Whether it’s losing your keys or being in the middle of a global pandemic, life won’t always go as planned. Right now, we’re all experiencing something different than ever before, and for many, that’s an uncomfortable feeling. These moments of uncertainty can leave us feeling anxious and lost.
This is a time for us to connect with one another and ourselves to maintain balance. Through online yoga and meditation courses, Miguel Chen (bass player of Teenage Bottlerocket) is making our spaces a bit more connected. After joining one of his Saturday morning Hatha yoga sessions through Blossom Yoga in Cheyenne, Wyoming (of which he is part-owner) we chatted about calm during these turbulent times.
“Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah. That just translates to ‘Yoga calms the fluctuations of the mind,’” Chen tells me from his home in Dallas, Texas. “The basic lesson and the reason we’re doing any of this is to calm our mind down. When we’re able to calm our mind, we’re happier.”
Chen is clear in his approach that it can be for all of us. “People get really wrapped up in these big, fancy, enlightenment ideas, and we [Blossom Yoga] like to simplify. Take what’s useful for you. At the boiled-down essence, this is a practice that teaches you to calm your mind. And that’s useful for anybody, no matter what your beliefs are, no matter your background. I don’t give a shit if you can touch your toes or stand on your head—that has nothing to do with it. What I care about is; in your real life, do you have the tools to calm your own mind?”
As a creative who has made a career in punk rock music, he’s clearly onto something. Maintaining a calm and creative outlook is one useful way to confront a racing mind. It can help us deal with unanticipated challenges.
Chen says, “People go for jobs that they think are secure—where they can make money, and that’s been the norm for so long. For me it’s been, ‘Well I’m going to find a way to make a living [by] playing punk rock.’ When this big hit took place, people are being thrown out of what they think is stability. Even with me, the band is my stability—this is my main thing. I love doing it. [If] we can’t tour, that’s a big wrench in the gears. So it’s ‘let’s find ways to get out of survival mode and into creative mode.’
“I’ve always been a lot more successful and happy when I’m working from that place. A lot of us are like, ‘Shit, how am I going to pay the bills?’ Opportunities kind of arise when we calm down and stop freaking out. When we’re creating to try to help people rather than, ‘How am I going to pay rent,’ you can do some pretty awesome things. I think that’s something that every single person has inside of them.”
As I began my yoga class with Chen, the initial novelty was learning from a person in one of my favorite bands. I also knew Chen would be a great teacher, as we spoke nearly five years ago for this publication about meditation.
Throughout the class, we focused on breathing and fluid poses. The 60 minutes went by quickly, leaving my mind more at ease. Bringing this up with Chen, he was pleased to hear it.
“We’re only doing a handful of poses, but we’re paying attention to the details because that inherently starts to calm our mind. It gets us sitting with something that maybe isn’t comfortable right away. We only did a handful of postures, but when you’re sitting in those postures, it can be challenging. The main work we’re actually doing is trying to get you to stay with it, even if it’s challenging. If we can stay with challenges and be calm, we’re happier.”
How exactly does that work? “Even in yoga, the main part of it for me is meditation. People think meditation is this big, weird, complicated thing. It’s not. My main advice is, just sit and breath. Don’t think about shit; don’t worry about shit. [For] five or ten minutes, just sit and have your only focus be on breathing. Do that as many times throughout the day as you need to.
“It’s good to calm down, if even for a few seconds,” Chen shares. “Another big thing that’s helping me a lot is that I’m trying to make it a point to reach out to one friend or family member. I would suggest people dive into that. It’s really easy to feel isolated and, ‘What the fuck is going on.’ If you’re reaching out to your friends and your family, you realize everyone is in it together, and it makes it not so daunting and scary. You’re shedding the negativity that’s keeping you kinda stuck, and you’re resetting. I think when you’re in that energy, you realize you can create solutions better.”
His lessons of mindfulness and breathing are great tools to practice. Breaking deeper into the philosophy of this well-versed punker, another tome of what makes Chen such a great human reveals itself.
Waxing philosophical, he elaborates, “Without getting too rambly, I come from a perspective that I believe we’re all connected really, really deeply in ways we’re not always aware of. I think the most nourishing thing we can do with our time on earth is to try and help people. By helping other people, we’re honoring and nurturing these connections we share. And we gain a lot from that.
“The spiritual gain from helping others is unlike anything else. So, I think if we make that our primary focus, and money is the afterthought—it takes a lot of trust and letting go of fear—but because of this inherent connectedness we all have, you’re gonna be taken care of one way or another. And I know its kinda fucking scary, but it’s true. You’re going to be okay.”
Chen is even finding ways to support younger audiences with positivity. Being a dad, he expressed our current, global situation as a tough time. “How do you talk to kids about what’s going on? This shit is crazy.”
In effort to sort this out with the little ones, he and illustrator David Buist are releasing a kid’s book titled The Virus through publisher Zarfling Platoon. The thoughtful narrative talks about times of uncertainty. It will be his third book in print, out digitally now, with paperback editions shipping in May.
With Teenage Bottlerocket, fret not my friends—they’re also actively brewing during the quarantine. “The trick is, we never really practice anyway,” Chen says with a laugh. “Cody lives in Colorado; Ray lives in Wyoming, and Chewka’s up in Canada. We never practice, but usually, we’re on tour at least a couple days a month, so it doesn’t really matter.
“We’ve been writing a lot of songs before any of this, [and we’re] kicking that into overdrive a little more. We’ll be demo-ing at our own houses and texting it around.”
And once they’re back on the road? Chen gleams, “Oh dude, those are going to be the best shows. People are going to be so ready to party!” We all greatly look forward to those days that will certainly return.