Professional guitarist and music teacher Lisa Duhm visits a yoga class at AYInstitute Ulm - and experiences that she can trust her back and her hands. With increasing confidence on the mat, the confidence for other things in life grows as well. Ultimately, all (pleasant) effort results in the realization: "Everybody has the right to be their individual selves."


Melanie: What brought you to yoga or sparked the idea to begin practicing yoga?

Lisa: In fact, it was my guitar professor at Stuttgart university where I studied. He often talked about going to Ulm once a week to practice yoga at the AYInstitute and how much he liked it. After my university degree, I got a job at Ulm and he immediately told me: "Do go there!" After that, it took approximately nine months and then I was here. I knew from that start that, should I come here, I would do it exactly the same way my guitar teacher had told me: practice at the school once a week and do my own practice at home on the other days of the week. Thus, for some time, I went to the AYI® Basic class and did the exercises I remembered at home on the other days of the week. After some time, I felt that I was ready for Mysore. Since then, I've almost always visited the Mysore classes.

Lisa: During my studies in Stuttgart, I discovered for the first time that physical exercises can not only be used as a balance to making music but that both can be combined. The seminar was called "Music physiology" and the teacher had trained with Heinrich Jacoby and Elsa Gindler. That opened my eyes for making music with the entire body. After my degree and my move to Ulm I searched for something that allowed me to continue on this path.

Melanie: Where is the music in Ashtanga Yoga for you? Where do you see parallels?

Lisa: One parallel, for instance, is the continuity, the connection to the breath and following a specific sequence. That's very similar in music: You play one part, find the bridge to the next and continue there. You can compare that to the triangle position: first you enter it, than you stay there, feel it, breath, leave the position and do a vinyasa....The Ashtanga Yoga series is comparable to a piece of music in this respect. What is more, practicing regular breathing in yoga has also helped me with my music. Before going to Stutttgart and even during the first time there, I sometimes hyperventilated when playing music because I breathed too much and irregularly. Now, this hasn't happened to me anymore in a long time.

Melanie: Those are the positive effects you achieved with your practice, i.e. for instance the fact that your breath is more even now. Apparently you succeeded in taking the breath from the mat into yoga. How else did you realize that yoga has an impact on the way you play music?

Lisa: For about 1 ½ years, I had quite strong pain in my left wrist - the result of the wrist being at a quite sharp angle and thus under tension when playing the guitar. There was a first improvement already during my time at Stuttgart which was complemented by further facets with my practice here at AYI Ulm. Now, my wrist is better connected to my whole body and thus under less tension when I play the guitar.

Melanie: How do you feel that your hand or arm belongs "more" to the body? Is that some kind of bandha work for you?

Lisa: The seminar at Stuttgart had made me feel that it is not the hand alone that has to push down the string but that the hand is connected to the body since the hand is linked to arm and shoulder. Both can help in creating pressure on the fretboard, merely because of their weight. At the beginning of my yoga practice, I placed a strong focus on the therapeutic exercises for the wrist which Ronald had shown me. This gave me a lot more strength in my hands and arms, which in turn now helps me when playing the guitar.

Melanie: Yoga thus helps you to play the guitar in a more holistic way, with your whole body as it were. These are the direct effects of yoga on music. Are there any other aspects, besides hand physiology?

Lisa: Yes, there are! Since practicing here for some time, I've also realized that I like making an effort more because I have repeatedly experienced how good I feel afterwards. In the past, also when playing music, I often thought: "Oh my god, this is exhausting! I don't want to do that!" Now I rather think: "Well, this is exhausting but it will feel great afterwards. So go for it!" A further aspect is that I'm no longer so afraid to damage something in my body. I think this is the result of me feeling my body better. For instance, when I have sore muscles in my hands or feel something that I cannot immediately define , I calm myself down by telling me: "It doesn't break that easily, so I'll try doing it just a little while longer." Usually, after a day it feels good again.

Melanie: So one could say that yoga gave you more courage?

Lisa: Definitely! And this does not only apply to music. During the almost two years, I also gained more courage on the mat. In the beginning, there were certain exercises where I thought: "Ah, I don't really have to master those." But then, Ronald for instance simply said in a Mysore class: "Lisa, you do the forearm stand now!“ In those cases, I now think: "Ok, if he tells me so, I'll do that now!" And, all of a sudden, it works. I have to admit that this does make me happy.

Melanie: In other words, you are now practicing positions of which you had initially thought that you'd never master them and you also feel that you're dealing differently with those new positions. Through the trust in your teacher, you achieved more than you had believed possible and thus had an aha experience in dealing with new challenges - like an interplay betwen courage on the mat and courage in life. Are there any further influences on your life?

