Music in Yoga Class? WTF?

Via on Oct 20, 2012

I’ve noticed an increase in music being played in yoga classes, as I travel around the country giving teacher-trainings at studios.

Some studios actually require music to be played during class; some teachers get suggestions for a “class playlist” from students on Facebook and some play music softly, like elevator music.

I always ask the teachers, “Why?” and “What is it for?”

I don’t really care if you play music or not—but I do wonder why you might play it—and I have not heard one convincing answer yet.

It’s an emotional topic; I have seen teachers defend playing music as though it’s life or death. But I have yet to hear how playing music has anything at all to do with teaching yoga.

Teachers tell me that playing music in class is entertaining, fills the silence, gives the student something to listen to; it might make their class unique and help new people integrate more easily.

I confess, years ago when I started teaching, I played music in every class. And I used every one of the above reasons to justify doing so; some part of me knew it was a compromise of yoga, but I didn’t want to look at that. I had carefully mixed CDs, numbered one right up to number twenty-one. Then one class, I forgot my sleeve of CDs…and I was petrified! I immediately recognized why I used music: I didn’t think I was enough as a teacher—and perhaps, feared that yoga wasn’t enough.

I was playing music in class for me, not for my students. I used music to satisfy my insecurity as a teacher; to make my classes “popular,” to entertain the class…to actually hide myself from the class and  to avoid silence. Up until this point, I had never taught without music and my classes were pretty “successful.”

So, this day, with no CDs, I had to teach without music.

And right away, I realized I could really hear the class—this is critical information for any Vinyasa teacher—music had blocked this essential information.

I realized, in that moment, that I had been teaching an imaginary class in my head; I had been guessing at the timing of movement, transition and breath. Now, the actual class was before me, in all of their breath-reality.

I vividly experienced how music can hinder teaching Vinyasa yoga (I’m not referring to kirtan and chanting—I mean playing music in a typical asana class).

Without music, classes got a lot more dynamic and effective—when you get people really breathing, doing real pranayama, with focused awareness for an entire class, it is going to work. Transformative…way beyond mere entertainment.

When teachers come to my teacher trainings or when I give one at their studio, I get to spend hours with them working on their teaching. When the topic of music comes up, there is sometimes confusion among yoga teachers about what they are teaching. More than one teacher has asserted that yoga is “everything,” so “everything goes” in class—including music.

I agree that yoga might apply to everything but as I understand it, yoga is not everything.

Classically, Patanjali is specific; his Yoga Sutras say, “Do these eight, very specific things and you will awaken.”

The Sutras do not say, do everything you want and you will awaken. And nowhere does it say to play music.  

A prenatal teacher once explained to me that she played a certain song for her moms-to-be, in savasana, at every class. The plan was during delivery was to play that song and it would remind them of savasana. I pointed out that that was not yoga, either.

Her Pavlovian plan might work, I agreed, but it was clearly not yoga. Her plan required her pregnant students to seek something external to self, in this case a song, to produce relaxation.

If this is yoga, then drinking wine is yoga. Yoga is an internal focus; yoga could be defined as focusing on the internal to experience the eternal.

In other words, finding peace and clarity by first focusing internally on breath and body, as opposed to endlessly searching for happiness outside yourself, such as in music, wine, possessions, status, pleasure, etc. It’s not that these things are either good or bad, it’s just that they don’t sustain you in the state of yoga, clarity, union and happiness.

What is it for? I invite you to ask yourself this question about everything you do as a teacher. This question helps me to chuck everything that is iffy or not effective.

This is a living process.

My hope for teachers is that they continue to hone in on more and more effective teaching of yoga…what would a class feel like when all that is left is what works?

What is it for? How does music further our students’ learning of yoga…or does it just get in the way? Does external entertainment really help the student to focus within?

(By the way, disc number twenty-one was my last CD, because after that, I stopped playing music. And, not as a moral to the story but as a fact, my classes jumped in size. I believe that’s because, without music, I was more effective at teaching yoga.)

Relephant: Why I Don’t Play Music in Yoga Class.

