IMG_0026

It is my passion to practice and teach yoga in a way that brings harmony and balance to our being, so that we may express our creativity and live our lives to the fullest extent. I believe when we take the time in our practice to observe the physicality of our movement,  to listen to our inner rhythm, we connect with the world in a direct and spontaneous way. We see we are an intrinsic part of this world, we inhabit a vaster space and open our beings to all that is.

Whether you are a beginning yoga student or advanced, you can be assured that I will help you find a way of practicing that is soothing and nourishing. The practice of Iyengar Yoga is phenomenal in its therapeutic applications and as an ongoing practice to maintain strangth and vigor. If you are interested in practicing together, please join me at Kula Annex or at the Healing Arts Centre.

if you have any questions, please contact me.

phone 416 508 8751

email snoozedesigns@yahoo.com

 

 

Opening to the Vastness

February 2, 2014

P1000576 The goal of the spiritual path is to be flexible, courageous and exploratory in the face of life’s joys and paradoxes, while never parting from a connection to its deepest meaning.  -Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

This past summer I was blessed with a journey that connected me with the vastness of our country, and gave me an opportunity to explore the hidden parts of my inner landscape…the unconscious parts…the shadows. To celebrate 50 years on this planet, a group of us went for a two week long canoe trip on the Wind River in northern Yukon. The Wind is part of the Peel Watershed and is one of North America’s largest intact ecosystems–a region of mountains, deep canyons, plateaus, wetlands and rolling hills.

P1000485

Over 14 days, we paddled 190 km on the Wind River and another 90 km on the Peel River. I have never witnessed such immense terrain, clear translucent water and mesmerizing vistas. Our journey began with a long drive to a town five hours north of Whitehorse caled Mayo. From here we flew in a bush plane for an hour to get to the access point which would take us to the Wind. At this point you are hundreds of kilometers from any roads and instead you are in the depths of the Peel Watershed which contains a staggering 77,000 square kilometers of boreal forest. That is the size of Scotland! It was unbelievable to begin our trip paddling through this phenomenally remote landscape heading north to the tundra just south of the Arctic Circle.

We were blessed with unusually warm, sunny weather, perfect river conditions, with visits from cariboo, bear, moose, dall sheep, eagles and osprey. We were in bliss…or were we? I remember for the first days of the trip that it was hard to take it all in. It was challenging to adjust to the scale, like you couldn’t fully compute and digest the reality around you. Yes, we could look, but could we really have a clear experience of this land?

P1000534

On day two, as we were traveling in the upper stretches of this 280 km water slide of turquoise rapids, and rambling mountainous terrain, I was overwhelmed by the desire to go slower. I felt that we were traveling too fast for me to take it in, to savor and sink into the land. I was reminded of traveling through Tibet in 1988. It was my second trip there and we decided to travel from Lhasa to Kathmandu in a Jeep. The first time I was in Tibet, I had travelled in slow rickety buses and trucks, weaving between Lhasa and Shigatse many times, stopping frequently, sitting with the locals, waiting at roadsides and tea houses. With the Jeep, we could travel fast, and we whizzed by the truck stops, the yak herds, the terrain unfolding, the boundless land disappearing as quickly it appeared. 

And here I was 25 years later, feeling the same frustration, wanting to shift the course of events, in conflict with “what is”. I was in bliss, and I was also in a place of resistance, wanting our group to stop and smell the mosses and the lichens, to wander in the plateau-scape that reminded me of Tibet. I paddled chanting invocations to the mother goddess to clear the dust from my eyes. I reminded myself of the ultimate practice of Chöd”- to go beyond hope and fear and to look directly at our emotional states- to reject nothing, either good or bad, to face our demons and to follow the path of bare-naked pristine awareness.

P1000605

 Carl Jung says: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”.

Yes, in this resistance there were moments of conflict, of irritation. Nothing that got in the way of the poignancy of the trip, but enough to allow me to confront my shadow. According to Carl Jung, the shadow lies in your unconscious – it is your murkier, unconscious self. It is believed that the shadow contains the parts of yourself that you do not like, and that you try to suppress. Jung believed we project these qualities onto others, that we have difficulty with people who exhibit traits that we ourselves have suppressed.

