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Everyone Deserves Music

Musician Michael Franti, leader of the band Spearhead, believes in enjoying yoga and music together, to open your heart ever wider.

By Nancy Dionne

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Franti's own daily two-hour Ashtanga practice inspires his music and his lyrics, which are nothing if not an attempt to apply yoga to his worldview and speak honestly, nonviolently, and poetically about the injustices he sees around him. He brings the same collaborative approach that he enjoys onstage with fellow musicians to performances with such yoga superstars as Sean Corne, Sharon Gannon and David Life, Nicki Doane and Eddie Modestini, and Shiva Rea, all of whom he has joined for yoga class-concerts that set asana practice to his inspired acoustic sets.

How has your yoga practice helped your music? A lot of the music I write is a part of my yoga. The first thing is speaking your truth and being able to say what you mean and mean what you say. The second thing is to keep a sense of playfulness and openheartedness while still saying what you mean. And the practice of ahimsa and nonviolence and connecting with others—and also just the word yoga itself, "union"—is one of my ways of connecting with other people on the planet. So I really look at my performances as yoga, a way to connect heart, mind, and body with other hearts, minds, and bodies.

How and where do your yoga and music intersect? t the moment, they really intersect on the road. I visit a different yoga studio every day on tour, and touring different yoga studios is a really amazing way to see the country. I've visited places in the world where you just wouldn't expect there to be strong teaching or even any practitioners. Then you go and find that "Wow, there's this amazing teacher!" And I'm building a yoga retreat in Bali called the Stay Human Yoga Retreat. It's a place where I have a music studio to record in as well as practice yoga in, and I'm inviting other teachers who would like to bring their students to practice for a week of intense training.

When you play music for yoga classes, do you work with the teacher or do you improvise? Both. I usually think 
of a list of songs I'd like to play, and then I break every rule. Yoga is an emotional thing for the teacher and students. You have to consider the day of the week, the time of day, the political climate. All those things go into making each class different. I allow myself to be open to people's energies and take cues from them. I try to sing songs that will be inspiring in parts of the practice that may be difficult. What comes up for me during an intense hip opener is different from what comes up during a standing pose or a new arm balance. So I try to be aware of that and play with the rhythm of the practice.

Music can enhance practice, but 
can't it also distract you? The potential for distraction is all around. You could be distracted by a painting on the wall, or a smell, or your thoughts. Music can enhance your practice or take you away from examining yourself. Which is why we practice. Music, at its best, helps us to go deeper within ourselves. When my father passed away, 
I practiced to songs that touched me. U2's "The Sweetest Thing" helped me cry, reminisce, let it all out, and heal. Spending hours alone on the mat with music as motivation helped me get through that grief. Combining yoga 
with music can really open the doors 
to our hearts, which allows us to 
release more freely.

To learn more about Franti, see Let the Music Move You or visit Stay Human.

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