The Journey of Yoga and Healing Sounds – Class at Prajna Center in Belmont

The air is thick with the scent of lavender, heavy with the warmth of bodies at rest. A single strand of white lights twists, dances, curls along the floor where it meets the rising wall, hinting at the outer boundary of the otherwise darkened room. I rise from a state of complete rest, quiet inside my body, after a Restorative Yoga class with John. I am curious about what sounds I will invite into the already perfect silence and stillness enveloping me. I set up my sacred space, an altar to my joy, my circle of support, my ability to love and to transform, to play and to create. I settle in to the energy of these objects on my altar, which bring me peace and freedom even as I step closer to the edge of vulnerability in the open space. The sound of the shruti box calms me, grounds me with a gentle yet firm foundation. It is both undulating and constant, a launching pad into the infinite as well as a soft place to land and be nurtured. I invite sounds from all who are in the room. Immediately we are one – a chorus. Singers who don’t need to know the song, who simply listen and offer what comes naturally from within. A sigh, an exhale, a melodious note – it doesn’t matter. We are in this space together, experiencing this magic together. We enter the practice as one. Continue reading "The Journey of Yoga and Healing Sounds – Class at Prajna Center in Belmont"

Essential Self Extravaganza

As 2010 came to a close, I realized that over the past year, I have had the opportunity to become part of three brand new communities (without even changing my physical address). As I embarked on life coach training, certification in music and sound healing, and improvisation as a violinist in the local “open mic” scene, I was welcomed into three totally new worlds for me. As I crisscrossed the Bay Area and the internet interacting with these distinct groups, it occurred to me that no single place brought together people with such wide-ranging interests. What fun it would be if someone could create a space and purpose for gathering that would allow the expression and sharing of all these creative souls! I realized that I could be that person! I was inspired to create the Essential Self Extravaganza. The name refers to a central concept of Martha Beck's life coaching approach, which guides us to find and follow the voice of our essential self, versus the social self we so readily construct as an identity to show the world and "fit in" with the rules of our families, religions, cultures, professional group, or demographic. I had had enough of the typical "holiday party", where the focus is on the display of our social selves. The typical conversations starting with the question, "So, what do you do?" or "Where are you from?" were familiar to me, yet no longer of interest. Instead of complaining or lamenting about these kinds of parties, I decided (in the empowerment I am growing into) to host my own gathering - the kind of party I would want to attend myself. Continue reading "Essential Self Extravaganza"

Your Dreams Are Always Coming True

There are a few things I remember always knowing about myself, ever since I was three years old. I remember being in the back seat of the car, when I was three, hearing my parents and brother talking about someone getting into "Harvard". Something about that word rang in my ears. I asked what "Harvard" was. I don't remember what they answered, but I do remember thinking, "Someday I'm going to go there." I let it go for the next fourteen or so years. And then I ended up going there for college. At some other point in time, I remember falling in love with the sound of the French language. I loved learning a foreign language which enabled me to speak elegantly, fluidly, gracefully. It contrasted so much with the angular lines and frantic tempo of the Chinese dialects I heard in my family. And, like music, it was a doorway to a secret world that expanded my ability to understand others and express myself in a different way. I remember thinking, "Someday I'll study at the Sorbonne." It seemed like a throwaway thought at the time, but I remembered it. And I ended up doing just that, as a scholarship winner for six weeks during the summer between high school and college. Six years ago I defrosted another set of childhood dreams. Continue reading "Your Dreams Are Always Coming True"

How does it FEEL to celebrate?

I've never really been good at celebrating my birthday. There are a few birthdays in my life that I remember - one was my 6th birthday when I had a party at my house with my favorite girls from second grade, complete with musical chairs, Bozo buckets, a violin serenade by my brother, and hand-selected party favors for each guest. Another was my sophomore year in college, when my roommate totally surprised me by inviting over half a dozen or so of my best friends, who arrived with cake, balloons, and songs to sing. Yet another was in my twenties, when my brother procured tickets to see Itzhak Perlman and the Minnesota Orchestra, and my parents came into town to join us. But when it has come to my really knowing how to celebrate myself, and knowing what I really have wanted to do on my birthday, I've mostly come up blank. Now I know that it's because I have been more focused on what it LOOKS like to celebrate than how it FEELS to celebrate.

What Celebrating Looks Like

In our image-obsessed culture, we can easily be led to believe that what we SHOW about our lives - how we make things appear - is actually more important than how we FEEL about our selves as we live our lives. Even the lyrics to popular songs teach young girls what it means to "party in the USA" - "Welcome to the land of fame, excess, whoa am I gonna fit in?". Because feelings are often difficult to express in words, or not accurately captured by images, or perhaps don't match up with the social pressure to perform and please, I have (perhaps like you) defaulted to suppressing the feelings, not bothering to connect with them, and making choices based on what will make me LOOK like I'm doing fine. I did this without being conscious of it. It happened slowly, in small steps, over time, like any changes do. Continue reading "How does it FEEL to celebrate?"

Original versus Cover Songs: So what’s all the fuss about?

