One musician’s quest for peace while navigating the arts world, academia, & a pandemic through yoga in and out of the studio.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Hamlet’s Photographic dilemma:
“To Retouch, or Not To Retouch, that is the question.”
Here’s the rub, I’ve been painting nails for over 10 years, Women & Men. I am not a beautician, nor have never claimed to be. My retouchers abhor it. Truth is, for better or worse, the camera captures everything in my photographs. Five o’clock shadow at 2pm, cracked hands from sun tanning, flyaway hair, subtle stubble everywhere, that broken nose scar from when you were checked on the ice, that time the curling iron got to hot and burnt your hair…last week.
When you’re back stage, excited to see the audience as an early performer, you’re told, “If you can see the audience, the audience can see you. No matter how dark it is.” The same rings true for photo shoots. If you’re questioning whether someone will see that XYZ issue, chances are, if I don’t, you will.
Fear not young thespians, Prospero has your back! Yes, we can take care of it all by ways of photoshopical magic. The real question is, how far do we go, and at what financial cost? Yes, I can take 10 years off, but then again, what’s the point? I hate to break it to you, but that broken nose is you, and I love you for it. Quality retouching is a balance, as with everything. This week’s edition covers the journey of finding balance amidst the creative chaos that plagues the performing arts community. The written journeys that follow rival Orpheus, but I assure you the payoff, transformative… just like those new nails.
Stilling the MIND:
One musician’s quest for peace while navigating the arts world, academia, & a pandemic through yoga in and out of the studio
with Erika Dohi.
We tend to be addicted to phones and technology. During the lockdown, when you cannot socialize in an ordinary way, the news, social media, and your phone become your means of communication with the outside world. I see much danger and risk in that. Smartphones are meant to be addictive, and that can become what you are holding on to mentally. When you are able to cut those, then you are left with yourself. Finding comfort in that was the most challenging part for me. I do believe that is one way to see a change within yourself. Marco said, “You cannot control the outside, but you can control the inside.” Often, we try to control all aspects of our lives, yet we forget to look inward and see what is inside us. Sometimes I would cry during meditation, and it is overwhelming, but I force myself to sit down in silence. Then I start to feel the sadness shift to something different. I found peace within myself.
My passion other than music has been yoga. Since I moved to New York City as an undergrad, yoga has been a part of my life. The reason I started practicing yoga was superficial, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I just wanted to lose weight, so I started with Bikram yoga, in which the classes were held in a heated room. As I started taking the classes regularly, I felt differences in my body. Every time I went to a class, I came out rejuvenated. I promised myself that I’d go more often. But I find myself not going as consistently, but I figured it was better than nothing. So I kept practicing sparsely. Everybody knows that it is tricky to find the time to go to a yoga studio every day. But even in this sparse practice routine, it was a way for me to ground myself and find peace. It helped me survive my college years (undergrad to doctorate) and being in a freelance world of NYC madness.
There were some turning points, however. I found a teacher that I felt connected with. Marco Rojas teaches yoga that mixes Ashtanga and Iyengar. His classes are challenging, he has a way to push students to the edge. He holds the poses to the point where you want to give up. While you might be cursing on the inside, that kind of practice makes you stronger, physically and mentally. I think non-yogis can relate to this. You can get to that state of mind by doing other exercises, too. When you push yourself, and your body to a point you didn’t think was possible, it is gratifying in the end. With Marco, in those moments of almost giving up, he always reminded us to breathe. That is what you are holding onto at that moment. I think that I learned how to breathe in yoga with Marco.
For certain yogis they might think that is not the way to practice yoga.Yoga should not be about pushing yourself and being easy on your body. There is a fine line between trying to push to the point of ‘breaking,’ which will cause injuries; or moving your body to the place where you are improving. I discovered through Marco that breathing is what differentiates those two.
