Frank's Yoga Blog
Soul is not simply a musical genre for me, it is the very place from which I create and the integral thread that runs through all of my work.
When people ask me what kind of music I write, I often say, “Soul Music.” In response to the bewildered look or inquiry that follows, I explain that whatever I am creating – whether it’s a piece for orchestra and soprano, a Hollywood film score, a pop song for a young Disney artist, a jazz ballad or a Hip Hop track, I try to tap in to a voice of truth and resonance within me. In addition, I often inadvertently infuse my work with the musical muses of my Motown upbringing. Because I have to write across so many genres and styles, having a deeper personal connection is essential for me, whether it is apparent to the listener or not.
I recently contributed to a BBC Radio special about the Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s famous sacred composition “Stabat Mater” (1736). The piece was commissioned shortly before Pergolesi’s death (at the age of 26) by the Confraterita dei Cavalieri di San Luigi di Palazzo to accompany the annual Good Friday mediation in honor of the Virgin Mary. The composition has since been arranged by several composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, and re-interpreted by others, including Igor Stravinsky in his Ballet “Putcinella,” and has since remained a standard of Christian musical liturgy for centuries.
My relationship with “Stabat Mater” started as a young Catholic boy in Detroit around the time I was singing along to Motown songs like Michael Jackson’s “ABC.” It wasn’t until many years later, when I produced my first classical crossover record for New York soprano Sasha Lazard, that I decided to do my own take on “Stabat Mater.” I was thoroughly uninspired by what was happening in the world of classical crossover music at the time and saw the project as a challenge to create something different – to bring a sense of soulfulness and intrigue to the genre. I also wanted to help Sasha, known then as the Trance Soprano, stand out and make a uniquely original artistic statement.
I felt moved to do a very modern interpretation of “Stabat Mater” as part of the repertoire for the album. It actually wasn’t as much of a stretch as one might think. Even in old Latin, the “Stabat Mater” had a unique soulful and trance-like quality already inherent in it, something between a Gregorian chant, a Vedic mantra and a melodic vocal meditation, designed to invoke a sacred heartfelt space for love, grief and longing between a mother and her dying child.
It always inspires me to work on a piece of music and story imbedded with multiple layers of meaning. In the midst of composing the music for the album, the plot thickened. The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, not so far from Sasha’s home, shook the world.
I have come to realize, I don’t always find material or create songs; they sometimes find me. It’s in these moments that I’m clear the creative work is taking place at a level of the soul – not just within me, but as part of a collective spirit. The recording of “Stabat Mater IXXI,” like our lives after that event, took on a whole new meaning for me and for Sasha.
This level of resonance with music was often there for me as a kid growing up in Detroit in the height of the Soul Music era. Motown was one of the most popular African American musical movements to see unprecedented universal success across the globe. It broke all sales records and defied racial and social boundaries. Yes – there were the unforgettable and insatiably danceable hits like, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Dancing in the Street” or “My Girl.” But it was the more poignant and stirring songs like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” or Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” that moved me most. Whether struggling with daily images of the Vietnam War on television, race riots or remnants of a collapsing auto empire around me, it was this music that helped me stay connected to something much deeper and compelled me to pursue a life using music to help others to do the same.
So, when I say today that I am moved by or choose to create “Soul Music,” I am speaking about something beyond genre. To me, any music that comes from and provides a deep sense of connection – to ourselves or to one another, to our humanity or to our divine spirit, is “Soul Music.”
There is a lot of dialog about how music can help create peace around the world. Music breaks down language, racial, political, and cultural barriers. Music unites people from all walks of life and helps us build empathy and compassion across the globe. We host concerts and festivals, create songs and produce music videos – all with the goal to cultivate peace on a planet too often ravaged by unnecessary violence, hatred, war, and misunderstanding.
Just last week, I attended one of these concerts under a beautiful starlit night at the Hollywood Bowl. Celebrating Peace featured a star studded octet of world class talent, including musical icons and humanitarians Herbie Hancock and Carlos Santana. For me, the concert bridged two amazing weekends during which I traveled to perform with artists and friends at festivals combining music and yoga: the Wanderlust Festival in beautiful Whistler, British Columbia and the phenomena that has come to be known as Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California.
The musical lineup of Wanderlust was headlined by an outspoken advocate for peace and social justice, Michael Franti, while Bhakti Fest brought together the nation’s most popular Kirtan artists, including Krishna Das, Deva Premal, Donna DeLory and Jai Uttal, to celebrate music’s ability – chanting sacred mantra in particular – to help connect us to the divine.
