I feel honored to have been able to conduct this interview with one of my current teachers, Francois Raoult, the director of Open Sky Yoga Center in Rochester, New York. On March 22nd, 2012 from 6:15 – 8:15 pm, Francois will host the first in a series of three events of guest speakers and performers, called “The Sound of Music – Nada Yoga”. (For more information and to download a PDF registration form, click here). Here Francois discusses what exactly nada yoga is, and how it relates to our physical and spiritual practice.
C: We are approaching the the first event in your series, “The Sound of Music – Nada Yoga” on March 22nd. How would you describe Nada Yoga to the student or musician who is new to this concept?
F: Nada yoga is deep listening to all sounds–the inner sounds of our bodies, breath, heart, etc.; sounds of the environment; mental sounds; sounds of the Universe; and of course what we call music. It is a practice of meditation, being the sound of life itself, yoking to the nature and essence of each sound.
C: Can you describe your first experience with Nada Yoga for us? How you discovered the practice and when you really began to make it a part of your life?
F: Listening to great concerts as a teenager–Yehudi Menuhin, Jean Guillou, Heinz Holliger. The sounds of nature. Vibrations of the lower organ pipes in cathedrals. Chanting mantra in Nepal. Playing music at the top of mountains. Recreating wave sounds with a synthesizer. Taping skipping stones on frozen lakes. Listening to “Stimmung” and “Aus den sieben Tagen” by Stockhausen all night. John Cage’s “Musicircus” in Paris. Sonny Rollins in Mumbai. Great Nada Yogis of India, like Pandit Jasraj, where you cry, dissolve, and prana is moved deeply during the singing of ragas. Experiences of synesthesia…sculpting the silence….I have to stop here….
C: What do you hope to develop within the Rochester community by making Nada Yoga a part of what you teach at Open Sky?
F: A deeper interest in appreciating the introverted side of yoga practice. Humming/chanting. Deep listening to all sacred music. Yoga is a state of consciousness. It is not tied up to postures or anything in particular. It is a way of receiving/perceiving–inter-being as Thich Nhat Hanh would say–with the world.
C: How accessible is learning the practices of Nada Yoga to those who wouldn’t call themselves musicians, or “musically inclined”? Is this an awareness that everyone can learn to access?
F: Yes, anybody can have an innocent way of receiving the sounds. Actually, non-musicians may do better, as they are not tempted to label/name/analyze. Erasing all tapes of previous belief systems is a prerequisite, so the less data/vrttis to erase the better. Most yoga students don’t know where the music is. They are delighted to be exposed to exciting stuff beyond Krishna Das, yoga pop with a groove and relaxing New Age junk.
C: Last weekend you began your 2012 Essential Teacher Training at Open Sky. How large a part of the curriculum will Nada yoga play for this year’s students? Do you believe this is something every teacher should be starting to explore?
F: In the teacher training not much, as we learn to See primarily; to read the body in asana as sacred architecture. We look at compensation patterns to minimize pathology and regain our humanness in posture and breath. The Pranayama Teacher Training (Aug. 31 – Sep. 3, 2012) following the essential one will begin to dive into sound, coming up next september for already certified teachers.
C: The first event features a guest speaker, Dr. Ellen Koskoff, Professor of Ethnomusicology at the Eastman School of Music. Do you hope to have a continuing relationship with the Eastman School? What other collaborations would you like to see in the future?
F: Yes, the world of yoga and the world of music are both so ethnocentric. I hope more teachers will come out of academia and share their passion, research, and their views on sound and music. Ellen Koskoff has done great work by hosting that show on the radio–simple, concise, but showing that there are so many “classical” musics, not just “ours”! It is an honor to have her opening the series…
C: You yourself earned a Master’s Degree in Ethnomusicology: how did your studies in music shape the way you approached teaching yoga?
F: Well, my master’s degree took me deep into the Himalayas to record Tibetan rituals in remote monasteries. It just happens those places are not far from where early yogis were meditating, like Mount Kailash. Also, the curiosity and desire to know where everything comes from is part of a spiritual quest…is there a Source (or Sources) from which we are still drinking?! It may also be that practicing music or an art is yoga. So the connection is obvious, personal practice and discovery being number one, not being addicted to taking classes. Teaching gives the signs.
C: Your second lecture, “To Drone or Not To Drone” will explore deep listening from Gregorian Chant all the way to Steve Reich. How do you introduce chant in your regular classes to students who have never done it before, or feel self conscious about making sounds as part of a group?
F: Well, it is a leap of faith. Just chanting open vowels, simple mantras like om, non-denominational humming, etc. Then in deep relaxation we listen to a wide range of compositions. Nothing pushy or extreme. Nothing systematic either… Most students enjoy the group resonance, the sympathetic resonance, the potential overtones, the energy of joined voices without the need to be a singer. Everybody has a voice and a need to come out!
C: Do you see this lecture series evolving to a regular “class” that is offered at Open Sky? Is weekly nada yoga in the future?
F: I hope so. A few times a year. Maybe also live performances with the audience in sitting and lying down yogic meditation….no casual listening! I am bringing David Darling here for a “Music for People” seminar in 2013, so non-musicians can improvise in a group. It’s a little bit like Bobby McFerrin (out of reach) but he already went to the Eastman voice department. That is one direction…. open the sky of yoga to all frequencies!! If life was a movie, could you be acutely aware of the soundtrack? Differences between what we call art or music and life vanish eventually. It’s the same between labor and play, sacred and profane. It’s all good! I hope this series of lectures/concerts will be a good beginning.
**Open Sky Yoga Center is Located at 5 Arnold Park, Rochester, New York 14607 (Behind the Zen Center)**