Eminem In My Yoga Class.

Via on Oct 12, 2010

The sweat was pouring off of me, and the music loudly pulsed through my veins. “His palms are sweaty, knees weak arms are heavy…But on the surface he looks calm and ready…” The class was packed, and 15 minutes in we were holding warrior II for what felt like an hour. But the music continued. “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it you better never let it go…” I’ll be the first to say that I enjoy an occasional listen to Eminem. But when this song blasted over the speakers during a yoga class I recently attended, I must admit feeling pulled in two directions. Parts of the song definitely conjured warrior-like feelings in me, but I felt a little agitated and unsure whether Eminem’s song really belonged on a yoga teacher’s class playlist. While I’m not the first to ask the question, it certainly got me thinking: does music have a place in yoga class?

I like to think that I subscribe to the theory of yoga universalism. That is, if something encourages someone who would not otherwise practice yoga to the practice of yoga, and that something is classic rock or even rap, I have a hard time saying that it’s wrong. But if yoga is more than just physical exercise – if yoga is a moving meditation, or a means to meditation, or a way to deepen your connection to your body and ultimately transcend it, then can music really be used to enhance it? I have never been lucky enough to study yoga in India, but something tells me that there isn’t much music played during practice. Which isn’t to say that there is no place for it.

I have had discussions with people who have visceral and widely divergent opinions on the relationship, if any, between music and yoga. And I wouldn’t be totally honest if I didn’t admit that I have had my frustrations with this subject lately. In the last year, I have left more yoga classes feeling agitated, irritated, or just downright bummed out simply as a result of the teacher’s decision to play music during class. More accurately, my frustrations have been with the choice of music played during class.

To illustrate my point and my understand my question, maybe I should give you a little idea about where I’m coming from.

My first experience with yoga was watching my mom practice to music by Andres Segovia and other classical guitarists. I didn’t know much about yoga at the time, but it didn’t seem out of keeping with the music. It seemed quite pleasant. My very first yoga teacher rarely played music during class. Her studio, located in a suburban strip mall sandwiched between a real estate office and a travel agency, was barely big enough for five students, much less a CD player (this was the Dark Ages…pre-iPod). When I began practicing at a full-on yoga studio in Chicago, it was the first place I had ever really experienced a connection between yoga and music. There were kirtans almost every Friday night, and music was often a part of class. At that time, my teacher (still one of my favorites) seemed to be exploring her own personal feelings about the use of music in her classes. She would go sans music about as often as she would play the standard-issue kirtan music popular in many yoga studios (Krishna Das, Deva Premal, and the like). While I enjoyed her music selections, and often experienced certain feelings and emotions as a direct result of the music, I equally enjoyed her “music-less” classes. After all, with 25+ people practicing the ujjayi breath in harmony, and the passing “L” train supplying some shake, rattle and roll, there was still plenty of music to be heard — at least to my ears. And, with these sounds or perhaps in spite of them, I was somehow able to get deeper into my practice.

As I was first beginning to practice yoga, I was taught and always reminded that the quality of your breath and the deepening your awareness of your body were of paramount importance, perhaps more so than the practice of an actual posture. These ideas were reinforced in my later studies with master teachers such as Aadil Palkhivala and Tias Little, who did not play music; however, the importance and practice of chanting was always a large part of their teachings.

Since moving to Los Angeles, I have had a wildly different experience. I have been to more classes than I can count where teachers have played pulsing, pumping, ear-drum busting music that makes me feel more like I’m in a West Hollywood nightclub than a yoga studio. Not that I mind the idea of being in a club in West Hollywood, but there’s an appropriate context for everything, right? I have been to classes at multiple studios where playlists included U2, Van Halen, Seal, and yes, even Eminem. At one point, I swore off practicing yoga in a studio setting altogether because I felt like many yoga teachers were just distilling yoga into exercise…and this phenomenon, I felt, was really driven home by their use of certain types of music in the studio.

Last year, I started dipping my toe in the yoga studio waters after my home practice left me missing a good old fashioned yoga community.  With some trepidation, I unrolled my mat in a class where the teacher sat at the front of the room with a harmonium and began class with a few minutes of chanting. I liked it enough that I’ve come back to this class on a regular basis, and the energy created by a classroom full of people chanting is heart-opening and pretty awesome.

Lately, I’ve had some interesting discussions with people about this topic. One gentleman new to yoga said he really enjoys practicing yoga to more Western-type music – said it helps him to get through difficult classes. Interestingly enough, he is a distance runner and acknowledges that he prefers not to listen to music while running so he can “get in the zone”. After our conversation, he said he would like to try a class with no music, and I’m curious to learn whether doing so allows him to find “the zone” inside a yoga studio. I also spoke recently with an L.A.-area teacher who draws a huge following because of her selection of music. She told me the other day that her iPod revolted on her right before class, and so she was forced to teach without music. She said that listening to the “sea of breath” turned out to be a surprisingly beautiful experience.