Well, what an opportunity to practice. It reminded of being on retreat at Gampo Abbey years ago. One of the monks there called it “a house of mirrors”. There was no escape from the close proximity that you had with other practitioners. So it was an inescapable opportunity to see our patterns, to turn the mirror to our self. Or as Buddha said when he awakened- to see the builder of the house. We have spent our life building our notion of self according to our strategies, our hopes and fears, our likes and dislikes. And, on this canoe trip, it was like being in that monastery.

P1000679

So here I was in this vastness, the largest space I had ever inhabited, to make even more space- space for the joys and the paradoxes…the beauty and the difficulty, the bliss and the sorrow, and all the dispossessed aspects of myself. As I remember the unparalleled beauty, the purity and perfection of the landscape, I try to figure out what I can do…what I can do to hang out in the translucence of my own inner landscape, to illuminate my ignorance, to find the source of my well-being. 

 “Large intact wilderness is disappearing. We are facing an unprecedented crisis on this planet. So at this point what is a hedge against the uncertainty of the future (is that) we have got to leave as much of nature as intact as possible because THAT IS THE SOURCE Of OUR WELL-BEING. This is what we need- large intact areas as a hedge against our ignorance and I believe the Peel represents that.” -David Suzuki

That and so much more…

1233976_10200216585808287_1447025937_n

 

Cooled and Refreshed

December 30, 2013

P1010896

Let your heart open like the door of a little temple so that you may step inside and be cooled and refreshed, and less yourself than part of everything.

 Mary Oliver

I came to Upstate New York armed with two volumes of therapeutic yoga practices of Lois Steinberg. There was no room in our car for yoga props, so I arrived with no blosters, blocks, chairs, blankets, straps, not even a mat. Aching to do yoga after a long drive and a busy holiday season, I went down to the gym in my in-laws house. There were some exercise machines, none of which I knew anything I could possibly do with them. But there was this! And so began a therapeutic practice…

P1010913P1010915

P1010917

P1010921

P1010925

P1010930

P1010931

P1010943

P1010940

P1010944

P1010950

P1010952

CHOPIN and SAVASANA

January 20, 2013

Every day while I practice I am reminded of how intertwined the practice of yoga and creating music is. Lately, 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 it is a 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. My teachers mantra became, “relax, relax…relax”. We would barely get past the opening bars. Each week I would meditate at the keyboard, dive into the moment to moment sensations of my hands caressing the keys. I would return sure that I had relaxed enough, and she would shake her head, no. Week after week she would try to 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.

Arch Structure of the Arm

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…

savasana

Thank goodness for the teachings of yoga. Yoga has been the gateway for me to cultivate an awareness of body, the breath, and the mind. 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:

claudio

“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 second half of the Barcarolle:

ALIVE and WELL

November 12, 2012

We use the body as an instrument, the fibers inside are the strings. So we have to tune those strings to the sound…to get the fine tuning of each fiber. 

B.K.S.Iyengar

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 the arts. 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 begin filming a small profile.

We were blessed with a spectacular day of sunshine and cool crisp fall winds as Sam and her film crew filmed me practicing on the cliffs of Stoney Lake. As we sat late in the day with the sun setting over the sparkling lake, it was a wonderful opportunity to articulate my passion for yoga and music. However, I have to admit it is a challenge for me to get my head around being interviewed. 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.

guruji-poseThere is no limit to the artistic journey of yoga and other arts. The greatest example of this is B.K.S. Iyengar who has practiced 70+ years fine tuning all the subtleties of his being through yoga. 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 with dance, music, and yoga.

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.

What is important to note is that to my knowlege, Maurizio Pollini has perhaps never practiced yoga as we tend to understand it. So, Chip is saying that the ability to perform at that level of artistry requires integrated immersion on all levels of being. I have no doubt that musicians attain similar stages of meditative absorption akin to the yogi, and just as B.K.S. Iyengar has spent time with his practice to delve into the depth of his being, so too, have these great performing artists.

So, I continue to be a student, to tune the strings inside, to sharpen the intelligence of the body, to flow with the wind and ether of sound, to devote myself to the miraculous journey of being ALIVE and WELL.

IYENGAR and MENUHIN

September 4, 2012

B.K.S.Iyengar with Vanda Scaravelli

“I have always intuited that the only real ‘spirituality’ lies in our direct and personal relationship with Nature, with the Universe, and have long since backed away from asking others, including books, how I should live my life, how I should relate to Nature and the Universe…

To learn from Nature, to let the body vibrate with the vibrations of the Universe, to let the heartbeat beat in rhythm with the heartbeat of the Earth, to let the senses listen to the murmurings of all that lives, and to hear the last breaths of all that dies.”

