Choir is so much more than singing the notes on a page. It is a full body experience requiring dedication, practice, strength, patience, and a deep emotional understanding of music and composition. Likewise, yoga is not limited to the physical practice on the mat. It is a lifestyle that consists of devotion, understanding, spirituality, breathing, chanting, and selfless service. I have been a member of Virginia Choristers for five years, and I have been doing Yoga with Nitya for eight. Now at age thirteen, I have had a realization: although the two practices of choir and yoga are extremely different, they have similarities at their core.
The six branches of the lifestyle of yoga are Jnana, Bhakti, Raja, Karma, Hatha, and Japa. These practices directly correspond to my experiences as a member of Virginia Choristers.
Jnana: The study of spiritual texts
Virginia Choristers is a diverse group of kids from many cultural and religious backgrounds. We rarely sing in English and often study different texts, Gods, and traditions. We sing about Gods such as Indra, Jesus, Allah, and Buddha. Each singer does not have to have a personal connection to the particular God in each piece of music, but our religions tie us together and make us a stronger group of singers. “Truth is one, paths are many.”
Bhakti: Devotion to a higher power or teacher
I believe that no matter what higher power or teacher you follow; their presence can be found in music. When a musical chord or harmony is sung with perfect precision, over-tones are often produced. This is when a set number of notes is being sung, but the listener can hear more notes popping like fireworks through the air and their ears buzz. It is an out of body experience where I often find a higher connection beyond the notes on the page. The true essence of Bhakti yoga is devotion, belief, and connection. Finding those spaces where you can feel a greater presence can be difficult, but if you listen closely, you may hear it buzzing through the air.
Raja: The quest for understanding who you are
When I play piano or sing, I feel as if my heart and soul are playing, not my brain. I am verbalizing the true essence of my inner core and I feel as if each piece brings me closer to discovering who I am. As a young six or seven-year-old, I found it extremely difficult to sit still on a yoga mat and meditate. Now that I am thirteen, I still have days where my mind is jumping all around and I can’t focus on my meditation practice. Days like these are when I turn to music. I close my eyes and let my fingers dance across the keyboard, and I open my mouth to let my heart sing. When I’m playing music, I feel that same stillness and silence that I am always searching for in a seated mediation practice. Music is where I can look inside and ask myself one of the most difficult questions, “Who am I?”
Karma: The practice of selfless service
This past year, I volunteered to be a Virginia Choristers Choir Intern. Every Monday and Wednesday, I make copies of music, write emails, talk to parents, help other singers learn their music, and clean up after concerts. The jobs that I do aren’t always the most interesting, but I know that I am helping my directors so that they can do the work they love. Karma Yoga stresses the importance of doing good without expecting anything in return. I feel that my interning is Karma Yoga, but in a way I do get something in return. I get the privilege of learning about professionalism and music from some of the most talented people in the field. That is one of the greatest rewards I could ask for.
Hatha: The physical practice
Yoga and choir are similar because they both require breath control and awareness. Proper technique consists of good posture, breath support, focus, and a healthy body. Singers need the maximum amount of sleep to stay on pitch. Frequent exercise and a healthy diet are essential to improve a musician’s overall mood and stamina. Singers and Yogis must have a healthy body and calm mind in order to perform at their best.
Japa: The practice of chanting and singing prayers
Every time I participate in a choir rehearsal or concert, I feel like I am getting closer to a higher power. When I chant or sing phrases in Arabic, Hindi, Hebrew, French, Swahili, or Italian, I may not always understand each word, but I can feel the energy and emotion throughout the piece. I have recently discovered beautiful similarities between the words I chant on a yoga mat and those I sing in the choir room. They provide me with the same sense of tranquility, fill my heart with joy, help me to discover who I am, and connect me to something that I could never see with my eyes or touch with my hands. Yoga and music are beyond human comprehension. They are not an activity, but a spiritual energy that I carry with me wherever I go.
Vani Claudia Sachs is pictured to the right of her cousin Olivia. Vani has been a student of mine for 8 years, since she was 5 years old. I could not be more proud of how she has incorporated living yoga into so many aspects of her own life revealing an incredible maturity, wisdom, and sense of spirituality far beyond her years.