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Ep. 5 Yoga, Mindfulness, and Music Education with Laura Norris


Students often arrive at the doors of our classrooms deeply anxious and disconnected from their fully embodied presence. With Ms. Laura Norris, we have a conversation about the practice of yoga and the importance of mindfulness in grounding and centering our beings. This topic explores the foundations of teacher self-care as well as strategies for centering students for more fully embodied, and centered musical practice.

Ms. Laura Norris

Laura Norris is a professional violinist and educator based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has performed with the Delaware Symphony, Reading Symphony, Lancaster Symphony, Kennett Symphony,  the Philly Pops, the Annapolis Symphony, and the Ocean City Pops. Her outreach as a music educator has taken her to places like the Czech Republic, Honduras, and Columbia to study the El Sistema program. Laura maintains a large violin studio at the Philadelphia school.
To combat injuries stemming from violin performance and a curiosity about the use of breathing techniques to empower mindfulness, Laura Norris began training in Yoga. In 2017, Laura Norris completed her 200-hour teacher training with Prana Das Yoga in Haverford, PA. She now teaches a children’s yoga class for Das Yoga and looks for ways to combine her passions of music and yoga.


Jennings, P. (2015). Mindfulness for teachers: Simple skills for peace and productivity in the classroom. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

A beautiful book with a rigorously grounded look at mindfulness, awareness, and care. I love the way in which this resource emphasizes the importance of self-care as a starting place for student-care. The book contains a beautiful balance of the science of social connection and centering with practical tips and exercises for application.

Maehle, G. (2006). Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & philosophy. Novato, CA: New World Library.

An incredible book used in the Yoga podcast that takes a deep look at the history of Yoga as well as a translation (into common language) of the Yoga sutra.


Speaker 1:          00:01          [inaudible]

Speaker 2:          00:01          Because music crosses all boundaries and you don't have to be able to speak the language to give that experience to somebody else.

Speaker 1:          00:10          You are listening to the music and peacebuilding podcast, professional development network at exploring intersections of peacebuilding culture, sacredness relationship, community, creativity and imagination. Through research and story. Today we turn to yoga and ancient practice and centering that seeks to restore balance within the self and within relations to others in the natural world. Gregor Mahle's book on Ashtanga Yoga speaks of the history of yoga as a practice that has responded historically to our failings of moving out of harmony within ourselves and relationships. In today's world of distracted minds that are often connected, quote "with materialism and vanity." Yoga is a practice of restoration, one that can be deeply integral to calming our students' anxieties, making music education a more fully embodied practice and building peace within ourselves and relationships. Laura Norris is a professional violinist and educator based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has performed with the Delaware Symphony Redding symphony, Lancaster symphony, Kennett symphony, the Philly pops, the Annapolis symphony, and the ocean city pops.

Speaker 1:          01:37          Her outreach as a music educator has taken her to places like the Czech Republic, Honduras, and Columbia to study the El Sustainment Program. Laura maintains a large violin studio at the Philadelphia school. To combat injuries stemming from violin performance and a curiosity about the use of breathing techniques to empower mindfulness, Laura Norris began training in Yoga. In 2017, Laura completed her 200 hour teacher training with the Prana das yoga studio in Haverford, Pennsylvania. She recently taught a children's Yoga class for Das Yoga and she continues to look for ways to combine her passions of music and yoga.

New Speaker:        02:20          So before we get to yoga, I noticed from reading your bio and, and some of your blogs that you seem to have a deep curiosity in reaching across boundaries and encountering others. And I was wondering if you might tell us a little bit about this curiosity and where it has taken you and what you've learned.

Speaker 2:          02:37          I like that question. Um, I really think that it started in college when I did my first trip to Honduras. Um, and I went, I ended up going there three or four times and I just saw the way a, what Americans think of as poverty is just totally an idea that we manifest. And it just really puts a lot of things into perspective even as a college student. Um, that just really changed my life. And so it's been kind of an idea and a focus from then on out to try to figure out how do I put that passion and music together. Um, cause I feel like I can't just do one of them. So that is, that's been kind of my goal. And then yoga kind of was bred out of that. [inaudible].

