I've been cheating on rock and roll. The affair started a few years ago, when a friend dragged me to a Bikram yoga class. That’s the hot yoga, for the uninitiated, and at first, it seemed harmless because it was so much like a rock show: hot, sweaty, exhilarating. Slowly but surely, though, yoga evolved from a cute little thing I had on the side to a fully committed relationship. I feel now like I'm in a polygamist marriage; just like in Big Love, one weekend I stay over at rock’s house, the next I crash at yoga’s.
This is all by way of explaining how last weekend, instead of hanging in town to see rock shows, I found myself sitting crossed legged in a field pouring clarified butter (called ghee) into a friend’s eyes, all part of an Ayurvedic cleansing practice known as Netra Basti. Ayurveda is known colloquially as the science of yoga, and one of my teachers, Alison Cramer of Laughing Lotus yoga center, was leading an Ayurvedic retreat up in the mountains of Pennsylvania. We ate vegetarian soups for dinner, went to bed before midnight, and for fun ground black mustard seeds in our mortar and pestle and stretched. You would think this had nothing whatsoever to do with music or my other life but it totally did.
Ayurveda looks at the world through the lens of three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. I’m a newbie to all of this, so if you want a fully tricked out explanation/understanding of the principles at work here, ask Ali or read a book. But the gist is as follows: Vata rules change, so vata-ish qualities in people include insomnia, a kind of inspired flightiness, spirituality and natural artistry. Pitta is your ambitious, driven, powerhouse dosha. The fiery among us, Pitta people literally run hot; they sweat, they charm, they get things done. Kapha is the soft, lush, coziness of life; kapha people are warm, welcoming, and, reportedly, super good in bed.
"Genres of music definitely do have doshas, but then we could divide them into sub genres and that would just get crazy – like hip-hop is pitta, so is rock, but A Tribe Called Quest is more kapha sometimes and Led Zeppelin is more vata sometimes."
According to Ayurveda, these qualities don’t just apply to people, they rule the entire universe around us. Plants, animals, even the seasons have a doshic charge, so to speak. As does music. “Instruments don't really have doshas per se, but I would say drums and bass - guitar, bassoon, timpani, etc - are kapha; higher pitches are vata, and pitta seems like the brass section to me, especially trumpet and bugle,” Ali explained. “Genres of music definitely do have doshas, but then we could divide them into sub genres and that would just get crazy - like hip-hop is pitta, so is rock, but A Tribe Called Quest is more kapha sometimes and Led Zeppelin is more vata sometimes.” In ayurvedic consultations Ali will often literally prescribe a specific song to restore balance. “For one case, a big vata imbalance, major insomnia, I prescribed 108 Sacred Names of the Mother Divine by Craig Pruess and Ananda,” Ali recalls. “Not only did it work for her, but it also put her colicky baby to sleep.”
So here’s the thing: my two life partners -- rock n’ roll and roll and yoga are meeting for the first time later this month when I teach my first ever yoga class. My assignment from my yoga teachers is to design a playlist to complement the rhythm of the class. My assignment from my Hive editor is to “try to find songs with bite, edge, and punk flair to challenge the notion that one listens only to hippie-dippie flute shit while yoga-ing.”
I made a playlist note on my iPhone and as I go from interview with rock band to vinyasa class, I jot songs down, like I’m making a mixtape for my dual crushes. So far we’ve got Grimes “Oblivion,” Robyn “Call Your Girlfriend,” the Pharcyde “Passin’ Me By,” the White Stripes “Blue Orchid,” something by Tegan and Sara, Aaliyah “I’m So Into You," the Kills “Heart Is a Beating Drum,” New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle," and Ryan Adams “Sylvia Plath.” What else do you want to hear when you’re downward dogging?