Lela Clawson-Miller is a solo and collaborative pianist, singer, harmonium player and yoga instructor. She combines her love of the expressive arts, human development and mindfulness/movement modalities, inspiring students of all ages to be themselves, trust the creative process and develop a regular music/mindfulness practice.
Lela has taught piano lessons for over 10 years in private studios as well as music schools across the country. She graduated with a degree in music from the University of Northern Colorado. She currently attends Lesley University, pursuing a Masters of Education with a focus in community and healing through the integrated arts. She continues to grow musically through her own songwriting/poetry pursuits, collaborative work in the Boston area and sound healing events.
For young students, Lela integrates the Musikgarten curriculum principles of early singing, drumming, dancing, and pattern recognition, paralleling the process of language acquisition. As students mature, the sky is the limit! We build a strong foundation of music language through theory, ear training, improvisation, composition, technique, harmonisation and repertoire. Repetoire is based upon student’s interests and talents, ranging from Bach to Tori Amos, the Beatles to Irish folk songs. Additionally, students are highly encouraged to write their own songs.
For those interested in developing a yoga/meditation practice alongside their music practice, Lela offers her experience as a yoga/meditation instructor. Through mindful breathing and gentle movement, students report feeling more connected to their instrument and to themselves. This is an option for individuals as well as small groups.
Lela is a nurturing, kind and motivating teacher. Her love of music and compassion for her students creates a wonderful teaching ecosystem in which to learn and thrive.
Mind Body Statement
The Place Where Music and Yoga Meet: An Introduction
My desire to practice yoga regularly began while I was attending music school at the University of Northern Colorado. I had followed my love of music and accepted entrance into a piano program that was equally fulfilling and stressful. My shoulders ached after practicing for countless hours and my wrists were beginning to feel tender to the touch. Though I had meditated on my own as a teenager, yoga remained an untapped curiosity. I never expected yoga to solve all of my issues, but I was hopeful to try something that would bring balance back into my life.
Little did I know then that yoga would start to permeate into every little corner of my life. As I practiced the physical postures, I felt stronger and more present in my body. My wrists, over time, completely healed. Then, I added in the layer of breath awareness. After practicing breath techniques, my mind was clearer. This peace I felt through the breath led me toward meditation. Before long, I was meeting other yoga practitioners and teachers and we began to connect through discussions about yoga philosophy. In 2012, I completed my 200hr yoga training which was one of the greatest decisions of my life. Yoga was no longer merely an activity I did in isolation. It became a way of being in relationship with myself and the world.
We can approach anything we do through the lens of the yogic path. The eight limbs of yoga, as conveyed through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, are like the branches of a tree. Yoga refers not only to physical stretches and postures. It also is the practice of mindful breath, appropriate social morals, self-care, choice of intention, one-pointed focus, meditation, and potential for the experience of bliss, otherwise known as samadhi. These branches are not hierarchical and can happen in any order. However, it is often easiest to begin by focusing on the physical body and how we operate in the world.
How does this apply to our relationship to music? The way we approach our instrument matters. How we sit, stand, and hold our hands over time becomes imprinted upon the body. It is very easy to forget about our bodies as we play music, but they are there with us the entire time. They are our primary instruments. Vocalists learn this early on. Instrumentalists also must play using their body. If we free the body of unnecessary tension and if we can train ourselves to imprint good habits as we learn our instruments, our playing experience will be all the more holistic, fulfilling, joyful, and not surprisingly, of better quality.
Breath is another component of good playing that I learned much later on in my approach to the piano. Just as it is for vocalists and wind players, for non-wind instrumentalists it is helpful to mark where to breathe. The word for breath in Sanskrit is prana and translates to mean not only breath but also life force. As we learn to breathe deeply and intentionally, we connect to the animating force which is the fuel of all creative endeavors. Our breath awareness is also a tool for remaining present. At times, we can become worried about the future as we anticipate a difficult passage in our pieces. Remembering to breathe can enable better focus and receptivity, even during high intensity moments. Breath supplies oxygen to the brain, increasing the capacity of our metal functioning. The gift of breath awareness is that we can harness the power of the breath and turbo-charge our already amazing musical super powers!
A creative environment in which the body and breath are tuned provides the musician the freedom to focus on what matters to them. For many, this would be the making of music in and of itself. But to take it to the next level, we might begin to ask ourselves: How might we use music for the betterment of self and society? Within the Yoga Sutras, there are two sets of guidelines called the yama-s and niyama-s. In these teachings we have the opportunity to ask how we wish to show up in the world. How might we apply the principles of truthfulness (satya) and nonviolence (ahimsa) as we share and create music for and with each other? How might self-discipline (tapas) and contentment (santosha) guide the way we relate to our personal music practice?
This is just the beginning and yet, every journey must start somewhere. As I reflect on the many lessons the yogic path has taught me, and as I consider what it means to apply these lessons to music playing and teaching, I am humbled and excited to have the opportunity to continue to learn and grow. WholeTone Music Academy is already answering the question of how it would like to show up as an organization. The message is clear as stated in its tagline: “Grow in Self and Sound.” These are not mere words. This is an invitation to tap into the music that lives inside each one of us. This is a safe space where one can come for healing and where one can rise up with strength and offer the gift of music back into the community. Joining WholeTone Music Academy in this mission is a tremendous honor. It is my hope that as I contribute my passion for creative expression and yogic principles that I may add to the already rich fabric of this organization.
Lela’s Reading List
Yoga and Movement Books:
Adele, Deborah. The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice. Duluth, Minnesota: On-Word Bound Books, 2009.
Bachman, Nicolai. The Yoga Sutras Workbook. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, Inc, 2010.
Hannaford, Carla. Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head. Arlington Virginia: Great Ocean Publishers, 1995.
Mascaro, Juan (translation). The Upanishads. London, England: Penguin Press, 1965.
Ramacharaka, Yogi. Bhagavad Gita, translated from Sanskrit. Chicago, Illinoise: Yogi Publication Society, 1930.
Healing Arts, Music and Expression
Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putman, 2002.
Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones : Freeing the Writer Within. Boston: [New York]:Shambhala; Distributed by Random House, 1986.
Goldman, Jonathan. Healing Sounds. Rochestor, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 2002.
Khan, Hazrat Inayat. The Mysticism of Sound and Music. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Dragon Publications, 1991.
Kossak, Mitchell. Attunement in Expressive Arts Therapy: Toward an Understanding of Embodied Empathy. Sangamon County, Illinois: Charles C Thomas, 2015.
Oliveros, Pauline. Deep Listening. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2005.
Rumi, Jelaluddin. The Essential Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks. Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1995.
Thomas, Bonnie. Creative Expression Activities for Teens. Philadephia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2011.
Wooten, Victor. The Music Lesson. New York, NY: The Berkely Publishing Group, 2006.