomplished yogi I have ever seen”. That one sentence validated so many of my thoughts on this interface between yoga and music. The ability to perform the sublime music of the great composers requires integrated immersion on all levels of being, and requires hours of daily practice, focus, commitment, and concentration beyond belief. I have no doubt that musicians attain similar stages of awareness akin to the yogic eight limbed path- particularly asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and perhaps even samadhi. Just as the yogi, the musician takes their posture, explores their breath, draws their awareness and senses away from the external world inwardly to a embodied experience of sound. And from there, who knows what the limits are from developing concentration on a stable entity, to concentration with out an object, to complete integration and oneness.
Krishnamacharya said that “YOGA is LIFE”. Yoga is not something that just happens on a mat. Yoga is this spontaneity, this creative connection to all that is living and breathing inside of you. Yoga is going beyond the mat and exploring the universe within in a way that transcends vanity, ego and fear. Yoga is a way to tune the strings inside, to find the earth intelligence of the body, to flow with the wind and ether of sound, to express our interconnectedness through our willingness to slow down and listen.
March 13, 2012
I have walked you, ancient trails,
Along the narrow rocky ridges
High above the mountains that
Make up your world:
Looking down on giant trees, silent
In the purple shadow of ravines
Along the spire-like alpine fir
Above the high, steep slanting meadows
Where sun-softened snowfields share the earth
How wonderful spring is so near! This is always such an abundant time of growth and renewed life and energy. After climbing narrow rocky ridges and walking ancient trails, I look forward to teaching more and sharing the creative experiences of the last year…may we all continue on the journey towards discovering our deepest reality- energy systems imbued with enlightened energy!
It is so interesting for me to realize how much I have learned about my self through the journey of pursuing my Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto Piano Performance exam- and as any endeavor- it is wonderful to have achieved it , and then to be able to more forward to new possibilities. It has been a great opportunity to learn and grow…to soften my snowfields…and to share my earth with flowers, realizing it is all yoga…it is all practice.
Here is one of the pieces from the one hour long program that I performed for my exam. It is a prelude composed by Rachmaninoff, who for me is inseparable from nature. When playing this piece, I feel the wind in the trees, the crash of thunder; I feel storm clouds brewing, and rainbows and sunshine, and love blazing through the sky.
January 23, 2012
”We can never exhaust the multiplicity of nuances and subtleties, which make the charm of music. How can we expect to produce a vital performance if we don’t recreate the work everytime? Every year the leaves of the trees reappear with the spring but they are different every time.”
- Pablo Casals
As the New Year opens up I feel the shift from the darkness of winter retreat towards a desire to open to the world, to gaze to the horizon of infinite of possibilities. This posture, Parivtta Janu Sirsasana, turns us towards the sky, and as B.K.S. Iyengar says, towards the stars. Can we gaze freshly? Can we find new meaning, a different approach, a more integrated experience in our practice?
I have just performed my ARCT piano performance exam with the Royal Conservatory Toronto. Never in my life have I prepared so hard for something and taken on such a challenge. It really defined the essence of practice- to rework, to rethink, to recreate something day after day until you know it inside out, backwards and forwards, in all it’s subtleties and intricacies.
I have been thinking a lot about peak experiences and the moments in our life when we push ourselves to the limit. In my 20′s I spent a lot of time trekking in Nepal. On one trip I had to climb a pass on the north side of Annapurna which was close to 18,000 feet, in very dangerous avalanche prone terrain. We had to get up at 4 in the morning, start climbing in the dark, my stomach was queasy, the altitude making it hard to breathe…and here you are having this unbelievable life experience, but you feel like crap and your whole being is pushed to the edge! The exam was very similar to that!! I found my edge…
I have yet to find out my results. However, for me, it’s not about the mark. It is about the totality of the experience, the beauty of the music, the sense of coming full circle and attaining a dream I have had since I was a teenager…and to have experienced such unbelievable support from so many people.
When Maurice Herzog became the first climber to successfully summit Annapurna in 1950, he wrote a famous book which ended with these lines:
“Annapurna, to which we had gone empty handed, was a treasure on which we should live the rest of our days. With this realization we turn the page: a new life begins. There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.” -Maurice Herzog (born January 15th, 1919)
I have now climbed my Annapurna, and I didn’t have to lose all my fingers and toes to frostbite…and yes, my brain asks, did I pass? Would I do it again? For now, I am going to just rest, gaze at the stars and practice lots of yoga….
Thanks to Tim Bermingham for this photo!
February 14, 2011
How could Beethoven and Buddha have anything in common? I hadn’t thought about it until one day I was reading a book, “Buddhism Without Beliefs”. As the author Stephen Bachelor discusses the Four Noble Truths, he explains how important it is to approach Buddha’s discovery of the truth experientially. Rather than the Noble Truths being dogmatic statements- Life is Suffering, The Cause of Suffering is Grasping, ect, he suggests that the Noble truths need to be approached through living them- understanding anguish, letting go of its origins, realizing its cessation and cultivating the path. In his thoughtful and eloquent exploration of anguish, he makes reference to the late Beethoven sonatas.
