From YOGAChicago, May/June 1997, reproduced with permission.
Yoga to Sacred Music
with Barbara Linderman, student of T. Krishnamacharya
by Sharon Steffensen
Chicago has been host to yoga teachers of several traditions. In the past several months there have been lyengar, Ashtanga and Viniyoga workshops, all three styles originating from students of one teacher: T. Krishnamacharya of Madras, India, one of the most renowned yogis of the modern era. Another of Krishnamacharya’s students, Barbara Linderman is one of the original Chicago area yoga teachers. Now living in Ann Arbor, she still returns occasionally to give workshops.
Barbara Linderman is in good company. She, as well as B. K. S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, T. K.V. Desikachar, and Indra Devi, was once a student of T. Krishnamacharya of Madras, India. Mr. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and T. K.V. Desikachar (son of Krishnamacharya) are internationally known for having developed the Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Viniyoga styles of hatha yoga. Indra Devi spread yoga throughout the world through teaching and writing. Barbara Linderman, who lives in Ann Arbor, is one of Chicago’s earliest yoga teachers. She still returns to conduct occasional workshops and has recently developed a style of yoga which she does to sacred music. But first some background.
Barbara first met Krishnamacharya in 1961 when she was living in Madras, India, with her husband who was in the foreign service. “Someone in the American Women’s Club (part of the consulate) heard about this yoga teacher and I decided to explore it,” says Barbara. Although she had been “interested in athletic endeavors,” she had not previously considered yoga; but after her first lesson, she realized it was what she had been looking for. “It was the perfect thing for me,” she says. “It felt so wonderful for my body. It was instant harmony.”
The class was small with only three other American women. They met once or twice a week at Krishnamacharya’s house in a room with a dirt floor covered with thin straw mats. There was always chanting going on in his house, Barbara remembers. “I always associated chanting with yoga practice.” In fact, says Barbara, Krishnamacharya was a master of Sanskrit chants, and many students came to him to learn Sanskrit and philosophy.
Krishnamacharya didn’t speak much English, but spoke it well enough to give students the basics in the postures, which Barbara says he taught in combination with the breath. “We would flow in for two breaths, stay for two breaths, and come down in two breaths,” explains Barbara. “They were intrinsically linked – breath and the postures. You had to be so attentive to the breath because that’s when you knew to move.”
Krishnamacharya’s own breathing was tremendously powerful, says Barbara. “His ujjayi breath would fill the space. It was powerful. He had a raw, spiritual power.”
He was very helpful in adjusting students and telling them with his hands what needed to be done. The standing postures Barbara learned were ones that later became known as Iyengar yoga. Krishnamacharya did not use props as Mr. Iyengar does. “Those were Mr. Iyengar’s genius,” says Barbara. The classes ended with a seated pranayama, leaving students with a meditative feeling.
Although Barbara and the other students in her class were not taught the Ashtanga method of flowing from one posture to the other, they did observe a number of demonstrations in that style, usually done by young boys, “maybe his grandchildren or nephews,” says Barbara. “They were awesome.”
One of Linderman’s most prized possessions is a certificate signed in 1962 in Madras, India, by both Krishnamacharya and B. K. S. Iyengar, commemorating her status as an intermediate yoga student. Krishnamacharya did not hand those out freely.
Back in the Chicago area in 1967, Barbara began teaching Slimnastics at the Evanston YWCA. She introduced a few yoga postures she had learned ftom Krishnamacharya, and it wasn’t long until some of the students wanted their own yoga class. The YWCA was enthusiastic about adding the class to the schedule. “They were thrilled,” says Barbara. “I don’t think they knew what yoga was.” Even after she moved to Ann Arbor, Barbara still came back once a month for six years to give day-long workshops.
In Ann Arbor, some of the people at the YMCA had studied with B. K. S. Iyengar, and the head of the program felt the yoga program should move in that direction. Barbara was in agreement. Mr. Iyengar’s book, Light on Yoga, had already been published, and enthusiasm grew to such an extent that in 1973 the Ann Arbor group sponsored B. K. S. Iyengar’s first trip to the United States. He returned again in 1975 and in 1976, giving a workshop during one of those trips at the Leaning Tower YMCA in Niles.
Barbara continues to teach “95% lyengar style” yoga, but sometimes incorporates what she has learned from other trainings. She had been determined not to “aerobicize” yoga, but after studying yoga at White Lotus Yoga in Santa Barbara, California, with Tracey Rich and Ganga White, she changed her mind. She found she liked it immensely and added an “Aerobic Yoga to Music” class to her schedule in Ann Arbor. Another teacher who has influenced Barbara is Kali Ray, who works with “ripples and waves,” giving the postures a fluid, wave-like motion and a meditative feeling.
Barbara’s newest style is “Yoga to Sacred Music,” an impromptu form she created at a ten-day silent meditation retreat which included chanting, meditation, and talks on yoga philosophy but not hatha yoga. To keep her body from “seizing up,” she found space in a barn to do some asanas and played as background music some of the chants she had learned. Barbara soon discovered that a series of postures could be synchronized with some of the chants, and the sacred music seemed to spiritualize her movement and encourage fluidity and grace. She went on to develop a series of postures, many of them advanced, incorporated with breathing and music.
The music includes chants from many traditions such as Native American, Hindu and Tibetan Buddhism, and students are encouraged to join in when possible. When a series is completed, ending with everyone chanting the last stanza together, students relax for a few minutes and absorb the feeling of the experience.
“At first,” says Barbara, “I was concerned some might find the music distracted them from their concentration on the execution of the postures, but they assured me that was not the case. For me, chanting seems to fill the stratum of the mind sometimes given to chatter and resistance, and so the chanting actually facilitates focused work on the postures.”
Barbara explains, “The steadiness of the rhythm encourages an even flow of the breath and ensures balanced work between the right and left sides.” In fact, her students comment that the music also eases the stress in the most challenging postures, and they often note a “time warp” as the music seems to make time move more quickly.
Besides facilitating ease in practice and calming the mind, this style can awaken one to a deeper level of consciousness. Chanting while performing a posture sets up a resonance that penetrates deep into the core of one’s being touching an inner, primeval, perhaps forgotten, yet distantly familiar space. One cannot help but feel deeply moved in a spiritual sense.
Barbara knows from experience that chanting is conducive to hatha yoga practice. After all, her earliest training with Krishnamacharya included chanting in the background. She has returned to her roots. And who knows, the world may one day realize that the great yoga master Krishnamacharya helped spawn yet another yoga tradition: Yoga to Sacred Music, developed by Barbara Linderman.