If you’ve been to Matthew’s Wednesday night Live Music Flow classes, you might recognize Mike Jarjoura, who can be found playing sitar by candlelight there every 2nd and 4th Wednesday. He’s also taking this year’s 200-hour Embodyoga® Teacher Training at YCA. We talked over tea about his passion for sitar and his relationship to yoga. Click below to listen to Mike playing classical Indian music on the sitar.
Yoga Center Amherst: Who are you?
Mike Jarjoura: My name is Mike, I’m 32 years old and I grew up in Southeastern Mass, but I came up here for college. So I’ve lived in the Valley for twelve years. I studied biology in college and I’m a naturalist – I do a lot of hiking and outdoor exercise. And I’m a musician and former farmer, I farmed in Montague for five years at Red Fire Farm. Right now I’m installing solar panels. My ultimate plan is to go back to school for science teacher certification. My dream is to be a science teacher.
YCA: When and why did you start playing sitar?
MJ: I listened to a lot of Indian music when I was a teenager. When I was 18, a friend of mine got a sitar. I remember playing it for the first time, just plucking the strings and holding it, and it was very magical. I had never played any instrument before that. When I was in college, I bought my own sitar and learned some rudiments from books.
A couple years later, I met my teacher, who I’ve been with for about a decade. When I was a college student, learning Indian music on my own, I went to the Amherst College Music Library, and took out a “learning Indian music” tape series. It was by a famous sitar player, but it was all singing. One day I was walking to the bus stop for class, and I was singing one of these songs to myself quietly, and it was raining out, and somebody pulled up their car and just offered me a ride to school. I took the ride with him and he was asking me about myself. I told him that I was studying biology but I was learning Indian music on the side – and it turns out he was my sitar teacher’s brother, and he gave me my teacher’s phone number.
My teacher has taught me for ten years, I still go to him, and he’s never charged me a cent for lessons. He told me that practice is payment.
YCA: What audiences do you play for, besides yoga classes at YCA?
MJ: I’ve played for yoga classes at Back Bay Yoga Studio in Boston for many years, since 2009. I’ve probably played for about 150 classes over the years there. I accompany classical Indian dancers in Boston, I’ve played for weddings and a variety of other types of events.
YCA: What brought you to Yoga Center Amherst, and what has kept you practicing here?
MJ: A long time ago, I’d taken a handful of classes here with Patty, and really enjoyed it. I remember probably ten years ago taking a class with Patty, and she described downward dog so deeply that, even to this day, I remember so many of the minutiae of what she described. I remember always thinking that whatever was going on at this studio was pretty deep and pretty legitimate. So this year I started coming more regularly, and I’m glad I did.
I’ve been doing yoga since I was a teenager in various forms. I was brought up in that world – was brought up with Siddha Yoga. Whaen I was a little kid, we started going as a family to this ashram in upstate New York, which was a Siddha Yoga ashram. The yoga that I was brought up with, it did have a hatha yoga component – I learned sun salutations – but it was mostly kirtan, chanting, and meditation, and learning the philosophical ideas of Indian yoga And so I was brought up with that in the house, that was our family spirituality. Either that or hiking [laughs]. My father’s a musician, a drummer, so we had a lot of music in the house growing up, too. So I think that I combined those two parts of my upbringing by starting to learn the classical music of India.
YCA: Is the spirituality of your upbringing your spirituality today?
MJ: I don’t know how to define that. I’m also a naturalist, because I studied life sciences, and I hike a lot, go mountain climbing and running and biking, and so learning biology was also a spiritual experience for me. Even learning molecular biology and biochemistry was extremely mind-blowing. So, it’s hard to separate out. I really appreciate Embodyoga®’s approach, combining anatomy and physiology with this more esoteric, pranayamic understanding, that’s also not “going off the deep end” with the spiritual aspect of it.
My mother had me read this book at some point, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which, if you’re a spiritual practitioner, is a humiliating book to read, because it cuts into all the things that you want to feel very sincere about. It brings in this questioning mind. It’s a Buddhist book, which is all about not associating your own identity too much with some outer experience – and this book brings it to the point of also being careful to not allow your identity to be associated with some sort of “inner trip,” too.
Yeah, I appreciate Embodyoga®’s pragmatic approach, and that it allows people the space to have their own experience. It’s not pushing people to assume some sort of advanced set of postures as fast as possible, and it’s not only about getting as flexible or as strong as possible. It’s also not allowing you to let your mind collapse. There’s a lot of attentiveness and awareness being developed, and I feel like it’s exactly the practice that I wanted to have.
YCA: How did you find the first weekend of the teacher training?
MJ: I found it really wonderful. I felt like I had a deep connection with yoga, and after the first weekend, I felt like it went way deeper than I was expecting it to go. I took so much foundational understanding out of it that literally the way I’ve been thinking about my body and thinking about my practice has shifted since the first weekend. I’ve been attending Patty’s classes and trying to understand, what is the pit of the belly? What does she mean by receding the pubic disc, and the pelvic halves? I feel like just the way I stand in tadasana now has totally been changed. And so I’m really looking forward to the rest of the teacher training.
Mike plays at YCA every 2nd and 4th Wednesday for Live Music Flow, 5:30-6:45pm.
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