So where does this leave me? Nowhere, really. Still searching, as usual. But, I’d like to hear from you. Do you think music has a place in a yoga class?  It is a big question, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

~

About Birdie Greenberg

Birdie Greenberg has been a struggling yogi since the summer of 2004, when she was stressing herself out studying to pass the bar exam. In an effort to chill her out, her mom dragged her flapping and squawking into her first yoga class. She never looked back. Four years later, she became a Registered Yoga Teacher with Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago. Birdie lives and works in Los Angeles, California. And when she's not yogaing or blogging, you'll probably find her hiking in the mountains with her handsome husband and her two beloved furballs. You can read more about her personal yoga journey at her blog, Yogi, interrupted.

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32 Responses to “Eminem In My Yoga Class.”

  1. [...] Read the full post at Elephant Journal! [...]

  2. Mary Jean says:

    For me, yoga is an internal process and music is an annoying distraction. I generally won't go back to a class where music is anything other than appropriate and providing nothing more than a barely audible background setting.

  3. I have to admit I love listening to music during yoga class. For me yoga is a dance and the sound of music helps me flow into the yoga poses and channel my inner ballerina. One of my favorite parts of class is anticipating the yoga music playlist the instructor will share. I'm particularly fond of rock and rap if it is from MC Yogi. I am lucky to live near water, so when I can practice yoga by the beach I always do it in silence and listen to the music of the waves.

  4. Birdie Greenberg yogabird says:

    See? Already two opposite views! Thanks Mary Jean and Maria!

  5. Ashley says:

    last night in class the teacher chose a rap/hip-hop song whose lyrics were something like , "we in the ghettooooooo"…played to a crowd of upper-class suburbanites decked head to toe in lululemon who clapped after class was through.

    I really didn't like it. It was a power vinyasa yoga class, so music is more fitting there than a hatha or iyengar class- but I still prefer yoga-related music during power yoga- like Trevor Hall, Krishna Das, Deva Premal… etc, and even then at a low volume, this class the music was so loud the teacher had to yell over the music and I could still barely hear her. Also- during savasana the teacher played this really sappy annoying ballad- I prefer silence for savasana- that is the point, no?

  6. tanna says:

    I like music but not too loud and certainly not something like Eminem. My instructor had some Motown songs one day and that was really awesome but usually light instruments are my preference.

  7. lindsayyoga says:

    I like to mix it up. I really enjoy no music and just the rhythm of my breath guiding me through asana practice. I also like instrumental grooves, down-tempo electronica, mantra or even an Eminem-ish track here and there. For me, music gets me out of my head, out of a "thinking" state, and more into a "feeling" state. Often this inspires connection with a deeper "me." That said, sometimes the distraction is over-stimulating and agitating. I never play music during meditation.

    I think I am like you, Birdie, always searching. Great post!!

  8. Beth says:

    I like music in yoga, sometimes I tune it out but sometimes when my mind is unstoppable the music helps me reign in my mind and gain focus at which point the music gets tuned out. So I would say quiet, calming music is best because then you can tune it out when you don't need it and use it to turn off the racing mind when you can't do it yourself.

  9. Daniel says:

    I personally would prefer the music to be just appropriate for the setting, nothing nerve racking. I usually forget the music is even on, if I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. But for those times when my mind does wander or concentration is lacking, using the music as a tool to help me refocus is also helpful.

  10. Patrick Lariviere says:

    It is all about about the teacher and what is the mood that the teacher wants to set in the class. I not against nor for music in a yoga class, I am for that the teacher fully express her/himself. It also depends on the type of class: Iyengar, possibly less music than in a vinyasa/flow class. A golden rule: music must have a pupose other then filling the silence. For example, in a flow class, music is useful to keep the pace with the asana sequence. However, music becomes a disturbance in a class where the teacher gives a lot of instruction on how performing the poses.

  11. thetipo says:

    I find Jazz to blend beautifully with yoga. Try some Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey, etc. on your next session.

  12. mareynolds says:

    I enjoy no music with my yoga.

  13. I can go either way. What a flexible guy I am.

    Great interview with Eminem on 60 Minutes last Sunday. My wife just realized he's not "M&M".

    Another fine blog, Birdie. Lots of reads, lots of likes, and lots of comments! Great work.

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

  14. ARCreated says:

    I swing both ways…I love my music and as I teacher I love creating themes and using music to delve deeper. and since music is a well known connection to spirituality and in praise of the divine I don't think it's out of context at all..(you will everything from kirtan to enya to jimi hendrix in some of my classes) In my yin classes I only use non-lyric music. Basics slower more meditative…some power flow you get rocked out. I find music can sometimes get me in the zone. Sometimes in savasana you get silence sometimes billy joel — this week you will hear Sir Elton as I am focusing on the heart chakra and the song The Last song is powerful that way (it has helped a few people let go of some emotion)
    I think it's all good!! and if someone hates my music then trust me there are many other teachers they can see — that's what make it so awesome there is something for everyone!!!

