As more yoga teachers incorporate music into their yoga classes, a hot debate unfolds - does music enhance the yogic experience, or detract from it?
There seems to be an ongoing conversation amongst yoga teachers and students about whether there is a valid place for music in yoga classes. Drop in to a yoga class in a studio or gym these days and it's highly likely that you'll hear some form of recorded music playing in the background. Whether it's "sacred music" such as Sanskrit chants or mantras, Indian ragas, classical instrumental, or even contemporary music such rock or hip hop, it seems that music has found its place as an integral part of modern yoga class instruction.
In a world where people are bombarded by external stimuli from dawn till dusk, the big question is: should yoga classes be a sanctuary from continual noise, or is there a benefit to listening to music while practicing yoga? Many teachers out there affirm that using music has a definite advantage in creating a certain ambience in a yoga class, while others believe that it's an obstruction to the practice of pratyahara, or turning the senses inward.
In my experience there is a great divide between the "yoga + music" teachers and those who prefer the sounds of silence. The yoga purists will say that music is distracting, and doesn't serve the purpose of focus and concentration. "Whatever happened to listening to your own Ujjayi breath?" asked one. Fair call. There IS something quite melodical and soothing about listening to the whispery sound of Ujjayi breath, and it helps you direct your awareness to your physical and mental being.
There are other teachers who have made their careers out of artfully incorporating many genres of music into their yoga classes, and to them, music not only creates an ambience, but also invokes an emotive experience in class. For these teachers, using the right piece of music at the right time can facilitate a powerful transformation.
I personally think there are some good arguments on both sides of the debate, and whether or not the use of music enhances the yoga class experience or detracts from it is a highly individualised choice. As a teacher, I do use music some of the time, while other times I prefer not to.
Here are my top five pointers to observe when deciding how (if at all) to use music in your yoga classes:
1. Choose wisely
Music is HIGHLY subjective. What you may think is the perfect track for savasana could be another person's "break-up song". Music can evoke emotion, and it's best to be as neutral as possible when choosing a piece of music. Consider the impact of any vocals in the music you've chosen. What kind of emotional response could they generate? I generally tend to stay away from a lot of music with English lyrics, as it can draw people's minds towards the words rather than their own experience in the moment. The lyrics also carry a message, and while the melody might be lovely, the message may not be aligned with what you are teaching in your class.
2. Be mindful of volume
Just because it's Krishna Das, it doesn't mean it's going to work. While kirtan is considered generally appropriate music for yoga classes, it can tend to reach a rollicking crescendo. Hearing HARE RAM HARE RAM SITA RAM SITA RAM at increasing decibels can detract from a peaceful savasana.
Also, make sure that your instructions can be heard above the music, otherwise your students may end up feeling frustrated. On the other hand, very faint vocals in the background can be just as distracting or annoying as very loud music.
3. Start slowly
If you're a new teacher, or are experimenting with music for the first time, start with some soothing, appropriately chosen music in savasana. Carefully consider the effect the music is having on your students - if they look peaceful at the end of class, then quite likely your choice of music has worked. If they appear restless or irritated in savasana, then you may like to reconsider. Gradually work towards using well-chosen music more frequently, and ALWAYS listen to the whole track from beginning to end before unleashing it upon your students - just so there are no surprises!
4. Don't hide behind the music
Be confident without music, before becoming confident with music. The essence of yoga lies in the teachings; and how you skilfully weave philosophical concepts into your classes through inspiring language will generally touch your students more deeply than how artfully you create your playlist. If you get stuck on having to use music as a prop or a backdrop, your teachings may become secondary. Let the teachings shine. That way you will shine, and music can become an accessory that you use to highlight or enhance certain parts of the class, rather than the main event.
5. Know when silence is golden
There are times when it is absolutely ok, and perhaps even necessary, to have complete silence. Experiment with silence, and if you generally prefer to teach with music, sit in the discomfort of silence and be the witness. Even in savasana.