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Feel the Vibration

To survive life on the road, many rock and pop stars have turned to yoga and then let it lead them deeper. Read stories from Alanis Morissette, Moby, Maroon 5, Ziggy Marley, and Bonnie Raitt.

By Diane Anderson

Alanis Morissette, 37, was thrust into stardom's spotlight back in 1995, making rock history with Jagged Little Pill, which sold 33 million copies worldwide to become the best-selling debut album by a female artist. The pop-rock anthem "You Oughta Know" embodied the raw emotion and the conflicted feelings of a spurned lover. Although disc jockeys may have bleeped out the most explicit words, they gave the song widespread radio play, and listeners around the world found themselves identifying with the young Canadian's tale of heartbreak. At the time, Morissette was just 21.

Her ascent to stardom was grueling and left precious little time to unwind or reflect. Looking back, she says she's glad she got to meet so many people and see the world, but admits that touring blasted her body and soul. The intensity was wearing.

Craving some alone time, she would hide out backstage, in hotel rooms, or even in bathroom stalls—anywhere that she could get some distance from the madness and tune back in to herself. She needed to recharge between performances, interviews, and all the demands on her energy, and at some point she realized that, rather than hiding out, she needed to truly rejuvenate herself. "I wanted to find a practice that was both physical and spiritual. Yoga was perfect for that," she says. "I felt like I was born to do yoga."

Her first taste of the practice was Yoga Mind & Body, a DVD made by the actress Ali MacGraw with renowned yoga teacher Erich Schiffmann, which Morissette discovered toward the end of the Jagged Little Pill tour. Since then, she has tried everything from Ashtanga to Bikram to Kundalini, Iyengar, Shadow, and Yin, and she has studied with a variety of well-known teachers, including Kathryn Budig, Sara Ivanhoe, Matt Pesendian, Nicki Doane, and Eddie Modestini. She loves vinyasa flow.

Fortunately, Morissette's twin brother, Wade Imre Morissette, is a yoga teacher and kirtan artist. He is, she says, one of her favorite teachers, not just because of their close connection but also because he combines a respect for tradition with "a recognition of the realities of modern life."

The realities of Morissette's busy life now include marriage, to rapper Mario "MC Souleye" Treadway, and a new baby, Ever Imre, born on Christmas Day 2010 at home in Los Angeles. Morissette's new album will be released this winter.

She's been committed to yoga for years now, something that was evident when she rocked a full Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose) with both hands clasping her foot on the day of her cover shoot. Her husband has started practicing, and you figure it's just a matter of time before Ever gets on the mat, too.

Yoga Journal: What do you love most about your practice?

Alanis Morissette: It gives me a great microcosmic snapshot, a clear picture of what's going on in my life. If I push myself on the mat, it's likely I'm pushing myself off the mat as well—a cue to be gentle. When I don't practice, there's a lack of checking in on my part. How I approach my time on the mat gives me a glimpse of my needs. It's a great invitation to tune in to what's really going on.

YJ: Has it affected your creative process?

AM: The impetus to do yoga comes from the same place where my songs are birthed. When I'm writing songs or doing yoga, I'm curious about what's really going on: What's happening in my body? What's happening in my heart? What's happening in my life? What's happening in the larger context of the planet? What's happening in the evolution of consciousness? What's happening in my knee? It's all the same muscle of curiosity.

That's the most powerful quality I bring to my own creative process. It's just this curiosity that shows up, which I love. There's also a lack of judgment. When I was 21 and doing yoga, I would kick my ass because I wasn't flexible enough or because I was depleted. Now, I just notice.

YJ: Has yoga helped you in relationships?

AM: I think that the more mature qualities, such as curiosity, nonjudgmentalness, and noticing—those benign qualities help. In my moments of conflict with the people I love, I aspire to manifest those qualities.

My commitment to the practice definitely pays off in my relationships because it requires me to be courageous and push myself to my edge, but also to cut myself a lot of slack and be gentle. So I push myself to my edge and then relax into it—that's kind of how I live my life these days.

YJ: How did you arrive in a place where you were ready to be in a relationship?

AM: Oh, by messing up left, right, and center for years and years in a row. Being a love addict. Being a co-dependent. Not having enough self-knowledge. As I moved toward more self-knowledge, I realized I'm an alpha female. There's no way around that one. I started to figure out who would be a good teammate in this journey. And I waited to find the kind of person who would be an incredible man to be the father to my future children.

Until I knew who I really was, I had no idea who would be the perfect complement to me. I had to figure out how to be responsible for my sensitivity and for what I needed around my career and self-care. The more I knew what I needed, the more it became innate.

