Nashville based singer / songwriter Griffin House is celebrating the release of his new album So On And So Forth. The project, which gives listeners on an intimate look into Griffins journey to clean living, is fast rising on the charts and receiving praise from critics nationwide. While musicians often celebrate the launch of a new record with a drink, Griffin is more likely to do so with a yoga class. House took some time from his busy tour to speak with us about his love of yoga, how it helped him get sober, and inspires him daily. Readers can listen to Griffin’s tracks from the album and watch his music video for the single “Yesterday Lies” on his website.
KR: How long have you been practicing yoga and how did you get introduced to it?
Griffin House: I started practicing yoga around late 2007, early 2008. The first time I did yoga was in my wife’s cousin’s yoga studio in Shellburne Falls, MA in 2004 or 2005. I didn’t know the owner, Gayle, was my future wife’s cousin, because I didn’t meet my wife until 2008. I was friends with Gayle for years, and then she moved out to San Francisco to live with her cousin (my wife now, Jane). Jane co-owned the Yoga Loft, in San Francisco on Divisadero.
Consequently, (circa 2004-2005) my friends Ian Fitchuk, Cason Cooley, and I were doing yoga in our pajama pants in Gayle’s studio, just laughing hysterically. We all found it very geriatric and hippie-ish. And some of the positions we were getting in, like “happy baby,” we were just not mature enough to handle at 25. It was a slap-happy giggle fest. I was a drinker and a hardcore runner, and I had been cruelly influenced by some bad fundamentalist Christian ideas that made yoga seem way to new-agey and paganist. Yoga was not really for me.
Fast forward to 2007, when my girlfriend at the time bought me a hundred dollar gift card for a hot yoga studio near my house. The room was so hot and yoga was so hard for me that sweat would just pour off of me like buckets of water. I would leave completely drenched. At home I would lay my clothes and mat out to dry, and they would always smell like ammonia the next day. I think it was because I was so toxic. I’m still not sure if maybe I was picking up a chemical that they cleaned with on the floor and that’s what I smelled. But the cool way to say it is that I was “heavy drinker,” the uncool way to say it was that I was a “total alcoholic.” I’d go to yoga and then go to 3 crow, a local bar, and get obliterated. Hammered. One evening I started off with a hot yoga class and then we went out, and I got so drunk that I couldn’t even walk. I think I actually fell asleep on the bar at the Irish pub in downtown Nashville.
I kind of stopped doing yoga after I burned through the gift card only going occasionally. I hurt my back playing a football game on a concrete parking lot in 2008. I hit the pavement hard, and as a result was having major low back and sciatic nerve pain. I couldn’t run comfortably anymore, and that had been my main way to de-stress and exercise. I went to a chiropractor, and he told me I had Spondylolisthesis. It’s where one of your vertebrae is pushed forward out of line near your lower stomach.
Jane and I started dating in Feb 2009 and got married in July. She sold her yoga business and moved to Nashville. There was a special going on one month at local Iyengar Center. For two weeks you could go as many times as you wanted for twenty-five bucks – a pretty sweet deal. I think I went every day for those two weeks and that really got me over a hump and into yoga for good.
I found I used to get angry at first though. Holding my arms up in the air for extended periods of time would just infuriate me. Yoga was really hard. I wasn’t very flexible, and the poses were just so uncomfortable mentally, physically, and emotionally. But I knew I really needed yoga. My body needed it. My soul needed it. My mind needed it.
KR: How did yoga play a part in your transformation to cleaner living?
GH: Yoga really helped me get sober. When I was in really early sobriety, I had so much energy that I did not know what to do. I did a ton of yoga. Sometimes late at night while everyone else was sleeping, I would do a practice. I think it helped with depression.
For a while I was on a mission to be a yoga master myself, which basically just meant being able to have a really good downward dog, and do a lot of positions. I found out later that really doesn’t have that much to do with yoga. My wife helped teach me what yoga is about. Jane says, “Real yoga is any practice that helps us turn toward our inner/true selves in a way that promotes self-acceptance and dispels the toxic illusion of separation. It’s generally a whole-body affair and likely that our hamstrings and shoulders open during the process.” I’ve also heard her say yoga is the “cessation of the fluctuation of the mind” that’s from the ancient yoga sutras, I think.
KR: What types of Yoga do you enjoy? Do you have a favorite?
