When local duo Lobo Marino is out on tour and has a night off, musicians Laney Sullivan and Jameson Price call a local yoga studio. Not because they want to do sun salutations, but because they want to play music for the class.
Sacred music has been part of their trippy folk repertoire for several years now, but it was New Year’s Day 2013 when they played their first yoga event at Ashtanga Yoga in Carytown at the invitation of a friend, Brinson Leigh Kresge.
“We thought it would be fun because she was a dancer before she was a yogi,” harmonium player and vocalist Sullivan says. “It was beautiful, a way to celebrate a new year, but intimidating for us because we had to play an hour and a half of nonstop music.”
Because practitioners are so tuned in to the music, she says, “You can mess up their vibe if you’re not in tune with them and enhance it if you are.”
Across Richmond, an increasing number of teachers and musicians are working together to create a hybrid of live performance and yoga practice. It’s a fusion that spans genres and moods, capable of leading to dancelike movement and inspiring periods of quiet contemplation. Participants say it’s a natural marriage between two disciplines that, at their most basic, are meant to bring about a transcendent state of mind.
“When people are able to teach yoga like a dance with the rhythm of the music, the teacher becomes the choreographer and the yogis become dancers,” Sullivan says. “Their breathing is in sequence with the rhythm of the music and you all feel that it’s together.”
Ali Bullano created a yoga and live music brand called Groovinyasa, incorporating vinyasa yoga with live instrumentation. Working as a bartender at the Camel for six years gave her exposure to many styles of music. And when she acquired her registered yoga teacher certification three years ago, she says, “It only made sense to merge my two life passions together.”
Since then, she’s worked with D.J. Williams, members of the Trongone Band, Tim Beavers, Todd Herrington, Russell Lacy and the Wells Brothers at venues such as the Camel, the Broadberry and several breweries. After a recent move to Denver, she’s using Alex Kane, a guitarist from San Francisco.
“More than just a yoga class, I try to create a social, fun experience,” she says from Denver. “Richmond will always be home to me since I’ve grown up there. I plan to be home every few months to host events and keep the spirit of Groovinyasa alive in Richmond.”
Yoga teachers Anna Meshejian and Michelle Lee Landon coordinate their live-music yoga events around the seasons, doing them on winter and summer solstices, and spring and autumn equinoxes using Joshua Achalam of Mighty Joshua.
“Ali was a big inspiration,” Meshejian says, “but it took on a life of its own because Michelle and I were so lucky to know these incredibly talented people.”
The sound track isn’t planned. “The music played is organic,” Meshejian says. “They play continuously as we get started. When they hear us start talking, they slow down and fade out. It’s wonderful. The class can turn inward and feel a little more connected to that live energy.”
As a former student of comparative religion, Sullivan sees making music for yoga as a cohesive path in her life.
“Yoga studios have become neo-community centers for nonreligious people,” she says. “They let you in to a very important part of spiritualistic daily life that can be deeply profound. The best experience we can have as musicians for that is playing live music.”