Music and Mindfulness: The Unique Kripalu-Tanglewood Collaboration

In my 15 years at Kripalu, I’ve had the pleasure to coteach and collaborate with many inspiring and uplifting partners, but there’s one project that holds a particularly special place in my heart. In 2006, I became a part of the burgeoning relationship between Kripalu and Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and one of the most revered concert venues in the country—located just across the road from the Kripalu campus. Stephen Cope, then the leader of Kripalu’s research initiative and now Kripalu’s Scholar Emeritus, introduced me to the brilliant and talented Marc Mandel, who’s been on the BSO staff since 1978. 

Stephen and Marc were preparing to teach a weekend at Kripalu on mindful listening and Mozart, and I was there to assist. I was instantly engaged in their discussion of the parallels between music and yoga—particularly how listening to music with mindful attention can be just like meditation, and how the skills needed to experience deep meditative states while listening to music could be cultivated with classical yogic techniques.

As a lover of languid summer evenings listening to the BSO on the gorgeous Tanglewood lawn, I immediately understood the potential power of this neighborly collaboration. The yogis could share practices to enhance meditative listening, and the musicians could share the potency of using classical music as a meditation anchor. The organizations had rich and valuable things to share with one another, and I was thrilled to be a part of the budding magic. 

The Relationship Between Meditation and Listening

Marc and I became fast friends, and with Stephen’s encouragement, began teaching Music, Meditation, and Mindfulness programs together at Kripalu, and strengthening this unique collaboration. In these programs, I lead participants through yogic experiences that enhance their ability to listen with comfort, ease, and focus—including mindful movement, gentle pranayama, and meditations that bring them to a place of relaxed awareness. Marc then plays excerpts from the upcoming BSO performance and provides insightful perspective on the theme and context of the music. Participants are drawn deeper into relationship with each piece and composer while gaining an embodied experience of mindful listening.

Part of what’s so beneficial about both music and mindfulness is their ability to still the wandering mind and bring us deeply into our experience of the here and now. Both meditation and mindful listening require a one-pointed focus and sustained concentration. We share simple, sustainable tools that people can take into their daily lives—increasing body awareness with yogic warm-ups, soothing the nerves with yogic breathing techniques, and calming the mind with concentration and relaxation exercises. This is all enveloped in a rich experience that boosts classical music knowledge and appreciation.

Music and Mindfulness at Kripalu

After preparing at Kripalu, participants try out their new practice of mindful listening at Tanglewood. The BSO generously provides the group with free tickets, so participants get to experience the joy of outdoor summer concerts.

Much like the unique response we each have to a yoga class, everyone takes a personal journey when listening to music. The qualities, imagery, and memories conjured up by the listening experience are different for each participant. To integrate and connect, our pre- and post-concert discussions focus on how we perceive music, and how we respond both individually and collectively to the experience of concertgoing. Both mindfulness and music can stir things up in the subconscious, bringing up unexpressed feelings of joy, sorrow, or heartache that can then be processed—or you might discover something totally new. Both practices allow us to more fully experience the different sides of ourselves, supporting self-study and self-discovery. It’s a powerful and transporting inner journey.

Kripalu Yoga at Tanglewood

In addition to running our programs at Kripalu, Marc and I were interested in bringing Kripalu Yoga to the guests at Tanglewood. What could be more fun than practicing yoga in the sunshine, accompanied by live classical music?

So, several summers ago, the organizations began a new weekend collaboration—Kripalu Yoga classes on the Tanglewood lawn during the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s morning weekend rehearsals. Tanglewood and Kripalu guests roll out mats on the lawn and share in the community-building practice of yoga while serenaded by the BSO. We now have a team of Kripalu Yoga instructors who rotate teaching the hour-long Tanglewood lawn class each weekend. Another amazing way these Berkshire neighbors have shared their treasures with one another. 


Find out about Kripalu Yoga classes at Tanglewood.

Find out more about the Music, Meditation, and Mindfulness program with Marc Mandel and Larissa Hall Carlson.

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Larissa Hall Carlson, E-RYT 500, MA, 20-year Kripalu faculy and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, guides retreats, directs trainings, and provides Ayurvedic consultations across the country.

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