It’s 5:30 am.
Against a beautifully crimson dawn sky, yogis gather for a sunrise dance party launching legendary trance group Above & Beyond’s latest album Flow State, featuring renowned yogi, Elena Brower.
Upon a Brooklyn rooftop in the early daylight, she leads a rejuvenating yoga practice set to the music of the album played by Above & Beyond‘s Paavo Siljamaki, followed by a two-hour dance party. Their collaboration began in 2014 with a spontaneous sunset yoga set at Burning Man, inspiring original music for yoga sessions culminating in this unique partnership.
Flow State, as Siljamaki describes, is
…the creative and free state of mind where time, fear and stress dissipate.
Emphasizing trust and acceptance in Brower’s featured talk, the album provides a peaceful space for listening and healing. After the party, I had an opportunity to get deeper into the project through the hearts of these two dedicated artists.
Johnny Scifo (JS): What came first, the music or the meditation?
Elena: The yoga sets have been happening and evolving for many years. When Paavo and I sat down to talk, we just started to realize we have the same message, their music and my work in teaching. Whether it’s yoga or meditation, it’s saying the same thing. How do we love ourselves? How do we remember that we deserve to be loved? How do we remember that we deserve to feel safe, held, in community, with music?
Paavo: I was working on the album and was watching Elena’s talks, and there was a moment where it seemed to just come together; where what she was saying was supported by the music. The music had more impact because of what she was saying, and it’s incredible how your brain connects the dots. It wasn’t planned to go with the album, but it worked so beautifully that the idea really came [to be]. I really hope this brings comfort. I think there’s so much peace and comfort in this world. Music is such a great tool and spoken word is really effective. I’m really hoping this is going to help.
Elena: He mentioned he would love to have some element of this on the album. I sat with them for a couple of weeks and the ideas started to form in my mind. The whole thing took shape in a very short period of time. I refined it and sent it along to Paavo and there were really no changes. We recorded it in one take at their studio and we had a bunch of yogis, meditators and other people who listened [live] so that I would feel like I was actually delivering a talk similar to what he had seen, what inspired him.
We want to connect. We want to feel comfort.
JS: Above & Beyond’s past projects have greatly varied musically based on personal circumstances during the writing process. Does this project fall under that umbrella?
Paavo: I think this album especially is coming from a really honest place. When we’re doing things that really excite us and are grounded in our own lives, that’s what resonates with people. Maybe it’s a little bit of a selfish way of looking at the thing, but our music comes from an honest place, and that’s what we’re trying to do. It was almost needed in our busy lives for ourselves; and hopefully it will help other people. The nice thing about doing music for Flow State, especially that I’ve been meditating and doing yoga myself, is that sometimes less is more. On this project specifically, finding the balance of how much musical content should be there – and how much should not because it can also get in the way – that was a really interesting challenge.
JS: You both have been very candid about personal struggles. What role does the album play in personal struggle? Is there any message that you would like to expand on?
Paavo: Whilst writing this album, we lost one of our label artists to suicide. I’ve struggled with depression myself. If there was one thing that I wish would come out of releasing this album, it’s that people out there realize that mental fitness – it’s not an on and off switch. We all go through ups and downs, and it’s about having the courage to just be open. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re not having the best time of your life, especially with today’s social media world. There can be a lot of pressure to be on top form all the time. But yoga and meditation for me have also been ways that I can get more energy for the parties; I enjoy the good times more if I look after my own mental fitness. That’s it. Hopefully people accept themselves as they are.
Elena: We didn’t really talk about this beforehand, but there is a place within you that is always restful, always peaceful. There is no shame in having experienced really hard times. All of these points are hit at certain intervals in the talk. I feel very strongly – their music has done this for me too – that the more we listen to things that uplift us and the more we surround ourselves with people that uplift us, the more we remember that we are in fact completely accepted and loved. We build up this resiliency. We accumulate time in that state and then that state becomes who we are. I think that this will help people remember themselves.
JS: How can we help people distinguish between hedonistic pleasure and genuine healing?
Paavo: The difference between hedonistic love for yourself and acceptance of who you are – is a big difference! I think hedonistic person looks at only the positives. True acceptance is [also] learning to love the things you wish you didn’t have. And that takes time. We’re all a work in progress.
