Asana, meditation and rock'n'roll - Sting and Trudie Styler talk yoga, the creative life, and human rights...
Sting and his wife of 27 years, Trudie Styler, are into yoga. They often invite musicians, friends, and yoga teachers for week long Visits to their estate in Tuscany, and they find that the stays can evolve into informal yoga retreats. The duo founded the Rainforest Foundation in 1989 to tackle deforestation. They're passionate about effecting environmental, social, and political change. Now Styler is showcasing her Ashtanga Yoga training on Warrior Yoga, a DVD produced by Gaiam, which she hopes will inspire people to practice yoga and find their-inner strength.
How long have you been practicing yoga?
STYLER Nineteen years ago, I was looking for a way to get rid of the pounds added during pregnancy. Dominic Miller, Sting's guitarist, had a friend named Danny Paradise in town. Dominic described Danny as a "freaky-deaky yoga guy." I remember he arrived with his satchel and bandana, looking quite New Age. The first thing that happened was our dog peed on his satchel. I thought, "Oh, no, this is a disaster!" But be was sweet enough to smile about it. Right then I thought, "There's already something good about this man." He demonstrated the first Ashtanga Yoga practice that I'd seen. Pretty soon he was staying for a few weeks, and we did a class every day. It was quite challenging, but bit by bit we came to really appreciate it. Now, nearly two decades later, I have great joy in participating in Mysore-style classes. That's how it began.
What does your practice consist of today?
STING I try and do between 60 and 90 minutes of yoga a day - preferably before breakfast, but sometimes it's later in the day if I'm on tour. What struck me at first was that I didn't think I'd like it. When I was younger, I preferred more aggressive exercise, such as running, and didn't fancy the idea of sitting on the floor contemplating my navel, as I rather naively considered it at the time. Of course, I was totally wrong. Ashtanga Yoga requires a great deal of physical and mental effort, and it wasn't long before I became hooked.
STYLER I travel and take different yoga classes in whatever town I'm in. I practice two or three times a week. But I meditate every day; on waking and before sleep. The morning meditation sets me up for the day and gives me a great sense of calm. I can go into my meetings feeling calm and empowered. I can stay clear and really listen to what's coming up. That's an everyday thing. One of the most wonderful things about yoga is that it's a practice for every day of your life. I was lucky enough to have a private class with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who stayed in our home. Once I was complaining about my body being stiff, and he shouted: "Bad woman! Body not stiff; mind stiff!" He smiled and laughed as he said it. Of course, he's right. If we give in to the thought that this is the way things are, we fix it in our minds. We need to make space for the possibility that the next time we practice, things will have opened up. If you tune in during meditation, it gives you a sense of who you are and where you are today. It's great to have that information at the start of your day. It's not as if your energy is fixed forever; it might be for that hour or that day your body feels sore or tired. But yoga and meditation inform you where you are with your life.
Has yoga brought you closer as a couple?
STYLER Yes, Sting and I have been together for 27 years. You get to know a person over that amount of time. The mainstream press made much of "Tantra and Sting and Trudie"; it was a running joke. But, jokes aside, what's important is making time for one another. Sustaining intimacy is an important ingredient in chemistry. People say to us that, after all these years, we seem like we are in love. It's because being together for us still feels fresh. It's about devoting time to one another talking, sharing, valuing one another, and giving each other pleasure. But yoga helps with all relationships - working relationships, friendships, parenting - because it helps With listening, patience, tolerance, understand!ng. People yell when they're really crying on the inside. By listening on a deeper level, you feel another person's vibration. Yoga practice is an exercise in listening, and it teaches you to tune in to your relationships.
How has your practice inspired your creative life?
STING It composes my mind; it gives me more energy, and, as a consequence, I find I am more productive. As a singer, I also think some aspects of yoga, such as breathing properly and eating well, are key to maintaining a healthy voice. So, yes, yoga is an important part of my creative life. I'm sure my lung capacity has also increased - I can certainly hold notes longer than I used to be able to. For me, yoga has become more than just exercise: It's about control, discipline, and emotion, and those are useful tools for any songwriter.