  15. Birdie Greenberg yogabird says:

    Wow! What a diverse yoga world we live in! Thanks for posting everyone. Some really great comments here. Keep 'em coming! ~ Birdie

  16. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    The explosion of an ancient way of life into our culture in the last 20 years or so means that there are a lot of people teaching yoga who don't really know what yoga is: often they use music to cover up their lack of confidence / awareness.

    Music can occasionally be useful in a yoga class, sure.
    But ultimately yoga is about turning inwards… music pulls us outwards.

    That's why I rarely play music when I'm teaching.

    • Music may pull most people outwards, but not all.
      I actually find that it helps me to turn inwards. This seems to be unusual, though far from unique, and I suspect it has to do with an attention-deficit disorder (then, that kind of thing's hardly unique in our society, either). I find it far easier to concentrate on reading, writing (including right now), serious thinking, and, yes, practicicing yoga, with music playing.

    • Birdie Greenberg yogabird says:

      Hi Ben! Thank you for your comments!

  17. Frankie Teardrop says:

    Look, I’m just happy when I don’t have to listen to Kenny G (flashbacks of 80′s aerobic classes as a youngster….). But yes, some of us are pushed almost to the point of insanity by the off tune Krishna Das as an earlier poster explained. If music is played, I prefer something low and soothing. Eminem and I’ll feel like I’m in line at Old Navy. No thanks.

  18. beckyoga says:

    I agree with Ben, I think music draws our awareness outwards not inwards, which is really the point of the practice. I think playing music makes it much more of an exercise class and a lot less of a yoga class.

  19. elphaba says:

    "Without meditation can peacefulness abound?
    Without tranquility where is happiness found?
    Without inturning there can only be strife,
    Without happiness what is life?"
    The Bhagavad Gita 2:69

  20. Birdie Greenberg yogabird says:

    Liska: Great points. Had me laughing out loud with the marching band thing. Thanks for posting.

  21. elephant journal elephantjournal says:

    My sentiment re this

    @waylonlewis Playing music during yoga is half as bad as checking email while making love. http://bit.ly/9mW4kF

  22. Barbara Kitzis says:

    Honestly from the time I took my first yoga class in 1973…and up until now… I am most comfortable being at a yoga class that is quiet with just the sound of the instructor… The soothing words from the right teacher, talking your body into a gentle bend, amazing stretch, or just one step at a time assisting you as you slip into a corpse pose to melt into the floor and allow the stress from your body to float away, is what I prefer. I must say that I enjoy a class that has the instructor paying all of the attention to the students and watching their form offering gentle corrections and supportive words regarding the use of breath… No Music for me… only insense if all are in agreement …

  23. [...] Does music play during your yoga class? Do you enjoy it, or prefer silence? What if the music playing is Eminem? Birdie Greenstreet recently did a great piece on this subject on her blog, Yogi, Interrupted: [...]

  24. David Kos says:

    Hej, thanks for sharing your experiences about Yoga with music and without music during yoga classes. I teach yoga asanas. And I also play hip music, sometimes (when I feel to play it), the flow of the students practice tends flow very nice and rhythmic to the selection at present, whether its music to Talking Heads, The Doors, or whatever the music at hand. I do not BlAST! the sound of the music, for the students need to hear the instruction. I play the music just to give the students a different sense of attention to their practice, aiming to suggest that even with sounds that happen outside of ourselves, one can still develop focus and keep oneself, internally harmonious and at peace with oneself. Then there are others days, where I feel its not a day for music at ALL, and students just recieve the instruction and to develop a different inner focuse experience. All is Yoga, whether modern or softer spiritual music, no music or traffic outside, babies crying, or someone coughing in a yoga classroom, during yoga nidra. To me as a practitioner and teacher of yoga our practice is about developing our ATTITUDES to what is happening at hand, and hopefully learning to maintain some balance and harmony within ourselves. This is my reason for teaching the way I do…I cannot speak for the other teachers that play music.. Hope this answers some or all of your question?

    Yours in the light of yoga,

    D.

  25. PriceOne says:

    I would not like Eminem to be played in a yoga class.. just about anything else would be better

  26. Harvey Mordue says:

    I almost fixed, but I broke the button ear. Not explained how to remove the appropriate button. I pried off. when I finished the installation, a button was pressed position. I tried to solve the problem and broke open the glass case again. Should I start over?

  27. Birdie Greenberg yogabird says:

    Juliet: I'm sure you'll find a lot of students who share your opinions! Look no further than the comments to this post. I completely understand your point and hope you teach what inspires you…music or no music! Thanks for commenting.

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