Sonny Rollins Describes How 50 Years of Practicing Yoga Made Him a Better Musician

Indi­an mys­tic and philoso­pher Patan­jali sup­pos­ed­ly cre­at­ed mod­ern yoga by trans­mit­ting his doc­trine and dis­ci­plines to sev­en sages. In the mid-1950s, those teach­ings came down through the cen­turies to anoth­er sage, Son­ny Rollins, who, like his good friend John Coltrane, incor­po­rat­ed his exper­i­ments with East­ern spir­i­tu­al­i­ty into his jazz impro­vi­sa­tions. In Rollins’ case, yoga has giv­en him, as he recounts in the short video above, “spir­i­tu­al under­stand­ing” and “direc­tion.” Set­ting out for India in 1967 to find “uplift­ment,” Rollins checked him­self into an Ashram, with noth­ing but a bag and his horn, “and it worked out well,” he says. Rollins and his jazz “com­pa­tri­ots” like Coltrane “were try­ing to find a way to express life through our impro­vi­sa­tions,” he tells NPR. “The music has got to mean some­thing,” he says, “Jazz impro­vi­sa­tion is sup­posed to be the high­est form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and get­ting that to the peo­ple is our job as musi­cians.”

In his new set of live record­ings, Road Shows, Vol. 3, Rollins plays a “mantra-like” song called “Patan­jali,” a trib­ute to the dis­ci­pline that keeps him phys­i­cal­ly and musi­cal­ly vital. In his “Morn­ing Edi­tion” inter­view above, Rollins describes his yoga prac­tice as help­ing his “con­cen­tra­tion lev­el.” “The thing is this,” he says, “When I play, what I try to do is to reach my sub­con­scious lev­el. I don’t want to overt­ly think about any­thing, because you can’t think and play at the same time—believe me, I’ve tried.” At age 83, and still sound­ing as fresh as he does, one imag­ines he’s tried it all and learned some valu­able lessons. In 1963, Rollins met the Oki Yoga group in Japan, who com­bine yoga, Zen, and mar­tial arts prin­ci­ples, and he’s also stud­ied Rosi­cru­cian­ism, Bud­dhism, and “Kab­bal­ah, even—I was real­ly into those philoso­phies of life.”

As for whether Son­ny Rollins con­sid­ers him­self a mem­ber of any par­tic­u­lar sect, hear his thoughts on orga­nized reli­gion in answer to a recent Google Hang­out ques­tion (above). While he may not sub­scribe to a spe­cif­ic belief sys­tem, he’s cer­tain­ly found spir­i­tu­al tech­niques that give him—as he puts it in an inter­view with Yoga Jour­nal—“a cen­ter.” Rollins “still prac­tices asana [pos­es] every day, includ­ing Halasana (Plow Pose) and Urd­h­va Dha­nurasana (Upward Bow Pose).” Want to learn more about yoga? You could always read Patanjali’s famous sutras. For more prac­ti­cal instruc­tion in this peace­ful phys­i­cal dis­ci­pline, per­haps take a look at the rather iron­i­cal­ly named Les­ley Fightmaster’s Youtube chan­nel, with free lessons for vir­tu­al­ly every­one.

Of course, no one teacher should be con­sid­ered the author­i­ty on yoga. Like every spir­i­tu­al prac­tice, yoga has its many schisms and divi­sions, even so-called “Yoga Wars”: among Hin­dus and Chris­tians, between cor­po­rate giants like Lul­ule­mon (and West­ern teach­ers like Fight­mas­ter) and tra­di­tion­al Indi­an prac­ti­tion­ers, between “Hot Yoga” (and its con­tro­ver­sial founder) and every­one else…. I doubt Son­ny Rollins has time to get enmeshed in these squab­bles, and maybe nei­ther do you. For a much less uptight fusion of East­ern prac­tice and West­ern spir­it, per­haps try some Star Wars Yoga. In this video, instruc­tor Eri­ca Vetra offers a free beginner’s class for those who “A. love Star Wars, B. have nev­er seen Star Wars, C. love yoga, or D. have nev­er done yoga.” The ecu­meni­cal Son­ny Rollins might approve, though the ven­er­a­ble Patan­jali, indif­fer­ent to “fan­cy” and “illu­sion,” may not have been amused.

via A Piece of Mono­logue

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Son­ny Rollins’ New York City Bridge Sab­bat­i­cal Recre­at­ed in 1977 Pio­neer Elec­tron­ics Ad

Free Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tions From UCLA: Boost Your Aware­ness & Ease Your Stress

David Lynch Talks Med­i­ta­tion with Paul McCart­ney

Alan Watts Intro­duces Amer­i­ca to Med­i­ta­tion & East­ern Phi­los­o­phy (1960)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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