In this monthly series called Yoga For Musicians hosted by acclaimed musician and yoga instructor, Woody Woodrow we share his talks with musicians from around the globe to discuss how they find flow in their life and what tools they use to step into their power on and off stage. Woody recognizes not everyone is into yoga, but insists everyone experiences flow in some way, usually by doing something they love. Yoga For Musicians explores how to find flow in different ways. You will learn techniques that musicians use to become more capable in their mind, body, and practice so that we can take these tools into our lives whether we play music, do yoga, or just dance to the beat of our own drum. We all deserve to feel good, be happy and do what we love. So get ready to rock out and join Woody as he discovers and shares how to become the rock stars of our own lives!
Yo, what’s up everyone? I’m Woody Woodrow here with Joel Tyrrell of Hands Like Houses, and this is Yoga for Musicians, by Musicians. We’re going to talk about how Joel got into yoga, his experience, and how it helps him when he’s on tour and then he’s going to show us how to become “super-human” with a special breathing technique. Hope you enjoy.
Woody: When did you get introduced to yoga?
Joel: Actually, funny enough, I got introduced to yoga when I was in Africa. It was 2013, we just finished doing a tour over in the UK and Europe. We had a bit of time off and Coops’ (his band mate) brother was living in Nairobi at the time. We planned a trip to go stay with him for a couple weeks and we were doing some work out there on a safari with elephants. One of Coops brother’s friends was a yoga teacher and he used to run classes every Tuesday night. We were there on a Tuesday and they were like, “Do you wanna do this?” and coming from before music I was very based on sports, and everything was based around volleyball, a lot of movement, a lot of training and I guess the body was used to that. I think ever since leaving that I never really found the same kind of place that made the body and mind feel good. I remember doing this one yoga class in his house and I have clear memories of this beautiful African man with this very calming voice, with his deep inhales and his deep exhales… that was kind of my first introduction to yoga. I think that planted a seed and from there it just kept building and kept moving forward and I guess I’ve been learning ever since.
Woody: For those people who don’t know, you played Olympically, in the volleyball spectrum (for Australia). Did you find that, when you found yoga, did it make it more like a flow state that you experience on the court now in your life or how did those criss-cross? Did you have any correlation there?
Joel: Absolutely, and when I played volleyball, I was very much in love with playing the game and the very intense and thrilling parts of playing a high-level sport. But to get there, a lot of it was training the body and moving the body to get to the point where you’re fit and very stable to compete. I think when I stopped playing volleyball and started touring and playing a lot of music, I did find myself in some weird situations where the body wasn’t in a good place and it translated directly to being confused sometimes and not having a lot of energy and just not feeling as alive as I used to when I was doing volleyball. When I did start finding yoga and especially through controlled breathing and movement of the body, it was kind of a wake-up call. It felt like I’d found something that makes sense as a whole in what I’m doing now and to keep the body feeling fresh and working as a whole.
Woody: Yeah for sure. Working as a whole, that’s what’s up. So, working as a whole, you play in a band called Hands Like Houses, and you are all near and dear to our hearts. We’ve toured with you for many years at this point. I’m wondering, do you have any pre-show rituals you’d like to share? This could be yoga, it could be how you mentally get ready to play, could be anything.
Joel: I guess there are a couple. As a collective, we have a group ritual before we go on stage which involves finding a vibe for the day. Just before we go onstage, that’s the moment that we all can look each other in the eye, put our hands in like a basketball team and do a little chant which I think helps us… when we do that we know that it’s time to go on and play and know that everyone’s there and ready to do it so that’s always a nice ritual for us to go in calm into a show but also pumped up into a show… we’re going in as one team…. Ride the vibe.
For me personally, I don’t have any specific set routines that I’ll always do before a show, sometimes it could be some movements, yoga, breathing, sometimes it could be nothing. Most times I’ll try and have some kind of visualization of what could happen through the show or what I could be looking forward to or thinking about, specific eye-contact I want to be making with people or other things that I want to be focusing on for that show. I’ll always try and set some little intention and try to visualize it before I go on to prepare to go onstage. As you know, we play a lot of shows and on these tours, it’s easy to get into cruise control and start rolling through the motions, it’s very easy to get 5, 10 shows in and think, I’ve just been sitting here rolling through the motions. It is nice to try and set a bit of a different intention for each show.
Woody: Real life a little bit… there’s not one set structure to the day, it’s always a little bit different, right?
Joel: It is!
Woody: Have you found that, in your practice of yoga, it’s translated and helped in different ways or in specific ways, your relationship to music?