Speaker 4:          03:46          So as we turn toward your work in Yoga, tell us first about the struggles that you encountered that kind of took you toward yoga.

Speaker 2:          03:56          Um, I, I spent some time thinking about this actually. Um, it really, the initial part of it was really bred out of, I was in my very first job and I just felt like it, you know, that transition from college to working full time and it's hard. It's a hard transition. And I was just dealing with some, like, not really anger but frustrations and I didn't know what to do with them. So, and I was a runner at the time and I ran a lot. Um, running wasn't really doing it. I mean I had run a couple marathons and so I decided to go to yoga. Um, and so that just opened up a whole new world of a whole new scope of being for me and, and just learning how to, kind of regulate myself in a different way and learning how to use breathing to calm myself down and focus and that, so it started that way.

Speaker 2:          04:59          And right around the same time I was also having a lot of overuse issue issues with um, playing. And, So at the time I was getting kind of scared like, oh my gosh, am I going to be able to play? I like, I really, it's such a big part of my life. I really have to play, but I'm in so much pain, what do I do? And so yoga has been the only thing, um, that has really kept me out of pain and my body in a healthy working order for me to be able to do as much playing as I want. So that kind of led me to, well, if this is something that I can give myself, I want my students to be able to have this. And had I known this when I was younger, I might not be experiencing what I'm experiencing right now.

Speaker 2:          05:47          And I am, I think I, I'm teach the age, I teach middle school and I teach the age right at when they are making those choices to focus and practice more or there, they're decided music is their thing. And um, I have a specific student that I'm working with right now and she has come to me several times saying, Ms. Norris, I, my fingers are numb , it hurts when I do this and, and this and I, I'm kind of trying to troubleshoot with her. Um, so I really [inaudible] it's kind of a mindfulness but also just helping students in awareness and their own bodies as well because it's really not something that is talked about, especially with younger students. And I, it's just something I would like to change for them.

Speaker 3:          06:50          [inaudible]

Speaker 5:          06:55          so tell us about, um, Ashtanga Yoga. Is that, is that the right way to say it?

Speaker 2:          07:00          Ashtanga. Yeah.

Speaker 5:          07:02          So tell us about Ashtanga Yoga and the process of how you learned and developed your training.

Speaker 2:          07:08          Um, so Ashtanga yoga is, it's really, we always say in the studio, it's really great for type A people, um, and high achieving people. Um, because actually as I've learned it, it, it has such great parallels with music and that you, there are three series of 26 postures each. And the primary, intermediate and advanced, and you go and each class is the exact same thing. So if you're a person that likes routine like I am, you know what to expect. If you're a person that likes to know how long something is going to take or how something feels within your body time after time. [inaudible] it's a good practice for you. So I found the studio around here and I just really liked the environment. I, at that time I had moved from New Jersey. And so right when I, when I make a move I find, I find the church and the school and the Yoga Studio, I found the yoga studio.

Speaker 2:          08:12          And um, it just, it was a place that kind of clicked with me. And so what I like about mixing those two thought processes, Ashtanga and music is that it's something that you can come back to and always, always improve, always change something. And it's, it's [inaudible]. It's a work that isn't ever done. And that is the same with music. It's, it's, there's always something you can change with music. Always something you can do differently. Things sound different every day. Um, and within your own body, you feel different every day. Maybe your right foot hurts one day and it, and you feel amazing the next day. And that's also a really good, it's a really good mental practice in just acceptance because things don't feel the same every day. Acceptance and perseverance and going and doing the same thing and coming around to it and um, just accepting the outcome. Whatever outcome you're given that day. And I, the same could be said for music because if you, if you're not going to sound the same everyday and music either.

