Jay on the Drums Yoga musician Fitness Drummer Live percussionistWhat comes to mind when you think of live music in a yoga class? Acoustic songs? Or a melodic harp? Or some Sanskrit melodies. Many ideas about what is appropriate comes to mind. Jay Schwertfeger introduced his love for percussion into a yoga class one day and now incorporates live drumming to yoga classes on a regular basis. Jay, also known by his moniker – Jay On the Drums, is a percussionist that has found his place in the yoga community.

We had an opportunity to catch up with Jay to learn more about his practice how drumming goes hand in hand with a yoga practice.

#1 What Inspired You to Drum?

My main inspirations to learn the drums were my friend Justin and my Mom. I started playing the drums when I was fifteen after my friend Justin Schmedeke asked me to do so. He was starting to learn guitar and I wasn’t learning anything. We were really into the band 311 and eventually formed a group together called ‘3crease’. At the time, my mother was going through breast cancer and she was very supportive in me learning an instrument.

#2 Are drums appropriate for yoga?

In 2012 I grew tired of the life I was living in Chicago and decided to sell everything I owned and move to the beach in San Diego, CA. It was there that I discovered a small yoga studio that used live musicians for the classes. Up until that point, I had spent my days working in a health club back home while also pursuing being in a rock band. Oddly enough, I never thought to put the two together until I found that studio, it was fate. 😉 

Before auditioning to drum at said studio, I had decided to buy a djembe in place of my drum kit and found that this fit perfectly in a yoga setting. Growing up, I was always a fan of hip hop music and any genre that had a solid drum groove, nothing too flashy or chaotic. I found early on that I had a great sense of timing and while improvising my way through numerous yoga classes, saw that the drum could act in the same way a soundtrack does for a movie.

In contrast to the way most musicians performed in yoga, I would instead evolve with the class. Each class would be entirely it’s own work and there wouldn’t be any rehearsal. I found this allowed me to connect to the teacher’s intent without any worry of “fitting in my songs”. The drum is intended to match the energy of the teacher and students, while flowing seamlessly with each flow or pose. For example, the drumming during child’s pose is slow and soft, and mimics the heartbeat one would have while resting. If the class is going through sun salutation, the drum can match the tempo the teacher desires while also matching the intensity. In any scenario, drumming in yoga is designed to support the yogi and give their brain an anchor to attach to. 

#3 Please paint a picture for us. What does a client go through as they’re flowing through one of your yoga classes. How do you read the students or teachers?

Before class even begins, I like to connect with the teacher on what their intention is, if they have one. Once locked in to the intention and class starts, I begin with a slow beat that repeats – getting the student to let go from their over active mind. The drumming serves a far different function than say a song with lyrics or familiar melody. The drum acts as an anchor to attach to and before you know, the yogi has become sort of “tranced”. This effect allows the mind to cut ties to emotional baggage or over thinking that usually comes up in practice. 

As class evolves, the drums fit the poses or flows and the beats I create on the djembe loop over and over until we move on. The minimal changing of beats allows the mind to focus and in no way is this a “jam session” 🙂 Additionally, since I am there in person – each student can truly feel the drumming and have it resonate with their being. In some cases I use a drum strap that allows me to walk the room as I play.

#4 What is your preferred style of yoga or fitness?

I look at each drum performance as my own yoga practice as it allows me to fully become one with the moment. Away from this, I love lifting weights and running as my main ways of keeping healthy.

#5 What would you say are the benefits of live drumming in a yoga practice?

Through our days, the brain is overloaded with new information and frantic thinking. Likewise, our hearts go through a wide range of emotions as we move through our experiences. In yoga, the drum serves us most by not only encouraging us, but by offering a neutral anchor. The drum takes us back to the first sound we are familiar with, the human heart. Yoga can be defined as union and during a yoga class with a live drum soundtrack, you are truly united with the moment.

To learn more, please visit Jay On The Drums at www.JayontheDrums.com.

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