Kiran Gandhi: Drumming with a Purpose

Kiran Gandhi: Drumming with a Purpose

Kiran Gandhi: Drumming with a Purpose

Tawny Lara, Music Editor


Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC BATALA NYC drumming
Kiran Gandhi does it all. She toured the world as MIA’s drummer while pursuing an MBA from Harvard University. While running the 2015 London Marathon, she made global headlines for free bleeding (menstruating without the use of pads, tampons, or panty liners). She’s a feminist activist who channels her passion through song lyrics and speeches. Kiran credits her accomplishments to what she calls Atomic Living. Kiran’s focused on identifying what she’s truly passionate about: drumming, feminism, friends and family, and the music industry. When opportunities come her way that could potentially nourish one of those four pillars, Atomic Living tells her to say “YES!” and she goes with it. This way of living allows her to be present in the moment and contributes to her creativity.

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity is the ability to have the clarity to let your fullest self be expressed. It also means being able to shut out the surrounding influences and really assess what we think or feel. That’s part of the reason why, as a creative, I prefer to live in a place like LA. Now I even see a lot of New Yorkers going to places like Beacon or Hyde Park because sometimes when we are too stimulated by things around us, it’s difficult to access our inner creative spirits and inner creative thoughts. Creativity is also when you’re able to provide a new perspective that’s different than what’s around you so you can inspire and challenge others.

How do you shut out those external influences?

For example, one day I promised to meet some people at our local farmer’s market, then I realized I really needed to write and work on music at home. I didn’t feel the need to exchange external energy. Having the courage to accept that, without feeling obligated to say something that didn’t feel right to me, is very important. That’s not a selfish or egotistical thing; it’s more honoring and understanding myself so that I can actually be better to those around me. I don’t really book that many meetings. I try my best to spend time alone so that I can actually hear my thoughts. I think that’s why people like yoga and meditation. It’s the same idea.

So many people are terrified of that alone time that you’re talking about.

They are. At a recent show, I realized I only had five minutes left, but I wanted to share something with them. In a yoga class the day before, the instructor said “Let the blood rush to your pituitary gland, your third eye, your intuition, where you’re never wrong”. I was so obsessed with this because we question ourselves all the time. We’re afraid of being wrong and hurting ourselves or others. But at the same time, I do believe that those who practice meditation and yoga are so in touch with their own energetic flow that they know very clearly what they need to do, where they need to be, and what they need to say no to.

You mentioned the importance of being cognizant of how you spend your energy. How do you balance that with what you call Atomic Living?

It’s the exact same. It’s all connected. Atomic living is exactly what my yoga teacher said: listening to intuition. For so long, humans, especially women, only had their intuition. Think of motherhood. There’s no manuscript telling you what’s right or wrong. You just exist based on your intuition. You have a feeling through your own anatomy that your child is hungry, so you feed them from your own body. It’s so pure. Then in the 1200s, missionaries came in and told humans they need to listen to God. They told us to put our faith in something external instead of internal. This teaching shows up everywhere. We still look for external validation through Facebook. We look for the answer by Googling it. We look for hope by praying to God. While prayer is powerful and it helps millions of people, I don’t think it should come at the expense of being able to listen to our own intuition. When we say “The Future is Female,” it means returning to that place of trusting your own intuition.

If we go against the grain or that typical way of thinking, we’re thought of as weird.

Look at the greatest leaders of our time; those are the people that listened to their gut. In the short term, they set back challenges and exclusions and even death threats. In the long term,  they’re ones who push our society forward.

b>Most people don’t think that they have the capability to be that great. We often idolize celebrities or profound leaders from the past and think “I can’t do that”. They’re just people, too! They’ve learned how to ignore the haters and listen to their intuition.

Absolutely. I spread this message in my lyrics. In one song, I say “Own your voice, don’t be afraid.” In another song, I say “I own my voice, I am not afraid.” I say it over and over again because it’s so powerful. It can be something as simple as not telling their boss what they think because they’re afraid or something as extreme as sexual assault and rape victims not feeling confident enough in our society to speak up against right and wrong. A capitalist society depends on people not listening to themselves. The majority of us knows better. We know better than to idolize someone because they have fake breasts. We know better than to value ourselves based on how we look. We know better than to smoke or drink. But capitalism depends on us to ignore those things, to feel bad about ourselves. It’s a toxic system.

