Heck, in some YTT programs, how to build a playlist is something that is being taught to aspiring teachers. I am lending a different perspective. I want to say a fresh perspective, but in the sense of the yogic tradition, this view is very old school—don't play music or at the very least, take the attention off the music and put it back where it should be, our students, our teaching, and the practice.
I know I am not going to be making any friends by saying this and in general am going against the grain of modern yoga in America, but I think something must be said for the simple connection to breath that is the internal soundtrack of any yoga practice.
Here are three reasons to turn off the tunes in your yoga practice:
If a student walks up to you after class and says “Great playlist” what are they really walking away from their yoga with?
A deeper connection to self, a stronger understanding of their bodymind, or are they humming some recently made popular tune by the Lumineers or FUN.? As teachers, we are not important, but the work we do is very important. It is our job to facilitate the growth of our students. Sometimes this means giving them what they want, sometimes this means giving them what they need; often two very different things.
The average yoga class is full of Type A students, practicing a power or strong vinyasa based flow class, listening to very rhythmic, upbeat tunes. Students come to class after leaving their high stress jobs, after sitting in traffic, rushing to get to class, to be physically and mentally stimulated by their practice and the accompanying playlists. Is this what they want? Yes. Is this what they need? I am not so sure.
Maybe a chance to connect to the sweet mantra of the breath would be more healing and beneficial in the long run. As teachers, we should be setting the tones of class, not the other way around.
If the skill and artistry being put into a playlist is more than that of the yoga, what are we really teaching?
If as a teacher you always have an upbeat, current playlist, then out of the blue the music stopped, what would happen? Would your students, your regulars, continue to show up? Or would they find another teacher with a playlist more suited to their “needs”? Do your students come to class because they are soothed by the sounds of your playlist, or because the overall effects of the teachings has left them feeling more connected to self and balanced? Is the same mastery, thought, and skill put into the energetics, the sequencing, and the theme of every class, as is put into its playlist? As my teacher the amazing Mary Bruce says, “What do you want to be? A yoga teacher, or a DJ?”
“Yogas chitta vritti nirodha” Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind:
Music invokes motion and emotion, emotion being energy in motion. In this second sutra, Patanjali clearly states a main goal of our yoga practice, for the mind to become still. Is this clarity, this stillness available to a student with a loud playlist “energizing” the asana? Is a student who is singing along with the music really making any connection to source? Where is the opportunity for stillness, for settling in? Our chitta vritti may be our thoughts from our day, or our plans for tomorrow; however, song lyrics are just chitta vritti in pretty disguises. It’s all distraction.
I am not by any means saying to go cold turkey on your playlists! Just imagine the panicked frenzy in yoga studios across America! I am hoping to inspire some reflection.
As a teacher, is music one of the most important aspects of your class, or the most important?
Try just skipping music in savasana for one class a week, then bump up to a whole class without music once a week. Give your students some context; let them know the philosophy behind practicing without music, the importance of stilling the mind and connecting to breath. Instill in them a desire to try something new and to achieve a deeper connection with their practice. Just observe and note, the practice may become challenging to students, but in new and exciting ways.
I know there are a lot of amazing teachers out there teaching amazing yoga with amazing playlists to amazing people. I think we could literally “drop some beats” here and there and still have a whole lot of people enjoying the benefits of this amazing practice that is yoga.
As a student and/or teacher, have you ever practiced without music? Try it. If it’s challenging, good, see what you can learn. Where is your resistance? What are you holding onto? Let’s get comfortable with the uncomfortable. You might be surprised what silence and connection to breath will reveal.
The practice of yoga is ancient and timeless. Like all things, it is expected to evolve with our modern times. The way we practice, the clothes we wear when practicing, the places we practice in, are all examples of this ancient practice evolving to accommodate the very different needs of modern day Americans.
Under all of this change, the “hype”, the common threads of the philosophy should be strong and unchanging. Yoga is not a contest to see who can hold the longest handstand in the middle of the room, or a fashion show displaying our newest purchases from Lululemon, and it certainly is not a disco, dancing and singing along encouraged—we are not talking Kirtan here, we are talking top 40.
The thread of yoga is union, a connection to self that helps guide us to a better place of understanding, knowing, and balance in our lives.
The science of yoga is meant to expose our own radiance, not drown it in thumping bass beats. It is in the space between thoughts and actions that true connection occurs. It is resting in the sweetness of stillness that our inner radiance begins to shine.
Turn off the tunes, tune into the melody of your own being and let the rhythm of your breath guide you to new places in your practice.