Before, if I dated someone and there was chemistry, I would just go for it. Chemistry is hugely important, but I moved beyond the "Wow, his eyes are so deep, and I just wanna make out," you know? Later, the first question I'd always ask became "What's your mission?" I didn't want someone overly obsessed with work or travel. When my future husband said his mission was to be an incredible husband and father and to be of service through his art, I was like, "Whoa, this really warrants more time and energy."

YJ: Did yoga help you during your pregnancy?

AM: It's all about awareness. I am a naturally flexible person, and relaxin, that hormone released during pregnancy, made me more so. I had to learn not to overstretch or injure myself.

I've always attempted to focus on the spiritual-ascension process and philosophy and intellectualism—all heady pursuits, you know? But I'd have these moments of revelation when I was taking a walk, when it would hit me like a ton of bricks: I'm an animal. There's a physiology to me, DNA, genetic predisposition, muscles, bones, ligaments, and hormones. I turned into this science experiment!

YJ: How has your practice changed over the years?

AM: There's a quiet power that I hadn't really cultivated 10 or 15 years ago. Back then, everything was kind of balls to the wall, soldier style. Now I can call upon the soldier when I need it, but it's not the default position I go to.

These days, my practice isn't uninterrupted. I'll practice for 35 minutes, and then I'll have to breastfeed. Then I'll go back to my yoga. The mat just stays there, and I just keep coming back to it.

Interview with Moby

Moby, the master of ambient electronica, sold 10 million copies of his 1999 album Play and has been touring the globe creating awesome musical mixes ever since. He released his latest album, Destroyed, in May. A native New Yorker now living in LA, Moby (born Richard Melville Hall) is a longtime vegan and animal rights activist.

One of his oldest friends is Eddie Stern, director of Ashtanga Yoga New York; they were drinking buddies in their preyoga days. Over the years, Stern has instructed him in Ashtanga, and Moby says he's tried Kundalini and many other styles, ending up with "my own strange, cobbled-together practice that I do five times a week."

Yoga Journal: What Inspires you to practice?

Moby: I enjoy the quiet strength, both physical and mental, that results. I'm reminded that I'm human and need to be patient with myself. The constant reminder to focus on the breath is key. Yoga infuses my life with a greater sense of calm. It's quiet and meditative, and it makes me a little less anxious, less inclined to indulge anger and fear. It's certainly turned the volume down on the more desperate thoughts.

YJ: Are you plagued with those?

Moby: I used to be. I went to the Academy Awards this year. I had a few good conversations and, at a certain point, I was perfectly happy to go home and read my favorite book, the Tao Te Ching, which makes me laugh and reminds me what my orientation to myself and the universe should be. Before I had a yoga or meditation practice, I'd want to stay out until six o'clock in the morning and desperately grab every last bit of fun I could—with selfish behavior and really nasty consequences.

YJ: What is your "orientation to yourself and the universe"?

Moby: Listen to the quiet voices and try to conserve your energy, not waste it. Ultimately, in all things, don't take yourself too seriously and, whenever possible, don't feed your ego.

YJ: That's got to be hard in the LA music scene.

Moby: It's easy for me because I'm bald and I don't sing very well. It'd be harder if I were 22, gorgeous, danced well, and sang beautifully. But my limitations are always clearly in front of me. Humility is thrust upon me left and right.

YJ: You're a passionate vegan.

Moby: And yoga helps with my activism. My inclination is to be really harsh and judgmental, but unfortunately I'm not omniscient, so whenever I'm harsh and judgmental, I just end up making a lot of mistakes. Yoga and meditation remind me not to be harsh, not to be judgmental. Even if I disagree with someone, I don't have to be a jerk about it.

If I meet someone eating a bacon sandwich, who loves Glenn Beck, thinks Obama was born in Kenya, and firmly believes that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, I might disagree on all points, but getting angry doesn't accomplish anything. I've learned, over time, to be a more decent, more effective advocate for the causes I believe in. My approach in the past was to yell at people. I've learned that when you yell at people, you just make them defensive. So I try not to yell as much.

YJ: I've read you're Christian.

Moby: I love the teachings of Christ, but the universe is 15 billion years old and complicated beyond anything I can understand. I like the teachings of Christ, Buddha, everything. I'm wary about calling myself a Christian; when someone calls themselves by a label, they are implying that they are right.

I do not for a minute think that I'm right about anything. Maybe we die and go to heaven, and a guy with a long, flowing beard sits in judgment of us, but I doubt it.

I have a feeling the universe is more forgiving and loving than we have traditionally, culturally, given it credit for. If God ended up being petty and angry, it'd be so sad. If you are God and you understand how everything in the universe works, why would you judge these poor, stumbling, shortsighted humans who are just blindly trying to figure out how to stay alive from one day to the next?

