Is Radiohead’s King of Limbs Modern Mantra for Raja Yoga?

Radiohead's 8th album, The King of Limbs, provides a musical journey through the epic battle to conquer the mind.

Have you ever heard a Radiohead song, listened to it again, and then again, until you finally got the lyrics … but then you read the lyrics later and realized: uh, no, you weren’t even close?

Do you surreptitiously sing your own lyrics when no one but your mind is there to listen?

With as many idiosyncrasies and mysteries that seem to fuel the fire of the Radiohead mystique, certainly we can look at ourselves and find some method to the madness in their music—especially when so many of us are listening, sometimes again and again.

I have often not even really understood or liked a Radiohead song when I first heard it; yet later the planted seed grew until it became one of my favorites, and I may have even understood the lyrics a bit too, in a T.S. Eliot sort of way.

It’s that misinterpreted song, born out of confusion, that grows and blossoms just like our misinterpreted experience, and by taking the curriculum and taking responsibility, it becomes our mantra.

There’s some buzz on the web that the band’s latest album, The King of Limbs, the follow-up to In Rainbows, released on February 18th of this year, may be a reference to Raja Yoga, the yoga of mastering the mind.  Raja Yoga, or ‘royal’ yoga, is concerned with cultivation of the mind, using meditation (dhyana) to wake up to reality and become free.

Radiohead self-released The King of Limbs on its website in MP3 and WAV formats.

The name of the album possibly refers to an oak tree in England, in Wiltshire’s Savernake Forest, thought to be 1,000 years old.

A tree that old has many branches and roots.  There are many branches in yoga, yet Raja is known as the king among yoga studies.  The 8 limbs of Patanjlai’s Ashtanga Yoga become possible life choices when we learn to master the mind.  King of Limbs wakes us up to this possibility.

Who better to express the confusion of mastering the mind than Radiohead?

King of Limbs features haunting and chilling beats that you can groove and even dance to.

Lead singer Thom Yorke’s unmistakable falsetto howl from some other planet sets the tone.  On King of Limbs, Radiohead uncovers a dance in the battle to tame the mind.

Feel the genius of the bass melt nicely with the syncopating drums.  Yorke, who played all of the instruments on his solo album, Eraser, is known for his obsessive retakes, a passion for percussions and a falsetto voice that dishes out ethereal but difficult to discern lyrics

It’s syncopating in some incessant order, this melody of thought.  Like the raga melody of classical Indian music, the percussions lead the song and pave way for improvisation and creativity.  Let the bass fill the room and expand your mind beyond what you think is possible.

What schools of yoga might we find in each of the album’s eight songs?

It’s heavy stuff, but it somehow turns you around too.  The hope is found in Thom’s beautiful voice and the birth of a record that is sure to be a masterpiece.

Bloom

‘Bloom’ is our birth.  It begins with a gasp of air, in motion, in the universe, where the stream of thought seems to have no beginning and no end.

Open your mouth wide

The universe will sigh

‘Bloom’ packs a busy piano and a sonar pulse that warns us of the seriousness of this business.  There is splendor in the vibration of thought, but it is uncontrolled, unfocused.  This is all new.  It’s amazing but real heavy too.

So why does it still hurt?

Don’t blow your mind with whys

Are we amazed?  Is Yorke from our galaxy?  Do we always see the beauty of life’s music?  What is this process, why does it begin, how do we wake up from our delusion and what is there after that?  The prospect of meaning blows the mind.

I’m moving out of orbit

Turning in somersaults

Morning Mr. Magpie

The European Magpie is one of the few animal species on the planet known to be able to recognize itself in a mirror test.  In this busy life, do we have time to see ourselves when we look?

You know you should

But you don’t

 

Thom Yorke performs at the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, TN in 2006.

With ‘Morning Mr. Magpie,’ Radiohead suggests another possibility.  Maybe we can see ourselves; yet it’s the ego that doesn’t want it to happen.  How does the ego react when the Self shows up?

You got some nerve coming here

Now you’ve stolen all the magic

Took my melody

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Feral

A feral organism is one that has escaped from domestication and returned partially or wholly to a wild state.  No discernable lyrics on this one.  Or are there?

Do you hear that voice?  What is it saying?  What is the sound of fluctuating thoughts?  Can you understand its earnestness, its need for more?

‘Feral’ hits us with the beat of confusion, going here, going there.

There’s some brief satisfaction as it clings to something, but then there’s a return to incessant searching again.  There must be something to say, to hang on to.

Do words matter?  What about the tone?

We’re not aware of the ego at first.  We think we are that voice.  And the drum beats on, as we search for who we are in the future.

