Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Beethoven and Balance

I've played the piano for almost as long as I can remember.   My mother often fondly tells the story of how my love affair with the piano began.  She had signed my brother, Bryce, (who's four years older than me) up for lessons, but every time he would try to sit and play the piano in our living room I would have a total meltdown because he was playing MY piano.  He wasn't nearly as interested in the instrument as I was so my parents had the piano teacher work with me instead.

Also for almost as long as I can remember, my favorite composer has been Ludwig van Beethoven.  Being a bit of a dramatic person, I've always been drawn to the theatrical nature of many of his compositions.  I love how he can create a huge array of emotions within a few measures of music...changing tempos and harmonies and dynamics and time signatures in the most unexpected ways, forcing you to play his music not just with your hands, but with your whole body.

But there's one piece by Beethoven that I simply could never appreciate...the first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata."  Yes, it's beautiful, dramatic, haunting and incredibly popular, but it was always too darn slow and steady for me to listen to or want to play it myself.  I prefer playing pieces where my fingers are sent dancing across the keyboard, where I can play bold magnificent chords one minute, and delicate 32nd notes the next...I'm drawn towards physically difficult compositions.

I've always had similar attitudes about the music I like to play and the types of yoga practices I participate in.  I love vigorous vinyasa classes that ask me to move quickly from one asana to another...I love the feeling of rhythm and movement as I move through the poses of Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation), lengthening and folding along with my respiratory metronome.  During the few years when I attended yoga classes at a studio on an almost daily basis, I don't believe I went to a single "Restorative" or "Gentle Flow" class...I simply wasn't interested in yoga unless I left the class soaked with sweat, my arms and abs burning from intense plank sequences, my legs quivering from numerous lunges.

Lately I've started to reevaluate my views towards yoga and music and life in general.  A few days ago I very badly wanted to spend some time on the mat, but was having a difficult migraine day...normally I would have given up on the idea of an asana practice, telling myself that I couldn't do "real yoga" when I felt so ill.  For some reason, I didn't give up this time.  Instead, I actually participated in and greatly enjoyed my first ever restorative yoga session.  Ninety minutes of slow-paced Chandra Namaskara (Moon Salutation), seated twists and forward bends, supine poses, pranayama, soham mantra meditation and shavasana.  It was absolutely heavenly.

This hour and a half on the mat made me realize just how much I've been missing by ignoring the more gentle, restorative side of Hatha yoga.  The word "hatha" has many translations, but one popular translation is Sun (ha) Moon (tha).  The goal of a Hatha yoga practice is to find the balance between the solar and lunar aspects, power and flexibility, strength and balance, effort and surrender.  By focusing so strongly on the solar aspect of my practice and ignoring the lunar side, I had become completely imbalanced.

Inspired by my new-found appreciation for the lunar aspect of my yoga practice, I decided to give Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" another chance, this time listening to all three movements instead of giving up halfway through the first one.  Not only did I actually enjoy the first movement, I was delightfully surprised by the third movement...it's lively and dramatic and deliciously complicated, just what I look for in a piano composition.  It turns out, Beethoven might have just as much to teach me about balance as my yoga practice does.

- Lori

P.S.  You should try listening to the first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata" during Shavasana sometime....it's amazing.

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