A friend introduced me to a yoga studio in Brooklyn called Lighthouse Yoga School. I met Jared McCane, whose classes combine sequences involving Ashtanga, Dharma, and Bikram yoga, which involve many advanced poses, and his classes are always about 2 hours. To this date, I still think his classes are one of the hardest in the world. But with him, I have learned in detail about what each pose is doing to your body. Later, I did a 200-hour Teacher Training at the school.
During training, I learned the anatomy of the body and the science of yoga. I learned to do a sadhana practice (which is to meditate), which became a game-changer more than the physical training. We did Vedic/TM (Transcendental Meditation) twice a day, Pranayama (breathing exercises), and two Sanskrit mantras which we chant 108 times each. In TM, you are given one specific mantra and sit for 20 minutes in silence. That was the most challenging part of meditation. It was hard to sit still for 20 minutes. But doing it every day, with other trainees for two weeks, it became more comfortable. By the end of the training, I got to a point where I felt rather funny not doing it.
After the teacher training and I was back to the freelance life of rehearsals and concerts, I noticed something interesting. There was a similarity with the focus you get during mediation and performance. My mind was much sharper and not as distracted as it used to be. I could tap into the ‘zone’ quickly and stay there for much longer than before. Also, the practice of breathing helped me with the anxiety and nervousness that I get before the performances. When my heart is beating fast, I can focus on my breathing, which calms me down. I also learned that breath control helps with emotional responses. When you are angry, it is hard to control that emotion. Trying to tell yourself not to get angry often makes you more furious. You can only control the speed of inhaling and exhaling. You can achieve that by practicing the breathing exercises consistently.
My practice of yoga and meditation got much more in-depth during the pandemic. On top of the lockdown that lasted a few months in NYC and suddenly losing all my work as a musician, I also had to deal with intense personal matters, simply put, a break-up during complete isolation. It was a scary moment in March for everyone, but I think all the musicians remember that particular week. A sudden loss of income, and for us musicians, it was more than losing a ‘job.’ We had lost our purpose and questioned what we were here to do on this planet. My biggest challenge was dealing with loneliness. I have always had issues with being alone, and suddenly I had to deal with that fear without an end in sight. I live alone, and all of my family live in Japan, most of my close friends live in Brooklyn, and I could not see them. In January of 2020, I had just settled back in NYC, and I was trying to look for teaching jobs.
My colleagues shifted quickly to teaching and working online, but I was not even teaching yet at the beginning of Covid. In my search for daily structure, I saw that the Lighthouse Yoga School offered zoom yoga classes. I started practicing every day. Having something on the schedule helped me become grounded, and being in a community helped me not feel lonely. I took my sadhana practice to a different level, with the guidance of Jared and Tony Lupinacci (also a former Lighthouse yoga teacher), whom I assisted in the 30-hour Sadhana Mentorship Program in June and October. The daily meditation practice became a routine. I would do a TM meditation, Sanskrit mantras first thing in the morning and right before bed. I also would put my phone on airplane mode until the next morning.
In one zoom class, there were about 20 students meditating in silence. I had never met most of the people, but somehow I felt so connected to them even over zoom. The teacher also was surprised by the fact that we could make genuine connections over the internet. In one solo meditation, many people from various parts of my life came up in my thoughts. Ranging from people that I just had said hello to at the deli, friends that I was texting earlier in the day, boyfriends in the past, an aunt of my friend that took great care of me while I was in England, who had died a few years ago due to pancreas cancer, people that I have not forgiven, and perhaps those who haven’t forgiven me. I thought of each one of them and thanked them for being in my life. I had overwhelming tears, not from being particularly sad or anything. I felt the unconditional love from humanity and realized that I am not alone.
In October of last year, I decided to share what I had been experiencing in the previous few months. I started teaching a weekly yoga class on Zoom. I had always wanted to teach yoga and taught in a master class and private settings here and there. Still, with my experience taking the advanced yoga classes online, I thought I had something to offer, especially as the pandemic continued to threaten us.
People may think it is pointless to take a yoga class online and that in-person training is better than remote, but there are advantages to virtual classes. One of them is the convenience of being at home and not using up any time commuting. I have taken classes more often this past year because it was way easier to fit them into my schedule.