Elena: I got sober five years ago, and I’ve touched all of this. Every aspect of what you’re intimating. I’ve never felt more peaceful in my life than I do now without all the substances. And yet I can still come into a situation such as this party, or any party, and fully feel the same joy and elation that I felt from the music. In a funny way, I even feel it more now because now I can actually hear what’s going on. Now I can hear the notes and hear the nuances and hear what he’s doing when he builds. It’s just so much more revelatory than it was when I was high and all over the place, jangling. I feel like it’s a real gift that I gave to myself, which I didn’t know at the time that I was giving it to myself.
JS: During the practice, in a moment of stillness, Elena, you said, “This is the advanced practice.” Can you elaborate?
Elena: The most advanced practices have very little to do with what you’re doing with your body physically. It has everything to do with how you’re able to hold yourself still and steady – emotionally and mentally – when things are getting very chaotic around you. I try and say that every time I teach now. Trusting in yourself is the most advanced practice. Locating that peace within yourself is the most advanced practice, no matter what is happening around you. I always try and mention that because I think it’s really important reminder for us now. We’re so obsessed with all the movements and the shapes and everything, and we forget that sitting still is something so important for our mental state. No matter who we are, no matter where we are.
Trusting in yourself is the most advanced practice.
Paavo: We want to connect. We want to feel comfort. We grab it from the outside world, and nothing is ever enough. When you really do find that stillness, when your mind stops, you can penetrate into yourself and connect that comfort in you. I think for me, in my own practice, just having had those moments, even just knowing it’s there, already helps. Now my challenge is to try to find less need for those comforts from the outside and connect with my own stillness every day.
Flow State is a 49-minute panoramic journey of ambient compositions and warm, neo-classical soundscapes that offer moments of meditative calm in these busy and often overwhelming times; followed by a 13-minute talk on self acceptance by Elena Brower set to the music. Released on July 19, 2019 it is available at AjunaBeats.com. For more information on the artists, visit AboveandBeyond.nu and ElenaBrower.com.
Johnny is a RYT-500 advanced certified yoga and meditation teacher and has been a devoted yogi for over 10 years. He is offering an incredible practice VibeWell this year:
The healing traditions of Yoga, Buddhism, and Shamanism offer us practices to cultivate strength, love, and power, transforming us and our surroundings into Heaven on Earth. By properly managing energy, the awakened being sees all of life’s offerings and recognizes abundance available in each moment. Featuring pranayama, a gong bath, qi gong and asana, drumming meditation, and a sound bath savasana, this mixed modality practice will show you precisely where your energy is stuck and will provide the system shock necessary to realign your practice with true growth instead of chasing bliss. Find out what kind of seeker you are, and where to focus your energy next. The transformative nature of awakening comes through practice. Join us.
Trained in diverse healing modalities, his energy practices and multi-instrumental sound healing invoke powerful experiences for his students. A mixture of modern science, ancient wisdom, and raw love, Johnny is a living example of the internal power we each possess for positive change and the ability to fulfill one’s dreams and dharma.
He is an active contributor to the #1 meditation app Insight Timer, inspiring thousands of meditations worldwide with his healing music. His first musical meditation release, The Meditation EP, was featured as a teacher’s resource on Elena Brower’s TEACH.YOGA for its unique blend of rhythms influenced by neurological principles. Johnny has taught sound healing for Lululemon, NY Yoga Magazine, The Rubin Museum (on July 8th!), and educational institutions including Ramapo College and SUNY New Paltz.
Trained in Breath-Based Yoga and later in Yoga Synthesis, Johnny expresses gratitude for his teachers Fran Ubertini, Carol Bowman, and Raji Thron, and their courage to bring yoga to America as students of T.K.V. Desikachar, B.K.S. Iyengar, and K. Pattabhi Jois. Through workshops and immersions he continuously trains with many influential teachers including Rod Stryker, Elena Brower, Rodney and Colleen Yee, Leslie Kaminoff, Dharma Mittra, and Gary Kraftsow. Johnny currently teaches workshops and immersions in New Jersey and New York, as well as classes at Yoga Synthesis.
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