Music Is Yoga
To the typical American way of thinking, yoga is an exercise routine that incorporates stretching, balance and, strength training. But the poses developed in the 5,000-year-old Indian practice of yoga were actually intended to calm the mind and relax the body in order to prepare for meditation where one can seek union with the Divine. Katrina Zech, a New Orleans yoga instructor, Yoga Nidra facilitator (meditation guide), and music therapist, combines all three techniques in her weekly class at Unity of New Orleans Spiritual Center.
Zech studied with the Yogi Amrit Desai, considered to be the last living master of yoga in the United States who, in the 1960s, brought to this country the authentic teachings of yoga and taught her the philosophy and wisdom of the ancient practice.
“My teacher says, if it doesn’t transform your life, it isn’t yoga,” Zech says.
Renee Lattimore particularly appreciates the guided meditation at the end of class. Yoga Nidra, which means “yogic sleep,” is said to induce a state of “pratyahara” a withdrawal from the senses that helps focus on the inner self. Participants are guided through meditation to empty their minds of thoughts and anxieties to achieve deep states of consciousness.
“Katrina always emphasizes that the physical part is preparation for the meditation,” Lattimore, 74, adds.
“There is a common misconception that you have to be young and flexible to do yoga, but the practice is really about experiencing meditation while in motion,” Zech says.
“The traditional postures (or asanas) release energy blockages, while increasing energy flow, endurance, internal balance, flexibility, and the feeling of wellness,” Zech says.
Our daily lives can be stressful, with sensory overload from constant stimuli via smartphones, email, and a barrage of messages on radio and television. Yoga induces a parasympathetic nervous system response, reducing fight-or-flight stress hormones, including cortisol, adrenalin, and epinephrine, that result from too much stimulation. Practicing yoga over a period of time can actually alter the body’s biochemistry, increasing the production of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), an amino acid that acts as a natural Valium, Zech says. Melatonin for improved sleep and serotonin, balancing mood, also rises. In addition, the body releases more oxytocin. Known as the “love chemical,” it reduces pain. Increased endorphins, which are responsible for feelings of happiness, as well as DHEA, which reduces fatigue. Finally, the body produces Human Growth Hormone for regeneration and repair.
Zech studied music therapy at Loyola University New Orleans and brings that knowledge into her yoga class. “The sound vibration helps the body let go of negative holding patterns,” she says. Beginning class with a Dharma talk, she then uses musical instruments to induce relaxation, influencing breathing, pulse, and heart rate. She might play a monochord, an ancient stringed instrument, as well as flute, guitar, and crystal toning bowls. Running a wand around the lip of a quartz crystal toning bowl creates a frequency that affects the body’s connective tissue, which has been described as a “crystalline matrix.” This allows the release of chronic tension and pain, often caused by stressful life experiences.
“The sound kind of hypnotizes you—I love it,” Caroline Rivera says.
Music has been used to affect positive change in emotional states of being since the time began. Indigenous shamans, the very first healing practitioners, incorporated drumming, chants, and singing with ritual and prayer. Zech says the trance-like or meditative state that can be achieved from a music ceremony allows one to access the subconscious mind where memories, old emotions and trauma are stored.
A study at McGill University in Canada showed that listening to music supports production of brain chemicals, specifically dopamine, bringing about a feeling of wellbeing.
“Yoga, music, and meditation teaches us how to stay calm and relaxed in life, no matter what is going on around you,” Zech says.
“I look forward to Saturdays all week. I love it,” Rivera says.
Mary Rickard is a freelance writer who has regularly written for the Times-Picayune, New Orleans Advocate and Gambit Weekly. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and practices yoga.