Pulling Strings


(Published on January 3, 2014 in Time Out Delhi)

Turn up, tune in, drop out with a session of sitar yoga

It’s a quiet Sunday morning at Shahpur Jat. The shops are shut and the dogs are curled up beside the roadside tea-stalls. A handful of us have assembled at The Atré Yoga Studio, watching the sun rays silently forcing its way through the partly-open balcony doors, creating abstract art on the colourful yoga mats laid out on the floor. A sitar leans on a wall in one corner of the room. “Yoga allows one to handle situations effortlessly, and music is the language of emotions,” said Zubin Atré, founder of TAYS, explaining the concept behind his “sitar yoga” sessions. “When yoga is practised with music, it nourishes the experience and takes it beyond just performing an asana.”

Started in 2009, TAYS is an initiative that celebrates the ancient art of yoga in new ways. Atré, who was introduced to yoga by his father at the age of three, has been trying to combine it with other distinct forms. It was at a yoga jam session at TAYS four years ago that Atré met sitar player Galen Passen. “We spoke about combining these two graceful practices together and the idea clicked,” Atré said. “We met again and practiced it together, and it took us less than ten minutes to realise that we were on the same frequency and what we were doing was making a lot of sense.”

Atré begins every sitar yoga session with the padmasana (lotus pose) and Passen settles beside him with his sitar. Atré, with his eyes closed, focuses on the lingering pulse of the sitar, which is gradually roused to life by Passen. Atré begins the warm-up stretches, before slowly moving on to the sitting asanas. Unlike other yoga classes, there are no vocal instructions. The idea is to enjoy the flow of yoga and sitar together. Thus, the mats are arranged in a way that every individual is able to see either Atré or the person in front of them. The sitar melody created by Passen miraculously appears to be in sync with the flow of body movements. The asanas rise and fall like a chain reaction in slow motion. Sometimes, the sitar catches up with the pace of the class and sometimes, it is the other way round.

The 90-minute sitar yoga session is more about wellness than fitness and Atré’s target audience is universal. “Anyone who aims to experience yoga beyond the basic asana is welcome,” he said. “We have people of all ages and from all backgrounds coming in. I would recommend the sessions for people with hectic lifestyles and urge them to take some time out to feel the wakefulness and awareness of the mind, and the relaxation of the body, at the same time.”

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