India.Arie's SongVersation: Medicine Meditation Practice
India.Arie is a teacher, not because she is a four-time Grammy winner, but despite the gravitational pull that comes with being so celebrated.
One may see clearly that this is so, that she’s a soldier of Self by the way she paid tribute to Roberta Flack at this year’s Black Girls Rock, voice crisp and soothing and majestically adorned in a full-length camouflage skirt and her “WORTHY” tee.
Or, you may see it through her breath-making video, “Breathe” (later in this post), in her Yoga Journal cover story, and in the realness with which she’s lyrically, melodically shared her journey from Acoustic Soul to her most recent, the SongVersation: Medicine EP.
What, pray tell, is a SongVersation? It’s a meditative, life-changing yogic practice that she demonstrates in the following chat with UrbanWellnessMag. With it, we learn that india’s unafraid to slow down in a microwave, Twitter-obsessed world, and she’s not so selfish as to keep the remedy hidden.
Read on for your daily dose (ironically, edited for brevity).
uwm: After listening to SongVersation: Medicine my first question is — and please pardon the aggression, I’m from D.C. — how dare you say, “Life is good,” with so much foul ish going on?
india.arie: I mean, you think because the world is crazy right now that life is awful?
Yes [cry laughs].
I don’t see it that way. You saw my SuperSoul Session, I’ve been through, you know, my own fair share of crazy shit. I’ve been betrayed many times, I’ve been sued many times — that’s just my business life. My personal life, I’ve never been married, so obviously I’ve been through a lot of different kinds of relationships and break ups, you know, life. We all go through stuff. I think that with the song, “Life Is Good” … it’s a song about self-affirmation.
…The only thing you have control over is how you react to things, like people say. Some of us can’t get there, but the goal is to get there because shit’s gonna happen and the goal is to get to a place where you can manage yourself, you can manage your mood and you don’t go to a deep dive of depression or whatever over things.
I don’t know if you read the note inside my CD, but it’s called SongVersations: Medicine for that purpose. I feel like now is the time, I feel like now is a time in history where all high consciousness human beings, healers and thinkers and seekers need to offer whatever they have for everyone else. You know, it’s never been a better time since I’ve been alive to offer it, so I put something together to offer.
I appreciate that perspective, that “Life is good,” is an affirmation. It’s when you’re most in despair that you need to repeat that kind of mantra... How is this album, this incarnation of SongVersations more medicinal than the last [released in 2013]?
First of all, it’s the intention. Um, secondly… well, I guess, intention [laughs] because those songs you hear, several of them are like chants, they are chants and very repetitive and gentle and I never thought that I would release those songs because I wrote them for my godmother who went through cancer treatment … these songs started being part of my daily spiritual practice.
… This [album] is for your yoga practice or even for a person who doesn’t have a slow time in your day, this is your slow time, just put it in and let it calm you down because the intention. And again, I didn’t know [when I was creating it], I actually thought that I would get a lot of backlash from it where people would think it’s boring because most people don’t have a contemplative practice of any sort, they don’t slow down at all ever … I am surprised by the response because people love it and I think they love it because they needed something like it or wanted something like it.
In your Yoga Journal interview you describe the first time you recognized yourself in an asana was when you knelt down with your toes curled under. In Kemetic yoga we call this Sesh pose, the pose of the scribe. Have you recognized another favorite pose since then?
I still love to roll through the balls of my feet, I also love to just from the top of my head, you know like rolling the spine down. I like to hang out, once I get to the waist bend, I like to hang out down there, like a lot, that instantly makes you feel de-stressed. I also like to do heart opening on a bolster, I love that, that’s my favorite thing. I love it, I love it, I love it. Sometimes I sleep like that.
Singing is the most trillest form of pranayama. I mean, I come from the hip hop world where I always tell people try to bust a Busta Rhyme rhyme without losing control of your breath, but singing really is a trill use of the entire diaphragm and core. Have you noticed a change in your voice since you’ve become more aware of your yoga practice?