-Dona Holleman

I am always greatly inspired by yogini Dona Holleman, who has been teaching yoga over 50 years. Dona studied with B.K.S. Iyengar in the 60′s and was part of a group of professional musicians and spiritual teachers who spent time together in Italy. This group included Yehudi Menuhin, Vanda Scaravelli, and Jiddu Krishnamurti among others. It is interesting to see how her journey has evolved through the years. On her website she expresses how her “two main interests in life, yoga and horses, have finally come together harmoniously”.

I feel the same way about my two passions in life- yoga and music. Studying the sublime and deeply spiritual music of the great masters has widened my horizon even more than I imagined. Music has been an avenue of practice, and has taught me, and continues teaching me, many things about myself, and life in general. For me yoga and music are not such different disciplines but two spiritual art forms that inform and support each other. A great example of this is the relationship between B.K.S. Iyengar and Yehudi Menuhin.

B.K.S.IYENGAR and YEHUDI MENUHIN

Menuhin met B.K.S. Iyengar in India in the early 50′s while Menuhin was on a concert tour. He had been invited by Jawaharlal Nehru to give a series of charity concerts for the Famine Relief Fund. While he was there he  expressed his interest in yoga and during a meeting with Nehru and performed a headstand for him, which made the headlines all over India. Menuhin wanted to learn more about yoga and B.K.S. Iyengar was one of the yogis invited to come and meet him. Iyengar was reluctant to go, due to the amount of travel time involved, but then agreed. He spent a couple hours with him, correcting his Sirsasana, and then brought him into a long 50 minute Savasana. This was a wonderful gift as Menuhin had been suffering from insomnia.

When Menuhin woke up from this deep state of “Shanmukhimudra” which Iyengar induced by manipulating his eyes, ears and nerves, he immediately requested to study more with him. In 1954 Iyengar spent more than six weeks in Gstaad, Switzerland, as Menuhins’ personal yoga instructor. He travelled with him to Britain and France and then continued to teach him in Europe most summers until 1984. Through Menuhin, Iyengar was introduced to, and taught many famous musicians including Pablo Cassals, Rudolph Serkin, Jacquline du Pre, and Vanda Scaravelli.

yehudiMenuhin had already been suffering from a variety of muscular and skeletal aches and pains. Under the programme of asanas that Iyengar prescribed for him, Yehudi Menuhin’s muscular pains disappeared completely. Menuhin wrote that “yoga made its contribution to my quest to understand consciously the mechanics of violin playing”. He and Iyengar developed a life long friendship and he called Iyengar “my best violin teacher”.  Through his  yoga practice, Menuhin was able to sustain a long, illustrious career.

His recording contract with EMI lasted almost 70 years and is the logest in the history of the music industry. He made his first recording at age 13 in November 1929, and his last when he was nearly 83 years old. In 1982, he was invited to conduct the celebrated Berlin Philharmonic  Orchestra at it’s 100th jubilee celebrations, and he conducted the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony standing on his head while directing the orchestra with his feet!

Although I am a very amateur musician, my experience with yoga and playing the piano is equally profound. Yoga has made it possible to find physical fluidity, postural balance, focus, and the body awareness which are necessary on the journey towards allowing the music to express itself unhindered. The practice of listening, of deepening the mind-body connection, of releasing obstructing tensions involves everything psychological, physical and spiritual, whic is what yoga is all about!

If  you are interested to read more about  Iyengar and Menuhin, here are the sources for this info:

Gateless Gate Magazine: Interview with B.K.S.Iyengar

Kofia Busia: The Maestro and the Queen

ANCIENT TRAILS

March 13, 2012

DSC_0008

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


With flowers

–Gary Snyder

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.

ANNAPURNA and STAR-GAZING

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.

annapurna

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!

BEETHOVEN and BUDDHA

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.

Stephen says:

“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.

BACH and YOGA

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:

IMG_0287“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, embracing all that arises.

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 when playing Bach, we tap into this honest, harmonious expression of nature, our asana can also be a way to experience our true nature which is not separate from the universe. Mark Whitwell says so perfectly that yoga is our direct participation and absorption in the given wonder of life expressing itself right here, right now as you. And all we have to is relax, breathe and listen.

To see Helene’s interview of her thoughts about Bach, go to this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Mfszm9QRc

SUSAN GREISDALE Piano Poems

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.