On the Record Off the Mat is an interview series dedicated to illuminating the intersection between yoga and art through conversations with local Toronto artists.
With a degree in Forest Conservation Science, a highly educated grip on the Banjo and a life-long inquiry into yoga, Anna Mernieks is a multitalented artist who weaves environmental awareness seamlessly into her gripping and poetic songwriting. Whether she is working in the woods with wolves, or in the city with strings, the front-woman of the 7-piece Indie Folk Rock band Beams commits to a regular yoga practice to keep the environment of her inner and outer worlds, in balance. I sat down with this scintillating woman to discuss her zest for yoga and it's connection to her craft.
Mara: So how your yoga practice start?
Anna: I first did yoga when I was 16. My best friend was into spiritual practices at the time and she brought me to this cozy little studio in Brampton, which was was right between our family homes - we would meet there every week after school. I was taught meditation in Kung-Fu at a young age, so I was already familiar with how to bring my internal energy into the outer realm. With yoga, I liked feeling that same free-flowing energy from my insides, out. I also actually enjoyed how hard it was to get through a practice and at the end of every class I was so happy to have made it out!
M: How did your practice evolve when you moved to Toronto?
A: For a long time before I moved to Toronto I just did my own home practice. Then I moved to Toronto and met Mike [Anna's fiance, also a dedicated yogi and the drummer for Beams]. He brought me to a class at 401 Richmond taught by Julie Gladstone - I remember the first night we went there it was a big deal because we were going on this special yoga date and then went out for Indian food! It's definitely nice sharing a yoga practice together - I think most couples should.
M: How does your yoga practice help you creatively?
A: I find a regular yoga practice helps me deal with frustrations better. The witness mentality is very important for me to use when I'm trying to write lyrics and nothing good comes out. Yoga has helped me to be okay if the well isn't bubbling and to have patience until something does eventually come up. I've gone through writer's block before and totally panicked, but then 6 months later, I had another round of songwriting, spawned from taking a break. I've learned that inspiration comes in ebbs and flows, and yoga helps me have patience during those dry spells.
M: Do you find yoga to be directly inspirational? For instance, have you ever come up with a song in Shivasana?
A: Artistically yoga has a butterfly effect on my work. The quiet of my yoga practice allows me to go back into the world and see it differently - interact with it in a better way. The inspiration for music ends up being from life, but yoga changes how I see and interact with life, for the better.
M: What about the physical effects of yoga?
A: Yoga is great because it lets energy flow and that helps me do what I need to do. Like songwriting for instance, when I don't move my energy through my yoga practice, I get bad at sitting down and creating.
M: How else does yoga benefit musicians in particular?
A: Music only survives by being social. Most people can't just write, record and release something, you have to play live shows: that’s how you survive in the industry. I think practices like yoga that help you open up are really beneficial to maintaining the energy you need to constantly network all the time. Constantly performing and being 'on' even when you are off the stage is a lot of work, especially if you are going for the long haul. I think yoga can definitely help sustain a music career.