There’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is yes, I’ve noticed a change since I’ve come more aware of my body period. I’ve noticed a change in my singing but what really has happened for me is — you heard me talk about it in my SuperSoul Session — I had a breakdown breakthrough in 2009 and from that moment I just made a commitment to be free and to be authentic and so that choice precipitated everything else, that precipitated me even living in a type of structural space.
I always leave an open space where I could lay on the floor — and I live in a very small apartment in New York… I went from a very big house in Atlanta to a very small apartment in New York — and I always have an open space on my floor and everybody knows do not walk on my mat because I don’t even roll my mat up, but that’s because I made a promise with myself to be authentic and be free and so my yoga practice came out of that, but so many other things did too…
I never considered that the elevation that comes from making a commitment to authenticity that it would elevate my singing, I never considered it, it was just something that I didn’t know.
Then I recorded my Christmas album. I did a Christmas album with Joe Sample ‘cause I like Christmas songs but also I wanted to work with him. I always wanted to work with him since I was a kid and Christmas songs was the easy way because they’re standards, they’re all standards and his family wanted him to do a Christmas album for like 20 years, so I thought it would be the perfect thing to do.
And when I started cutting the vocals, I would literally hear the playback and be like I am feeling that, like I am singing my face off. And I didn’t really know where it came from but I knew where I’d been and how much I’ve been working on myself and so yes, my yoga practice has opened up my signing, and my commitment to authenticity and freedom opened up all of it.
Do you have a part of your practice that you still feel is difficult to stay rooted in with all the changes — moving and touring…?
Well, my yoga practice has turned into something else … One of the things that I just decided to do was to also make a space where I could be myself on stage, which is why I even do a thing called SongVersation.
People would call me an "R&B singer" or a "soul artist" or they call me an "entertainer;" that’s just the easiest box to fit me in, but really I’m a seeker and a thinker and writer and I’m a songwriter and I’m a lover of G-d, and I pray and meditate … And so my SongVersation practice is prayer, breathing, meditation and stretching … it’s the process I go through to create, so I don’t just sit down and get my pens out and go, what am I gonna do?
I pray first, I go into a meditation, I stretch and I breathe and I consciously breathe throughout, and I give myself always four hour work windows, and I do all that first before I even sit down to write my songs.
It’s that place where I’m not judging myself and I just let it flow out, so a lot of my songs, a lot of the songs that you hear on that SongVersations: Medicine EP come from that place. That’s why they have a little bit of a different quality than my other albums that were just songs. I had different intentions with those songs.
…I’m actually going to be teaching [this practice at Berkeley in 2018]. SongVersations: Medicine EP has a companion workbook called “SongVersations Practice Journal” and I just released that on the Oprah cruise.
What was the first new song you wrote on this album?
“Just Let It Go,” and for me that’s the one that people are talking to me about the most and Oprah talked to me about it the most and that ended up being the Oprah [O] cover this month: "Let It Go" … So when I saw that, I sent her my album I said that you have to hear this. So when I saw her on the ship, she just kept saying, “just let it go, that’s my favorite one.”
… And actually it’s funny because I didn’t think about — I know the album is called SongVersation: Medicine — but I never thought about actually prescribing a song to someone. But I was talking to one of my friends today who’s super smart, intellectually smart, he’s brilliant, smart in the intellectual way but he has no spiritual grounding, none at all, like at all.
And so today I said, did you listen to the song, “Just Let It Go”? I sent him my album of course, and he said, “No, let me play it again,” … and he said, “I’m in so much pain I don’t even know why anymore.” And I said, “You have to start working on it with the hope that it gets better…”The intention was to write a song that would help people to remember to heal themselves and how to let things go.
… Also the song "Give Thanks," it wasn’t written new for this but I gave it a new take because of the way that the world is. I say, “There’ll never be another day like this one so give thanks now.” To me when I think about that, I think about it both ways— you’ve been through some hardships today, you’re not gonna have another day like this so give thanks that everything changes… give thanks for everything because the things that you fight against are the things that are going to haunt you the most.
We give thanks to you, india.arie. Thank you for your music, your practice, and thank you for being you.