Soft early evening light streams through the glass ceiling of the Rutland Gate Yoga studio in Nungambakkam in Chennai, where musician and yogi Yotam Agam is leading a class. I step inside, expecting the usual Om-punctuated resonance of deep breathing.
Instead, a complex melange of sounds fill the room, lending an added dimension to the breath and movement, a perfect foil to the gentle vinyasaclass in progress. The class, titled Soundspace Moving Meditation, “is built on cosmic frequencies,” smiles Agam. And though it sounds hippy and esoteric, it isn’t really so, he adds. “There is a real science to it. The movement of the solar system creates sounds that can have a significant influence on our bodies,” he says.
Creating something that explores the relationship between asana and sound comes from years of intense research, says Agam. “I have been a sound designer and recordist for years and have been learning yoga for a while too,” he says. So he began using sound for the purpose of connecting environment, it brought another dimension into the room and cut out the noise, he says. “Music is not there to be heard but to support your practice: the physical gate is essential but the gate through listening is essential too,” he says.
Any sort of sound can form part of this complex soundspace: dripping water, pattering rain, clustering ants, drones, waves, heartbeats and more come together to create a listening experience that fosters awareness and healing. “It doesn’t have to have harmony. It is just there to help one concentrate on breath,” he says. These tones give the practice a sense of stability, “People start to feel secure when they hear this sound.”
The sound of silence
Interestingly, Agam’s intense passion for music stemmed from quietness. He spent his early years, sequestered in Egypt’s Sinai desert, where his family was part of a hippie community. “The experience of growing up in the desert in the 70’s had a great influence on my listening,” he says. There was no television, phone or Internet back then and often very little electricity. “I remember my parents telling me to listen carefully when I was outside at night. Since you cannot see very well without light, you have to develop your ability to listen,” he says.
At 14, they left the community and relocated to Israel. That was when the clamour of everyday existence hit him. “When I moved out, everything became too noisy for me. I couldn’t handle it.”
He never finished high school, choosing instead to pursue a career as a sound engineer. “I love technical challenges and as an audio engineer, I could explore the technical side of music,” he says. And it was this work that brought him to Chennai in India in 2004. He knew very little about the country back then, he laughs. “Just the usual clichés: tabla, sitar, elephant, spicy food…”
And yet, both his passions — music and yoga began here.
A catalytic practice
It was in a dingy room that echoed, remembers Agam, talking about the first yoga class he attended in Chennai. “I would cycle there everyday to practice,” he says. The time spent on the mat proved to be catalytic. “It helped me peel off my cynicism and I began opening up to creativity,” says Agam.
There were two parallel worlds unfurling at the time, he says: The world of spiritual growth with yoga and the world of music. “I began composing, without having any formal knowledge of music.”
He went on to finish his Teacher’s Training Certification in Israel and then began bringing both these worlds together. “I conduct yoga retreats in the desert, now,” he grins, flipping open his laptop to show aerial shots of tawny sand peppered by brightly-dressed yogis meditating on equally bright mats. Ït is a very strong experience,” says the co-founder of DoGood Yoga, a company that was, according to their website, “born to bring people together, share experiences and connect through Culture, Art, Music, well-being products and events.”
He is currently based out of Israel. “Home is where my daughters’ are and they are there now,” he says. But he travels consistently producing festivals, films and music projects. “Till today, the only driving force I’ve had was to like what I do: I have to live a life filled with passion,” he says. “I want to take it to the next level.”