“Great works of art in all cultures succeed in capturing within the constraints of their form both the pathos of anguish and a vision of it’s resolution. Take for example the languorous sentences of Proust or the haiku of Basho, or the late quartets and sonatas of Beethoven…Such works achieve their resolution not through consoling or romantic images whereby anguish is transcended. They accept anguish without being overwhelmed by it. They reveal anguish as that which gives beauty it’s dignity and depth.”
I have been working on one of Beethoven’s late sonata, number 31 of the 32 that he wrote, known as Op 110, As I work on it , I question this fundamental issue- do we transcend anguish or do we allow it to be there without it deluding us, without caving into it’s slippery, suffocating arms.
Here is the wonderful, thoughtful first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat Major Op 110:
Beethoven was no stranger to anguish. He began to go deaf in his mid twenties and the torment of it brought him to the verge of suicide. He wrote a letter to his brothers speaking of his despair:
“But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life. It was only my art that held me back. Oh, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had forth all that I felt was within me.”
I find it unbelievable that Beethoven was able to compose the most innovative and sublime music while completely deaf. He possessed an unfailing spirit in the face of difficulty, and had an incredible triumph of will. He had the vision and idealism of a true artist who was continually breaking into new territory, transforming every genre that he touched. He expanded the sonata, the symphony, and the string quartet and in Beethoven’s later years his music became more abstract and meditative stepping beyond anything heard at the time.
here is the second movement, the bold scherzo & playful trio:
Did he realize that his music expressed this quality of accepting and being with anguish? When playing the Opus 110 sonata, there are sections that are so honest, so lingering, poignantly expressing this feeling of sorrow. And yet, I think Stephen is right in that we don’t feel overwhelmed. This is experienced most clearly in the slow section, named “Arioso Dolente”. Beethoven has named the movement “dolente” meaning sorrowful, and I feel there are few pieces that can truly capture the the depths of what he expresses.
It is worth noting that Beethoven wrote this within the last five years of his life, and was completely deaf, and had been for probably around 10 years! In Maynard Solomon’s book, he says something so interesting- that rather than being a curse, Beethoven’s deafness may have contributed to his creativity. He writes:
“There may be a sense in which deafness played a positive role in his creativity, for we know that deafness did not impair and indeed may have even heightened his abilities as a composer…perhaps by permitting a total concentration upon composition within a world of increasing auditory seclusion. In his deaf world, Beethoven could experiment with new forms of experience, free from the intrusive sounds of the external environment; free from the rigidities of the material world; free, like the dreamer, to combine and recombine the stuff of reality, in accordance with his desires, into previously undreamed-of forms and structures.”
here is the third movement, the meditative adagio and the sorrowful arioso dolente:
After the “Arioso Dolente”, Beethoven writes a fugue, one of the innovative aspects of his compositional style. I almost feel Beethoven expresses the “Five Stages of Grief” according to the Kubler-Ross model; cycling through an expression in the first movement of the beauty of life, then turmoil and anger in the scherzo and trio, desolation in the arioso dolente, and then the fugue. It is like the fugue is a turning point towards acceptance. It is complicated, and it begins the journey back to life.
here are the two fugues and arioso dolente:
After the first fugue, Beethoven returns to a variation of the pensive slow Arioso Dolente, and is his deeply creative way, breaks from the traditional forms of the time. It has a powerful effect . It allows for another moment of grieving, reflection, of patience and an enduring quality. From here the sonata gradually climbs out into even more light.
After the Arioso Dolente, Beethoven brilliantly inverts the fugue, like a mad improvisation and then ends the piece in the most beautiful, exaltant and dramatic way. Different pianists and writers have commented eloquently about this part of the sonata:
Matthews writes that it is not fanciful to see the final movement’s second fugue as a “gathering of confidence after illness or despair”, a theme which can be discerned in other late works by Beethoven.
Rosen states that this movement is the first time in the history of music where the academic devices of counterpoint and fugue are integral to a composition’s drama, and observes that Beethoven in this work does not “simply represent the return to life, but persuades us physically of the process.”
The last observation is key- there is a physical, all encompassing experience of the return to life. Stephen Bachelor points out:
“In yearning for anguish to be assuaged…we reinforce what creates anguish in the first place: the craving for life to be other than it is…Dharma practice starts not with belief in a transcendent reality, but through embracing the anguish experienced in an uncertain world.”
There is the feeling here in this last section of the sun shining through the clouds. The music seems to be a total celebration of life as it is. Whether Beethoven himself embraced duhkha, we don’t know, but he certainly had the intention to. We know this through many historians who documented Beethoven’s life. The great Beethoven scholar, Maynard Solomon refers extensively to Beethoven’s acquiescence to deafness. Rather than caving into despair and committing suicide, Beethoven resolves to continue living. In the “Heiligenstadt Testament”, Beethoven writes, “Patience, they say, is what I must choose now for my guide, and I have done so.”
