Sound Yoga Practices
by Meredith Montgomery
As a long-distance runner, professional singer and songwriter and worldwide community and environmental activist, Michael Franti lives a life driven by yoga-inspired philosophies, both on and off the mat.
Known as one of the most consciously positive artists in music today, Michael Franti has been practicing yoga for 11 years. The discipline resonates with him as a solution to the physical and mental stress he encounters touring on the road, and he has practiced yoga daily ever since his first experience. “I still recall how stiff I was during my first class. I couldn’t touch my toes and I could barely sit with my legs crossed,” Franti reflects.
Franti reports that he is in better physical shape today than he was 20 years ago. “The great thing about yoga is that it’s not a competition,” says the 45-year-old, who grew up in a competitive household with four siblings before going on to play college basketball at the University of San Francisco. “In yoga, you’re not competing against anyone, which has been a valuable, if difficult lesson for me—to stop thinking, ‘I wish I could do a headstand as well as the person next to me,’ but to instead really embrace where I am at that moment.”
After suffering from a series of physical hurdles, including joint problems, operations on his abdomen and a ruptured appendix, Franti continues to be grateful that yoga has prolonged his livelihood as an athlete. He recalls, “There was a time when my body felt like it was breaking down and I thought I was never going to be able to play catch with my son again. But through yoga, I’ve learned that it’s possible to heal my body.” He attributes his ability to play basketball and run long distances to the flexibility and strength derived from his yoga practice. Currently performing with guitar legend Carlos Santana on the Sound of Collective Consciousness tour, Franti weaves the yogic philosophy of ahimsa, or the sacredness of life and nonviolence in thought or action, into his music. He explains, “For songwriters, one of the most difficult things to do is to instill all of your ideas into just one phrase, word or melody. When I’m in a yoga class, ideas come because my mind is clear, or because I’ll hear my teacher say something that starts me thinking in a different way. Often, when I practice without any sound at all, I’ll hear melodies in my head that I’ll sing to myself as I’m practicing. All of these insights find their way into my songs.
“I like to rock out!” notes Franti of his preference for nontraditional yoga music during his personal practice. “Sometimes I make playlists that are all loud dance music, or all reggae. I’ll do a whole class to The Beatles sometimes. Today, I listened to singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons.”
A supporter of several charities and an environmental activist, Franti also values seva, a yogic philosophy that emphasizes selfless service. “As an individual in this world, I believe that we all have a responsibility to give back to our communities and to the planet,” he says. Ten years ago, he decided to go barefoot after playing music for children abroad that could not afford shoes. Since then, he’s remained barefoot, except in airplanes or restaurants. The artist also collects shoes for Soles4Souls (Soles4Souls.org) at all of his shows.
As a touring musician, Franti enjoys traveling to places such as Haiti, Israel, Palestine, Brazil and Indonesia so that he can share his music on the streets, but also so that he can experience unfamiliar settings. “I learn so much when I go outside of my comfort zone. Similarly, yoga forces us to step outside of our comfort zone and look at our self from a different perspective.”
Although he enjoys practicing advanced arm balances and inversions, the final pose in every class, savasana, is Franti’s favorite. “It doesn’t matter if I’m at a workshop for three hours and we do 15 minutes of the relaxation pose, or if I just did one side of a sun salutation and I lay on my back for three minutes. Savasana always changes my whole outlook on life, on my day and the present moment. To lay quietly on my back on the floor, close my eyes, breathe deeply and let everything go for a few minutes enables me to then move forward into whatever comes next in my day.”