STYLER I produce films, typically with first-time writer-directors, like I did with Guy Ritchie. Yoga helps me be braver about making choices. In yoga, you think, "How on earth will I ever be able to do Hanumanasana? It seems so hopelessly far away from what I can do." But you don't have to do it in one day; or even ever. And you aren't a lesser person for not doing Hanumanasana. But in your head, you might tell yourself; "I'm going to do my best to do a version of Hanumanasana that doesn't injure me. It's my goal to get to my idea of Hanumanasana." I apply that to working with risk. Not many people in Hollywood are willing to work with unknowns, but it doesn't matter to me. Stories are what fire my imagination. When I can connect to a story as I connect to an asana, then I know I can do it. I check in with myself. "OK, be honest with yourself, Trudie. Do you have a connection here?" I don't force it anymore. Forcing something I'm not connected to isn't really going to go very far, so I have to have the honesty and integrity and courage to walk away from something, as well as to have the courage to jump into something that I feel is important, even if it's like, "Wow, this is going to take years."
You are involved in social causes. Where does your sense of justice come from?
STYLER My mother. We lived in government housing and had no money. My dad was a factory worker. When I was two, I got hit by a truck. My mother took the company to court and basically said, "You guys ruined my daughter's face. She might need her looks one day." The company didn't want to take responsibility because the driver was underage, but my mom had courage and got some money to compensate for this severe injury that I sustained. So this voice has been active in me for many years. My mom had a great sense of justice and compassion. And yoga has given me a lot of courage to fight injustice. I was involved in making a documentary in Ecuador called 'Crude' that shows how 30,000 indigenous people have been tragically and catastrophically affected by the actions of big oil companies. Because of illegal drilling practices, toxic waste has been injected into the groundwater, and now people are suffering from cancer, leukemia, and respiratory illnesses. It's appalling that the oil companies won't take responsibility. These people have suffered miscarriages of justice year in, year out - in the name of oil, gold, timber. It's always about profit. We have to. say "Enough!" I don't believe in anger for anger's sake, but we need creative energy to do something. With this film, I hope to be a voice for the tiny voices that aren't usually heard.
What was the inspiration behind your DVD Warrior Yoga, and what do you want people to get from it?
STYLER Warrior Yoga was created for everyone, but especially for women, who are on the battlefield of life. We multitask and are asked to perform well in all aspects - career, mother, wife, friend, taking care of our bodies to look and feel beautiful. Gaiam asked me to do some DVDs, so I worked with my teacher James D'Silva. We came up with the idea of Warrior Yoga, which is Ashtanga based.
In our sequence, when you drawback the imaginary arrow from the bow and lengthen out the opposite arm, it represents the targets that we want to reach. You need to take aim and go for your goals. After that, Valiant Warrior is symbolic of surrender. By surrendering, we give in to what is. That's the seat of leaming. We can grow from hurting. I want to help people to find their strength and learn acceptance. The body is the one precious vehicle we've been given in our life to take us through our journey. It needs to be nourished and nurtured and replenished.
Jivamukti Yoga co-founder David Life was a friend to me when I had my knees operated on after a skiing accident. Bit by bit, he kindly gave me his time and rehabbed my knees. His sense of humour and lightness of touch helped. Instead of cranking with grim faced determination to do a pose better than someone else, we need to be compassionate with ourselves. At the same time, we need to have fun with it. Get on the mat with people you like or music you like. Yoga and meditation can be transformational.
How has yoga changed your life?
STYLER I am a high-energy person and tend towards being quite impatient. Yoga reminds me that impatience and intolerance are obstacles. Fiery energy is great; my can-do mentality gets me a long way. But better things are done through being patient; more things open up if we take more time.
STING Yoga has enriched my life by allowing me to improve physically; which is very inspiring, especially as you get older. I tour an awful lot, and being on the road is not always easy. Yoga is a great way to offset the downsides of touring by bringing much-needed peace and sanity into what can be a hectic life. Like music, yoga is a journy one that is long enough so you keep developing, and keep learning. I don't see an end to it.
© Yoga Journal by Diane Anderson