Music, Yoga, Well-being

Both music and yoga are about our well-being. How could they not be? For they take and connect us to the very depth of our being, of who we truly are, the subtle Self

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

If we go by the 24/7 noise that drowns the world and finds expression in all the forms of media that are available, we can easily sink into depression and despair. Unfortunately, this forms part of the realities of life that we have to battle with everyday, both at individual and collective levels, and we can be left bruised and battered if we do not equip ourselves both physically and mentally to cope with them.

Fortunately, that is not the whole story, for there are good things happening too that help us to find balance and steer through the storm of life.

It is therefore a nice coincidence that World Music Day and World Yoga Day are celebrated on the same day, June 21, because fundamentally both music and yoga are about our well-being. How could they not be? For they take and connect us to the very depth of our being, of who we truly are, the subtle Self – atman or soul.

Intuitively we know that we are something more than the perishable body, that mortal frame which having been born is by very definition limited in space and time and must come to an end. For we do say don’t we, on somebody’s passing, that s/he has gone – but who has gone? After all, the body is still there, it has not ‘gone’ anywhere isn’t it?

Whether, therefore, it is through mere belief as in some systems of thought or through systematic enquiry into existence (as in Vedanta), we do come to a deeper understanding that there is some entity which lives on in another realm and is beyond time and space, is, in fact, timeless.

Both music and yoga have the potential to lead us towards that inner journey to that Self, a journey of calm, peace and love that transforms our lives. Yoga, like music, therefore is not merely about wellness, which concerns the body, but about well-being which is about the body, mind and the Self.

The body and the mind are directed towards the external world and have to deal with its hustle and bustle accordingly. Of course they have to take in the shocks, but must come up again to face the next rounds. Like the willow tree, they may bend but must not break. How to do that? How to develop that resilience which allows the individual to bounce back every single day?

This is where music and yoga come in. They can help us to remain steady and stable, even as we face the whirlwinds. Here another analogy is useful: that of the spinning top, which remains spinning upright despite the speed, its axis remaining steady. The Self represents our axis, and both music and yoga by connecting us with it impart to us that steadiness and stability which help us to face whatever comes with equanimity. It’s not that we will never falter, but the chances of being toppled over – like the spinning top – are reduced. We are better able to cope with everything that come in our way, both successes and failures.

Our exposure to music begins from the… beginning! After all, which mother does not sing to her baby? It starts with humming, which emanates from the bosom which the baby rests upon, and the sounds are therefore transmitted very directly and deeply to the baby. Humming later becomes lullabies, which in turn reinforce the impressions felt by the baby. No wonder, therefore, as we grow up we cannot help loving music, in whatever genre depending on context and culture. At its most primordial, we are bathroom singers if nothing else!

Those of my generation will remember the box type of radio of our childhood which used to be the only source of music that we could listen to. As regards playing an instrument, the only affordable one was the mouth organ or harmonica, which would be received as a new year gift. One type came from Czeckoslovakia, and was the cheapest at Rs 3. The other one was of the ‘Echo’ make, made by Hohner of Germany. I received one, and it was my father who taught me how to play it. By the by I improved, and when I joined the Boy Scouts I used to take it along to play when we went camping. On the other hand, we learnt to sing the Boy Scout songs as well, the one that rings in my ears still is ‘Marching through Georgia.’

Our great richness in Mauritius is the variety of music that we are exposed to and that can enjoy, and that too from a very young age – Indian and Western, and African to supplement its local genre the national séga. In addition to the pop songs in both French and English by the legends of my teenage years such as Cliff Richard – recently listened to his latest rendering of Summer Holiday sent via Whataspp –, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Francoise Hardy, Edith Piaf, Sylvie Vartan, Enrico Macias (a favourite) amongst so many others, there was an opportunity to learn about Western classical music too at the Royal College. In fact there was a Classical Music Society (of which I was secretary for some time) which was launched by the music teacher Mrs Brooks, who used to play the piano, and our meetings used to be held in the newly constructed hall.

One of the most memorable sessions was that afternoon when she made us listen to Handel’s Messiah. The proper atmosphere had to be created, by darkening the hall. This was done by pulling all the curtains, which were of black colour, so that not even a streak of light came through. She then put the record on the turntable of the bulky record player. Before placing the needle on the record, she told us that we must observe absolute silence during the whole session of nearly an hour.

It was an unforgettable experience, and years later in England, a relative offered me the set of two records of Handel’s masterpiece. My two other favourite composers were Tchaikovsky and Strauss.

In England too, we bought another unforgettable titled … ‘The Unforgettables,’ ghazals of Jagjit and Chitra Singh. They, and the other Indian oldies will definitely accompany me through many more lifetimes till my moksha…

* Published in print edition on 22 June 2021

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