Monday, June 20, 2011

Mantras & Motherhood


Music can be a powerful tool for supporting transformative experiences in life.  One of the most transformative being giving birth.  In this article, yoga teacher, mother and music lover Kirsten Hedden, recounts her experience of how mantras, divine sound, healing vibration and breath were the keys to finding a transformational yoga practice while delivering a baby.

I was in labor for 51 hours.  It was the best yoga practice of my life.  I’m not some Olympian of Labor, otherwise I’m sure it would have been much shorter.  I am a survivor of a tough challenge given to me by a universal spirit that offered up a tiny being with a spirit greater than mine.

His spirit had to be greater than mine in that moment because while I struggled to empty my body, he struggled to keep life in his.  We made it through because of divine sound.  For a while focusing on breath was helpful and focusing on sensation, but when all those physical skills left me, I still had vibration and music.


Musical mantras filled my room and often the nurses from other deliveries would stop in because they had heard that this room was relaxed, there was something special happening in the room with the music.  People that had never practiced an asana or heard of conscious breath felt drawn to the music and those vibrations had a real and present affect on absolutely everyone that entered and listened.  Bhakti yoga.  It brought my son into the world on a glorious vibration and he was breathing into it.

For my birth practice, I found myself turning to the obvious mantra of overcoming obstacles and I like to think that Ganesha spirit laughed my son into this world.  Krishna Das’s, Door of Faith saw me through the long two nights of labor, but a mantra manifested into my mind as I neared the end.  Om gam ganapataye namaha.

Coincidentally, this was the first mantra ever taught to me (Thank you Tammy Mitchell of Heading Om).  I had learned it about 3 years prior and about 7 years into my yoga practice.  When everything seemed to be fading, I kept repeating to Ganesh in my mind.

And then there he was.

It didn’t happen like I wanted.  My son was born by C-section.  I hadn’t practiced that.  It didn’t fit my ego’s yoga ideal.

And then there he was.

It didn’t matter how he had gotten there.  We were alive. 

And then there he was.

I practiced the mantra up to that moment; it made me feel that it was a natural birth.  It was natural because it was bathed in a spirit of belief and acceptance and surrendering to not what I wanted, but what life needed.

And now this is the mantra I sing to my son so often when he is upset, frustrated, confused, and even when he is happy.  I think he’s getting close to singing along.  Attached is my Overcoming Obstacles playlist.  It really revs up my practice and keeps me focused on overcoming the obstacles to my progress.

-Check out her 'Overcoming Obstacles' playlist on YogiTunes:


-Written by Kirsten Hedden, who teaches at Namaste Wellness Studio in Peoria, IL

Yoga Organix

Never will you find a more soulful combination of humor, creativity, humility, grace and style than in David 'Duke' Schommer.  We recently had a chance to hang at the Hanuman Yoga + Music Festival in Boulder, CO - which, in it's first year, was combined with White Swan Records 20th Anniversary.  White Swan graciously undertook the task of bringing together artists on their label which is how Duke and I met.

I'm a part of Desert Dwellers and he is the creator of Yoga Organix... a production entity that allows Duke to explore his world of musical connectivity.  One of the collaborations that exists within his Yoga Organix project is Earthrise SoundSystem, which is how I first came to know Duke's amazing production work.  Earthrise is a collaboration with New York based yoga teacher, DJ & journalist Derek Beres.  Bob Duskis, co-founder of Six Degrees Records, had introduced Derek and I years ago due to our similar worlds of yoga + music.  It wasn't until a recent trip to New York that we finally met in person and got to further synergize our worlds.

From what I understand about Duke he's spent the better part of 20 years working in the music industry.. working on all sorts of different projects.  Where his magic and gifts truly lie is his ability to weave traditional and urban flavors together in a way that enhances both - creating something entirely new by blending the old and the new.  He's not just a mad scientist in the lab either, as he has incredible skill as a percussionist.  His impressive and electrifying solo's were one of my highlights over the weekend as I saw him collaborate with the other White Swan artists.

I sent him a few questions so that we could dive a little deeper into the world of the Duke:

Q: What inspired you to create Yoga Organix?
A: After having been in the "Music Biz" for quite a long time, I had a moment where I realized that moving forward, I did not want to create anything that was not manifested from my heart. I started that process by fully integrating my passion as a "World Music" percussionist into my productions and the first record towards this end was an Ethiopian World Music Crossover album called, "Bole 2 Harlem, vol 1(Duke Mushroom Presents)". It was a critical success, and made a musical impact within the world music scene, but I was still interested in something more tangible -in terms of connecting with awakened minds and ears.

