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Talking Yoga with Michael Franti

Headlining next month's Wanderlust is familiar ground for musician/poet/activist/yogi Michael Franti. The lead singer of Michael Franti & Spearhead has played to adoring crowds for years, and has been practicing yoga since 2001. Wanderlust, the three-day, music-yoga-nature festival is taking place July 24-26 at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, and Michael talked to 7x7 about his involvement, as well as his upcoming, 11th annual Power to the Peaceful event, September 12 in Golden Gate Park.

7x7: How did you get involved with Wanderlust?

Michael: I’ve been playing a lot of yoga events – the Yoga Journal Conferences, Power to the Peaceful – and as I’m on the road, I go to tons of yoga studios. Every place I play, I go to a different studio. And so the organizers of Wanderlust invited me to be a part of it, and I’m really excited to be there.


7x7: I talked with Tim Dale and know you’ve been practicing together for a while. How did you get started in yoga?


Michael: I started in the fall of 2001, right after September 11th, and I started practicing because I was looking for way to cope with stress; I was really stressed after the attacks occurred. And so I went to a class, and Rachel Redding in Colorado actually taught our whole band. And then I just kept going every day we were on tour. It started as a way to cope with stress and went to being a way of life. I get on my mat 6 days a week, but my yoga practice is also in my music.

7x7: Does yoga influence your music, or vice versa?


Michael: It’s really informed my music a lot. There’s always something I learn in yoga class, like today, the teacher at Yoga Tree said that sometimes, if you’re going into a pose, you really want to take it to its full extension. But if your body’s not ready to go there, you end up not getting any opening because you go into it and back out. You have to be aware of how you’re inviting your body into a pose, and make it something you can be there in.

[It’s like that] in terms of music, and activism, and communicating with an audience. Like for example, if you’re trying to convince someone about [not] eating meat. If you say, “You have to be vegan right now,” you’re going to have less results communicating than if you say, “Hey, lets talk about food or have a conversation over salad” or something. You have to invite people into the conversation.

7x7: Do you practice any particular type of yoga?


Michael: I practice all types. I started out with Anusara, and then I did Ashtanga, and now I just do a combination of what they call Vinyasa Flow classes. I like to be pretty active in my practice because onstage, I’m moving a lot, jumping, dancing, singing. On my mat I like to move and get warmed up.

7x7: Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing at the festival?


Michael: Pretty much everybody! In terms of teachers, Shiva Rea. I’ve never practiced with John Friend, but I’ve practiced under a lot of Anusara teachers, so it’s exciting to be there. Sianna [Sherman] just taught at our Power to the Peaceful yoga fundraiser this year. And in terms of music, all the bands.

7x7: You’re playing the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa on June 13 – how does it feel playing to a Bay Area crowd?


Michael: Well, the Bay Area is the best place in the world. I don’t live here by accident. I really love the openness of the culture here. It’s open to new ideas, tolerance, embracing differences of culture. Harmony has been going on for 31 years, and it’s always been dedicated to issues like sustainability…and community awareness, and those are things I really believe in.

7x7: Can you tell us anything about this year’s Power to the Peaceful?


First of all, it’s dedicated to helping people look into ways they can make a difference. We work with hundreds of social justice organizations, and put them with 70,000 people in the park to show people there are ways they can serve and get plugged in. This year, we’ve partnered with an organization called CARE. The festival will be on September 12th, and on the 13th, we’ll be doing a symposium with CARE where people can, through workshops, learn to be involved in issues of poverty, climate change, education of girls and women in developing nations, and how to be most effective in terms of communicating with law makers. It will also involve yoga and there will be Brazilian dance taught at symposium. At night, there will be an acoustic concert, and this will all be at Herbst Theater. So we’re really super excited. We’ve always communicated the message and people get excited [at the festival], but then go away, and now they can learn how to make a difference.

This year's free Power to the Peaceful takes place on Saturday, September 12 in Golden Gate Park. On Sunday, September 13, take all the energy and information from the festival and channel it into action. The PTTP Symposium will include a yoga and Brazilian arts workshop which emphasizes activism through physical action focusing on integrity, strength, communication, community, freedom, and education. In addition, CARE is sponsporing discussions on global climate, underage marriage, and world hunger. There will also be live performances by Michael and special guests. Visit http://www.powertothepeaceful.org/ for more information, and check out Michael and a host of other yogis and musicians at this year's Wanderlust festival, July 24-26.

Check out the other interviews we've done with Wanderlust's stars:

Tim Dale, founder of Yoga Tree

Adrian Grenier and Andrew Vladeck of The Honey Brothers