It can be hard to see and adjust if you don’t have the right camera angle; therefore, verbal cues become super important. Despite the potential limits of visibility, real-time feedback using zoom is way better than watching and following YouTube videos and other yoga apps. Also, I’ve noticed that I tend to push myself more when I have the camera turned on. It keeps me accountable.
People often wonder, why not pilates or another form of exercise? I agree that yoga is not for everyone, but the most common misunderstanding is that yoga is just a stretch. In Yoga Sutra (in Eight Limbs of Yoga by Patanjali), yoga’s physical practice, known as Asana, is only the third limb. The first sutra, “atha yoga anushasanam,” translates to ‘now,’ starts the teaching of yoga. The point is ‘now,’ right now- at this moment, not tomorrow, not yesterday.
The second sutra is “yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.” The physical practice of yoga, Asana, only comes after that. In yoga, it is not about touching your toes in forward folding or how flexible your back is. It is more about the control of the mind, and you do that through breathing. It is a moving meditation, and of course, your physicality will get stronger, and the strong body will help achieve a strong mind. They are interconnected.
I am in the process of launching a 40-day yoga course curated for musicians specifically. Each class caters to different instrumentalists. We will meet once a week and learn a short sequence and meditation that students will practice every day as an assignment. From the last few months of practicing online, I have learned that consistency is the key more than anything. Even if you spend as little as two minutes meditating every day, it’ll truly transform your life if you stick to it.
There is true power in keeping a promise to yourself. I chose a 40-day course because it is said that it takes 40 days to break an old habit and form a new one. My goal is for students to set a new pattern now, when they maybe have more time, at home, instead of touring, or continuously in transit for work—hoping that they can practice on their own in the future when we are in the new norm, and come out of the pandemic stronger, mind and body.
Dear Old Stockholm Syndrome:
How Broadway is going to have to want to reopen
with Nate Patten
A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a picture of the West Village on a Saturday night. It was a long, narrow look down Christopher Street. What would in any other year be a bustling, raging party was a completely deserted, dreary wasteland, looking like something out of “I Am Legend” without the dog. There was nary a drag queen or topless NYU student in sight. As I robotically scrolled through the comments waiting for my laundry to finish drying, I had to rub my eyes and reread them since the majority looked something like this (and no, I’m not kidding):
… “Good!” … “HELL YES!!!” … “Awesome!!”…“THANK YOU”
as well as the dreaded hand clapping emoji now used as a hallmark of the virtue signalers. I thought maybe the mushrooms on my Chop’t salad that afternoon were hallucinogenic but, no, I was in fact seeing this correctly. This creepy, goosebump inducing photo not only looked like something out of the zombie apocalypse but also indicated grave economic devastation. And, from what I gathered, people seemed to be…celebrating?! Now let me be very clear. I’d like to think of myself as a sane, rational person—although I do musical theatre for a living so that pipe dream is likely crushed at this point—and I enthusiastically support any science that is going to help get us out of this mess: vaccines, masks, social distancing. And if someone were to post a picture of outdoor dining, socializing while in masks, or being responsible in any capacity towards eliminating a virus that has killed 400,000 people, believe me, I’d be the first person to hit the “Care” button. But I could not help feel the incongruity of a photo of a decimated New York City with a series of comments that seemed to revel in it. And sure, I know it was just one photo and, like all of social media, it can’t possibly represent every single person’s (or anyone’s) viewpoint, but I do believe this convoluted mentality has permeated the country and, in particular, the arts community.