Lisa: Sure. First of all, there is one very practical influence. Previously, I had almost always suffered from back pain. Which wasn't there permantly, but I always tried to avoid movements wich I feared might affect my back. That started when I was about 17 years old. I'm sure that this also resulted from playing the guitar because of the asymmetrical position you have to adopt. At some point, I had internalized the creed: "Yes, I have to be careful with my back. That's just the way it is." When I started practicing yoga here, I had the same attitude and was mentally prepared to practice a form of yoga that is easy on the back. For this reason, I started with specific back-friendly sequences and practiced them for quite some time. Then, all of a sudden, I realized: I know have strength in my back and I therefore don't have to be that careful anymore. That was truly a liberation! I can now move the way I want, that changes so much in life.

Melanie: This great caution is now gone and you know that you can rely upon your back. You don't have to live cautiously any more and have a backbone that reliably straightens you up and supports you from the back.

Lisa: Yes, but also from the front because the abdominals also support the back.

Melanie: Exciting to hear about that practical influence which also has a psychological component.

Lisa: Yes, of course, not always having to be careful with one's back also relaxes the mind. A further influence is something that I actually copied from the people I meet here: I try to be less skeptical and to simply give things a try. In the past, when being confronted with new ideas, I often thought: "Oh dear, there are so many things that can go wrong. I should rather not do that." Today, I tend to think: "Yeah, sure, let's give it a try!" I'm no longer that reluctant and over-careful. In turn, I've become more curious what life will bring...

Melanie: Apparently, this aspect of caution comes up again and again: with your hands, your back and new ideas. Do you have an example when the latter happened to you?

Lisa: A while ago, I went to visit my sister and her family. She jokingly asked me whether I wanted to take the children to bed that evening so that she could go out with her boyfriend. Up to this point, the children aged two and four had never been brought to bed by anybody else but their parents. I told her that yes, sure, I would give it a try. Things went great and we didn't need the mobile number they had left for emergencies. I also think that we all enjoyed the evening, both my sister and her boyfriend but also me and the children. I think that in the past I would only have done that if my sister had truly urgently asked me. And spent the evening worrying that the children might miss their parents, start to cry or simply wouldn't sleep as well sensing my insecurity.

Melanie: That is really great. Could you perhaps briefly describe how you managed to integrate yoga into your life on such a regular basis? If I'm not completely wrong, you are among our most frequent participants.

Lisa: I checked it. It were 324 times in 2015! (laughs)

Melanie (laughs as well): Wow, I think I should also have a look at the statistics. You somehow seem to have found a way to integrate regular practice into your life. Do you have any pieces of advice for others on how to do that?

Lisa: I do think that it probably wasn't that hard for me because I was used to it from playing the guitar. As a student when I had a very short way to school I also practiced the guitar before school. That's one thing. For some reason, that works well for me. The other thing is that I like getting up early. At the same time, I enjoy the "luxury" of being able to schedule my appointments in the morning the way I like since I do not have any work obligations or meetings then.

Melanie: You bring the discipline from playing the guitar. In yoga, we call that "tapas": that's something that's important to me and I will make room for it every morning.

Lisa: Yes. Another thing I already knew from practicing the guitar and that I now encounter again in yoga is the following: the more regular you do something, the more fun it gets. Of course there are also days on which it's probably not "normal" or not that much fun - even though that hardly ever happens to me - but on which at least getting up is difficult, for instance. Or days on which I think that I'm not breathing in the right way at all. But I can now accept that because in those cases I think: "So, what I'll do it again tomorrow, anyway!"

Melanie: Apparently the advantage of this regularity is that you have a new experience on the mat every day. In other words, you were familiar with the advantage of regular practice from music, transferred it to yoga and knew: "This is worth doing on a regular basis."

Lisa: agrees

Melanie: What is it that you do in cases when the alarm clock goes off in the morning and you don't feel like getting up? Does that happen and how do you deal with such cases?

Lisa: Yes, that does happen from time to time. Sometimes I stay in bed a little longer, about 10 minutes. Or it might be the case that I think "No, not at all today!" and then I switch off the alarm clock completely. At the same time, the couple of minutes I need to go to the AYI Ulm on my bike help because afterwards I'm no longer that sleepy and have already moved my body a bit.

Melanie: Did you have to change your general schedule to fit in the early morning practice or did you already have this routine before?

Lisa: Well, not exactly, some changes were necessary. I didn't use to get up that early in the past. At the same time, though, I tend to go to bed at the same hour as before. To compensate for that I now sometimes take a nap in the morning or early afternoon that I schedule into my daily routines.

Melanie: Great - to do so, you have the advantage of being a music teacher and thus being free in planning your mornings because you usually work in the afternoons and evenings.

Lisa: Yes, or at the weekend (laughs). At the same time, I have to admit that I now practice the guitar a little less than in the past.

Melanie: Is that something you regret? Do you think that the quality of your music has decreased? Or is it rather the case that by practicing yoga you compensate in other ways how you play music?

Lisa: I don't regret it since my studies were definitely a highly intense phase of playing the guitar. I think it's a good thing to have such phases in life. Maybe, at some point, there will be another phase in which I do less yoga and in turn have more time for the guitar or other things. But right now I feel that I profit so much from yoga in general that I don't regret having less time for the guitar.

