Southeast WI Archive
  • Southeast Wisconsin
  • December 2011
Written by  Dennis Hawk

How live music can make yoga even better

Out of curiosity and an invitation from a friend, Kenny hunted for a parking place near Lake Michigan in Milwaukee very early one Saturday morning in September. The event was advertised as the Milwaukee Global Mala, held at the open air tent at Discovery World to celebrate the changing of the seasons (in this case autumn). The event began at 6 a.m. with a meditation, continued with a slow yoga, and culminated with 108 sun salutations, (108 being a sacred yogic number).

Knowing that no one in Wisconsin gets up that early for an event (unless it's deer hunting), Kenny didn't expect the event to be that well attended. But when he entered the tent there were more than 200 yogis and a 7-piece band gathered.

The number of yoga practitioners in the U.S. is on the rise and that growth is well documented. According to a 2011 Yoga Business Academy survey, there has been an 87 percent growth in yoga-related products over the past 5 years to a whopping $6 billion. The survey also notes that 1 in every 10 Americans practice yoga on a regular basis: 72.2 percent women and 27.8 percent men. Yoga studios are popping up faster than convenience stores and gas stations.

With the growth in yoga has also come the Americanization of yoga. Americans have pushed the scope of traditional yoga, making it as American as blues and jazz. Variations include Ashtanga, power, Iyengar, Kundalini, Bikram, Viniyoga, Forrest, Anusara, Moksha, Kripala, restorative, yoga dance... and on the list goes. Some are transplants to the U.S. from other lands, but clearly are given an American flavor.

With the Americanization of yoga has come the music of yoga. When yoga began more than 6,000 years ago as an ascetic practice in Himalayan caves, there was no music. But we Americans love our iPods and our music. So yoga teachers are constantly making new playlists for yoga practices. Some crank the tunes, like Meg Galarza at Yoga One in Cedarberg and Fox Point, who also uses a headset to call out the poses as the music supports the movement. Others play soft, ethereal music to support a slower, more healing practice of yoga like Jen Martin at The Soul Source, West Bend. Both are aware of the way that music can be supportive to the practice of yoga.

When Kenny walked into the big tent, 250 yogis were doing sun salutations as the big red ball rose over Lake Michigan. The nine teachers, led by Sarah Filzen from Kanyakumari Ayurveda and Yoga Wellness Center, Milwaukee, traded Meg's headset throughout the day, while the 7-piece band (organized by yours truly) lent its support to the yoga. Amazingly, the band featured three percussionists including Jahmes Tony Finlayson, Joe Trettow and Rosie Rain Sheinbein. John Michael Hutchinson added lead guitar licks while Penny Wilson added harmony with her flute and clarinet. On this particular day, I alternated between keyboards, guitar and Native American flutes, while Marty Tribble droned away on an East Indian instrument called a Harmonium.

And what did Kenny think of this spectacle? "I came to do yoga, and I will, but I'm not quite ready for all of this!" he said, smiling from ear to ear.

Welcome to yoga, Kenny!

Dennis Hawk is a yoga and Kirtan musician. Dennis' vision is to provide the very best in live and recorded music for yoga and meditation. To book Dennis, e-mail Gigi de Young at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Listen to or buy his music at, or

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