Editor: Bryonie Wise

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About Philip Urso

Yoga Teacher Philip Urso loves to train yoga teachers how to teach exhilarating and unscripted vinyasa yoga classes. He co-founded Live Love Teach Yoga Teacher Training School with fellow yoga teachers Deborah Williamson and Stacy Dockins. His two 5-star podcasts on iTunes — A Crash Course in Miracles and Yoga Classes, Live Love Teach — have over two million downloads. Philip studies the dynamics of love and fear and teaches practical, reliable and lasting methods for choosing between the two. His Elephant Journal column explores these very themes. More info at PhilipUrso.com

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130 Responses to “Music in Yoga Class? WTF?”

  1. Renee says:

    Here we go again! I don't see how this even matters. Who cares who plays yoga and who doesn't ! Hello! Some people like music in their class and some don't. It's just a choice.no need to write a whole article on YOUR opinion . I play yoga in my class, my husband does not. I like music in my practice also , it inspires me. Why a.l these yoga rules all of a sudden! It's all good.om shanti Om !

    • Philip says:

      I agree that it’s all good but I’m just asking is it all yoga? What is it for? How does playing music help you teach the specific practices of yoga ?

    • Thaddeus Haas Thaddeus1 says:

      With all due respect, Renee, I think Mr. Urso's point is that the idea you express with "it's all good," (while perhaps popular and common parlance amongst a particular crowd of western "yoga" practitioners) is not actually to be found within the canon of yoga. As it turns out, he can back up this claim with reference to yogic scriptures, which he alludes to in this piece, whereas, you would probably have a much harder time finding any support for your "it's all good" philosophy. Thus, when it comes to stating one's opinion, it seems that you are perhaps the one guilty of such a charge.

      And it's not that there are a bunch of yoga rules "all of a sudden," quite to the contrary, it is only recently that the multitude of directions and rules governing the practice of yoga have been willfully ignored by those who want to take yoga and make it their own. I would suggest that yoga is a discipline, a science of self-realization if you will. It's not a philosophy of "feeling good," "doing what I want" or "finding inspiration" and applaud Mr. Urso for pointing this out.

  2. Matt says:

    I have been thinking of writing a similar article about all of the cursing and swearing I have been hearing in yoga classes… And reading in articles about yoga. WTF??? … WTF?

    Do you feel you need to talk like that to be more popular? To get people to read? To be more cool?

  3. A yogi says:

    I found this to be a good point and that some yoga instructors do hide behind a good playlist to help increase interest into their own class. I do also believe that some music is actually beneficial to the students. Ambient music ,or strong vibration music like singing bowls are actually a tool to help drown out any thoughts, and allow the students to sink deeper into savasana. Coming together and yoking together, creating happiness is actually the goal of yoga. This being said I would disagree that all music is bad, but appreciate the awareness not to drown out your class with loud music.

    • Philip says:

      But still isn’t music external ? Isn’t the goal of patanjali to teach us the state of yoga regardless of external stimulus?

      • Heather Morton Heather says:

        I find this question is like asking why do we practice the postures of yoga? They are external? We are still stuck in our body? We are still doing exercise on one level? We are still attached to the body and all the sensations?

        We still need to drive in a car to get somewhere, correct? So unless we can all figure out how to get somewhere without an external 'instrument' or tool then I guess we can abandon the postures and a lot of other stuff too.

        It is a tool. A means to getting some place else.

        In an ashram in Mysore one entire section is dedicated to music. They even built a whole hall. They play music to bring people someplace else, to soothe the soul, to get people to relax…to get them to lessen their defenses.

        Patanjalim's yoga is about non-attachment. So until we figure that out we need to use our tools wisely…not simply abandon them because they are 'external'.

        • Philip says:

          I totally agree Heather about the use of tools. But isn't a yoga class a place to practice the using the tools of pranayama and asana and meditation? So still I ask, why do we play music in class? How does that help us learn to use and practice the tools of yoga?

          • Heather Morton Heather says:

            Some folks would argue that if that was the thing that got that particular student to come out to a class (music)…then it would be better than sitting at home eating potato chips! If that's the hook (same with hot pants, etc…) then you have to wonder if in time some real yoga (meaning more than for exercise) will sift through.

            As far as I understand it…and just for the record I have never played one single note in class..and have been teaching for over 16 years………it is used to bring people into the mood. It is perhaps a starting point for people to connect to the breath, to their body and to the act of practicing yoga.

            I recall many years ago a woman totally freaking out during the resting period. She was having a severe panic attack because of the silence. Now, certainly this speaks to her lifestyle and perhaps the need to have a bit of silence….But the abrupt change for her was too much! She was used to a class of yoga with music and it was far too scary for her to enter resting without.