Melanie: Ok, everything at its own time and right now is apparently the moment for a more intense yoga phase and everything that currently feels right for your personal development.

Another question: you are a guitar teacher and think about becoming a yoga teacher as well. How can one teach other people who are probably not as "gifted by nature" as you to practice regularly? Do you have any ideas, possibly also from music, how a yoga teacher could impart that to their students?

Lisa: With some of my students, I tell their parents that the kids should get out their guitar once a day to play, with the child deciding how long they want to play. I do that because I wish for the kids to realize: "The more I'm allowed to play the guitar, the more fun it gets." Back to yoga: I've already met some people who come to the AYI Ulm merely for a couple of sun salutations, possibly because they have to go to work early and don't have more time. Still, they come here and practice for half an hour.

Melanie: This means that you would recommend to others: "Come every day, even if it's just for half an hour!" Would you count on the fact that getting deeper into practice alone will automatically lead to the practitioner's having more fun and wanting to do more off their own bat?

Lisa: Yes, definitely. Even though, I myself sometimes also practice for up to two hours now. In those cases, my day off is really important to me.

Melanie: That's what I think as well. Traditionally, in Ashtanga Yoga, we practice on 6 days of the week. When are your days off?

Lisa: Usually on Saturdays and Mondays. When I'm away for the weekend, I sometimes also take the Sunday off.

Melanie: You have now also joined the AYI® Inspired yoga teacher training in Ulm. What do you expect or whish for? What are your goals? And do you want to work as a yoga teacher as well later on?

Lisa: I hope that I can get deeper into everything I have learned so far. For instance, I have alredy learned about the alignment of arm and shoulder which gives a new aspect to my practice. This is what fascinates me and I would love to learn more in this respect. At the same time, I organize the Kirtan or chanting on Friday evenings and I would like to find out more about the meaning of the mantras. I would like to be able to tell participants a few things about the mantras and their philosophical background. And yes, I want to pass on Asthanga Yoga Innovation in general. In a way, that's the same thing as with the guitar. For a long time, I played only for myself. 2 or 3 years ago, I suddenly started to have more and more fun teaching. I'm interested in how I can best impart different contents – this also holds true for yoga. Here, I for instance think of my mother who, due to her age, is somewhat limited in her movements. Then I start to wonder: "How could I help her increase her quality of life with yoga?"

Melanie: You've just mentioned that you also read the Kirtan here at the AYI Ulm. For those who haven't participated in one yet: can you briefly describe what it is that you're doing there and what it's ultimately all about?

Lisa: We sing together, accompanied by the guitar and the harmonium. Mainly mantras but also a couple of other beautiful songs. Some yogis come quite regularly and therefore already know all of the songs. But that's not important, everybody can join us and sing the way they want. Or not sing at all and just listen. It's also ok if somebody sings off key, hums along or stays silent and enjoys the atmosphere - truly everybody is welcome. In fact, precisely this is the exciting thing because each time, a different dynamics develops, both in terms of the atmosphere and as far as the music is concerned.

Melanie: What's the essence for you in that? In how far is the chanting on Friday connected to yoga on the mat?

Lisa: Ultimately, it once more comes back to the same aspects: the flow and the pre-defined sequence. The mantras consist of short passages, which are repeated a number of times. Usually, we start rather slowly and quietly and then get faster and louder. As the leader, I usually initiate the transition or the return to the slower and calmer rhythm but sometimes that also happens all by itself.

Melanie: This means that a kind of rhythm or dramaturgy develops. How does one feel afterwards?

Lisa: Well, I usually have a smile on my face afterwards. The melodies are actually very simple. Therefore, for me the focus is less on the musical or technical achievement but rather on playing music together.

Melanie: You have mentioned this aspect already a couple of times. Apparently, this is once again also about the community. Is that another aspect you've come to value, for instance following the same breathing rhythm in the morning or learning about different attitudes to life from the people you encounter here?

Lisa: Yes, I think so. For instance, I don't like practicing on my own at home very much anymore since I've started coming to the Mysore classes. Despite the fact that this is exactly what I did all the time in the beginning (except for one day a week). This made me realize that I profit from doing yoga together with others. This also holds true for chanting together.

Melanie: It's thus the shared energy that creates a positive effect.

Lisa: Yes, exactly! Another thing I'd like to add with regard to the chanting is that I was first very happy when I heard that Holger offers Kirtan because it so to speak combined my two passions music and yoga. I was only a little worried that the whole thing might be a bit too spiritual for me. But then I realized that this is not important at all. Now that I'm organizing the Kirtan myself together with Uli, I feel that everybody can join in and that it's left to the individual person what they feel when doing so and in which way. What's important is being together.

Melanie: That's a beautiful thought: everybody has the right to be the way he or she is. The essential thing in yoga: to experience that it's ok for me to be the way I am and that it's just as ok for the other person to be the way they are. Thank you very much for the interview!''