Speaker 3:          09:27          [inaudible]

Speaker 1:          09:28          Gregor Maehle giving up. False projections implies watching the world and one's body-mind go by. The nature of sear is awareness to abide in one's nature as awareness means simply to know that we are awareness and not to lose sight of that. For us as musicians, our process of awareness is the foundation of our emotional education in engaging the fullness of our bodies and music. We become aware of our fully embodied experience in this world. In joining voices and matching pitch and tone, we become aware of integrated communities of sound. And in moving into states of expressive flow, the magic moments of music, we can deepen our awareness of the richness of our emotional lives. So you talked a lot about mindfulness in, in the slides that you showed at PMEA. Would you be willing to, to talk again about how you define mindfulness and how your work approaches mindfulness?

Speaker 2:          10:40          Sure. Um, mindfulness to me is a way of accepting. It's a, it's a framework for acceptance. So when you start, for example, when we start with, um, a mindful minute in my classroom or some minutes of silence, it's, I always tell the kids, if you have thoughts, it doesn't matter. It's not about erasing or changing or molding yourself into something that you're not. It's about accepting what is and not judging it. Um, which is again, really hard for us, especially in the culture that we live in. That's fast paced and high tension. Um, so it's just an act of acceptance and non-judgment. Can you talk a lot about the breath? Can you elaborate on how the breath then relates to mindfulness? So the breath is really the first thing that starts the mindfulness practice. Before you even understand what you're doing or what mindfulness is called.

Speaker 2:          11:43          I will ask my students to take a deep breath before, uh, before class. That's really how I started doing this in my classroom. Um, I, it was just, let's take a deep breath and you'll have the kids go {exaggerated breath} with it {laughter}. And then I'll say, no, no, just really just take a deep breath. That's all I want. It's not hard. Just, just do that. And then I did little little steps from there. Um, it's going from a deep breath and, uh, we built up a time in my classroom of 30 seconds to a minute to I think we're up to two minutes of just coming in and getting our stuff out. We, we could do a warmup before or after, but I usually incorporate those minutes of silence, um, before we play just to ground them. And, um, I think that it's something that they have come to enjoy and expect from me. Hmm. It helps me just as much as I think it helps them. And I really find that the breath helps me calm down. And if I am calmer with my students than they are calmer and then I, and then the outcome is automatically better because middle school students are very high energy, high energy, high focused, um, and I, am in a very high achieving area in which I teach. And they, I think they really, they like the time that is given to them to calm down.

Speaker 1:          13:22          Ujjayi Pranayama means victorious breath or the victorious stretching of the breath, the adoption of a calm, peaceful, and steady breathing pattern. When the breath is calm, the mind is also calm.

New Speaker:        13:39          Can you tell us about the square breathing exercise? I remember on one of the slides you had this, this beautiful picture of a square. Can you tell us what that is so that a teacher might be able to imagine it even through audio?

Speaker 2:          13:51          Sure. Um, that is something that I felt would be really applicable to music in general. Um, it's, there are a lot of different um, breathing techniques that you can do. But the square breathing I specifically liked because it had counts of four, which is good. I've used that with scales. I've used that with, take a deep breath, hold your note for four counts, then take another big deep breath. Now play the next note. Um, and the, the poster itself has a square and a little head that I was breathing. Um, and really what it's telling you to do is take a deep breath, count to four and let it out and then you do that four times.

Speaker 1:          14:43          So if I, if I were a teacher who is just deciding that I wanted to try yoga or mindfulness, what kinds of advice would you give me about practices that are easy to start with?

