“Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.” -BKS Iyengar
As a dancer from the time I could walk, music has always been an integral part of my life. I have always associated music and movement. I am the girl who can’t help but tap my toe when a jazz tune with a nice bass line comes on at the coffee shop. I am grocery shopper who does the waltz down the baking aisle when the Nutcracker suite is played. I am the driver who likes to sing/dance-a-long in the car. After one cocktail (okay, after one sip) I am dancing at the bar. I can’t help but to walk in-sync to the music on the speakers at the mall. I walk in a 3/4, but run in a 6/8. I breathe in 2/4. If I were an instrument, I would definitely be a tambourine. You can dance with it. You take it with you on the go. You can keep a steady beat. Or you can make it a flourish. A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
As a yogi, music is something that originally drew me to the practice. With music, my practice felt similar to modern or ballet class. It has become more of a backdrop these days, but it profoundly affected my mood and consequently my body. I could let my body sing along as I began to explore this new movement modality on my mat. Standing poses felt more powerful when the music was uplifting. Vinyasa classes felt like a dance of breath, movement and mindfulness when there was a steady beat. I could relax and sink into deep stretches to the tune of something sad, sweet and soulful.
As I transitioned into a yoga teacher, music became something I would obsess over. I would plan my class, then plan my playlist. Sometimes, the latter would take longer. I would wonder: Who is coming to my class? What kind of music do they like? Will they like the music I chose? Will they come back if they don’t like it? What if everyone likes something different? Should I make two playlists depending on who shows up? Does any of this matter? Why is this taking so long?
The more I taught, the more I realized the music is more for me than it is for my students. Yes, a good song can make a sun salutation feel like an exclamation of joy. Yes, a song with a negative message can put someone in a bad mood. If I am doing my job well, my students are so focused on their breath and body that the music often falls to the wayside. It becomes something they notice, but not to obsess over. The music becomes an extension of the teacher. If I was nervous about my playlist, or didn’t like a song I put on it, I would be edgy. I would not have my best foot forward to teach my students. I was not able to meet them were they were at. I could not be 100% present in mind and body. Part of my mind was preoccupied with something else that was not asana, pranayama or meditation. If I had a playlist that I thoroughly enjoyed, I would teach better. I wouldn’t be worried. I would show up. I would teach authentically and confidently. I could speak clearly and from the heart. If I played MY music it would just be part of the experience of my class. It was an extension of my words, cues and energy.
I go through phases in my teaching when I do not use music with lyrics or do not use music at all. For restorative classes, atmospheric music works well. For alignment based class with lots of props and cues, piano or instrumental music seems to fit. For flow or vinyasa classes I still like to have a more diverse playlist with lyrics. For some classes with lots of breath work and internal focus I like no music. Sometimes, the sound of silence can be powerful. There is nothing like the silence at the end of class during savasana. No music. No movement. The sound of bodies softening into the ground, releasing tension and opening to possibility. I will occasionally still play music during savasana, but more often than not I let the silence sing for itself.
Sometimes I turn up the music and let it help me lead the class. Sometimes a good piano track or classical guitar songs can just be as energizing as a soundtrack to indie rock. George Winston is my go-to piano man. My college obsession with bands such as Dispatch and Mumford & Sons make their presence known in joyful vinyasa playlists. East Forest, Message to Bears, and Garth Stevenson are some other musicians who make beautiful tracks. DJ Taz Rashid, Lisbeth Scott and Krishna Das are known for their yoga vibes, and I love their compilations. The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac have found their way onto several of my playlists, especially when I am teaching at non-yoga venues such as breweries. At non-yoga venues the playlist become more important, as there are many new yogis. Just as the music during my first yoga experiences was a selling point for me, I know that a good playlist can hook some beginner yogis. A familiar song can make an unfamiliar practice more accessible. Making playlists is akin to choreography in dance and lesson planning in yoga–I need a theme, a subtle introduction, good middle and well rounded end.
I am all over the board in terms to music. I do not believe that the relationship between music and yoga is black and white. Different stroke for different folks! Do you like to show tunes? Do it! Do you prefer silence? Sure! In my home practice I mix it up daily. Do what brings you joy. Do what makes you feel good. Just as I listen to my body, I listen to my breathe, and I listen to the music that speaks to me in the moment.
What do you like to listen to when you practice?
Peace, love and Namaste,
Kristin (& Luna)
P.S. My Spotify account, cschleich, is full of playlists based on themes, moods, seasons, and types of classes! Feel free to explore and use for your own enjoyment.