Yoga on a String: How Music Benefits

By Fife, Stefanie | International Musician, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Yoga on a String: How Music Benefits


Fife, Stefanie, International Musician


EDITOR'S NOTE: Many musicians come to yoga for its health benefits, but ultimately find much more, says cellist Stefanie Fife of Local 47 (Los Angeles). She recently spoke with three fellow Local 47 musicians who found enhanced physical benefits through yoga, but also discovered something more-yoga improved their music as well.

She breathes, closes her eyes, and feels the music. Becoming aware of her muscles, and their potential, she makes small imperceptible changes to accommodate the intent. The music flows. Yogi or musician?

The parallels between yoga and music are profound and share more than one common thread. Many musicians have been drawn to yoga because of the health benefits. Years of repetitive motion can wreak havoc on a body. But restoration is only the beginning. Yoga cannot help but enhance the mental and spiritual aspects of the practitioner.

Yoga as a Tool

Local 47 musician Larry Tuttle lights up when talking about his other love. "It's hard to understand why yoga has just as strong of a hold on me as music. It just does." After a moment the revelation hits. "I do it to be better," he says.

Tuttle continues, "How does a person become a Michael Jordan, Meryl Streep, Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar, or Yo-Yo Ma [of Local 802]? Or a better mother, businessman, or writer? Yoga is a tool. Anything will benefit from yoga practice." In Tuttle's case, the anything is music, and that connection is not new.

The Beatles introduced Maharishi Mahesh Yogi-founder and developer of transcendental meditation techniques-to the world. Famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin brought the famed yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar to America. The two disciplines parallel, and interweave, and even the vocabulary used in each is similar-practice, breath, focus, awareness, and space. And ultimately, in music, as in yoga, "the path becomes the goal," remarks professional cellist Matt Cooker, also a member of Local 47.

"I started yoga to be a better bike rider," he says. "I soon learned, that just like music, there are constant revelations that come from it." Matt points to the pictures in Iyengar's book, Light on Yoga. "These poses seem perfectly reasonable until you try them." Without resistance, his agile body finds a flying pigeon pose, which would be impressive for a bendy teenager, and is even more astonishing for this 54-year-old man.

Unexpected Benefits

Local 47 violist Novi Novog came to yoga for the physical benefits, but found the practice helped her in many unexpected ways. "It helps me deal with the little-things," she says. "I don't get so upset in traffic, and of course, focus and concentration."

Tuttle, a Chapman Stick master, explains how the body can look all twisted when playing instruments such as his. A hybrid of bass and guitar, the Stick's melodies, harmonies, and chords are supported by a grooving bass springing from 10 tapping fingers. It's a fantastic instrument, but it's hard on the body.

"The body is put into such unnatural positions," he explains. "After playing, I can repair some of the damage I've done to myself with a few well-chosen stretches and poses. That's the same for other instrumentalists. …

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