Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hey Yoga Teacher, Play That Funky Music

When it comes to playing music during yoga classes, students and teachers tend to have a jukebox rotation's worth of differing opinions, preferences, and advice. Some vehemently swear against it on the grounds that music provides a distraction from meditation- a mental crutch- while others see their playlists as extensions of their teaching talents and an added resource for helping students to achieve a certain mind/body experience.

Both sides have a point. Students shouldn't need a soundtrack to achieve yogic bliss. Instead, the breath, known as prana, serves to set the pace of the practice and lull the mind into a meditative state. Teachers, too, need to be able to engage a class and deliver a memorable, inspirational, and effective sequence without the help of Krishna Das or Durga Das or Madonna Das. (OK, so I got carried away with the Das). In short, there is no substitution for the experience of stripping away all extraneous stimulants (the chatter of other people, cell phones, TVs, radios, iPods, etc.) and connecting to sound of one's own breath, on a yoga mat, with no agenda other than being in the present moment and appreciating its potential.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone denies that music is a powerful form of expression, capable of setting a mood and evoking specific thoughts and feelings. How often have you heard a piece of music and felt transported emotionally? In its most basic form, music is a transmission of energy; it's a vibration. It can literally move us, which is why it comes in handy when you're absorbed in an activity that involves- you guessed it- movement.

I'm not one for insisting upon stringent rules when it comes to peoples' teaching styles or personal preferences during class, and to borrow the oft-used phrase and title of a book written by a fellow yogi and contributor, who also happens to be the CEO of Def Jam Records, Russell Simmons, you need to "Do You!" In other words, march to the beat of your own drum (or lack thereof) while on the mat.

My love for music is well documented; however, when teaching, I typically use music only under special circumstances, such as lengthy workshops or private retreats, for example. I cut my teeth as a yoga teacher by working in health clubs, which often present many acoustic and environmental challenges (like, say, the Tae Bo class in the studio next door or the blaring techno music on the gym floor), so I frequently used music to help camouflage the disruptive noise around us (get this- I used cassette tapes back then!). Later, I taught at a studio that prohibited music during classes. As in, play the music, and you can expect that whatever tune you play will be your swan song . . . Buh-bye. As a result, I am comfortable teaching with or without a soundtrack. Nevertheless if those of you who are teachers decide to play that funky music, here are a few tips to consider:

1.) Never allow the music to undermine your ability to create a meaningful experience for your students. In other words, have control of your class, first, before relinquishing the energetic reigns to Madonna and the like. As a general guideline, begin class with silence and pepper in your chosen jams when appropriate.

2.) Be sure the music matches the movement. Don't expect your students to have a restful sivasana if you're bumpin' No Doubt during it. Similarly, pick upbeat music for sun salutations and other energizing asanas.

3.) Bear in mind that not everyone loves your taste in music as much as you do. This is tough to swallow for all of us, but just because you think the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the rock n' roll equivalent of a Tibetan gong (ah, the sound of pure zen), doesn't mean your students will. Take their sensibilities into account. Approach your playlists from the standpoint of aiming to enhance the students' experience rather than entertaining yourself with your latest iPod masterpiece.

Yogis: Let's hear your take. Do you like to practice in silence or with a soundtrack? Teachers: Do you play music, and if so, what's on heavy rotation right now?


Anonymous said...

I really like music during class, if the tempo and choice of tunes match that style of the teacher, it adds a lot of energy to the room.

April said...

I currently have a teacher that plays an eclectic mix of music, very loudly, during class, with the intention that if you can't shut out the outside, you will never get inside (you can be worried about your immortal soul and the state of your neck tie, at the same time).

I also have teachers that play no music, at the same studio. The aforementioned teacher's classes are always challenging, wonderful ethereal experiences that leave me completely blissed out, even if I can't balance on one foot.

On the other hand, I have a teacher who never uses music, believes, strongly, in tuning into the inner self, and his classes are also challenging, fulfilling experiences that leave me completely blissed out.

It's more of the teacher's style than any one size fits all rule. One student may prefer the former to the latter and vice versa. I get different things out of both classes, they each meet a different need.