Interview with Ziggy Marley

Yoga helped Ziggy Marley arrive at his life's philosophy: Love is his religion.

Son of the legendary reggae sensation Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, 42, says yoga has long been influential in his life.

As a young man, Ziggy and his siblings formed a group called the Melody Makers and sang positive songs with consciousness-raising lyrics, creating hits like "Give a Little Love" and "Reggae Revolution." Since 2003, Marley has released four albums on his own, including the Grammy-winning Love Is My Religion (2006), which was a major hit with the yoga community and is still in heavy rotation in many studios. His 2009 release, Family Time, featured Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, and Jack Johnson and won a Grammy for best children's album. His new album is called Wild and Free. Marley and his wife, Orly, have six children, and they split their time between Miami and Los Angeles.

"I didn't get into yoga for the exercise," says Marley. "For me, it was about spirituality, not poses. I got into the poses after." He was seeking wisdom and started reading books about yoga when he was in high school in Jamaica. Autobiography of a Yogi was one standout. "Then I started doing the postures and got meditation from books, which was especially beneficial." Marley's favorite poses are the inversions Plow and Headstand, which he finds energize his brain. An avid soccer player and frequent runner, Marley says his body is tight. "The postures open up energy centers and help keep me on an even keel. Very, very calm. Very centered. I just accept that I feel good and calm."

Nicki Doane and Eddie Modestini are among his favorite teachers and have joined him on tour, but Marley is basically self-taught, with no set routine. He practices because it feels good. "I have to say, it gives me a high. It does make me feel a nice feeling, a high. And then I can settle down to meditate."

His kids occasionally join in. "They are much more flexible than I am," he jokes. But he likes that yoga helps him feel alive and good. "I just feel better when I do it. My own philosophy is love. Yoga was a part of me reaching that full realization that love is the ultimate thing, the only thing that lasts. And yoga helps us realize the big questions of life, and yoga helped me realize love is the answer."

Interview with Maroon 5

Los Angeles rock band Maroon 5 won a Grammy as best new artist in 2005 for its debut album, Songs About Jane. In 2006, some of the band mates took up yoga as a balm for the tour-heavy life that has helped the group sell nearly 15 million albums worldwide. Frontman Adam Levine, 32, an avid weightlifter, had broken his sternum, and his trainer suggested yoga to keep him in shape and release tension. He came to love it. Now, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, 32, has completed teacher training and hopes to make yoga a regular part of their touring life. And there's talk of a Twitter contest for fans to join in a backstage class before shows.

Yoga Journal: You started practicing in the last few years.

Adam Levine: A lot of things I'm passionate about I didn't set out to do and maybe even resisted. Singing wasn't a major aspiration—I wanted to play guitar, but I sang because I could. Same with yoga. I was weightlifting when my trainer recommended yoga for tightness. After my first vinyasa class, that was it. I was totally blown away and never worked out with weights again. I felt exhausted but also peaceful and relaxed. It changed my whole approach to life.

YJ: What changes did you notice?

AL: I won't lie: At the beginning, it was 100 percent physical for me. I had lactic acid from working out. I couldn't touch my toes. People who say that they don't do yoga for the physical benefits are full of it. It makes you look great, which is cool, but it also makes you feel great. Both are awesome.

It puts me in a completely different place mentally now. The practice slows me down. I have to focus so intently, I'm not thinking about anything else. My mind is free of the typical thoughts. Yoga really revolutionized my life.

YJ: When you're on tour, when do you practice?

AD: Right before I go onstage. It's my prep, absolutely. Performing is an unnatural thing to do for a living. You get up onstage with bright lights. It's loud and people are screaming. It's not a peaceful environment, you know? So if you can create that for yourself and have a bit of silence before going out there, it's a good thing.

It's nice to have routines to come back to when you are in a constantly fluctuating state. I'm here, there, on a bus, on a plane, in a hotel. It's sensory overload. An hour or so of yoga a day really recenters me.

YJ: It seems like a lot of musicians turn to yoga on tour.

Jesse Carmichael: So much of the weirdness of the touring experience has to do with the time differences traveling around the world. The lack of roots can make you feel pretty ungrounded. Yoga instills the idea of being in the now. So I don't get as lost in the weirdness of touring. Plus, just physically, it helps keep up endurance for the shows. And my meditation practice helps me center and connect.

Right now, I'm working on the mantra, "May I be filled with lovingkindness. May I be well. May I be filled with peace and ease. May I be happy." Next, I'll expand and include people around me being well until everyone is included. It sort of reminds me of the security video in airplanes: Secure your own mask first.