As much as I applaud these events for their success in uniting people from different walks of life in the name of peace, harmony and spiritual community, what I ultimately came away with was a re-affirmation of music as a direct channel to inner peace.
Any day that I start with music, especially playing music, helps me to calibrate my inner state to one that is more peaceful, joyful and connected to spirit, allowing me to take on the day from a more balanced and resilient perspective. I am also reminded, as I set out on my daily journey to help create a more peaceful and balanced planet, that I must start by creating peace in my own heart. Since I need this reminder on an almost daily basis, I have come to include music as an essential part of my daily morning practice – adding original vocal melodies to my mantras and using voice, guitar or piano to help me enter a meditative state.
Whether you are a musician or not, music is a great way to start your day off on a better note, or to bring you back into a more balanced and connect state when the world has pulled you off center. Whether you transition into your day by singing a song, chanting a mantra or just listening to a favorite piece of music, I can guarantee that tuning-in upon rising through will make for a better day and help contribute to a more peaceful planet.
I have been blessed with some invaluable resources in my life that have helped me feel more connected to myself, to a higher spirit and to the world around me. A few of the most essential ones that come to mind are music, mother nature, my yoga practice and my loving community – at home and around the world. This month I have been privileged to take part in a series of events that tap into and combine all of these sources of inspiration together.
On Earth Day, my friends Fabian and Tommy hosted the first annual Tadasana: International Festival of Music and Yoga on the Santa Monica Beach. I got to perform with Steve Gold and friends, along with Wah! and Hassan Hakmoun as part of The Healing Concert, as well to practice yoga by the ocean with my community of friends with my teachers Shiva Rae and Elena Bowers to the musical accompaniment of esteemed World Music artists including Idan Raichel, Vieux Farka Touré, Vishal Vaid and Karsh Kale. A few days later, I had the privilege of joining spiritualists Snatam Kaur, Deepak Chopra, Steve Gold and the Stoned on Shiva Band at a Music and Meditation Retreat called The Seduction of Spirit in beautiful Carlsbad, California.
Turning channels and the globe, I was off to Beijing to record the China National Orchestra and lead soprano Ying Huang, starting my days meditating in the gardens of the historic Friendship Hotel and practicing yoga and chanting with the monks at the amazing Jing’an Temple in Shanghai. After crossing back across the date line and great Pacific, I took my car out to the sacred grounds of Joshua Tree to perform Kirtan with my dear friend and teacher Saul David Raye as part of Shaktifest – a yoga and Kirtan festival in the dessert. It was a great place to again reconnect to community and ground with Mother Earth after the intensity of Beijing and Shanghai, though each stop along the journey brings its own opportunities and teachings for a deeper connection to the nectar of life.
In a couple days, after a grind, I will help lead the LA launch of a healing program called Yoga For Hope, where I will release a special edition of EarthTones’ Yoga Revolution CD entitled Music for Hope – both to promote and support alternative therapies for the prevention of and recovery from life-threatening diseases: once again emphasizing music, yoga, meditation and the gathering of a community of musicians, teachers and healers.
As I travel the globe for my work, I meet all kinds of amazing people. I try to ask them all one question: “If there was something that we could offer the children of the world – the next generation – to help them better cope with, stay in balance through and even flourish in the world we will leave behind: what would that be?” The answers are as varied and fascinating as the people I encounter. For me, it is the very same resources that I have come to embrace and have best served me : Music and Yoga.
Although I live in Santa Monica and have a great affinity toward water, I have found myself re-connecting to my spirit from a few sacred mountaintops this year. I celebrated the New Year with a small group of friends atop Big Bear, with complete tranquility and a shooting star to top it off. I celebrated my birthday with the Incas on Machu Picchu, where I was transported through space and time. Machu Picchu is considered by many to be the most powerful energy vortex on the planet.
A few days later I stayed with another Inca family on Amantani, Isla de la Luna (the Island of the Moon), in the center of Lake Titicaca – the highest navigatable lake in the world that sits between Peru and Boliva. That night my host – a Paco or Inca priest – and I climbed to the top of the highest peak to do a special ceremony called Fecha Churana. The stars felt so close, it was like bathing in the Milky Way.
