Simon “Karta” Ballard is OC’s shaman of sound. To know Simon is to experience him. He himself is a sensory and philosophic epicenter. His dreadlocks, a delicate yet ornate tattoo in the center of his forehead stretching toward his deeply wise blue eyes, and tribal-like piercings in each nostril and ears add to his mystique. Symbolic and iconic tattoos also mark his chest, arms, hands and fingers. Each hand is adorned with a silver array of stone-studded rings and sumptuous worldly bracelets. As he speaks, the jangle and clink of his jewelry begin to create a sound experience without a single instrument having yet been played. He totes with him a striking array of percussion instruments that represent his many influences: Indian, Tibetan and Nepalese bowls, Native American drums, chimes as well as his flute and of course, the Earth Gong. Among his instruments is his voice: bass-laden, grounded and strong. His chanting, singing, and readings equally creates an effective portal during sound healing meditations.
Simon’s first experience with yoga was a spontaneous introduction at The Lizard Music Festival in the south of England during the early 1990s. As he awaited his favorite band, Ozric Tentacles, to take the stage, a young, beautiful, dreadlock, pierced pixie girl lead the festival goers in a round of Oms and a simple sun salutation practice. As Simon describes it, “All the pieces of the puzzle that were scattered all over this universal table all of a sudden came together to one specific point. And it was like everything in my world made sense.” His yoga practice took root from this point and he has been teaching yoga since 1999.
Simon’s talents are as varied as his eclectic avatar might suggest. He is an artist, DJ, musician, poet, minister, jeweler, traveler and a modern—day shaman. Simon’s extensive yoga background includes a myriad of yoga styles and traditions, as well as meditation, pranayama, mantra, Ayurveda, and sound vibration therapy.
Here, in his own words, is a glimpse into the man behind the gong, flute, and bowls:
Looking back, what were your early influences that contributed to who Simon is today?
I guess my father has influenced me more because he and I are very similar. I was influenced by him musically from as far back as I can remember. Our house was adorned with different things from different parts of the world. The Om symbol was prevalent everywhere in my house. As well as pictures of Thai gods and goddesses, Balinese statues, and Indonesian deities, rugs from Rajasthan and everywhere. It was very much a cultural foundation for me. I also grew up in one of the most multi-cultural parts of the world, London. I was always influenced by many cultures. That musical influence was the first thing that set the stage for where I am today.
What is your intention or your purpose when you’re providing sound healing?
What I feel that I am really doing is becoming a conduit for this vibratory frequency to come through. Sound, for me, allows people the scope and the gateway they can choose to walk through to go deeper into themselves to peel away the layers so we can return to our natural state of vulnerable beings of nature. We can allow ourselves to go through the processes that we sometimes don’t want to look at. And the beautiful thing about sound is, it gets in there. It affects you on a deep cellular level whether you consciously acknowledge it or not.
There is a complete science behind it. When we say a mantra, what we’re doing is activating the meridian in the body, specifically the 84 meridian points that reside in the upper palate of the mouth. This basically connects the thalamus and hypothalamus which also affects the pineal gland. The pineal gland is where the third eye resides. So when we say a mantra or when we’re connecting on a vibratory frequency, let’s say the mantra Om, we’re allowing ourselves to connect to the Divine that’s within us and outside of us through the vibration of that sound.
What is your experience when you’re doing sound healing?
It varies. It depends upon the environment and who was frequenting that environment at the time. It can sometimes be extremely taxing; it can be sometimes be more energetically draining than teaching a day of asana classes back to back. Within an asana class, typically what’s happening, there is give and take. There is a receptiveness that happens. I offer suggestions, people give back and there is an equal exchange. But with sound, most of the time people are there to just let go. There is no real energy exchange.
It is always a meditation. I never know what I’m going to play or how I’m going to play it. I have never classically learned how to play any instrument whatsoever. It’s an interior process. I never know what instrument is going to be played in what way. I just allow myself, if you will, to become a conduit for whatever needs to come through in an appropriate way. I work with Shamanism and Native American culture. I’ve got the yaki drum, ocean drum, the flutes and things like that. They always feel like they’re supposed to be played in a specific way, but I never know until it comes forth. So it is always a meditation. It’s always a process and an unfolding of where I am in my life at that exact moment in time.