Joel: I think there’s a lot of ways that off the top of my head I can think about that it’s helped and looking back over the years, yoga has helped me a lot with what it is to be very controlled and very present and understanding of what’s happening around me. I think it’s kicked a lot of stress out of what I previously used to have. I’m sure I could look back to shows, playing three or four years ago… something would go wrong and I’d be running around the stage, getting frantic, getting angry at someone and getting angry at myself and thinking, Oh no, we’re putting on a bad show. Part of what I’ve learned through yoga and controlling the breath and mind is, these days if something like that happens, it’s a very different story. Obviously, I don’t like anything going wrong on stage but it’s a different approach to how I deal with it now and dealing with everything. I like to think I’m a very calm and reasonable person so I think it’s helped me a lot in that way to always be quite level-headed and controlled, in a sense.
Woody: That’s awesome, yeah, I can see that in you. I’ve only known you as a super-chill human being but I can only imagine, yoga just supercharges the chill vibes.
So, you have trained with Wim Hof a.k.a. the Ice Man, who has done things like climb Everest in shorts, and who goes in water that is freezing and maintains his core temperature and also battles off different bacteria and diseases, just based on adrenaline he produces. Tell me about your experience with him and training with him. What was that like?
Joel: I try and reflect on this quite regularly because it is probably to this day, one of the most profound experiences I’ve had. A little bit of a background on who Wim is, he has gained a bit of attention through the certain practice which he has created which is quite a simple breathing technique that he uses in correlation with other cold water work and moving meditation, Tai Chi-based meditation. I saw a video of his a couple years ago, a Vice documentary. The people from Vice were, as everyone is, quite skeptical of what his claims were and what he was doing. They went out and met up with him, sat down with him, and he told the Vice crew that if you give me four or five days I’ll teach you how to do this… you can make your own judgments from there.
I was quite intrigued by what was happening because at that time I was getting a lot into yoga and breathing and meditation, and how to understand the body more and utilize the body to its highest potential. I tried to look into the practice but I still didn’t really get an understanding of what was happening, and one day I was at home and I saw this thing pop up and as it is these days, the internet always knows what you’re thinking before you know what you’re thinking… an ad popped up about Wim Hof coming to Australia. It was maybe the second time he was coming to Australia and he was running a five day retreat down in Victoria. As soon as I saw this advertisement, I called up the number and this guy picked up, I asked him if there were any spaces left or what the deal was and he said, “Yeah, we have one more space left.” So it happened to fall at a time that I wasn’t on tour, at the time I was like, “Look I would love to come…” a few months later I was there and the practice is, still to this day, a pretty mind blowing thing for me to try to understand.
The basic principle and I try to look at everything this way, regardless of how much you know the physiology or the science, everything always comes down to how you feel and how something takes you in. You can read this book, it’s going to change your life… or… this person did this and it changed their life… but the reality is that everyone is going to be slightly different and digest, understand and feel things differently. People just have to understand that they are the most powerful person, they don’t have to understand everything they just have to be open to the information. So we went out there, and I didn’t really know what to expect about it, I was reading a bit more about how it was going to work.
The first day, Wim rolled in and asked everyone to sit down, and started guiding everyone through this breathing. After doing maybe 30 or 40 breaths I remember lying there for two to two and a half minutes without breathing at all and having this strange fuzzy feeling throughout my body. I could feel everything moving even though I wasn’t breathing, I could still feel all the systems doing their part and keeping me alive even though I wasn’t breathing. That was definitely a strange feeling to have because subconsciously we’re so used to breathing all the time…
One of the things he talked about is however evolved it is, we’re very shallow breathers on a daily basis, breathing is not a thing we’ll consciously be thinking about 24/7, so we’ve developed quite a shallow breathing pattern. What he’s saying, is that by doing this, we’re not giving ourselves and our organs and the muscles of our body enough oxygen to function and their optimal capacity so through this technique it’s giving the body a lot of oxygen which ends up supercharging the body and giving you a lot more energy than you would normally have and a lot more control and stability over the body. We would go through these breathing practices, we would go through meditations, and we would start on the ice bath as well. Putting it down to the basic idea of telling anyone, “Go hop in that ice bath” no one is going to be terribly stoked about it, no one is going to want to go and jump in because it’s an uncomfortable place.
I think that’s an important part of it, this idea of getting outside of the comfort zone and saying “Well, if I get in this cold water, I’m going to be shivering, my systems are going to start shutting down…” which is an uncomfortable thing which is why you start looking for an escape which creates a lot of panics. He taught us to start dealing with this by confronting it. If you can go into the ice bath rather than starting to shiver and shake and keep a very steady breath, use your mind to put heat in the air as you think it’s needed and start controlling things rather than running away or escaping from them. The reality is, you can always run away but it’s not going to be as beneficial if you sit there and cop out each time and remove yourself from the uncomfortable situation. That could be anything in life, whether you’re uncomfortable talking to someone, or uncomfortable eating this or doing that, I think there’s a lot to be said about pushing the limits of what you’re used to doing and what you’re comfortable doing.