Upon returning from Peru, I made a visit to the great Northwest (Seattle and Vancouver) and, although I didn’t climb her, I was greeted each morning by the majestic Mount Olympus and St. Helen. Two weeks ago, I returned to another Californian range to play music with my friends Steve Gold and Shiva Rae, attend concerts by the Wailers and Michael Franti, and practice yoga on top of Squaw in North Lake Tahoe, at the Wanderlust Festival.
Today, I have just returned from a weekend on top of Mount Shasta, sometimes referred to as the root chakra of the earth and also considered to be one of the great energy vortex or portals on the planet. It was a full moon complete with meteor showers and a ceremony of angels featuring a hundred piece choir.
There is something about looking down from raw nature on the top of a mountain, that causes me to take pause and reflect on my life and the abundance of blessings I continue to receive from Mother Earth. There is also another kind of magic for me about connecting to the night sky, the full moon and the stars with such proximity and clarity that resonates in my heart with gratitude, faith and the potential for reaching great heights in my own life.
I am obviously not alone in my experiences, as the ancients have been celebrating from the mountain peaks of the world for as long as recorded history. I am truly blessed this year, however, to taste the nectar of that experience from different corners of the earth.
I had the honor of contributing an article to this month’s LA YOGA magazine on the topic of yoga therapy. I hope that you will enjoy it!
Soul Vibrations: The Sacred Alchemy of Music and Yoga
by Frank Fitzpatrick
The two areas of my life I’m most passionate about are music and Yoga. Rare is
the day that I don’t engage in both. They have literally transformed me, making
it impossible to imagine where I would be today without them. Each, on its own,
has helped me create a greater sense of inner peace, facilitated healing and self-
acceptance, and allowed me to connect more deeply to my own soul and the
subtle energies in and around me – ultimately creating a greater sense of joy and
vitality in my life.
A vital part of Yoga for me has always been my asana practice. With a well-
integrated practice and my love of music, it seems natural that the combination of
the two would take the transformative experience to a new level.
While I have taken countless classes where the music has helped to enrich and
deepen my experience it is not always the case. I recently had to excuse myself
from a Yoga class taught by a teacher I totally admired. She played cool music
throughout the class, but her selections simply felt out of alignment with the
energetic principles of the postures themselves. As a result, my nervous system
started to react like an experiment gone awry.
Music, like Yoga, is a form of energetic alchemy, as powerful as the asana
practice itself. In a Yoga class, when people are by definition “opening,” the
effect of music on the subtle bodies is amplified. By adding music to the mix,
teachers are playing with that alchemical balance within their students, directly
manipulating the vibrational frequencies of their bodies, minds, and spirits.
Does that mean we should avoid using music in the classroom? I don’t advocate
either using or not using it when practicing or teaching. What I do encourage,
however, is using music with the same level of consciousness and integrity that
we apply to the asana, vinyasa, pranayama, and meditation practices we are
trying to support.
It has already been a week since the event, but the work of using yoga to help under-privileged youth is never ending. We celebrated the release of Steve Gold’s new record “Let Your Heart be Known” last week at Exhale Center for Sacred Movement. Steve and the Stoned on Shiva band played a great show to a great audience. The event was hosted by Exhale and Shiva Rea.
Keeping in the spirit of what EarthTones started with the Yoga Revolution series, a portion of the proceeds went to an amazing organization: Yoga For Youth, a non-profit organization providing urban youth with tool for self-discovery that foster hope, discipline and respect for oneself and community. Now in its 16th year, Yoga for Youth was founded and is directed by a a dynamic heart-centered yoga instructor and insprirational leader, Krishna Kaur. Krishna Kaur has been teaching the art and science of Kundalini Yoga and Self Awareness since 1970. Having studied for over twenty-five years literally at the feet of her teacher and mentor, Yogi Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini and White Tantric Yoga, Krishna is a pillar in her community. She has introduced the science of Yoga to a multitude of diverse communities including schools, rehabilitation centers, detention facilities, jails, hospitals, senior homes, women’s shelters, entertainment studios, corporations, record labels, and law offices.
Steve Gold is a down to earth, soulful singer whom I have had the pleasure to work with by writing songs for and executive producing his new album, as well as playing with his band, Stoned on Shiva. Steve creates powerfully positive music that heals and inspires, broadcasting vibrations straight from the heart, and weaving a sacred space for yoga, healing or simply being in the moment. Steve’s personal practices of more than 25 years combines his passion for world music, chanting, singing, songwriting, yoga and metaphysics. Steve travels the world teaching sacred song workshops and performing music at yoga conferences, music festivals and benefit events.
