Yogi Yo-Yo Ma

The richly gifted and world-renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, ever humble, might not describe himself as a yogi, (especially after showing a picture of himself bowing low to Meryl Streep and commenting that he is “not so flexible”) but the essence of yoga saturated his recent talk and performance, “My Life in Music,” at Santa Barbara’s Granada Theatre.  It’s hard to know where to start (and stop) in describing what a wonderful evening this was, but here’s the quote he had visible throughout the evening, from the American poet, T.S. Eliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Mr. Ma began by playing a beautiful, evocative piece of music, and asking the audience members afterward what images or feelings they felt while he played.   He listened to answers with enthusiasm and thanked everyone, saying that their feedback was a gift to him in appreciating this music even more… because it was the very first piece he learned… at the age of four… and he had played it, many times, since-  the Bach Cello Suite #1.

With humility and great humor, he took us on a journey through his life in music, quoting with gratitude his first teacher, Leonard Rose, who described himself as “first a human being, second a musician, third.. a cellist.”   Yo-Yo said this description has been a profound remembrance all his life, since he has from the age of seven asked the question:  “Who am I, and what is my place in the world?”

What I will never forget are his final words, which struck such a personal note for me.  Yo-Yo Ma said that in playing the same Bach suites so many times throughout his life since childhood, the notes were the same, but each time, he himself, the man, was different.  And as time passes and he grows and changes as a human being, the notes are the same, but the music can never be the same. 

When we step onto our yoga mat, many of the poses are the same ones we’ve done for years.  They form the baseline, the structure, for us to view ourselves as ever-changing human beings.  The music of our lives is enriched by our ongoing yoga practice, in the same way Mr. Ma’s anchoring practice  is playing the cello.  If we are fortunate, and pay attention, we may be able to bring the same humility, gentleness and contribution to the greater good into the world, inspired by yogis like Yo-Yo Ma.

Working with young musicians the world over, Yo-Yo's enthusiasm is contagious!