As a yoga teacher, I've always been interested in the merging of yoga with other forms of expression, and in particular music, to create a transformative experience for my students. When I started teaching, music, chanting, or any other mood-enhancing addition were not part of my repertoire; so the first time I attended a yoga class with music it opened up my eyes (and ears) to the possibilities.
Some months ago I wrote an article about yoga teachers using music in class - the pro's and con's, and the do's and don'ts. If you want a little background on where I'm coming from, feel free to read that post here.
With yoga now firmly entrenched in mainstream popular culture, and with the proliferation of yoga, music and lifestyle festivals (think Bali Spirit Festival, Wanderlust etc), there is a definite trend toward coupling the potent transcendent experience of yoga practice with transformational music, and in particular, live music.
I find there is a real difference between the experience you have when music is played live in a yoga class, to that of recorded music. Just as there is no comparison between listening to your favourite band's CD to seeing them live in concert. It's a much more visceral, palpable experience. My first ever encounter with this was in a class led by popular Canadian yoga teacher and musician, Wade Imre Morissette (twin brother of singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette). I remember lying sweat-soaked on my mat in savasana, with my skin tingling as Wade sang both English and Sanskrit mantras, accompanied only by his guitar. Feeling both calm and uplifted at the same time, this was a turning point for me, I could feel with my own body the way that music could enhance the positive benefits of yoga practice.
It was not long after that particular experience that I found myself in a yoga class bathed in the haunting sounds of the didgeridoo. It's no wonder that this ancient instrument was used on spiritual and ceremonial occasions by Aboriginal people - the range of mysterious, yet calming and healing sounds evoked all manner of feelings and emotions; and during meditation I literally felt as though I had left my body and been transported to another realm.
Since then I have sought out opportunities to incorporate live music into the classes I teach. It has opened me up to being more adaptive and spontaneous in my teaching; and co-creating the experience with musicians to work with the energy in the room has definitely stretched me as a teacher (seriously, no pun intended). Music can help set the mood and rhythm of the class - if students are sluggish or struggling and need a lift, upbeat music can help energise them through a challenging sequence. On the flip side, calm meditative music can set the tone for deep meditation, rejuvenation and healing.
And it's not just the students who benefit… there are a lot of musicians out there in the sacred music genre who are eking out a living doing what they love, and generally from very humble beginnings. An opportunity to be in front of a new audience can help to build their profile, promote events and sell CDs. Without the musical arts, life would have less colour and flavour, and the more opportunities musicians have to perform and make a living, the more we get to enjoy their passion and inspiration - it's definitely a win-win.
As a non-musician, I feel totally inspired, appreciative, and often in awe of the immediate affect music can have on people, and to be a part of that alchemic process whilst teaching a yoga class is both humbling and moving.
In this day and age of conscious events, more and more people are drawn to activities that are uplifting and rejuvenating. I believe the trend towards this marriage of yoga and music is on the up and up. Not to replace the more traditional yoga and/or meditation classes by any means, but to provide an experience that is unifying, and allows people to transcend their everyday mind. If yoga means union, then yoga and music is certainly a pathway to attaining that union.
Written by Nicole Walsh