I am grateful to both Steve and Krishna using their hearts and talents to keeping the Yoga Revolution alive and to make a real difference in the community.
More info at www.YogaForYouth.org
First of all, I love the name “Yoga for Hope”. Yoga has brought a renewed sense of hope and profound shift to so many lives I know, including my own. Music – well it is food for the soul and, appropriately used, can deepen the transformative effects of countless healing modalities.
I was blessed to perform with a wonderful artist – Steve Gold – last week for a live show in Seattle’s City Center park to accompany 400 people practicing yoga in the afternoon sun. The event was called Yoga for Hope and is part of a new national program aligning yoga with alternative treatments for cancer victims. The Seattle event also raised $40,000 for City of Hope, a leading cancer research and treatment center. The group practice was guided by 4 of Seattle’s top yoga instructors, with Steve, me and the band accompanying the flow with music from his new CD release “Let Your Heart Be Known”. It was a beautiful event and a stunningly sunny day in Seattle, enhanced by the amazing vibes from the participants and the music.
Upon our return to Southern California, Steve and I took tour of City of Hope’s 10,000 acre campus, research and healing center for cancer and diabetes. It is really great to see more and more Western medical facilities start to embrace the many health benefits of yoga. Donna Karan has made some real in-roads through Urban Zen’s training program for health professional, and we have worked hard with Yoga Revolution and the Yoga Health Foundation to bring awareness of the health benefits of yoga through the National Yoga Month campaign. There are so many yogis, artists and teachers joining the movement, and the movement toward more conscious, integrate and holistic care options is growing. We have a long way to go, but I have hope and I am proud to be part of Yoga for Hope.
I had the pleasure last night of attending the Yoga Collective’s screening of the new documentary on John Friend and his popular Anusara Yoga movement. Written, directed and produced by Saraswati Clere, Anusara Yoga, “The Heart of Transformation” is an uplifting look at real-life transformation through our yoga practice…starting from the heart.
I’ve always liked John’s energy and was curious to understand more about Anusara Yoga as a practice. While the film at times felt like a long form infomercial for Anusara, it was a beautiful testimonial to the benefits of yoga for those looking for a path or way to embrace the one they are one with a new perspective. Anusara is a sanskrit term that roughly translates as opening to grace, a process through which we learn to surrender to and trust in the inner voice of our own heart.
The key piece that resonated with me is what John brings naturally to life and his teachings – to enjoy our practice and infuse it with a sense of passion. Even I can find myself taking my practice too seriously, or being hard on myself for not being committed or disciplined enough. Self judgment or being too serious actually takes us out of one of the most essential parts of our practice: to reconnect to the joy and calm, even bliss, that is available deep inside of our hearts, beneath the mental and physical layers. When we learn this on the mat, with the challenges of the postures, we become better equipped to maintain and express a content and joyful state in our lives off the mat, where the challenges are often far greater and certainly less predictable. So I came away from the film with the important reminder to bring more joy and passion into my consciousness, on and off the mat, and to be an example of that for others.
The other piece that I find admirable about what John is continuing to build around the globe is his commitment to community. In addition to our need for balance and a deeper inner connection, people are longing for real community- to be surrounded by like-minded people that can provide a strong sense of support, acceptance and compassion. John has not only encouraged and provided this, but has made its need even more apparent by the continued growth of the Anusara community.
I applaud John, and all those teachers, who continue to dedicate themselves to serving and raising the quality of lives of so many people through the teachings of yoga.
My journey back from Machu Picchu continued along the great river Urubamba and through the Sacred Valley of the Incas (Kuichy’s birthplace) with one stop to visit Ollantaytambo and climb the terraced mountainside citadel known as the Temple of Love. Kuichy left me in Cusco, but not before introducing me to Wydra -my shaman guide to the mountaintop – for an internal journey that would last until following sunrise.
I have had several teachers and friends describe the Ayahuasca experience to me – the great visions they had as they passed through gateways to other worlds, traveling through time and visiting spirits from other realities. I was looking forward to deepening my connection to the spiritual realm with the help and grace of the sacred plant, and to purging anything hidden in my unconscious or past that might be blocking me from my full potential.
