I first saw this instrument in a Jivamukti Yoga class, and as it is widely used in Jivamukti classes, many of us who took teacher training thought harmonium lessons would be part of the curriculum. Though the harmonium itself is not a necessary component of a Jivamukti class, nada (music) is. Walk into a random class at a Jivamukti Center and you'd find that the music selection could be as eclectic as the personal tastes of the teacher. Guided more by the message of the music than its "background quality", the playlist can get wild or mild or anywhere in between, but it is always intentional. Not only that, Friday nights at Jivamukti School in New York, Advance Cerified Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Jessica Stickler teaches a class with live music. Yes, that means a live musician is there to serenade you while you sweat out your karma!
The harmonium as a tool for nada is quite effective in setting the tone. It is usually played in the beginning of the class, accompanying the chants or sutras related to the dharma talk. Perhaps the most memorable use of the harmonium that I witnessed was during an open class taught by Hong Kong-based Advance Certified Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Will Lau. He played the harmonium and talked over it, and the effect was at once captivating, moving, artistic, and emotional. It was like a performance, the music heightening rather than hiding the essence of the teachings. He talked about yoga, oneness, union, and the weaving of the words and sounds was in itself an expression of remarkable union. It was one of the best classes I have ever attended. And I hope to one day teach like he does: creative and bold, challenging and elevated all in the same breadth.
Inspired by many teachers, I am now practicing playing the harmonium. My appreciation of this instrument grew out of the effect it had on me as a student. I am still fumbling getting it to sound graceful and seamless under my touch, and so far these are the chants I have been practicing to:
Om Shantih Hari Om
lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
sarve bhavantu sukhinah sarve santu niramayah sarve bhadrani pashyantu ma kashchid dukha bhag bhavet
Om tryambakam yajamahe sugandhim pushti vardhanam urvarukam iva bandhanan mrityor mukshiya mamritat svah
(The sutras as played by Manorama)
The harmonium in the picture is from Bliss Yoga Manila. I play it in my scheduled Jivamukti Yoga classes in Makati branch, as do Roland dela Cruz in many of the Bhakti Urban Flow classes that he teaches.