Monday, November 29, 2010

Jazz and the art of yoga

In a recent interview, the jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter said,

"I like to say that playing jazz gives us humanity in that it presents us with the challenge of not knowing what is going to happen. And not knowing what is going to happen has to do with improvisation. There is an element of fear of the unknown or fear of something different. Hesitancy and reticence to certain degrees create the monster called fear.

On stage, it's something like being vulnerable--we forget music lessons. We want to depict moments of struggle--to have the audience see us struggling and then break out of those moments and create victory. Reaching for something that transcends the temporary and unpredictability of life. Tragedy is temporary. But the mission is constant. Playing jazz gives us courage to challenge and conquer any difficulties even under unexpected circumstances."

When I first read these words, I was struck by how similar the process of making music is to the yoga practice: If you replace "playing jazz" in Shorter's words with "doing yoga", you get a perfect description of the yoga practice!

Every time we get on the mat, we are faced with the challenge of not knowing what is going to happen: We do not know what today's practice is going to be like, and what kinds of things are going to come up in our bodies and minds. So we have to improvise: We observe what is going on breath by breath, and adjust our practice accordingly, moment by moment. We accept what is happening, become totally open and vulnerable to everything and anything the practice throws our way. We struggle both physically and mentally with postures that evoke fear and anxiety in us. But if we stay in the struggle, we will find the moment and the space to break through and win over our fear and anxiety. The "tragedy" of pain and discomfort is temporary. But the mission--courageously and fearlessly confronting the unknown and overcoming the challenges that the practice presents--is eternal. This is true of jazz, of yoga, and ultimately, of life itself.   


  1. The tragedy, oh yes... I am feeling very drama queen today, loved the post, tweeted it too. :-) poetry!

  2. Glad you like the post, Claudia. I've always believed that yoga is an art form :-)