Your class here at SunSpark Yoga on Sunday morning is really popular. Do you have any thoughts about why people are so drawn to laying down for an hour?
Because they don’t do it enough. Work, family, go… go… go… go… go… go. We’re not human beings anymore; we’re human doings. It’s stepping out of the human doing realm and into a human being realm. I think for a lot of people they shouldn’t need the excuse, but it gives them the excuse to be still, and to stop; to go through their process.
They don’t even need to know what that process is. That’s the beautiful thing about sound. That is why mantra is so powerful. You don’t necessarily need to know what the mantra means; it’s the vibratory frequency that it creates within the body that creates the effect. It just so happens that all the mantras we know in Eastern philosophy have a positive vibration. Everything is a vibration.
If we wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “I feel like crap today.” Guess what? You’re going to continue feeling like crap. That doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge that you do feel like crap, but you just change the vibration of the way you approach it. So instead of saying you feel like crap today, you say, “Today I’m going to make steps to feel better than I did yesterday.” See, you’re changing the whole structure. Mother Teresa, she said, “I am not anti-war. I am pro-peace.” It’s a completely different vibration frequency. Just by changing the vernacular and vocabulary structure to turn something negative into something completely positive. But it means the exact same thing.
These sound sessions allow people to let go, to be vulnerable, to go through their process with little to no verbal guidance. Once we get into the body of the class, it’s an hour of just sound. I’m not telling you to feel a certain way. It’s about you are trusting and being vulnerable to go through your own process. You don’t have to share it with anybody. It’s a place for you to really be you.
Is there a reaction or feedback that you’ve gained that would be interesting or significant to share?
I think the most profound feedback and experience I have ever got was when I used to teach at the Terminal Island Prison. I taught Kundalini there every Friday night for four years to up to 130 inmates. We’re talking about a demographic where these people have been stripped of everything. They’re bare, they’re naked, they’re raw, they are some of the most authentic and vulnerable people you are ever going to meet. So I found that their experiences were a lot more pure. Guys would say they had the experience of being in their mother’s womb. Or they felt like they were in the center of consciousness in the middle of the Universe when the gong played.
What are some things that make you feel alive? That make you feel really inspired?
Everything. Friends, family, music, environment. What is there not to be inspired by? Everything you need is right at your fingertips. Right there.
What recent lessons do you think you have learned?
Every day is a school day. I think that is what switched me on so much within the study of yoga. I see no end. There’s no end to the information. There’s no end to the knowledge. It’s a consistent and perpetually turning. It is cyclical: Samsara. It’s the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
My first job as a gravedigger (age 15 ½ /16 years old) I would bury people for a living. It was one of the most powerful teachers in my entire life. It not only taught me how to celebrate life, it taught me to be okay with death. To understand that death is part of samsara. It is part of that cyclical journey. We go through samsara every day with a thought; the death of a thought; the death of a feeling; the death of… vritti, an obstacle. The death of samskara, a habitual pattern. Something that we can change to move forward with ourselves and not get stuck in past experiences, to lose preconceived notions or ideas of what’s happening next. Just be present with whatever it is we’re given to move forward.
What’s next for you? What uncharted frontiers are left for Simon?
I wouldn’t know how to answer that. I don’t know. I trust that I have a purpose. I don’t need to know what it is. I just trust that I have one. That every step and breath I am taking right now is on that path, is guiding me toward what that purpose is. I don’t need to know what it is. I don’t need to know what the future holds, not really.
I mean, you know, I’m not fearful of the future. I embrace it. There are absolutely points where you have to structure a foundation to achieve something. Otherwise, we just ride this wave of whatever. Sometimes that isn’t what we need. You got to be in it to win it. And you have got to participate. It doesn’t mean just sitting back and don’t do the work. Do the work on a daily basis, whatever that work is to you and trust that it’s taking you to where you’re supposed to be.