This morning, as I was lying in bed, I realized that I had been on tour for five months out of the past year, and 2016 looks much the same.
That’s quite a lot of touring in the last two years: The moment we finished Arcade Fire’s Reflektor tour in 2014, I jumped into the recording studio, made two records and have been touring ever since.
A year of playing enormous rock shows is one of intense energetic output. Everything goes into the maintenance of being able to get up in front of tens of thousands people and move massive amounts of energy. It’s thrilling and fulfilling and, at the same time, the quiet creative self incubates, waiting for the conditions to allow it to flourish again.
I’m staring at my Christmas tree. I love how the shape and smell instantly bring me back to a feeling from childhood. This holiday, my husband and I are locked away in our recording studio right up until the guests arrive on Christmas Eve, trying desperately to finish a soundtrack to a feature-length thriller. We are determined to get into the spirit, no matter how stressful our holiday workload; we are designing menus next to the tracking list on the chalkboard, fantasizing about perfect Italian Christmas cookies.
Meanwhile, two days ago, I was knee-deep in the construction site that will soon be the brand new Williamsburg location of Modo Yoga NYC, urging the parties involved that there could be no more hiccups in the timeline. Ever since the inception of our first studio, a part of my mind is always on Modo Yoga NYC. I check my email between takes in the recording studio. I take calls during soundcheck. I tell myself I have it down to a science. I don’t bring my phone out at dinner, I have a no social media before breakfast rule and I give myself 30 minutes without any email distraction before going on stage.
This almost works. I get a lot of work done and still make time for friends and loved ones. But I can remember a time when I was in just two bands, before having a solo career, many other musical projects and a busy yoga studio in NYC. I remember a purity of presence without the low-level rumble of multitasking—without the nervous tick of constantly thumbing through the months on my calendar app.
A wise woman once told me that one has to expand into the being that one is becoming. I felt that statement resonate in my bones, and I’ve been carrying it ever since. I’m now thinking about the flip side of that idea: That just like resting the body between intense workouts, one needs to balance energetic expansion with periods of just being.
I started practicing yoga in my early twenties. I was a bit like Goldilocks at first. I loved Ashtanga, but couldn’t commit. I got into Bikram, but couldn’t take the script. I was in two bands at the time. One was an art school collaboration called, Bell Orchestre. The other was a rock band called, Arcade Fire, which was making its first record and playing a lot of small, packed, loft shows.
I was so excited about playing music. The idea that I could one day go on tour in Europe in a band was like a thousand Christmases. I’d never been to Europe before—or anywhere really. While we went out on our first tours, I worked as a waitress, a bartender, a cook and an ESL teacher, tree-planting in the summers to pay rent and living on backstage hummus and beer. The touring intensified when Arcade Fire’s first record came out in the fall of 2004, and I quit my jobs. We packed ourselves into a van and toured and toured. We’d finish a tour, and then Bell Orchestre would start one. It was madness. I partied too much, slept too little and never stopped. It was around this time that I started to really need a solid yoga practice. My home life was turbulent, my immune system was crashing and my moodiness was amplified by communal living.
On a friend’s recommendation, I took at class at Moksha Yoga Montreal and fell in love. It became my first stop when I returned from a tour. A few years later, in January 2009, I did the Moksha teacher training. The community had become an anchor for me and—even though my schedule was back-to-back touring—it felt instinctively right to embark on that experience in India.
Immersing myself in practice and study at that time provided a huge shift in the way I was living my life. One of our projects was a personal 30-day challenge, and I decided to take mine on during a month-long tour through Europe with Bell Orchestre. There wasn’t much space or free time. I did my practice in hotel hallways, backstage alleys and on sticky venue floors during loud sound checks. Because I had removed the obstacle of my own preference for how a yoga practice should go down, I felt more joy, more opening, more calm. I was fighting reality less, and I was more capable of being with what was.
I worked hard at becoming a yoga teacher whenever I wasn’t on the road. It was a thrilling process. I was more nervous giving asana instructions to 20 people in a room than I was performing on stage for an audience of 20,000. A couple of years into this intense focus period, I realized my artistic practice was getting way less love than my yoga and teaching practice. I started to channel more rigor into my instrument and composing. I’d been working collaboratively for a long time and hadn’t stepped out as an individual performer or composer. I began writing solo pieces, giving my sound it’s own platform for the first time.
Releasing my first album as a solo artist was at once next level nerve-racking and deeply fulfilling. This all happened during a huge period of expansion for Arcade Fire; we won the Grammy for Album of the Year against the biggest names in pop music and were headlining all over the world. It was also during the time that my partners and I opened Modo Yoga NYC in the West Village, an undertaking that required a lot of attention and fearlessness.
Several albums cycles later, four years into Modo Yoga NYC, and on the eve of our opening in Williamsburg, I’m taking a lot of deep breaths: Deep breaths of gratitude for all we’ve learned from our community and from ourselves during these first years as small business owners. Gratitude for the circumstances that have allowed me to live my dream as an artist and for all the incredible experiences I’ve had in the world. Deep breaths of compassion for the mistakes I make and learn from, and eyes wide open for the journey ahead. Sometimes I feel like an octopus on too much coffee, tentacles flailing in every direction and generally a mess. And sometimes, when I align myself with the waves, I’m able to take it all in, without resistance, and enjoy what’s happening.
I feel a shift in my yoga practice from the Yang to the Yin. Of course, it’s all relative, and I’m about as Yang as one can get. But I find myself more drawn to separating exercise from yoga these days. Yes, I’m addicted to interval training and just bought my first kettle bells. But I’m holding my yoga poses longer and easing away from the edge of intensity.
What we practice on our mats echoes in our daily lives. One breath at a time, I see my edges soften from their habit of expansion and move into the rhythm of just being the being that I’ve become.
--Sarah Neufeld. Sarah Neufeld is a Moksha/Modo teacher and co-founder of Modo Yoga NYC. She completed her 500-hour Moksha teacher training with Ted Grand and Jessica Robertson in 2009 and was mentored by Dina Tsouluhas at Moksha Yoga Montreal. Addtionally, she studied Vinyasa yoga with Schuyler Grant, Nicki Doane, Eddie Modestini and Ryan Leier and Yin yoga with Sarah Powers. In addition to her involvement with Modo Yoga NYC, Sarah is a musician, best known for her work in Canadian rock band The Arcade Fire, The Bell Orchestre and, most recently, her solo violin work. A dedicated yoga practice has fueled and balanced Neufeld’s life on the road over the past ten years, and she is thrilled to be able to share it with others. Her classes are fun, challenging and accessible.