One of the interesting versions of partisan politics I've noticed since joining the local open mic scene is between two apparently opposing camps in the music scene - those who play "original" songs versus those who play "covers". "Covers" is a term, uttered either under one's breath with a hint of shame (by the people playing them) or with a distinct tone of disdain and perhaps a spray of saliva on the "c" sound just for emphasis (by those staunch supporters of playing only originals), used to designate music composed by someone other than the performers themselves. This distinction is a foreign one for me since I grew up in the classical music world, where the Great Composers Of All Time were revered and respected as part of my musical education. Some of these Great Composers were Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, to name a few. I focused all of my attention on training and developing the technique required to execute the intentions conveyed in increasingly complex written notation, leading up to the Great Concertos. These were the truly epic compositions that required a tour de force of virtuosic technique and range of emotional expression imagined to be conveyed by the Great Composer.

There was no talk of writing music. Continue reading "Original versus Cover Songs: So what’s all the fuss about?"

Starting a Band: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from Launching Chinese Melodrama – Act One

The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity for me surrounding my new band, Randy Bales' Chinese Melodrama. In case you haven't seen it, we have a new blog and a Twitter account, where you can keep up with our latest activities. We've played in the Bay Area at least two nights every week for the past two months, and spreading our joyful energy has yielded plenty of early interest in our fledgling local band. I've been so amazed with what I've experienced that I put together 10 brief lessons from launching my first ever band. Let me say right away that it's been a total team effort with my friends and fellow musicians, Randy Bales (guitar/vocals) and Cathy Luo (percussion/bass/vocals). 1. Practice in public
  • In other words, be sure to play outside your comfort zone in public every once in awhile. Most of us can learn something from this statement: "Don't be so humble. You're not that good!" I can't tell you how many times Randy has encouraged us to play songs that I didn't feel were "ready". I can also tell you that at our first gig, I was deliriously frightened of what might happen! I had so many ideas about what a "performance" needed to be. Yet if I had waited until I thought we were ready, we might still have never performed in public to this day! My point? Be willing to start small. Just be sure to start!
  • Even if you consider it "practice", show up at your own personal best every time. This doesn’t mean you play perfectly. It means you set an intention for HOW you are showing up each time, and you let go of the results. And you do this every single time.
  • Notice that there will always be ways to improve upon your performance, but never be disappointed in yourself. If you’re tempted to “get down” on yourself or be harsh with your criticism, notice it and ask, “How will this help me show up at my best next time?”
  • Keep playing and be kind to yourself no matter what. Always know that you will have another opportunity to grow. It helps if you…
  • Create a regular consistent schedule of opportunities to play in a supportive environment. You will always get more comfortable by doing what seems uncomfortable at first.
  • All that said, also develop some “comfort food” – material that can always make you feel good, for those moments when you need to boost your own confidence.
2. Do the thing you think you cannot do.
  • This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is framed on the wall of my office. Practicing in public (item #1) was exactly the thing I thought or believed I could not do, until about a year ago. My peak discomfort point was reached – in a public, but safe, setting – and it forever changed what I believed was possible for me musically.
  • Give yourself the gift of being open to this kind of transformative experience. Instead of avoiding the thing you fear, embrace it as the very chance you’ve been wanting to break through to your next level in life.
3. Strike while the iron is hot.
  • If you have an intention or an idea, start NOW while your energy is behind the project, and take defined steps right away to make your idea feel real to you.
  • Learn to trust yourself. Go with your first instincts.
  • Take small, defined, and consistent actions over a period of time rather than waiting for everything to be “perfect” before you begin. Hint: There is no perfection, so get over yourself and act now.
4. Support other people’s efforts with generous encouragement and humility.
  • Judgment comes more quickly than understanding. Seek to understand first.
  • Capture and share not only your own work but others’ as well. Facebook is a great example of how this works. Don't you love being tagged in photos or videos? And reading others' comments or "Like"s? There is a real-world analog to this, and it's called being present, supportive and expressive. Try it!
  • Collaborate openly. Playing with other artists helps build bridges of trust and understanding, and helps you understand yourself better too. Continue reading "Starting a Band: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from Launching Chinese Melodrama – Act One"

A little night improvisation

What a difference a few weeks makes! It seems like my musical world is expanding at breakneck speed, and relationships and opportunities are arriving effortlessly. All the while, I'm having so much fun, it almost seems criminal. Really! I have such a strongly ingrained belief that "work" is "hard" and "having a life" means "struggling" that doing what I'm doing right now has triggered a part of my brain that wants to cry out, "Danger!! This does not compute!!". Luckily, I now notice that this is an ancient part of my brain reserved for true fight-or-flight situations that I rarely encounter in this corner of the world I call home. Right now, in this moment, I'm sitting in a chair in front of a computer. I'm breathing. I'm surrounded by beauty. The sky is clear blue, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and the trees are silently growing outside my window. There's nothing dangerous about being at peace. Sorry, brain! Here are some of my latest improvisation videos from this week's open mic nights. In each case, I had never heard the song before and just started from a place of listening.

"Rooster" by Alice in Chains, with Randy Bales, at Angelica's Bistro in Redwood City, CA:

"Knocking on Heaven's Door" by Bob Dylan (performed with two strangers who asked that I remain onstage to join them after seeing me perform with Randy!) at Blue Rock Shoot in Saratoga, CA: