How Is Yoga Like The Grateful Dead?

In his first guest blog post, yoga teacher Dave Romanelli reflects on the similarities between the yoga community and Deadheads.
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In his first guest blog post, yoga teacher Dave Romanelli reflects on the similarities between the yoga community and Deadheads.

By Dave Romanelli

Last month I had the honor to teach a new workshop, “The Grateful Dead Yoga Hour,” at the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco. (Watch the video recapping the experience.)

For the past 7 years, I've toured the United States to share my Yoga and Chocolate, Yoga and Wine, and Yoga for Foodies workshops. These classes are great fun. But I kept thinking I wanted to do even more to capture that delicious sense of living in the moment found in these kinds of sensory experiences. And the only thing I know that sparks more sensation in me than chocolate, wine, and yoga is ... The Grateful Dead!

When I began doing yoga in 1996, a year after Jerry Garcia died, I noticed right away the similarities between the communities. At yoga studios in Phoenix, we'd have kirtan concerts and potluck parties in which people would bring veggie burritos and dole out delicious hugs. Hmmmm, something about these yoga parties felt familiar from the loving parking lot vibe I'd experienced in and around Dead concerts.

The similarities don't end with the hugs and burritos.

Like yoga and its surrounding industry, the Dead and its followers were often misunderstood and even dismissed. But this wasn't simply a hippie music show. The Dead itself became a self-sustaining business that promoted the ideas of community (it employed dozens of longtime "family" members, creating an entire cottage industry) and eco-responsibility (its "leave nothing behind but footprints" motto was the precursor to modern festival eco-values). And it worked. At the peak of its popularity from 1990-1995, the LA Times reported that the Grateful Dead grossed more than $225 million in concert tickets in North America.

For those who loved the Grateful Dead, it wasn't about the business, of course, but the sparkling sounds coming from Jerry Garcia's guitar, the carnival atmosphere, the community, the parking lot experience, the scent of fun, and of course, those piping hot veggie burritos. Late last summer, when I first proposed to the Yoga Journal Conference team the idea of doing a class pairing music and memories from the Grateful Dead with yoga, I sent out a message asking yogis around the nation for their thoughts and memories. Among the responses I heard descriptions like “community,” “connected,” “gives me hope,” “makes me smile,” “a sensory feast.” The Dead evoked emotions, connections, and a passion that cuts right to the heart and soul.

Yogis likewise may appreciate the industry of yoga (the conferences, the magazines, the ability to buy cool yoga clothes with mottos that reflect our values and allow us to move comfortably during asana), but we do the practice for how it centers us and creates awareness of our own bodies, for the inspiration and friendship we feel with our teachers and classmates, for the wonderful sense of community we experience by being part of a larger movement and by adding our voices to the collective Om we send out into the universe.

But above all, I believe the most powerful similarity between yoga and the Grateful Dead is the inherent message to live in the moment.

While it's so easy to look back on a golden era in our past (for some, it may be the days of going to Dead shows) as the best days and moments of our lives, the truth is:

NOW is always the best time in life. For all it's glory or pain, this moment is the BEST moment because it's the only moment.

Or as Jerry Garcia sang in "Ramble on Rose":

"The grass ain't greener

The wine ain't sweeter

On either side of the hill."

Since 2004, David Romanelli has been traveling the world sharing his Yoga for Foodies, Yoga + Chocolate, and Yoga + Wine experiences. David's work has been featured in Food & Wine, The New York Times, Newsweek, and Oprah Magazine; and his book Yeah Dave's Guide to Livin the Moment reached #1 on the Amazon Self-Help Bestseller List. Check out his website: www.yeahdave.com, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.