1.) Interact with the music
When it skips or the wrong song plays or Billy Joel starts belting out “heart a-tack, ack, ack…” because you forgot to turn your iPod off in Savasana – don’t ignore it. Point it out, bring it to light and then drop it. Your students noticed it too and they’ll appreciate your quick acknowledgement of it more than trying to pretend like it didn’t happen.
2) Choose songs that excite you
The first song sets a tone but it’s not the most important song. None of them are. Music in yoga is like pizza – even when it’s bad it’s still pretty damn good. Start with a song that matches your cadence…for me it tends to be “We Gotta get out of this Place” by the Animals or “For What it’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. For you, it could be anything. Let it be something that’s electrifying to you; it’ll make you excited to teach!
3) Have fun with the music!
Your students will know when you are playing songs you enjoy and they’ll love you for it! Don’t shy away from a heavy playlist. If you groove to some emotional stuff, then that’s your truth. Just like always, teach from your truth. One of my favorite songs is “Breathe Me” by Sia and if you’ve ever seen the ending to Six Feet Under, that song will have you bawling in about 20 seconds. That’s not bad. People get to release emotions and a deep hip opener like half-pigeon or frog complements this nicely.
4) Create rhythm
People get excited when they practice to music. Let this excitement bubble up but be sure to remind them to breathe. They need to follow their breath rhythm and not their adrenaline rush.
5) Let the class relax
They sometimes crash. Inevitably when they follow that adrenaline rush, (like post Jay-Z. Yeah, he can work great in power yoga!) bring them back down with a few moments in seated silent meditation. Remind them, and yourself, that high levels of intensity need not be sustained and that a hilly up and down arc can be very effective for a powerful class.
Just sticking with “yogic music” and kirtan can sound like background music to some yogis. It won’t push them in a new direction or focus them to find their breath. They may just start to dream away and not stay present. Enya can be great, but don’t pile on the Enya – unless she excites you! Find new bands, but don’t just play them because they’ve been deemed cool. If you don’t have a connection to the song, you’ll have a tough time relating to it.
7) Be okay with being a little uncomfortable
It’s vulnerable to play music during yoga. You expose what you like and dislike, what gets you jazzed. Teaching yoga to music can be more cathartic for you than for your students. Admitting to my workshop attendees that Chumbawamba’s “Tub-Thumping” was my jammy-jam was embarrassing, but it was authentic and the appreciation your students will have for that honesty and that authenticity can’t be faked.
Lee Anne (LA) Finfinger is a full-time Yoga Instructor, born and bred Pittsburgher. She and her husband live with their rescued cat, Harmony. When she’s not in a studio, LA can be found baking, running (thanks to yoga!), traveling, hanging with family and friends, mentoring in the community, reading, writing and knitting.