It was 2009, and my personal yoga practice had fallen to the side a bit. I re-committed by joining the yoga studio in town that scared me the most: Jivamukti. I say that affectionately, because in my experience, things that scare you often have the greatest reward waiting beyond that ego fear. So, there I was in Jivamukti, getting my practice back in shape, when I had that "Downward Dog Moment". I heard a Desert Dwellers track  (Seriously) that opened my skull up to what was possible as a musical expression for yoga practice. I immediately understood how I could blend my sense of Afro-centric rhythm and experience with acoustic based -organic- textures and create something unique to offer within a community that was open to -and looking for- connection. The sound in my head made sense, as my background with Capoiera and playing for African and Brazilian dance classes was equally about the relationship of rhythm and movement. I left the class that day with the name Yoga Organix and the mission phrase, "The Sound of Connection™", and never looked back.

It's been a blessed 3 years in the making, and there's now 4 releases in "The Yoga Sessions" series, with a 5th release (The 2nd from Masood Ali Khan) titled, "The Yoga Sessions: Hang With Angels: Masood Ali Khan" available now. It's a record of live duet collaborations pairing the masculine and feminine Divine by combining the texture of Masood's melodic "Hang" (h√ľng) Drum with some of Yoga's finest vocalists and master musicians from around the world. Suzanne Sterling, Lisbeth Scott, Visvambhar Sheth (Mayapuris), Kamaniya Devi (Premhara), Sheela Bringi (PremaSoul), Radha, Terra Gold & Monica Page all contribute vocal performances, and instrumental performances from Steve Gorn, Go-Ray & Duke, Clinton Patterson (PremaSoul), Ray Ippolito (As Kindred Spirits) & Marla Leigh.

Q: Do you feel like you've seen any changes in the New York yoga + music community over the past 5-10 years?
A: For sure... Ever evolving. For one, there's a growing sense of community between schools and groups of yogis. A lot of cross pollination happening, as it could be. When Elena Brower was asked to teach that largest class ever event in Central Park, she asked Dharma Mittra to come start the class with her, as well as had teachers from all different schools helping assist the event. It was a touchstone moment in what is possible here, in creating commonality.
Musically, there's a lot happening. The NYC hip hop scene is starting to burst with socially conscious MC's, and many of them are Yogis. And cats like Gaura Vani and the Green Bus crew have activated the Kirtan scene. Also, we've had a LOT of new studios open city-wide, and a lot of places like Jivamukti, Yoga Maya, Kula, Laughing Lotus and Yoga Works have made the fostering of live music a part of of their mission. There's a lot of unique expressions out there, people trying a lot of different combos of music styles for Yoga and while some may seem novelty,  if it is true, if it is from the heart, ultimately it will resonate.

Q: What's your long term vision with the project?
A: It's been my life's mission to raise the vibration of the planet through music. The vision is same short or long. Create music that's manifested from the heart, allow it to resonate, and take it to the people. It's a cyclical effect. The vibes go out, the vibes come back in and inspire more vibes to return back out, only then we're spiraling upwards, higher and higher.

Q: Is there anyone out there you haven't collaborated with yet that you'd like to?
A: I've always believed I was exactly in the right moment, at the right time, working with the people I was supposed to be working with, so, for that I feel blessed. As a seasoned producer, I'm always looking for the glimmer in someone's eye. That spark. That unique expression. -Why... You got someone in mind?.?

A to A: Yeah me fool! (Says Rara) I think there's definitely some Duke/Desert Dwellers collaborations coming up in the near future.

Duke's umbrella project, Yoga Organix currently comprises four different artists - all of which are available on YogiTunes:

Earthrise Soundsystem
Dave Eggar Quartet
Go-Ray & Duke
Masood Ali Khan 

David 'Duke' Schommer (LEFT) seen here with his Earthrise Sound System partner, DJ/Yoga Teacher/Journalist & YogiTunes Ombassador Derek Beres (also from NYC, but recently relocated to Santa Monica, CA!)



Duke and Derek of EarthRise SoundSystem with Shiva Rea and MC Yogi after performing together for Shiva's Trance Dance workshop at Kripalu.



Performing at Bhaktifest '10 with Masood Ali Khan and an amazing group of musicians.



Go-Ray & Duke recording with Sanket and Shahar.


Recording the Dave Eggar Quartet...


Duke Chillin backstage after hitting with Guara Vani, Srikala and Adam.


Craig, Moose, and Duke during DJ Fabian Alsultany's Elevation Dance Party, final night of Hanuman Festival. Awesome!




Interview of Duke Mushroom by YogiTunes  co-founder/CEO Alex King-Harris (aka Rara Avis)