Little By Little

Unchecked, the uncontrolled mind and the demands of our super-fast world will drive us insane.

Obligations

Complications

Routines and schedules

A job that’s killing you

It happens in small phases, as life chips away at our sanity and the voice in the head sends us here and there, looking, searching in vain.

Little by little by hook or by crook

Never living earnest, never get judged

I don’t know where it is I should look

An opening through grace becomes necessary.

Lotus Flower

How do we wake up?  In the traditional lesson we learn from the lotus flower, growth begins in mud.

‘Lotus Flower,’ the band’s release for the album, is the opening, the small awakening that reminds us there is something else.  Maybe just a glimpse, a few beats or flickers of the eyelids.  Enter the bass, heavy like the gravity we give to our thoughts, as the drum call for more gets louder and again seems to lead the way.

I would shape myself into your pocket

Invisible

Do what you want

Lotus Flower is the band's release for The King of Limbs.

 

 

When the awakening happens, we’re torn between truth and trying to mold our stories into what we think we should be.  Our experience allows for this.

Check out Yorke’s ‘Lotus Flower’ dance on the newly released video.

Yorke contorts his body in a dance that seems insane yet brilliantly in time all at once.  Half-looking like he just walked out of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Yorke’s unconventional performance is a yoga with this music and the body.

Is that a standing Crescent posture?  Crescents to each side, then a backbend.  A clapping, dancing Utkatasana (Chair Posutre)?

He reaches for some brief dream, then the next, his half-closed lazy eye gazing heavenward.

Cause all I want is the moon upon a stick

Just to see what if

Just to see what is

I can’t kick your habit

Just to feed your fast-ballooning head

Listen to your heart

At one point he grabs and contorts his face as he dances, looking much like the subject in Munch’s infamous The Scream.

The epic statement from Jiddu Krishnamurti applies here: “This is my secret.  I don’t mind what happens.”

Codex

A codex is an ancient manuscript text presented in book form.

Sleight of hand

Jump off the end

Into a clear lake

No one around

Just dragonflies

What is a skillful use of the hand to deceive?  What is our ancient magic trick?  Is their comfort in the horns behind the solid, cold piano and bass?

No one gets hurt

You’ve done nothing wrong


Maybe this song is about meditation.  Perhaps only meditation can trick our stream of thought into an asset instead of a downfall.

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The water’s clear

And innocent

The mind in ‘Codex’ is a mind that sees a bigger picture beyond thought.

This is the essence of meditation, when the mind is clear and innocent with nothing but the flickering lights of floating thoughts that fade in and out of our experience, like dragonflies.

Strangely enough, Yorke claims he does not practice traditional, seated meditation.

“I cannot meditate.  That’s the one thing I can’t do.  That’s the thing that’s driving me nuts.  I have a house by the sea, and I can sit and listen to the sound of the sea and eventually . . . but I can’t really do it.  I think there are lots of reasons for it.  My excuse has always been that music does it for me.  I think it does, but not often enough to justify saying that.  It’s the same kind of thing because you are not wrapped up in your thoughts anymore.  So when it works, it’s really good.”

Give Up The Ghost

Birds chirping, children talking.  Is this the part where we wake up and consciously give up on our stories?  Is this the part where we take responsibility for our state of mind and for life and for those in need?

Gather up the pitiful

In your arms

There is a call to action, to give up on the ego and help each other find the way.

I think I should give up the ghost

In your arms

Separator

So what next?  What happens after all of this supposed enlightenment?  There’s some talk about freedom.

It’s like I’ve fallen out of bed from a long and vivid dream

Finally I’m free of all the weight I’ve been carrying

The beats on ‘Separator’ are beautiful, complex and relaxed.  Try to stop yourself from dancing.

If you think this is over, then you’re wrong

There’s more to it than just our stories.

Just exactly as I remember

Every word, every gesture

I’ve my heart in my mouth

Yorke completes this epic song with a prayer …

Wake me up

This is what we work for.  It’s the call to show up to life, to do the real work and to take a chance beyond what we think is true.

In his iconic work, Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar provides a definition of Raja Yoga: “the achievement of union with the Supreme Universal Spirit, by becoming the ruler of one’s own mind by defeating its enemies.  The eight-fold yoga path of Patanjali shows the royal road for achieving this objective.”

The album takes us on a journey from the background shadow of the mind’s eye.

As with OK Computer, perhaps King of Limbs is another pivotal recording for the band.

The rhythm of our thoughts will always rock on.  Our state of mind determines the quality of the music.  It can be beautiful if we’re listening.

You can download the new King of Limbs album here.

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