In Jon’s words…
It’s such an honor for me to create a safe environment where people can let go for a moment, opening themselves up to greater possibilities. I like it when people can come into this safe space and let go of the stories they carry and can experience a greater perspective of themselves beyond intellect and maybe for this one moment of their day they can feel as one with the universe.
I like the concept of “we are all one.” At the start of a class, people are coming from their homes or their jobs. Perhaps they have just stepped out of their cars. We are all coming in as separate beings who most likely haven’t had any contact with each other. So, I’m looking for ways to move the energy from a space of separateness to a space of unity. To create some of sort of “ahhhh” experience in the beginning of class where we bond with one another. A lot of it is about creating a peaceful and soothing environment, so we can really let go. Even letting go of letting go, and dropping in a little further. Dropping into the One. I’ve had a lot of teachers over the years and one of them is Ram Dass. His guru Maharaji would always shake his hand and show all his fingers and then bring them together just holding one finger up, suggesting we are all one.
There are lots of methods out there to get where you want to go. Method, method, method. So, the question becomes, “what method are you going to choose to get there?” It could be your religious tradition, your Buddhist practice, yoga, meditation or whatever method funnels you down to the universal core. My teacher Ram Dass shared with me that eventually we get to the point where we realize that all methods can be traps. We don’t want to get so attached to our method that we become the method. We ultimately want to be free, and methods are the vehicles for getting there. Embrace them fully but let go of them when they have done their job or run their course, and not to be afraid to use different methods at different times in our lives. For me, at this moment, one of the methods that I am using is Nada Yoga, which is the yoga of sound. It has been a method of mine for a long time now. When music is paired with yoga, I believe it becomes a powerful tool.
Nada Yoga, I feel, is the cradle of all of the yoga traditions. It dives in on a cellular and molecular level. Atoms. The Universe. Vibration. In conversations with my friend and teacher Ty Burhoe, we talk about how each individual is made up of a vibrating mass of particles that are all working together in unison. These particles are all attracted to each other and, in essence, we are all being craved and loved into existence by the Universe. We use our five senses to navigate through our world (sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound) but can only pick up .005 percent of the vibration that is occurring within and all around us. Though it might seem as if we are contained within our skin, in actuality, the vibrations our bodies are projecting are extending across the room, across the state, across the planet. Never ending. We are all interacting together in a much more intimate way than we might think. We are made up of a tremendous amount of energy. This energy is the music of the Universe. We are music.
That message is what I want to transmit to others. To connect with people through music and cue them into awakening with vibration. It ultimately comes down to a kind of tuned listening. Not just listening with our ears, but listening with our whole being for our own vibration, the vibration of others around us, and soon we sense our own vibration is the vibration of the universe. And there is very little, actually, there is nothing that is separating us.
I began playing music as a young person. Starting with trumpet then moving to drums and other percussion instruments. Tabla came into my life about sixteen years ago. I was on a retreat with Ram Das and Krishna Das at Breitenbush Hot Springs, and I saw Ty Burhoe playing tabla with Krishna Das. Instantly, I recognized the sound of the tabla from an album called Diga Rhythm Band by Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain. I loved the sound of the tabla but had never seen it before in person. As I went on more retreats with Ram Dass, Krishna Das and Ty, we all became friends. Ty offered to teach me tabla which I gladly took him up on.
In the beginning of learning to play tabla, I didn’t know what was going to become of it. I had been a drummer playing in a rock band. Tabla became fascinating to me. At the same time, I was spending a lot of time with Ram Das and his teachings. I could feel this evolution of spirituality in my music, and I could consciously see there was a deep path within this music. But in the beginning, I had no idea what I was really getting into. I had a choice, take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. Or, take the red pill— and see how deep the rabbit hole goes. I took the one that went deep down the rabbit hole. When you dive into the tradition of tabla, and the history of what it’s all about, there are so many levels. Technical levels, but also the spiritual aspects of playing Indian music are profound.
I’ve been playing live music with yoga for the past 5 years and it’s been a fascinating evolution. Each class requires dropping into the present moment and working musically with each asana and each sequence of movement. Over the years, I have watched myself grow to become more present with the class and in turn more present with myself. I have received a lot of positive feedback from people coming to our Sound Flow classes. I’ve seen the affect music has when it’s combined with yoga and how it becomes something for people to hang onto in a class. For example, if one is in a balancing asana such as tree pose, a steady low pulse of a drum can be an anchor to hold onto and helps keep your tree from swaying too far in the wind.
Music with yoga can have many rolls. If we are going through a sequence of asanas that require strength and stamina, I can shift the music to support the class. Likewise, if the class is laying down doing gentle movements, I can shift to soothing sounds of the flute or handpan and create a lullaby or something nurturing. For me, playing music is so much about listening. Whether I am playing classical Indian music or with Jeny Rae leading yoga, I am doing my best to stay in the moment.
In the workshops I have been doing recently, I have been utilizing field recordings which I have made at some of my favorite locations in the northwest. The last Sound Flow Experience workshop we did was inspired by a trip I took out to the Hoh Rainforest. I worked with Jeny Rae and two great musicians, Abraham Neuwelt and Michael Howard. In this workshop, we took a musical journey along the Hoh River, bringing us down to the Pacific Ocean and back. I’ve made many field recording there of rivers, streams, rain, and various sounds of nature. I use these sounds as an ambient backdrop to help tell the story of our journey. I also use video I recorded at the Hoh Rainforest and put it up on a large projector during the workshop to show gentle streams, rivers, and the ocean. For a moment, you might think that you have been transported to the Hoh. It is a fascinating experience and I am having a blast doing it. I am so grateful for all the people working with me to create these events and all the people attending them. It really becomes a collective collaboration with the musicians and the people attending. When we all get together in a space and go on these journeys together it really is one of the great pleasures in my life.
Right now, I’m working on an album that uses these field recordings. The album consists of two 90 minute tracks. One is a journey in the Hoh Rainforest and the other is a journey on Mount Rainier. On both of these recordings, I’m playing a variety of musical instruments including tabla, handpan, singing bowls, gongs, Native American flute and more. I also have some amazing musician friends joining me. This album is intended for use in yoga classes, for massage therapists sessions, bodywork sessions, personal relaxation and rejuvenation, and so much more.
I’m also excited to be producing a series of events this year, 2016, starting May 20th with my friends, Ty Burhoe (tabla master) and Steve Oda who is a great maestro of the sarode. May 20th we will be in Seattle at Aditi Studio doing a workshop called Ambient Bliss with yin yoga teacher, Leah Adams. May 21st, Steve and Ty will be performing the Music of India at Grace Church on Bainbridge Island at 7:30pm. The morning of May 21st at 9:30am we are collaborating with yoga teacher, Jeny Rae to do a 3-hour Sound Flow Experience at Dayaalu. The workshops we’re doing consist of three parts: Musical Universe, yoga, and sound bath. Ty has been teaching a workshop he calls Musical Universe all around the world and will share his teachings with us in the first hour of the workshop. Next, we will move into the yoga with live music led by Maestro Steve Oda accompanied by Ty and myself. We’ll end our practice with a soothing sound bath. It’s an experience you will not want to miss.
I would like to thank you, Neva, for doing this interview with me and providing such a comfortable space for it. I would also like to thank Sue Steindorf, Jeny Rae and Dayaalu for giving me such a great place to practice the yoga of life with so many beautiful people. It is such a gift in my life.