GH: I really got into Iyengar yoga for a while because it seemed to be more based in going slow, really learning the poses, taking good care of your body, and making sure you have the right alignment. Some of the faster flow, power, and hot yoga classes seemed like good places to accidentally hurt yourself, if you are a beginner. Luckily my wife is a yoga expert, so she gave me lots of helpful direction. She suggested which classes were good and which ones were not so good for me.
I really like restorative classes with deep stretches where you can hold the poses for a long time. I like someone showing me the correct posture and then leaving me there, so I can slowly become unstuck. Iyengar yoga is probably my favorite, if I had to pick, it can be just as challenging as a hot vinyasa flow class. Even if I go to the gym for a workout and do 20-30 minutes of cardio, I always end by doing at least 30 minutes of yoga poses that I’ve learned over the years – Pigeon, half moon, down dog, stuff like that. Shoulder stretches.
KR: Do you ever get songwriting ideas that come to you when you are practicing yoga?
GH: If the Muse decides to strike when I’m in a yoga pose, and says, “hey, I have this great idea for you!” I think, “Really, Right now? Where were you when I was sitting at home trying to write a song, and you were nowhere to be found?”
It’s often like that. But I think that says a lot about yoga, or maybe just means that the yoga is working. When I get in the flow of the poses and am not as distracted by my own thoughts, my mind can slow down enough to let other good ideas come in.
I’ve heard of people trying as hard as they can to come up with solutions to business problems or other issues. They try and try and try and can’t figure it out, and then when they just decide to put it down and go to the movies, the answer comes to them.
So, if I do get an idea, while I’m in a pose, what a good writer would do would be to stop the yoga practice immediately and write down the idea and not stop until it’s out. What a good yogi would do is to continue the practice and let the thought flow down the river and off to somewhere and someone else. It’s kind of a conundrum. I guess it depends how good I think the idea is. If it’s irresistible then I might have to go write it down – being a bad yogi and good writer. But I think the teacher may prefer that I try to “stay present.”
KR: As a touring musician, do you try to practice on the road? Do you do yoga in your hotel room or do you try to find local studios for classes?
GH: Definitely. I get some pretty strange looks at truck stops sometimes. When I’m bending over with my hands on my bumper and my butt sticking out, can you imagine what kind of comments people might be making about me? (Laughs) But with all the long drives I usually take time to do some poses while filling up the gas tank. I do some poses before I go on stage. I’ve had some folks invite me to their yoga studios on the road, and a lot of times, I’ll go take a class before I play. Going to a class while on the road is my favorite, that’s one of the best things I can do for myself out there.
Playing guitar and traveling in the car or plane or sitting all the time is horrible on the back. So, I really think having a regular yoga practice has helped me to stay healthy in my spine. I am still having some issues, but I think yoga has been huge preventative medicine for me.
KR: Has there ever been a funny intersection of yoga with your music?
GH: One time I was lying down towards the end of the class. It was a hot Yoga class in east Nashville at Kali Yuga Yoga. (I took Steve-O (from Jackass) there once, but that’s a whole other story.) A song came on and it sort of struck me in a funny way and caught my attention. I didn’t know it was my song at first, because I don’t really listen much to my recordings after my record is done. Sometimes years go by before I would hear my song in its recorded version on the CD, I’m just used to playing them always a little differently live. But the teacher played “When the Time is Right” from my Flying Upside Down album. I sort of chuckled when I realized it was me I was listening to. I thought “this is a pretty good yoga song, I think they should play this in more yoga classes.” I told the instructor after the class that she played one of my songs, but she had no idea I was in the class.
Does Sirus/XM have a yoga music station? They should definitely add that one, if they do. I used to take a class at the YMCA and the instructor there would always play a bunch of my songs. She’s been to a few shows of mine. I never asked her to play them, but I guess she just wanted to. She’d play “Go Through It,” “Native,” and “River City Lights.”
Maybe next time someone asks me what kind of music I play, I can just say “modern yoga class music”? (Laughs)
KR: How do you feel about Yoga today?
GH: I used to make fun of yoga. I was totally ignorant and thought that BKS Iyengar’s first name was Ravi. I think I was confusing him with Ravi Shankar. I’m from Springfield, Ohio. I’m just kind of a cowboy in some ways. At least my wife thought I was a cowboy when we got married. She used to call me that. Now, I’m an organic-farming, yoga-loving, sober cowboy.