Singing the same old song: What yoga teachers can learn from the Boss

In the wake of last weekend’s great dishonor to Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney in London when they got unplugged mid-song because of a local sound ordinance, I’ve taken an interest in the Boss. Having been born in 1980 (yes, I know that makes me sound like I’m 12), I missed Bruce’s hey day, and so have missed the strong allegiance people all over the world have to him.

So I asked my buddy, a huge Springsteen fan, about him the other day. Three days later I’m still getting emails with YouTube clips and stories about why he’s such a remarkable man and musician. And I gotta’ say, I’m totally in love.

As my friend said, there is something ineffably magical and profoundly powerful about Bruce as a performer. Especially in the 1975 show at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975. Wow. The man knows how to write words straight from his heart and then belt them out with his body and soul.

I can see him feeling what he sings. In turn, I can feel myself feeling his music.

This kind of musician has always fascinated me: How can you write a song that is so personally meaningful, so potently linked to a certain time in your life—and then go on to sing that same song night after night after night for decades?

As my friend pointed out the other night, you don’t. Over time the rawness and passion fades. Either you find new sources of passion to inform the music in a different way and you become a legend, or you check out and become an automaton.

I don’t know what fascinates me more—the ability to numbly sing the same old thing day after day, year after year, or the ability to stay tuned in to the ever-changing inner landscape in a way that still allows for surprise within the most familiar and potentially rote situations.

The same challenge exists within teaching yoga. After years and years of cueing the same movements, I know there are phrases I’ve said thousands of times. “On your exhalation, bend your right knee.” ‘”Inhale and lengthen you spine.”

The risk in saying the same phrases over and over again is that they can lose their meaning—to both you and to your students.

But the thing to know is that the same old phrases you always use only lose their meaning to your students if they lose their meaning to you.

It’s when the musician loses touch with the heart behind his lyrics that the people lose interest. If you can still feel what you’re saying, even if you’ve said it 1,000 times, then your students will feel it. It will never get old.

So don’t give yourself a hard time for saying “lengthen from your navel to your heel” for the thousandth time when instructing a lunge. The reality is, sometimes it takes a student hearing you say that 100 times before they actually hear you say it. But just know: if you don’t know the feeling behind what you’re saying and you don’t convey it, your student will never hear you say the cue. It will be obsolete regardless of whether it’s fresh.

So thanks, Boss, for the reminder to let my inner experience not only give rise to the poetry of my teachings, but to also to sustain their meaning and influence. You rock.