The yoga of it all is to be with what is; that conflict comes when we try to get rid of the undesirable parts of ourselves- the feistiness, the ugliness, the anguish. Just let it be there. Yoga isn’t about the ideal- the future projection- yoga is this moment now. Yoga is what is, and being with what is. If it is anguish, then being with the anguish….if it is the resolution of anguish, then being in that luminosity, that moment of release. And the key is, that when we are able to relax and to be with what is, our experience of whatever is happening shifts, as we are no longer caught up in our reactivity to things. It’s our emotional reactivity that creates the suffering.
This piece is continually teaching me. I, too, have had to find an unfailing spirit and triumph of will to learn the 20 pages of it, and as I attempt to memorize and perform it I find I am constantly finding more compassion and patience with myself. These videos are not perfect! Life is not perfect!!
This piece fell into my life when my mother had a stroke and was put into hospital bed 110-1, and I knew it was a sign. It had also been one of my late piano teachers favorite sonatas, which sadly I will never be able to share with her. And how fitting that both these woman, my mother, Nancy, and Marian Grudeff, my piano teacher, are two of the most inspirational people I know, that whatever anguish they have experienced in their lives has, too, given them beauty, dignity and depth.
November 7, 2010
I was pondering the other day how standing poses are like Bach. That is Johann Sebastian Bach, the grandfather of western classical music as we know it. So, how is yoga like Bach? The other day, I listened to an interview with Helene Grimaud which has deeply inspired me. Helene is a dynamic concert pianist, founder of a the Wolf Conservation Center in NY, and a true yogini. In the interview she speaks of the clarity and purity of Bach’s music. Helene says:
“His music is the bible…there is no other way than the truth. This feeling is so strong of something that is so totally authentic, and honest and direct and goes absolutely to the core, the very essence of the human soul…”
(with Helene at her concert here at Koerner Hall)
I feel that when practicing yoga, one connects in the same way with a clear, direct harmony of being. In his music, Bach aspired towards perfect expression of nature, without romantic pondering and emotions. Similarly, the practice of asana is an expression of your clear, balanced. aligned state of being; being in the moment with everything just as it is, or as Toni Packer would say, “pure being with nothing added”. Yoga practice is an opportunity to empty ourselves of all the layers of mental preoccupations, emotional knots, thought patterns, and postural habits, so all these things no longer consume our awareness.
“Bach should be the daily bread… he should be part of one’s daily life. I think at the end the only way to pay respect to Bachs’ genius is to confront his music. This is the only way that it comes to life again. It is like a sacred text; it lives anew with each interpretation.” -Helene Grimaud
What is so amazing about playing Bachs’ music is the style of writing in which he composes. He is the master of counterpoint- the weaving of different melodies which are played simultaneously. Imagine a choir of four voices each singing a clear melody, and together creating a rich harmonic texture through the interplay of the voices. A “fugue” does this same thing and yet the pianist plays all the voices herself and, with sensitivity and care, has the intention to bring out all the different entries of the main melody, or subject.
What is so brilliant is the effect on the mind and the body; the expansive awareness of listening simultaneously to the different voices, the clear upright posture that the music encourages (except for Glenn Gould!), and the purity of the energy of the music itself. And, just as one confronts the music as a daily practice, in yoga and in life each day we must take the time to confront and listen to all that is here in each moment. Michael Stone said in a recent teaching that we practice to “sit with the turbulence, to recognize our insanity”. Practice, then, is not an escape or an abstract philosophy, but something truly lived and interpreted afresh each and every day.
At the moment I am working on a four voice fugue by Bach in f minor. I like to think of the similarity between listening to the four different voices of the fugue, to practicing standing poses and listening to the sensations in my left foot, right foot, left hand and right hand. If one then allows those sensations to become a voice, a dialogue of communication through your being, and expand your awareness to all aspects of the body, the mind and the emotional landscape, this is so much like the experience of a fugue. It is the experience of hearing each voice individually, and yet, also simultaneously experiencing the totality of the piece. Then, letting all those voices intertwine, and letting that music just be music, the harmony of life itself, without controlling, indulging or rejecting, but just listening!
Helene says: “For sure one can say that Bach is the most universal of all composers. In the sense of in the etymological root of the word that it is unique and yet pours in all directions.” Is this not just how we are? Unique and yet pouring in all directions; not at all separate from the flow of life itself? Just as in playing Bach that we tap into this honest, harmonious expression of nature, can our asana help us to find the union between right and left, above and below, inside and outside, self and other to find a harmonious expression of our own true nature? To find our authentic personal link to the universe?
To see Helene’s interview of her thoughts about Bach, go to this link: