In 2015 I travelled to New York to visit a dear friend who knew that I was practicing yoga on a regular basis. As it happened she had two free tickets to attend a well-known yoga studio in downtown Manhattan. We arrived to find the class was only half full; great for us I thought, since there was an intimate atmosphere from the very start. One thing that did catch my attention was an instrument next to the teacher's mat. I'd never seen anything like this in a yoga studio before. That instrument was the harmonium.
At the beginning of the class, the teacher played the instrument and loudly chanted various mantras. The students in attendance were actually quite self-conscious, hesitant, and not really in the mood to chant. Quickly we were reminded that to ignore chanting the mantras loudly at the start of our session was disrespectful. We rose to the challenge, and this was my first encounter with the harmonium.
Back in Berlin I came across the harmonium in other yoga classes - in Jivamukti Yoga, but also in other Vinyasa classes.
My then wonderful teacher, Johanna Niehaus, instilled in me the love of the harmonium by chanting mantras at the start of every class. This experience gave me goosebumps, a meaningful connection, inner harmony, and deep joy. Her open and direct manner, and her invitation to participate in the mantra, regardless of the pitch and tone, completely changed my attitude towards the use of the harmonium in yoga. It was the beginning of a journey. The sound and vibration of the instrument are simply indescribable and allow me to be fully myself, and fully in the here and now.
It didn't take long to purchase my own harmonium which is now a regular feature in my yoga practices; or better still, it has become a practice in its own right. It is completely therapeutic and contributes to balance in our health and wellbeing. The chanting of mantras aloud and together is a unifying force which I have now embedded into my yoga sessions.
I now reflect how fate works in such mysterious ways – had I not visited my friend in New York; had she not had free tickets to that downtown yoga studio; had I failed to embrace the use of the harmonium to support my yoga practices.
And here I now am – life is full of surprises.