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Friday, December 16, 2011

Yehudi's Yog

Yehudi's Yog
One of the greatest violinists of the 20th century revered an Indian yogi as his best music teacher
By Rajiv H. Mehta, Mumbai
Hinduism Today
July-August-September, 2003

While sitting in the waiting room of an osteopath's office in 1948,
Yehudi Menuhin came across a small book on yog. He was immediately
fasinated. Yog was a subject he knew almost nothing about, yet now,
for some reason, it tenaciously gripped his attention. Little did he
know then that yog and the land whence it came would change his life.

Yehudi Menuhin was one of the most lauded violinists of the twentieth
century. Yet he was also famous for his affiliation with renowned
hatha yog teacher B. K. S. Iyengar and legendary sitarist Ravi
Shankar, with whom he frequently performed. The more Menuhin learned
about India and yog after that revelatory afternoon in the doctor's
office, the more he loved it. India was, he said, "the primal source,
the mother country."

Born in New York on April 22, 1916, to Russian-Jewish parents who had
recently immigrated to America, Menuhin's exceptional musical
aptitude was recognized and cultivated almost before he could walk.
By the time he was seven, his performance of Mendelssohn's Violin
Concerto had gained him nationalfame. Before age 20, he was touring
the world, gaining an international reputation as a gifted soloist.
When Albert Einstein heard him play he said, "Now I know there is God
in Heaven."

By the 1950s, he was not only acclaimed as a musician but as a
philanthropist as well. He often performed to raise funds for
charities, and gave a series of such concerts for Pandit Jawaharlal
Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. During his first meeting
with Nehru, he was challenged by the Prime Minister to stand on his
head. He did so, successfully. Nehru responded by showing off his own
headstand. This incident made newspaper headlines, and yog teachers
from all over India queued up to offer their wisdom to the American
marvel who was so interested in yog. Menuhin took lessons from many
of these teachers, but only one left an indelible impression: B. K.
S. Iyengar.

Menuhin's first visit with Iyengar was memorable. Around 1950, a
common friend arranged for their meeting during Menuhin's first visit
to Mumbai. At the time, Menuhin was very busy and somewhat fatigued.
It was supposed to be a quick five-minute session, but five minutes
turned into an hour and Menuhin was completely uplifted. That
evening, Menuhin and Iyengar forged a friendship that lasted nearly
50 years, until Menuhin's death in 1999.

During his second trip to Mumbai in 1954, Menuhin had already begun
to realize the tremendous effect even his casual experimentation with
yog was having on his violin performances. It was at this time that
he formally dedicated himself to Iyengar as a commited student. When
Menuhin left India during that same year on tour through Europe, he
continually extolled Iyengar. Many feel that Menuhin was responsible
for introducing Iyengar to the Western world.

Through the years, Menuhin proved himself a devoted yog student. He
corresponded with Iyengar regularly when he was not with him in
person, and never relinquished his diligent and consistent yog
practice. Indeed, yog became an integral and indispensable part of
his life. As Menuhin said a quarter century later, "My guru built
lessons upon lessons."

Menuhin acknowledged India, yog and Iyengar in two books he authored,
entitled Life Class; and Violin: Six lessons with Yehudi Menuhin. In
Six Lessons, he devoted an entire chapter to specific yogasanas
(postures) he had learned from Iyengar. These practices, he asserted,
"should form an important part of the practice routine of any
aspiring or performing violinist."

Usually more intuitive by nature, most musicians are adverse to
intellectual analysis. But not Menuhin. He was intrigued with the
science of motion and sound as they related directly to the
improvement of his violin performance. This lifelong study was both
inspired and enhanced by his practice of yog. Although his training
with Iyengar brought him first into hatha yog (physical postures and
breath control), he later practiced meditation, for which hatha yog
is generally considered to be a preparation.

From his personal experience in meditation, Menuhin concluded that
intuition should be complimented with intellectual analysis for the
purpose of arousing "true spontaneity," as he called it. His
revelation through meditation was that magic existed in the chemistry
of thought coupled with intuition, and that as a result of the
application of logic, intuition would flow forth of its own accord.
This was meditation as he understood it. He also felt that the
ability to meditate was the single most important contribution man
brought to civilization.

Menuhin was fearless in putting his meditations on violin playing to
the testÑand it paid off. Through meditation, he taught himself to
play with less tension and resistance and with a more effective
application of energy. He also learned to coordinate multiple motions
into one. All of this produced amazing results. Peers were astounded
with his improvement and bewildered at the source of his insight, yet
he simply considered it all the natural and expected result of
meditation. When asked, Menuhin attributed all accomplishment to
Iyengar, whom he referred to as his "best violin teacher."

History tells us that genius often accompanies misery, as exemplified
in the lives of Van Gogh, Mozart, Paganini and others. If this is
true, Menuhin was a rare exception. He was a genius at peaceÑa peace,
he said, that came from yog. And yog, he observed, came from
IndiaÑthe "primal source" and "mother country."

Yog touched every dimension of Yehudi Menuhin's life. Here is but a
handful of quotations reflecting his thoughts on his guru, on yog and
the spirituality of man.

On Shri Iyengar: There were other gurus and other lessons, but not
until I met Iyengar did I take up the study regularly. My first
meeting with him was like the casting of a spell. We made each
other's acquaintance in Mumbai. He appeared in my rooms one morning
and straightaway made it clear that the "audition" to follow was mine
as much as his. For all my celebrity, to him I was just another
Western body knotted through and through.

On yog: First and foremost, yog made its contribution to my quest to
understand consciously the mechanics of violin playing, a quest which
by 1951 had long been one of the themes of my life. Just as musical
vision had long required justification by conscious analysis of each
composition, so it was now essential to trace with equal thoroughness
the process which translated thought and feeling into action, vision
into countless muscular reactions. Yog taught me lessons it would
have taken me years to learn by other means. Yog was my compass.

On spirituality: We in the Western world have grown to understand
matter as imprisoned light, and light as liberated matter, yet this
has had no influence on our spiritual thought. In practical terms it
only led to the creation of the atom bomb.

When I was a boy no one seemed to ask where the energies come from.
Land, oil, coal, air seemed inexhaustible. Now we are realizing how
our very life depends upon restoring not only our balance with
nature, but also that balance within ourselves. We are depleting our
reserves of spirit, health, courage and faith at an alarming rate.
The quiet practice of yog is, in its humble yet effective way, an

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