The country has bizarrely carved itself into an idealogical and political divide: wanting to reopen = “bad” (and Republican), while staying closed “because it’s the right thing to do” illogically equates to “good” and a more left wing point of view. The argument of whether or not to reopen and in what capacity has taken on a far bigger, messier discourse regarding our freedom and the role government can and should play in this crisis. But even though most musical theatre creators feel comfortable talking about topics they know nothing about, I’m going to abstain from going into a diatribe on constitutional law. I understand that the divides are far blurrier and complex. Only a fool would think it’s as cut and dry as “Team A wants to stay shut and Team B wants to reopen”. But any regional theatre announcement of an upcoming season is met with hundreds, if not thousands, of comments from other artists labeling the theatre reckless, insane, and calling for it to be shut back down. If you don’t believe me, just read the most profound source of news on planet earth: the Broadwayworld message boards. We are in an existential health crisis. I would not support any theater attempting to endanger the lives of its patrons. (Would anyone?) But putting aside the health metrics for a second, you might notice what seems to be an apparent victory from the theatre community that comes with the “security” of theatre remaining shut down. Just ask ElphabaGrl38. She is thrilled Wagon Wheel Dinner Theatre can’t open “Sunset Boulevard”.
Now I can’t entirely blame anyone for being reluctant to jump right back into things. The first day back in the rehearsal room will undoubtedly be awash with more tears than the final 25 minutes of “Dear Evan Hansen” but, at the risk of sounding overly pessimistic, I worry the days after the return of theatre will be fraught with a new kind of anxiety and pain mixed in with the joy. Reopening is going to bring up all sorts of PTSD for the theatre community. This extended period of shut down has been deeply traumatizing for artists, and it’s going to take years of healing to fully allow us to embrace our art in the ways we used to. All theatrical life is going to look very different. It will be like walking into your house and seeing all of the furniture rearranged. And the basement flooded. And your attic filled floor to ceiling with Easter grass. While theatre is of course going to return, the entire business model is going to have to be reimagined but…we can do it. F*cking Nascar already figured it out for Christ’s sake!! In order to survive, Broadway is going to have to break out of the traditional proscenium spaces and open itself up to more creative and site-specific theatre. Not to mention, the unions need to start being a part of the solution. Actors Equity recently told a number of regional theatres that they had to replace their entire ventilation systems (!!) before they would allow Equity actors to work there. Umm…ok?
Isolation, shutdown, and closures are a short term solution. We’re going to have to actually want things to open again. Or at least act like we do. My Facebook friend’s photo and the subsequent comments cannot be used as a representation of every single person in the industry, but there were enough comments—mostly from artists, I checked—overjoyed to see everyone locked in their homes that I could not help but think this mentality has become the norm in certain parts of the US. We have Stockholm Syndrome, the plight of kidnapped victims who start to identify with their captors. “No, really, I love being closed!!! I feel so safe!!!” Human beings are resilient by nature, and we cannot mistake our adapting to this period for being ok with it. A friend of my mother’s recently confessed, “I’m going to stay in even AFTER I get the vaccine. I just want to be safe!!”. We cannot use the public cry for remaining shut down as a way to give ourselves societal status. The performative virtue signaling of the community cannot be our driving factor or else we are never going to be able to get our lives back.
I’m not entirely sure I can explain this phenomenon honestly, partly because I’m not a psychologist and partly because it makes no sense to me. And I suspect this will in fact be studied by medical professionals for years to come. Celebrating a photo of a vibrant neighborhood being closed down is like a friend posting a picture of themselves starting chemotherapy and you commenting: “F*CK YES!!!” We need to treat New York City like our fallen friend. The arts community can walk and chew gum at the same time: we must strive towards and be proactive about safely, responsibly, and realistically reopening, while at the same time being optimistic and open minded to the new wave of theatre that will be coming our way. Covid will be looked at as one of the darkest periods of human civilization, on par with World War II and, well, all the other pandemics that have already happened. But we are about to turn a corner, and we have to fix our attitude towards this. My friend Allison and I have a date next weekend to go out for pizza, if anyone wants to join. I’ll leave you with the timeless, theatrical adage: “If Nascar can do it, anyone can.”
Nate Patten is a Broadway music director, conductor, pianist, and writer. A world renowned theatre artist, Nate is known primarily at Applebee’s and in parts of Staten Island. Well-loved, but often simultaneously hated, Nate is the host of the popular satirical podcast, “Booked It” where he is lauded for providing scathing commentary on the state of theatre. Keep posting: you will be found out.