Speaking of business, I think a big miss with struggling artists is that they don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs. Would you agree?

Artists recognize that creativity and doing something pure at heart shouldn’t be tethered to material wealth, so they shy away from the business based on a stereotype of capitalism. I believe that artists need to be able to receive the value that they’re giving. We can exchange value in different ways. This is a materialistic example, but sometimes when you’re making art, you need material things. I recently went into a store that sells beautiful sunglasses. I told them I’m making music video and I’d love to be able to place their glasses in a shot because they’re so cool and really on brand for what I’m doing. I let them know that there was no money at all, but I used to work with MIA and we have a big press partner, so it could a good opportunity for them, too. When I teach artists about business, I don’t teach them about greed or corruption, I teach them about how to understand the exchange of value.

When I speak about change and social justice, I talk about my four levers of social change. People don’t think that they can make a difference for various reasons, but actually, we need all four of the following to make any kind of social change:

  1. Radical Activism – This can be protesting in the street, my free bleeding during the London Marathon, or anything that forces society to question its norms.
  2. Access to Education – Education is the thing that convinces us because it caters to our brain and teaches us how to know better. It arms us with information so that we don’t have to be afraid of something because we don’t know anything about it.
  3. Policy Change – When the masses care about an issue, policymakers are forced to care about an issue
  4. Innovation – This is where the business people come in. Whether it’s an app or a product that can change the problem we’re trying to fix for the better.

How does feminism fuel your creativity?

I think of my creativity as the method through which I express my beliefs on women’s equality. I believe we still live in a world where a woman is a second class citizen. I use my creativity in an innocuous way to inspire change. If I were to be a lawyer or politician and say the things that I believe, it would make people afraid or repulsed by my ideas. But I say the exact same thing and express it through art and music. Because art and music don’t exist in our official channels, a lot more can pass through. Artists impact people so much more than politicians because art caters to people’s emotions first.

What’s your yoga/meditation practice?

7 a.m. yoga – that’s my jam. I don’t have a “job” that I have to wake up and go to, so creating this has been an anchoring point for me. It keeps me from drinking the night before. It makes me go to bed early. It makes me start my day at 8:30. I feel like my limbs are stretched out. I feel like my physical well being supports my mental well being. There’s oxygen getting to every fiber in my muscles. The meditation I do doesn’t happen by sitting still in silence. It happens at two specific times. It happens when I’m driving. I get the chance to zone in on what I really want. I’ll take notes and send myself reminders from that time. Another time is when I’m drumming. As a musician, you get to a point to where your craft becomes muscle memory.  I’m no longer addressing the learning at the front of my brain, it’s already happening. I let my limbs do whatever and my brain goes off into a thought process. I recognize that most schools of thought for meditation are about clearing your mind completely. The way I think about it is clearing external stimulation completely so that I can hear myself. Maybe I still have work to do when I access one level beyond that, which is complete blankness of the mind, which is a very Indian school of thought.

A lot of people do find peace through stillness. It sounds like you find meditation in movement. The beauty of meditation is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Some people can sit quietly for 20 minutes and feel recharged. For you, maybe you get that from drumming. 

Learn more about Kiran Gandhi and Atomic Living on her social media channels:


Instagram: @madamegandhi
Twitter: @madamegandhi

Jason Naylor ART



Tawny Lara, Music Editor


Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC - MCYOGI- bio Photo
Nicholas Giacomini, also known as “MC Yogi,” is a hip hop artist and yoga instructor known for lyrically modernizing ancient yoga teachings through song lyrics, motivational speeches and yoga classes. His authenticity resonates with yogis all over the world.  Russell Simmons has even said, “The world needs more artists like MC Yogi.”  MC Yogi performs at international yoga festivals and teaches classes with thousands of participants, but before he can do any of this, he must remind himself of his mantra: Soul is the Goal.

What are your goal-setting tactics?

I have one overarching goal that goes throughout my whole life: SOUL IS THE GOAL. Of course there are daily goals and hitting certain timelines, but having a soulful experience supports the big vision. It helps to steer my whole life in the right direction.  Whether I’m walking my dog or performing in front of 5,000 people, my goal is always to have a soulful experience. Atman is Sanskrit for soul, so I have a little saying: “The Atman is where it’s at, man.”