So when we started doing these ice baths, the first day we had to do two minutes in there. I think we have 150 bags of ice in a 12-man blow-up pool, so it was pretty cold. I remember getting in there the first day, sitting there with another 10 or 11 people with me, I started focusing on my breath, going inside, understanding what was going on. Even though I knew it was very cold, I found it easy to try and be comfortable and just confront it because I knew I wasn’t going to run anywhere; there wasn’t anywhere for me to escape. It was about confronting it. The same thing with a cold shower; introducing yourself to cold showers is something that’s hard for a lot of people but even by finishing a shower with 15 to 30 seconds of cold water and trying not to shiver and completely lose control of these systems of the body, it’s going to be beneficial for growing mentally, and making yourself stronger.
Woody: That’s so amazing… I get the concept of sitting and feeling instead of running away from your feelings and your emotions and your thoughts and all that stuff. When it comes down to it, they don’t define us, but they are part of us. Acknowledging them allows us to step back, and then we can realize our power and our potential and the tool we use to realize that is the breath. That’s such an awesome experience… is there any chance that you can give us a taste of becoming superhuman… or a little snippet?
Joel: Absolutely… probably the easiest one to learn for now is one of the shorter forms of the breathing. It’s called the Brown Fat Activation Technique… you can use this technique if you’re very cold, these are a quick 10 breaths you can use to try to regain control over the body, I don’t know exactly scientifically or physiologically or how the fats are broken down… but the basis of the technique is that you’re taking in a very big breath and then you’re releasing. You’re not trying to force any breath out, you’re just taking it in a big breath and then letting go, taking in a big breath and letting go… after 10 breaths, then you do what’s called a “squeeze.” You take a big inhale, and after you’ve held this very big breath in, you try to tighten the core, tighten the back, and mentally focus on the brain and the neck and trying to force everything up to the brain to try and flood the brain with all this new blood. By holding that breath for five to 10 seconds you start feeling how powerful it can be because if you start forcing it too hard you can get a bit lightheaded. It’s about listening to the body and understanding what it needs.
Woody: Cool, let’s do it. So what do I need to do?
Joel: Just sitting is fine, it’s up to you if you want to breathe through your nostrils or your mouth, it’s going to be the same either way. Here we go. Big breath in and breath out, (about 10 times.) On the last one, take a big inhale in… and squeeze the chest, squeeze the back, and try to force everything up to the brain…. (hold it for about 10 seconds… and exhale).
Woody: Wow. That’s a quickie for ya. Yoga on the go! Becoming superhuman. That’s what’s up. Thank you, Joel, I appreciate that.
Before we dip out, after practicing yoga for as long as you’ve been practicing, what’s one thing that you would tell somebody that wants to get into it but maybe finds that it doesn’t seem accessible, or is just starting out?
Joel: I would say, lose the label. Don’t call it yoga. How I understand yoga is, the basic principle is putting an awareness to your breath. That’s going to slow your heart rate and make you more relaxed. I use the analogy a lot of if you’re learning math… the more you learn about it the more you practice it the more you understand it and the better you’ll get at understanding it.
I think yoga is essentially for the body. We’re using our body every day. A lot of people are sitting at desks all day, developing bad spinal positions and by practicing yoga all we’re doing is trying to awaken every little part in the body and work and study it; how it moves, the different ways it can go. It’s very much an exploration of how this body is working. We only have one body, why not spend the time trying to make it work a bit better? By moving your body, you might release some back pain you’ve been having for a long time…or it could just make you feel calmer by doing it. One thing we talked about earlier is that a lot of people will have these wrong ideas of what yoga is, thinking yoga is only for people who sit cross-legged in India… I guess the baseline is that it’s accessible to anyone. Anyone can do it. People don’t need to run away and hide from it. It’s something that, if you practice it and it makes you feel better, you’ll probably continue doing it. If you practice it and it doesn’t align or work with you that’s fine too, but you’re not going to learn that by not trying out something new and stepping outside your comfort zone. For people that ask me about it, I think it’s important to just practice or learn it. People will tell me that they don’t know how a class is run, but I think even that doesn’t need to be a super important part of it. Go find some grass and pretend you’re a monkey and see what happens with your body, roll around on the ground, move around in different positions and see if any of it feels nice. If you get to the end and you feel like, “Oh that’s a juicy spot, that’s been hurting for awhile,” why not try moving into it and deepening the understanding that you have of your body with your mind?
Woody: Respect. Thank you brother, appreciate you. That was Joel Tyrrell If you don’t know his band check it out, Hands Like Houses. They’re awesome.
I appreciate you showing up and being here today with me, brother and I appreciate you reading this! From Joel and myself, we hope you have a good rest of your day. Rock on and keep breathin.’ Peace.