Speaker 2:          14:56          I would say just start with being aware of your breathing, being aware of your breathing and being aware of the pace that you move. Because like I said earlier, um, people really respond to what you give them. And if you are in a calm state, if you are working on slowing your breath down and speaking or moving slowly, then that will automatically change your environment. I'd suggest finding a yoga studio that you feel comfortable with, um, or even a person that, um, if you don't want to do a full class, even a person that knows or has studied yoga can give you little tiny pointers on things that might be more specific to you. I started an Instagram with little things that I'm putting out about just thoughts about little tiny, easy things that people could do. And a lot of, I think a lot of people that have studied or started this practice, um, have little tips like that. Um, but it's very, it's a very personal thing. So if you aren't comfortable in a classroom setting, I would say seek out a person that knows or has studied that. But the very first thing is just to be aware of your breathing. Is it, is it deep? Is it shallow? Are you filling up your lungs? Are you expanding your lungs when you're, when you're breathing? Is it fast? Is it slow? Is it just to be aware of that? That would be the very first step.

Speaker 3:          16:56          [inaudible]

Speaker 1:          16:56          so I love watching the video of the three to four year old group to doing yoga with you in the one boy who, who is not kinda quite do it. And so I wondered for people who work with much younger children, um, about what you've learned about the practice of yoga from working with very young children.

Speaker 2:          17:13          I learned that they are, they're really curious and yeah, to keep a really fast pace. Like you think you have to keep a fast pace for middle school, but little tiny kids are you {laughter} even faster. I just, I learned that they, they like routine just as much as everybody else. Routine is good for them and they really do. They learned after a few classes when I played a certain thing on the violin that that's what they, it meant to lay down. So that was their routine and that was when I, when you hear this, you do this. Um, and so I didn't really have to even use language for that. That was kind of an unknown. I didn't have to ask them to do that. That's just what they learned through my music. Um, which was really cool to learn, that they could, you don't have to sit down and teach them that they can learn through doing and it's experiential practice.

Speaker 6:          18:12          [inaudible]

Speaker 1:          18:13          I share Laura Norris's love for the book on Mindfulness for teachers by Patricia Jennings. This book is an incredible, powerful look at the process of self care and how teacher self care creates the care for our children. Regarding mindfulness, Patricia Jennings writes of mindfulness as present moment, nonjudgmental awareness. She writes, mindfulness can help us recognize and appreciate other's values and perspectives. It helps us suspend our tendency to judge so we can become more helpful and caring. We can recognize the needs actually being expressed by students and their families rather than clinging to the institutional needs that seem to take precedence. This helps us build strong relationships with our students and their families because they know that we are listening and that we truly care about and respect their perspectives.

New Speaker:        19:15          So is there anything that I haven't asked you about the value of yoga within music classrooms or mindfulness within music classrooms that you wish I would ask you about?

Speaker 2:          19:25          I think that this, by, by doing this in my classroom, it has really developed an awareness or a slightly greater awareness of the students, um, attitudes and treatment of each other as well.

New Speaker:        19:42          In the way that I think that it is slightly calmer. Um, the way it then, the way it used to be. Um, and I have really, I have two rules in my classroom and then we don't say stupid and we don't say shut up. Um, but even when they speak to each other, it sounds to me as if they are, they know what I like and what I don't like and that they, maybe it's just out of respect for me, but they seem more respectful to each other. And maybe that's just a development of personal respect within the classroom that's come out of this. I'm not quite sure where it's come from, but it's nice to see the kids being helpful to each other and helping each other learn. And you know, picking something up and it's just nice to see that behavior.

Speaker 1:          20:33          Many schools have recently sought to adopt yoga, to provide supports for anxious schools and classrooms. Yoga is just one of many ways of centering the self and engaging in practices of self care. Whatever practices you choose, We know that a foundation of peacebuilding is found in our centering, in our enlarged capacity to care for our students. We only have this capacity when we invest time and compassion for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.

New Speaker:        21:09          Special thanks to Laura Norris for her time and resources. More information on Laura Norris's work with yoga can be found on her Instagram feed, @mantra_melodies and her website, listen for future interviews on mindfulness and topics of trauma, community connection and care with Dr Gene Barons. Thank you for listening. This is the music and peace-building podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson at Elizabethtown College. We host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding. Thinking deeply, we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at

Speaker 7:          22:12          [inaudible].

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