Recently, one of my regular students asked me why I don’t play music in my yoga classes. I thought it was a great topic to address here as my answers give some insight into who I am as a practitioner and teacher. It also provides me with an opportunity to ask you to think about how you prefer to practice – I’ve given a couple of suggestions at the bottom of this post to take with you to class or to your home practice, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have a preference one way or another. I’ve written about this before, but here’s a less philosophical, more concrete explanation!
There are exceptions to every rule, but my student was right, except in select circumstances (loud or distracting ambient noise for example) I choose not to play music when I teach. There are two main reasons behind this:
1. Sound is subjective. Depending on who you are, nature sounds or city bustle may be equally soothing to you. Music is the same. When I am teaching a group class, there is no music that will be pleasing to everyone’s ears. Some students will enjoy it, others will be able to ignore it. Some will hate it and it will color their entire class experience. Some will work on incorporating the discordant sounds into their practice by noticing their reactions and practicing tolerance, compassion, and redirecting their focus (Ugh! That song! Ok, this is supposed to be yoga, let it go. I’m distracted and aggravated and that’s ok. I’m breathing, I’m coming back to this pose. Now this song’s not SO bad. Oops, lost my balance! Focus, now. Come on back, try again. I’ve been this student, have you?) Group classes have a distinct energy to them that is much different than working alone, and I’d rather work in that atmosphere without vying for the attention of the student I lost with the first song in the playlist. I’m not against combining music and practice, not at all. I believe that music can provide an experience through direct focussed listening or enhance our experience as the soundtrack to our lives. But I’m not practicing yoga or teaching it to have or to provide an experience. I practice yoga to learn about myself and how to be more present, to develop as a human being. When I teach yoga, I don’t want to give you a specific, packaged experience, I want to teach you to connect with and experience your own body, your own self.
2. It’s just not how I practice. You can read more about my feelings on the subject here. Although music is an enormous part of my life, it’s rare that I play music when I practice on my own. When I’m listening to music, I want to hear it & feel it, and when I’m listening to my body, I want to hear & feel it. This is how I focus – I pare down. And this is one of the reasons I am such a big advocate of self-practice – reducing the number of distractions around us makes it easier to focus, to be present and to connect with ourselves. That all said, music can be a great complement or help to set the mood – and there are times when I do play music when I practice at home. This isn’t a self-imposed rule. It’s a preference and it’s how I (often) find my own practice to be most effective.
Knowing my preference, a client asked me a similar question about her self practice – “Can I play music when I practice at home? Am I missing something if I do?” What do you think my answer was?
I don’t think that there is a right or wrong way to do this – I think there is the way that works for you – and here is where a self-practice is so lovely. You get to choose. You get to choose whether you’d like to play music at all and you get to choose what kind of music would enhance your practice, where in a class format it is generally chosen for you. My teacher says that sometimes music is necessary to help us concentrate or to produce a specific kind of mood. If you find it necessary, don’t fight it!
Try the following and see how it goes:
If your teacher is playing music that you have a strong reaction to (positive or negative!) see if you can be present to that reaction, acknowledge it, and gently redirect your attention back to the teacher’s instructions and to what’s going on in your body in that moment. There is nothing wrong with feeling irritable about music that you don’t like – or with enjoying the music that you do. Practice acknowledging the emotion without getting swept up in it. Be as kind as you can manage if this is difficult for you. If it were easy, we wouldn’t be having this discussion!
If you are used to attending classes where music is played, take some time to seek out a teacher who doesn’t play it (Ashtanga or Iyengar teachers are good places to begin looking, or simply ask your local gym or studio owner). If you are used to a class where music is not played, seek out a teacher known for his or her great playlists and try that out.
Do a few sun salutes or stretches to some of your favorite music and see how it makes you feel. On another day, try it without.
Whether you are practicing at home or in class, record your observations. If you like, share them here in the comments, I’d love to know what you learn!
Psst! This Friday, August 16th at 3pm EST (What time is this for me?) I’m having the second of three free calls on Living Yoga, Loving Life and you’re invited! We’re talking about integrating our yoga practice and the benefits into our lives (Read more about this here). We had a lovely group last Friday on the first call and they had some excellent questions, which we’ll be working with this week:
- How do we make the leap from the comfort and ease of being led, to leading ourselves?
- How do we motivate ourselves and how to work up to a daily practice?
- What are the signs that our body is ready for more – i.e. a more challenging pose?
Sign up to join us by using the box below. If you cannot make it live, there will be a recording that I’ll share with all who sign up – and there are more gifts to be had – be sure to read Love More, Give More for more details!