April 22, 2021
by Veronika Shoot
We live in a culture that is aimed at getting things done fast—being the best in our fields, driven by competitiveness and the pursuit of power. There is a goal-oriented vision in achievements which has also seeped its way into the music world, institutions and career paths. It is common to suffer from anxiety, nerves, sleeping problems and pressures that manifest themselves within our bodies, creating an imbalance. Often, in order to achieve something, people – including musicians – ignore the signals their body gives to call to attention excessive pressure, thinking their mind knows better.
My experience as a musician has taught me that a deeper awareness of my breath and body directly impacts the way I play and how I feel in absolutely any situation.
I remember one time before my final exam at the Royal Academy of Music, I had a big programme to play which included Schumann’s “Carnival” and Franck’s “Prelude Chorale and Fugue”, which was still relatively fresh, and I was very nervous. I realised how strongly our mind impacts how we feel and play and I knew that in order to perform well I needed to use all my focus for the music and not allow myself to worry. A single thought can make us go off the rails. So many great musicians stop performing because of such things. A friend offered me a few Betablocker pills before the exam, which she had sworn by using all throughout her time in Music College. I hesitated and almost considered it, ultimately deciding that I didn’t want to affect my body in this way, nor take away any of the deep care I felt in expressing this music—I wanted to use a natural method. The days leading up to the exam, I cultivated self-awareness through breath-work and body practice to direct my energy and focus, right until the day I had to play. I felt calm and connected to my inner strength, I had the focus to keep my mind and body on what truly mattered to me: I kept it together during the performance. I also felt that had I not, I would have felt equally calm about it.
I decided from then on, I would do my best to work with our natural reservoir of hidden gems in order to access these states that can enable us to live to our fullest.
If creating music is for a person to become a vessel through which it can be expressed, fully and wholly, unhindered and unobstructed, then the concentration and receptivity needed to create this kind of focus needs to be accessible.
I believe that we musicians are simply vehicles through which the music is spoken. We embrace and transcend our limitations. For this, focus is required, and a union between the mind and the body, and the instrument. Yoga means to yoke, to unite—the mind, the body and the spirit. This one-directedness removes impurities from the body, or anything that blocks the connection. In this way music is very much the same.
My first introduction to the world of yoga came from my father, a composer, who in his youth after reading Romain Rolland's novel "Life Ramakrishna" was immensely impressed by two figures—Ramakrishna, the mystic, saint, and religious leader, and Vivekananda, a monk and mystic; it inspired him to begin to learn, and weave some of the foundations of yoga practice into his own life. When I was five years old, we’d just moved to England, and I began to practise with him.
A few years later, I played for Lord Yehudi Menuhin and he invited me to study at his music school. Although there were various options of schools where I had been offered places to consider, the ultimate choice was to live and study at his school, not only for its musical value but also for the nature and ethos Menuhin had created there. Yehudi Menuhin himself practised yoga daily, and was a student of BKS Iyengar, who was one of the great figures in the world of yoga and remains largely responsible for the introduction of yoga to the west—a little known fact being that Yehudi Menuhin helped him to fly over from India to Europe for the first time.
I was inspired by the teacher of Iyengar, a man named Krichnamachariya, who brought the heart of this practice to each and every person so individually (as no one person or body works the same!) that his students all turned out to create their own teaching styles. I wanted to delve further back to the roots of Hatha and Kashmiri Shaivism Tantra and discover how certain practices were made more accessible to people.
Understanding the scope of emotional, physical and mental challenges we face as musicians, I had already started weaving movement and breath-work practice into my piano teaching and noticed that it was having a transformative effect on my students.
I was trained in the ancient Himalayan tradition of yoga at Himalayan YogaValley and deepened my own practice in an Ashram in the mountains in the North of India. Hatha and Vinyasa (a linking of asana paired with breath sequence) opened the doors and shed light onto much of where the different ways of practicing originate from. In my own sharing, I try to shed light on how the practice can enhance the quality of each person's life, with respect to its traditions and roots, while keeping alive the personal inquiry and openness that is necessary to reconnect and know ourselves more deeply. I feel that yoga, at its core, is a very personal practice that is unique to each person and cannot fit a certain model. I aim to make it accessible to anyone and everyone on their unique journey.
The daily cultivation of my own rituals, that started with setting an intention and time aside to connect to myself through breath, movement and stillness, gradually extended to all areas of my life. My music-making started to feel different and I discovered a newfound freedom by means of the joining of these practices.
My passion is to support people deeper into their own self inquiry and awareness, to discover their own practice.
Yoga has helped me gain a deeper relationship with myself, connected me in a new way to the music I am playing through awareness of my breath and movements. Yoga has also shown me how important it is to breathe while playing our instruments—it may seem strange but it is quite common to hold the breath during music-making.
Yoga has given me access to personal inner strength and creativity and taught me how to calm anxiety and relieve the possibility of a panic attack without taking any medication. It has helped me create more balance within my body and mind, enhanced the quality of my life, and has given me the beautiful opportunity to share and witness the transformations of people in their own unique wellness journeys.
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