“McNally Balances Yoga, Music” – a Slice of Life article (text as printed in The South Reporter on March 6, 2014)
The word “Namaste” has a new musical ring to it thanks to one Holly Springs resident. In between album tours, singer-songwriter Shannon McNally brings one of the most popular forms of exercise, yoga, to the gyms of Holly Springs through scheduled classes and private yoga sessions.
In her classes, McNally stresses the importance of deep breathing for improved focus, strength, and balance. She asks students what they would like to improve, and then tailors each workout based on their requests. The workout is also adapted to meet the needs of students with physical difficulties, and so, is very inclusive.
It all coincides with McNally’s mantra: yoga is for everyone, regardless of where you start. Students are encouraged to focus only on their own practice, and not to make comparisons with one another. The class results in a welcoming, and relaxing experience.
“It’s like music,” she says. “You don’t know who needs it.”
McNally credits her own yoga practice for teaching her to slow down, and focus. In this way, yoga has enriched the other creative aspects of her life, including music.
“Yoga improves whatever you’re doing because you become more mindful,” says McNally. “You cook better, you communicate better, and you do other things much better. It definitely ties into the other things I do.”
In fact, the two disciplines share a couple of parallels in McNally’s life. Her interest in yoga began as a teenager, around the same time that she started playing the guitar. The two disciplines also share the same philosophy; they’re inspired by the journey and not the destination.
And she’s found the journey to be a very inspirational one. Forced to relocate by Hurricane Katrina, the former New Orleans resident came to Holly Springs with her husband eight years ago. They chose Mississippi for its creative opportunities, and Holly Springs for its ideal location between Memphis, Tenn. and Oxford, Miss.
“Musically, there were really good things for me here,” says McNally. “I think if you’re going to be a roots rock artist, like I am, you’ve got to come to Mississippi at some point.“
Classified as an “Americana” artist, McNally’s musical roots are a blend of rock and roll, country, folk, and the blues. Each of these has a history in Miss., and it’s the state’s musical heritage that ultimately drew her in.
“This state has won more Grammys than any other state in the Union,” she says. “And that’s because it’s the home of the blues; the heart and soul of music.”
Deeply rooted in African-American history, the blues date back to the Delta plantations of the 1800s where it was created by African-American slaves and sharecroppers. Over time, it evolved through numerous inspirations including work songs, revivalist hymns, and field hollers.
Arguably, its origin is much richer than that, and aspects of it go back even further to a variety of African tribes. In this way, it’s one of the most ancient, and emotional, forms of music.
Since the 1800s, however, the blues has become a major influencer of other kinds of music, including pop, hip-hop, country, and jazz.
“You can’t understand American music without truly understanding the blues,” says McNally. “If you don’t come to Mississippi, you’ll never get the whole story, no matter what kind of music you’re making”
She adds, “But it depends on how much you want to understand, and how much emotion you want in your fingers when you play. Some people need less, and some people want a whole lot more.”
For McNally, understanding music is a life-long pursuit that’s carried her across the United States from Los Angeles, to New Orleans, and on to Holly Springs.
She’s created a total of 10 records so far, and is gunning for many more. “It’s about living an artists life and identifying your medium, what you need, and what sounds you want,” she says. “I’m certainly glad I’ve moved around a lot, and there’s still more out there.”
Her ongoing collaborative work with American record producer, James Luther Dickinson, was another reason why McNally chose Mississippi. Dickinson, who won an AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Producer in 2007, lived in Coldwater and hence, was more accessible.
McNally created two records with Dickinson, and performed on several others. She later created a record with his son, Luther Dickinson, in 2012, as part of the folk band ‘The Wandering.’
Currently, Shannon McNally is looking forward to tour dates in March and April, where she plans to perform exclusively with an acoustic guitar. But, she won’t be away the entire time. In between those dates, she’ll be teaching yoga.
“I’ve done yoga for 25 years, but haven’t always had a regular practice,” she says. “Now I’m doing lots more yoga, and I’m getting my certification through the Mindfulness Center in Bethesda, Maryland. So in a lot of ways it’s like I’ve gotten back with an old friend.”
When asked about her plans for future yoga sessions, McNally considers the benefits of yoga, and how it could help teachers and students. “I would really like to bring yoga to any of the schools,” she says. “If breathing was something taught in schools, you would see dramatic improvements in anger management and focus, and students’ ability to function. But it’s one of those obvious things that no doctor will point out.”
Shannon McNally is now teaching multiple classes at Rebel Fitness on Crescent Meadow Drive, next to Hibbett Sports. Classes are Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 9:00 a.m. and are free with any gym membership.
If you would like to try the class before purchasing a membership, Rebel Fitness offers a very affordable drop-in rate for guests.
For night owls, catch an after-work yoga session with McNally on Monday nights at Extreme Fitness, located on J.M. Ash Drive in Holly Springs. A Wednesday night class is also being considered.