The shaman performed the ceremony in a beautiful mountaintop circular hut, large enough to hold 40 people. For this night, however, it would just be me, the Shaman, a young woman from Melbourne, and the many unseen spirits. Wydra was present, humble and compassionate. I felt like I had been there before. His flute and singing tamed the darkness and any potential fears. The only real challenge was that I had been fighting an intestinal infection, so my body was weaker than I would have liked.
To deal with the physical discomfort, I had to consciously separate my physical body from my energy and spiritual body, so as not to bring my spirit down. The medicinal plant, with its powerful feminine snake energy, didn’t have the hallucinogenic or visionary effects on me as described in the stories I’d heard, even with a potent second dose. I’m not sure if that was because of the resistance in my body, which was already fighting another foreign substance. Or if it was, as the Shaman said, that the plant doesn’t have the same level of effect on yogis and people with very advanced meditation and visualization practices. What I did experience, however – the heightened state of serenity, the pleasurable buzz from the plant, the acute awareness of the elements (including the incredible nature and even some falling stars) – was not a new experience to me.
Whatever be the case, what I did receive was a simple but powerful lesson, or at least confirmation of what my teachers had already tried to teach me: CONTENTMENT, or Santosha – the 2nd Niyama of the Vedic teachings from the 8 Limb Path of Yoga (Ashtanga).
Despite the continued discomfort in my physical body, my energetic and spiritual bodies were extremely tranquil and content. With that relaxed but almost blissful state, I came to realize the real value of contentment and started to reflect on the many simple experiences that make me content. I am an adventurer, seeker, and over-achiever by nature. Contentment doesn’t mean to not continue to strive for higher goals or to improve the state of thinks, it means to connect to that same internal peace that one finds in the arms of a loved one, walking on a sunny seashore, or sipping wine by a warm fire. To not let the energy and spiritual bodies be pulled off-center by physical, emotional or mental disruptions. To keep the light in the heart burning softly like a bedside candle, even on the stormiest of nights.
To some, the word contentment may sound boring, or lacking in passion for the incredible excitement the human experience has to offer. I realize now, it is simple clearing the space around our hearts to create a far more intimate connection with the essence and nectar of each experience, as well as of life itself.
“As a result of contentment, one gains supreme happiness.”
–Patanjali (the Yoga Sutras)
There are many theories as to why one of the most beautiful and intact ancient citadels of the Incan and pre-Incan empires was abandoned when Hiram Bingem rediscovered it 100 years ago. According to my friend and guide, Kuichy – an Inca and professor at the University of Cusco who has written several theses on the subject and been in charge of getting the valuable artifacts that were taken by Yale University returned – there is even a conspiracy to hide the truths.
After spending the day exploring and meditating throughout this astounding and magical site, I have my own theory. I’m not so sure the Inca royalty that once inhabited this place ever left. There is something far too unique about the creatures, especially the birds and llamas, that still inhabit this mystical paradise. In the eyes of one baby llama I could clearly see the face of a princess, and in one of the older – an ancient king. If I had the powers to time travel, fly and even change form, like we believe the ancients had, why would I leave such an idealistic and powerful place? If I could just choose an incarnation that enemies would recognize but that still gave me the ability to fully enjoy my freedom and riches – to be completely protected, fundamentally unseen, and fulfilled by the vast resources and energy of this place, what would I become? A bird flying freely from temple, to sacred tree, to mountain peaks or pure flowing rivers…or a llama grazing in the rich green grass, sipping from the pure glacier milk, lying in the sun and being adorned by locals and tourists alike?
Machu Picchu is unlike any of the other Inca sites for me. Not only because of the indescribable beauty unworldly design of the architecture and it’s perfect integration with the vast mountains and nature that surrounds it, nor because of the incomparable energy vortex from its chosen location, but because it is still fully alive and inhabited in a mystical yet very real way. It is a paradise for those who have returned after hundreds of years, or just never left but chose to transform into evolved creatures even more fully integrated with their connection to mother earth, completely harmonious with their fellow spirits and eternally blissful in their newly chosen forms.
Visiting with and listening to the songs and sounds of these divine creatures brought me back to the teachings I received from the great Aztec master, Miktlan Ehekateotl Kwauhtlinxan (“Ehe” for short), who demonstrated how each of the words of their 5000 year old language were based almost entirely on direct sounds from nature. The ancient Aztecs (translated as “Earth Song”), like these mystical incarnations now inhabiting Machu Picchu, needed no translator, figurehead or religious doctrine to understand the language spoken directly to them from mother earth and the divine spirit – they had a direct link.