Last year lululemon had some pants called the Atman Pant — it’s cool to hear the origin of the word.

It’s a very rich history that ended up becoming the name of some pants. What an interesting evolution!  The Sanskrit words are so powerful. The ancient teachings say that even hearing the word yoga in your lifetime in considered a huge blessing. It’s great that the words are out there now and being used more.

How did you come up with this mantra of Soul is the Goal?

When I was a kid, I had a few experiences that led me to realize that my soul was being compressed. The more I started meditating, I realized that my purpose was to unpack, open, expand, and stretch this light that is inside all of us: the soul. I don’t think I’m special in this way as we are all made up of the same stuff. Yogis say we are made up of bliss, light, and the soul. When you start practicing yoga, you get the initial endorphins that are released just from going to the gym. As you begin to look into the philosophy and live the philosophy of yoga, you begin to dig a deeper tunnel into yourself. On the other side of the mind you find a vast storehouse of bliss, love, energy, and peace.You can’t just read about these things or listen to people talk about these things. You have to develop the desire on your own. Essentially, desire is the fuel which drives the process. You have to be hungry and thirsty and really want to get free from your own mental psychosis and habits. When that desire gets strong enough and you want to free yourself from your own suffering, you will begin to take the practices more seriously.Yoga is not just about stretching; it’s about eradicating your own demons from the inside. You have to go all the way or not at all.

That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.”

Yeah, that’s a really good one – I use that philosophy as well when making decisions. Sometimes I’ll find myself not wanting to do something but for some reason, destiny has me do it and I’m grateful that I didn’t miss it. Sometimes it’s a hell yes and I didn’t even know it; it’s not always so cut and dry.

That’s along the lines of learning how to say no things.  It’s easy to be a “yes man,” but I have to try and stay focused on my purpose.

Sometimes the rational mind doesn’t always know what’s best, so you have to get in tune with your intuition. There are times when I’m in a bad mood and think I don’t want to do something, in retrospect I look back and realize that if I didn’t do it I would have missed an incredible opportunity to broaden myself and get better at my craft. It’s a tricky one — you gotta follow the soul.

Do you write down your goals?

I constantly make lists and I see it as a bad habit in a way. I could just be doing the thing that I need to be doing instead of making lists. I’m a graphic person – always drawing or scribbling but at a certain point I make myself stop and just do what I need to do.

What’s something that distracts you from achieving a goal?

The goal itself can be a distraction. Goals are great. There’s no doubt that having some direction is good, but sometimes goals can be a problem. You can set goals that are unrealistic and create a pattern of failure if you don’t create a smart goal. You know the acronym for S.M.A.R.T? (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely). It’s important to use that to make sure that you’re setting the right kind of goals. If you don’t set S.M.A.R.T. goals, you could get frustrated and give up. Being too goal-oriented can create a mentality of not paying enough attention to life. You can get myopic and lock-jawed. Society can become too focused on the outcome, but it’s about the quality of the process. My manager, Tim, always reminds me of that. His philosophy is actually not having goals – which I don’t always agree with – but he reminds me to stay focused on the process. It’s the old saying, “it’s not the journey, it’s the destination. If you’re too focused on a goal, you could be missing the show as it’s happening.

There’s such a juxtaposition with New York and yoga. Everything is going so fast and yoga tells us to slow down, and sometimes it can be hard to listen. Any tips on finding balance in a crazy city like this?

In my song Clear the Path, I speak of a teaching referring to the world being binary meaning zeroes and ones. Essentially, everything you do is a zero. This includes work and family.  You can have a lot of zeroes and a lot of ones, but if you have a lot of zeroes in the front it doesn’t add up to a lot. If you put a one in front of everything else, it enriches anything that you do because you put that one thing first. That’s why we say “Soul is the Goal.” My number one…before my family, my music, and my art… is my spiritual practice. Even if that’s just sitting for five minutes in the morning, chanting a mantra throughout the day, going for a walk, or whatever I need to do to reignite that connection, then I find that everything else flows better because I put a one in front of those zeroes. So my advice to anyone, no matter they live, is to make your spiritual practice a priority and let everything else fall into place.

Instagram: @mcyogi

Music Available on Sound Cloud, Spotify, and iTunes

Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC - MCYOGI- bio Photo
Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC - MCYOGI- bio Photo
Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC - MCYOGI- bio Photo