            As a teacher I learned a very valuable lesson. I should NOT assume that just because I am used to feeling the alone-ness that others are also feeling safe and secure with that. Music then as I see would be a way to ease people into such…and then you slowly get them off of it….(as the hidden agenda)…..Kind of like teaching the headstand with the wall….slowly you remove the student from the wall and they can conquer their fear.

            OR, you use music with lots of discrimination…and then Patajalim would be proud!

            In the end, I can see it helping people feel more at ease and trust is a HUGE thing these days!!

          • Vision_Quest2 says:

            I admit–though this is about mat pilates, and not yoga–I'd found my earliest music-free classes unbelievably jarring … while under such stress in my life in general, having no music gave me space in which to not focus …all the yoga classes I took at that time, would have music, until much later …

            Despite that, the pilates teacher, who was never to have music, really had spoken to me …

          • Vision_Quest2 says:

            To amend this comment, I think that many younger people today do not go to yoga to get centered and relaxed. I'm sorry, but they don't.

            In that vein, they don't need music to be able to get out of their head.
            They don't need music to be able to relax.
            They need an instructor to be able to help them get their workout on.

            I honestly doubt too many of them feel centered after a power yoga class. With or without music.

            Let there be no music for a challenging class where one could hurt themselves if they don't listen to pinpoint rapid-fire alignment instructions.

            Baron Baptiste knew this very well. Music only during savansana in classes by Baron.

          • Heather Morton Heather says:

            Totally right on the younger people not doing yoga to get centered (or, let's be nice and say they just don't know it yet)?? :-)

            And frankly, I too doubt they are very centered after a power yoga class. As an example, one student o mine went out to Dairy Queen (equivalent of Burger King,etc) and had 2 burgers! This was after an Ashtanga yoga class that I taught in the tradition of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (Mysore style).

            Seems to me the only play reasonable for it is in savasana.

          • OleManJake says:

            I think eventually it happens to most everyone whether they realize it or not (getting centered).

        • James Brown says:

          HEATHER! That is a fantastic reply.

  4. Matt says:

    And what about heat? Isn't that external? Why the need for all of this heat?

    • Edward Staskus says:

      That's a good point, since yoga is all about generating internal heat in the course of doing the exercises. I wonder if air-conditioning the yoga studios down to, say, 30 or 40 degrees, might not be a better idea than heating them up to 90 degrees like for vinyasa and a gazillion degrees like for Bikram. That way the focus of the practice would really have to be on one's own creation of internal heat, if only for self-preservation.

      • OleManJake says:

        Interesting thought. I've done Yoga in my garage during the winter months (temps inside the garage ranged from brrrrrrrrrrr to 50). Starting out was a little rough but after some time the internal heat of which you speak kicked in and I didn't notice the temp at all.

  5. Annie Ory says:

    I love what you wrote here Philip. I am building a studio, and currently training teachers, and I plan to send this to them and have a discussion about it at training this week. We won't play music in our studio, and my reason has always been simply: people receive INPUT all the time, noise, talking, music, news, inputinputinput. For many people in today's world, with their iPhones and their tablets and their tvs and their iPods and the general societal imperative to answer every text and take every call and fill every minute, yoga class may be the ONLY place in their world where they are alone with themselves in their heads – the way most people lived most of the time through most of human history. I want them to hear their own breath. Do they ever listen to their breath any where else? Do they ever allow any time for silence? It is a gift to leave the phone, the music, the noise, outside and be with themselves. As I've never taught with music, the impact on teacher is something I had not considered and am thankful for the perspective that the teacher also needs to HEAR the class. I find there are so many things to hold when teaching, I could use less distraction myself, and I hope to give my students the opportunity to be with themselves. Thank you.

  6. Annie Ory says:

    Oh, and I also been noticing that I struggle to let them be still in savasanah and have grown to feel that I should be talking them into a place of peace, when the peace they need to seek is within them. I'm going to get my plan set with a simple quote or statement or quote, and then stop talking so they can experience a few minutes on their mats without me chattering at them. Thanks for the nudge.

