Why Yoga “Music” Matters

There are three main theories of playing music in a yoga class –not live music, which is another story.

Traditionalists never play any music in class. They are also most likely the ones to yell at you in class while wearing short, tight, black trunks. In the middle you have the people who play music but it’s mostly instrumental or music you’ve likely never heard of or know how to pronounce. And then you have a free for all with teachers who play whatever they like or want. Seemingly every popular or quirky song finding its way onto a yoga playlist for people thinking to themselves “this would be a great song for triangle pose.”

I fall pretty much square in middle with every class now and again in silence. Although I have played music I wouldn’t normally play and have created special playlists to mark occasions in class too so I’m not saying I’ve never done it or looking down my nose at it, but there is a greater byproduct of concern for the future.

In the SF Bay Area—a place I lived for many years- 90% of the residents are DJ’s. They have weekly gigs at off times at local clubs or at their own dinner parties so you get a lot of creative mixes blending different sounds and styles. When they apply this craft to the art of yoga you get the following posts. “Oh yeah, Bananarama, Kool and the Gang Thievery Corp., Lady Gaga, Beyonce and The Cure on tap for tonight’s class. Gonna be epic, see you there.”

While I like many of those bands and enjoy their music, do I really want to hear them in class? No. There are lots of pop, rap and rock artists that I really like and love to listen to, but not in a yoga class. It’s a time and place issue.

For teachers, there’s also the scenario that the stereo doesn’t work, the power goes out, your iPod’s not charged and you can’t play music in class. Now what? Suddenly you have to teach and not rely on the music to create an ambiance for a pose or sequence. If you’re not used to it or in many cases, never done it since a teacher training program, you’re suddenly in unfamiliar territory. It’s so quiet in here, what’s going on. The class seems “off” for everyone when it should feel natural.

Sequencing music for yoga that is neither new age nor pop music is very hard. There are many songs that are appropriate for class for two thirds of the way through only to shift dramatically to screeching guitars and drums of war near the end. You can spend hours and not get anywhere. I get bored with the music I play sometimes too. If you aren’t careful you create a spa like trance for the class that makes people just want to roll around on their mats or sleep.*

When I moved to Portland I went ahead and “gave myself permission” as we say in yoga to make a playlist of music that I liked or thought was significant and a meaningful way to end an important chapter of my life.

It was the Tuesday night class so Tuesday’s Gone by Lynard Skynard was on there. Loretta Lynne’s famous Portland, Oregon made the cut as well for obvious reasons. As soon as Skynard’s “Train roll on….” came on, I immediately booked myself a 1st class cabin on a long trip down memory lane. “This is a great song,,,wish I got to see them live. Would be a lot like the Allman Bros I bet. Best Allman Bros concert ever was at Redrock 91’, 92’ or 93’ I can’t remember. Oh yeah, right there’s a class going on here. 2nd side.

By the time “well Portland Oregon and Slow Gin Fizz, if that aint’ love than tell me what is Uh Huh!,” came on, everyone laughed, but not in a good way. Slow Gin Fizz, who would drink those, what’s in it? Its red? Never had to make them when I bartended and so on.

Pop music with lyrics and any music that is easily identifiable with most of the people in the class is distracting. Its either good (Spring Break song!) bad (Ugh. Madonna again) melancholy (Sarah Smith broke up with me to this song) or loud (I can’t hear) for teachers and students. In a discipline whose main doctrines are presence and focus, music ultimately can serve as the common class distraction.

Let us remember music is a wonderful accompaniment to yoga but be careful what you play or you’ll have students in class humming along to the Velvet Underground’s What goes on in your mind, I think that I am falling down all around you.

*Fortunately today, I have a nice student who has a real ear for new music for yoga and he drops off cd’s every now and then. Thanks Morgan if you read this.

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