“Thank you, if you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.” Those were the keynote words of the late Ravi Shankar back in 1971 when he addressed an applauding audience at the Concert for Bangladesh. For those unfamiliar with the event, it was curated by George Harrison as a means for providing immediate humanitarian relief to the people of a new nation whom were embroiled in a geopolitical crisis. Legendary in its effectiveness, it would become the model for future benefit concerts worldwide. The physical practices of yoga have left a similar legacy, in so far as its beginning stages were nothing short of revolutionary, and yet the best is still yet to come.
According to Indian folklore, every body contains roughly 72,000 energetic channels (nadis). Yoga postures themselves merely provides the most basic groundwork towards reaching our inner potentials. Being an amateur guitarist, I liken my yoga practice to the act of preparing, tuning, and playing a 72,000 stringed musical instrument. I’d like to unpack this analogy step-by-step as I explain some to the stages of the Ashtanga Yoga method.
1. Thoughtful preparation with asana:
Our awareness of our subtle body can be accomplished by practicing postures (asana). It just so happens that a consistent routine helps us make sense of our innate energetic connections (i.e. the strings). Our central nervous system is continuous yet contains several nodes corresponding to the chakras. These chakras have on them what are sometimes called petals which are represented by our (autonomic) neural networks. The vibrations of these petals can be felt as we move from pose to pose with purpose and intent. An experience of bouyancy typically follows an asana practice as the static noise of the chakra centers begin to clear. This essentially explains why yoga feels so good. This is wonderful news, because with so many nadis to strengthen and purify, if the process did not feel great, then very few people would continue to put in the effort!
2. Tuning in with pranayama:
It is not enough to attach strings to a musical instrument then expect it to play properly. The ability to tune the nervous system, too, can be accomplished. My preferred method is pranayama. Sometimes called the fourth limb of Ashtanga Yoga, pranayama is a set of breathing techniques which dampen and resonate each aspects of our nervous system in several fascinating ways. I find that the breath retention exercises which I practice feel similar to act of plucking harmonic pitches on my guitar. There is a gentle hum which can both be heard and felt throughout the entire neck of the instrument. A skillful musician can use specific harmonic intervals to tune the entire guitar; the only thing one needs in addition is a good tuning fork. A guru is somewhat analogous to both the music teacher and the reference pitch. I recommend inspired yoga practitioners to seek out a qualified teacher in order to learn these valuable pranayama techniques from the source.
3. Exploring dhyana for everyone:
Ashtanga students start with postures, continue with breath work, and only then explore direct meditation (dhyana) techniques. This formula helps ensure that we feel relaxed yet focused enough to benefit optimally. Music can be a mindful art too, with distinct practices preparing us to play enjoyably for one another. I find musicians like Ravi Shankar so inspirational, because with relaxed yet focused effort, these individuals play intimately for their accompanying musicians as well as each and every person in the audience. We all share the joys of beautiful music together. Step-by-step, I am beginning to realize that dhyana is so very similar.