YJ: What do you enjoy most about your yoga?

JC: Yoga is an exciting mystery that helps me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I don't worry as much about the future or the past. It helps me with my sense of impatience. Things change slowly. Improving as a musician, and as a yogi, is a gradual process. That's what I'm most grateful about. And the idea of structure or discipline has carried over into my creative life. Structure is like the sides of the river. In order for the river to flow, you have to have these sides. Otherwise, the river would just spread out and evaporate. Whenever you introduce structure, your energy can flow.

YJ: Is there such a thing as a yogi rocker?

AL: When I'm on the road, I practice every day to keep me sane. But I'm also not a saint: I drink and party and do stupid stuff every once in a while. But I balance it out.

Everyone thinks, "Oh, you do yoga; you must be serene." If anything, yoga makes me more intense. It's such a primal practice. It definitely puts me in a comfortable place, but it makes me even more spirited. It magnifies aspects of my personality that are fiery, and it brings out my natural tendencies. Your nature shines through when you do yoga a lot. It's made me really confident and comfortable with who I am.

Interview with Bonnie Raitt

Blueswoman Bonnie Raitt taps her creative wellspring with yoga.

Guitarist and singer Bonnie Raitt, 61, is something of a music legend, with 18 albums and nine Grammy Awards to her credit as well as a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of of Fame. She's played with such legends as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Committed to political activism as well as music, Raitt lives in Northern California and is a passionate yogi.

Yoga Journal: Tell us about your yoga practice.

Bonnie Raitt: I've been practicing yoga since around '91, when I was off the road, and a friend invited me to share her home practice. She was a wonderful teacher, and soon after, I began classes at my local yoga studios. I felt the benefits immediately and knew that this was a way for me to be able to both get and stay fit and to also deepen on a spiritual and creative level.

I've enjoyed investigating different styles, like Iyengar, hatha, Yin, vinyasa, and various blends. I like mixing up my teachers and styles, as I feel it enriches both my practice and my understanding of the sutras and yoga tradition.

The last 15 years or so, I've mostly been practicing an intermediate-level vinyasa flow about three times a week when I'm home, and I carry my mat and props with me to practice in my hotel on the road.

I occasionally drop in on classes when I'm traveling, but I find, in my situation, using DVDs and just creating my own program works fine.

Although I don't usually get a full hour and a half of practice outside class, something I'd like to get better at, I find doing little "yoga bits" during my walks or in between business or household chores also brings great benefits. It's amazing how much privacy you can get on a hiking trail, using a park bench, steps, or even tree trunks for leverage.

YJ: Why do you practice?

BR: I have found so many benefits from my yoga practice. Aside from its being a wonderful way to get and stay fit and strong, I love the calming effect it has on my mind and nervous system. I was raised in the Quaker tradition, and yoga provides a similar path to achieving quiet, centering on your true spirit, and connecting to the earth and to a bigger community.

Like a lot of us, I spend too much time in my head, always trying to catch up with my list of what's to do. With all the increasingly fast ways of communicating and the pressure to fit more things in, I find that yoga, meditation, and pPranayama breathing are essential to helping me achieve more focus, balance, and peace.

I love the fellowship I feel with my community in class. It's one of the places where I can really feel part of the group. I love that there's no sense of competition, no pressure to be perfect, and very little sense of being checked out.

I love the variety of ages, body types, and abilities around me, and even when we're being challenged, the fact that we're all pushing together with the same goals helps us spur each other on. I've told my teacher that I'd probably never push myself as far as she gets us to go. It's a devotion that brings me pride as well as making me feel great after every class.

YJ: Has yoga made you a better artist?

BR: I think that having an anchor practice has helped me cope with fitting my business and home lives with my artistic life.

As asanas prepare you for meditation, so practicing yoga and meditating help you center into yourself. That includes the deep well of creativity and expression inside us all. But for an artist, it is crucial.

Honoring that more spiritual, intuitive side is as important a part of the gift of yoga as feeling healthier physically. Anything that can help you take better care of yourself—all parts of yourself—gives every aspect of your life more aliveness and meaning.

The way yoga brings you to yourself can't but help an artist tap into that deeper well. Yoga and art are actually very similar: The challenge of stretching beyond your comfort zone, of learning to breathe and surrender into places that are painful or tight, is sometimes also what allows a profound artistic opening.

Opening to our true Self, tapping into the bigger One that we are, after all, that's the gift of yoga for me.

Diane Anderson is a writer living in San Francisco and a contributing editor at Yoga Journal.

Do you enjoy music and yoga? Read about how the kirtan revolution has made chanting God's name both hip and holy, at yogajournal.com.

September 2011

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