Local yoga studios use live music to make connections on the mat

Christy Beck leads a yoga session for State College Area High School Delta students in February 2016.
Christy Beck leads a yoga session for State College Area High School Delta students in February 2016. Centre Daily Times, file

There was a time in my life when I meditated daily, sometimes even twice a day. Starting back when I was a college student, I was a voracious reader of books about Buddhism, and slowly got into sitting meditation — dhayana — before finally receiving some training from monks I sought out at the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center.

It’s a tough practice, and I struggled to maintain it on my own here in State College. But although Buddhist monks are hard to come by in Centre County, yoga studios are not. I am able to find ways to drop in to the pocket of pure existence and creation at least once per week, and oftentimes more frequently. It’s the same pocket musicians experience when, as Brother Roy Williams says, it’s really happening. There’s a flow, a stillness, a space that is the essence of creation and purity.

There are more than a dozen places to practice Yoga in Centre County, from fitness studios to spiritual centers, and there truly is something for just about every kind of practitioner. If you want to do yoga to get in shape, there are a lot of power yoga offerings. If you want to do yoga to increase your flexibility, there’s a place to stretch your body using yoga postures. If you want to help heal emotional and/or physical pain, there are yoga therapists in the area.

If you want to explore the essence of existence and discover your personal truth, no problem.Whatever your purpose for practicing yoga, meditation or other healing arts such as Reiki and Thai yoga massage, if you’ve attended even a few classes or sessions you have most likely experienced a musical element to the setting. As you explore what Centre County has to offer, you’re bound to end up in a class that features live music.

“Music moves you,” said Power Your Possibilities co-owner Kerry Bestwick. “Yoga is a moving practice. Through flowing linked poses we are invited to move onwards, and from a state of mindfulness connect our breath while creating a sense of ease and space. Music is an incredible tool to facilitate all of this. I enjoy music in my yoga as a soothing backdrop to which I can go deeper within.”

Whether you view yoga as a moving practice, as Bestwick suggests, or conversely, more so as a breathing practice, as author and teacher Max Strom suggests, music seems to be especially akin to what occurs on and hopefully off the mat. And while yoga is surging in popularity right now, it is joined by other healing arts in its kinship to music.

“Music is incorporated into most meditation and Reiki sessions at Serenity Wellness Centre,” Serenity Wellness Centre owner Nicole White said. “Through the use of specific beats and frequencies, the music connects to biorhythms in the body allowing for a deeper state of relaxation and healing to take place. Often, it guides participants into the Theta brain wave state. In this state, the subconscious mind can cleanse unhealthy patterns and rejuvenate the system.”

White expounded on the impact music can have, particularly live music, and the presence of a musician who is in the room, bringing the energy and vibrations of performance and creation.

“When you are able to add in live music, it creates a more profound energy and connection to the vibrations and harmony each musician brings with them,” White said.

Musicians around Center County are predictably warm to the idea of playing music during yoga classes because the synchronicity and energy flows in both directions.

“It’s exciting to bring bass, drum, snare drum and hi-hat cymbals into an intimate breathy space,” State College area drummer and guitarist Eric Goeller said. “To be conscious of the flow, to be delicate yet rhythmic, like blood and breath, with your eyes closed, with your eyes open, it doesn’t matter. It’s just extra special to experience rhythms in a whole new way and to be a conduit of the patient, yet intense yoga flow.”

Oftentimes, live music is incorporated into classes or special events featuring yoga, such as the summer solstice class I attended last summer, and the partner yoga class I attended on Valentine’s Day, where Eric Ian Farmer sang so beautifully and in such wonderful sync with the flow of the class.

You can catch Farmer performing at another yogic event starting at 1 p.m. April 1 at the State College Friends School during Yoga for Changemakers. For more information, visit www.pathtocalm.com.

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.