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The Melodies of Ashtanga
Ron Reid Hears The Music Of The Practice

Yoga City NYC, June 2011

Ron Reid is a celebrated ashtanga teacher known far and wide for his gentle assists. It turns out that he is also an accomplished musician and composer who describes the ashtanga series in his own melodious terms: “There is rhythm in the movement and sound in the breath, it's actually quite musical, the music is just not stated.”

Ron and his partner Marla Meenakshi Joy are coming down from Canada to give a workshop at The Shala this weekend. In advance of this practice, Yogacity NYC’s Anneke Lucas sat down with Ron to discuss his lyrical path in this serious practice.

Anneke Lucas: Most people don’t think of combining music with ashtanga. How did this start for you?
Ron Reid: I was a band musician from the age of 12, and came from the world of music to yoga and then ashtanga. When I wrote music I always knew it had a spiritual component, and when Meenakshi and I came together, she took on the role of adapting the chants. It’s kind of magical, the way we write.

AL: Your newest CD is called 'Music for Yoga Practice'. Can you describe it?
RR:The piece is about an hour and a half long; we wrote it specifically to cover the length of the primary series, putting music to the whole sequence. Combining movement and music is a pretty ancient practice. Even though we very much respect the tradition in the practice of ashtanga, we also explore. You don’t want to just do one thing and be very rigid about it. It’s the principles behind it that matter.

If you look at Krishnamacharya’s lineage, you see that. . .Desikachar, Mohan, Iyengar: they all contribute to the practice differently. Krishnamacharya saw that his students would take the yoga practice slightly in their own direction. That’s always in the back of my mind. Even though I love ashtanga, I may draw from other branches of the same tree.

AL: What was your introduction was to ashtanga?
RR: I saw a video by Richard Freeman, and went to spend some time with him in Boulder. Then we had Eddie Stern with us in Toronto. I found it very interesting, because stylistically they were very, very different. I decided I had to go see for myself, and traveled to Mysore in 1996.

On that trip, Chuck Miller and Mati Ezrati were my neighbors. Their approach is strongly coming from an Iyengar background, and I also like that with Richard, there was always something else going on, something poetic, something that was very inspiring.

AL: Richard also has a strong meditative background.
RR: That’s right. When you think that all of these things are coming from and returning to the same source… I try not to be too rigid.

AL: You have a reputation of putting your students’ needs before the demands of the practice
RR: In my travels to Europe Asia, and India, I encounter a lot of people that were injured by their teachers. That is criminal. Yoga studios are public - you can’t go out on the street and injure people! I feel that we need to be much more mindful, much more careful. If we start ashtanga, the eight limbs, from the beginning, with yama, then the first word we encounter is non-violence. [laughs]. I think it’s time for us to embrace the full practice, because Pattabhi Jois intended to teach it this way.

Krishnamacharya drew very heavily from the Sutras. He would make his students chant the Sutras one by one. And he would only move them on once they were able to chant a particular Sutra properly. I thought that sounded very familiar to how Guruji taught the practice. Often he would say ‘One by one you go!’ So I think that this was built into the practice, and that he did mean to include the philosophical system. But I think the level of the challenge was such that there was very little time for anything else, though he did also give satsangs.

AL: How did yoga come into your life?
RR: Partially through touring. I used to buy books for the trip and in this one bookstore I found this book, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. It looked fascinating to me. I think that’s when I started to practice the postures that were in the book, around 1975. A few years later I bought Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, and then used that. I was really happy doing my own thing.

AL: In the 1970’s, that is how many people practiced, on their own, from the books,
RR: Yes, it was a bit of an anomaly. A lot of my musician colleagues made fun of me.

AL: Musicians live a hard life. You pursued yoga, but you never left music.
RR: Music and yoga go so beautifully together; yoga is quite musical to me. Music is very Zen, very yogic already.

AL: Do you think music helps us do the asanas?
RR: After consciousness (purusha) and energy (prakrti) rhythm is the fundamental organizing force of the universe. Everything is held together by rhythm. Music also sustains a mood which can be uplifting. It is also connected energetically to the realm of consciousness. Therefore music has the power to sustain, lift and transform. So does yoga. In this way they can support each other. I don't feel that just any music will work: tempo, mood and having a quality of akasa or space are all essential, so yes the right music can play a role. When you watch somebody doing a nice fluid practice you can see that it is quite musical. Music can help us find that in our practice by sustaining the rhythm, the mood and the commitment, until we can find it on our own.

AL: Your style reminds me of Richard Freeman’s in some ways. He is very lyrical, has the same general philosophy, and he’s also very particular about alignment, which is not always the case in ashtanga.
RR: Well, you see that it makes a difference. I’ve been able to heal people from injuries strictly on the basis of alignment: seeing where the pressure goes, where you create more balance.

The reason I approach the practice as I do is because I want to be as inclusive as possible, so that anyone in town can take this yoga class, and that somewhere, through their background, through their bodies, they can accommodate the practice the way it suits them.

As Westerners we sometimes don’t consider the fact that we’re translating a practice that came from the East, for the West. In teacher training situations I give people a template body for what we have in North America: tight in the shoulders, arms, tight in the legs, tight hamstrings, tight in the thighs...This is what people are bringing into the yoga class. So to expect them to sit down and go into a lotus pose… That is just a long way off.

I feel moved by the needs of my students. I just try to meet them where they need to be met.

AL: Are you doing a kirtan during the workshop?
RR: We have nothing planned for now. But we always play during shavasana. Usually I will play harmonium, Meenakshi will chant and I will sing harmony. It's very simple but beautiful.

Ron and his partner Marla Meenakshi Joy will be at The Shala this weekend for a mysore ashtanga and hands-on adjustments/enhancements workshop:

Friday, May 13
7 to 9:45 am: mysore ashtanga with Ron Reid and Marla Meenakshi Joy 6:30 to 8:30 pm: hands-on adjustments/enhancements

Saturday, May 14
12-4 pm: hands-on adjustments/enhancements

Sunday, May 15
8-9:45 am: mysore ashtanga 12-4 pm: hands-on adjustments/enhancements


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