  7. timful says:

    Great article. In my experience music makes a yoga class more fun, while detracting from its instrumental benefits as a discipline. With music, it is more of an experiential escape that elevates my mood, but does not leave me feeling better equipped to face other challenges. I am just happier and don't care so much about them :-). Without music, I come home without that sense of elation, but feeling sharper and more capable to gain contentment by pursuing conventional ambitions. The yoga is more of a means to an end, but I must find that end elsewhere. I see room for both of these in my life. The challenge for me is that I will be too often drawn to the music, the more immediate gratification.

  8. Heather Morton Heather says:

    Music is and will always be the voice of the soul. It is not only a well known fact (proved by research and studies) as well as the general opinion of thousands if not millions of people that MUSIC heals, uplifts and is powerful beyond belief. People play music at very important times of their life. When they get married, funerals, celebrations, graduations and birthday parties. People sing, write songs and remember the tunes of GREAT if not OUTSTANDING music!

    If you do some proper research you will come to learn that it is not just the fly by night studios or teachers who play music but some well established schools of yoga like Jivamukti. It is a well known and accepted fact that they play music during yoga?

    WHY? Because if yoga is going to be taught beyond physical exercise, mental destressing and even beyond diet control….MUSIC has the rare and special talent to reach and touch a person's very soul. Whether is it hard rock or a soft ballad…..and in many studios it is KIRTAN (do you know it) and also a section of yoga called BHAKI-YOGA. And digging a bit deeper you may find some of these teacher are musicians themselves. Their passion lies in singing, chanting and sharing.

    On page xvi to xviii in David Life and Sharon Gannon's book entitled JivaMukti Yoga they write:

    'Perhaps because we are musicians, we also believed from the start that music could play an invaluable role in a yoga method dedicated to enlightenment. That's why we are playing uplifting music during asana practice and teach our students to sing Sanskrit chants."

    So, Music has a place. It is unfortunate you selected people or choose to discuss those people you talked to who don't know why. Or, maybe they just could not articulate what they intuitively feel it brings to a class.

    However, I don't agree at all that music lets you hide behind your teachings or lack thereof. Like everything in life if you don't us the tool wisely then it can be a distraction and may not add to the class at all. But to say WTF…simply missed the point.

    And with all due respect shows a lack of understanding and even to some degree of knowledge of what is going on in yoga classes and what has been going on for a long, long time.

    • Philip says:

      I'm not against music as I say in the article. And, again, in the article, I say that this is not about Kirtan and Chanting (which are forms of mantra meditation in themselves) and not the same thing as playing music during class.

    • Sharon_Marie says:

      is it purposeful? is it an indulgence? is it to manipulate? is it to mask? is it to distract? is it to escape? is it to zero in? do we care? i have experienced class with and without. i prefer without. that may not be for everyone just as music during isn't for everyone. "… there's a field …. i'll meet you there." if there is music i'll still be there practicing my breath. :)

  9. Edward Staskus says:

    Whenever I am at my dentist's office, whether for a cleaning or maybe to take care of a cavity, they ask if I want the sound system on, or the flat screen TV attached to the chair turned on to Oprah, or something pleasant like that. I know they are offering me distraction, but I tell them, no thanks, I know it is going to be unpleasant, but what I have learned through my yoga practice is to experience things as they are.
    I used to take vinyasa classes, and almost all the teachers played music. I always assumed it was to keep us on pace with the workout and distract us a little from the workout at the same time.
    I have been practicing at a Bikram studio for more than a year, and they do not play any music, at all. I once asked if I could bring my iPod, since by then I knew the poses, since they are always the same in the same order, and all I got for my pains was a very dirty look and an emphatic "NO".

  10. Hi,

    I just wanted to comment on your reference to the sutras passed on to us by Patanjali. Patanjali only spoke of asana practice very breifly. As with “music” he also did not express that “down dog” is vital to asana. That is where I feel your logic is inadequate. However, having said that, here are the things I will grant you: 1) Hiding behind a playlist may be limiting one’s growth as a teacher, especially if it becomes a crutch.

    2) Yoga is about observing inward.

    Everything else in the article I found somewhat offensive. Maybe its the tone you used in writing this because it comes off like this: If you use music in a yoga class, then you’re doing it wrong.

    Yoga is about inward observation. However, Patanjali elucidated nothing in his sutras about teaching asana classes with 5+ students present. What you may wish to consider is that personal practice and yoga studio classes (especially those aimed solely at the physiological benefits) should be considered separate expressions of asana. And perhaps music may be hindering the student’s growth if used in their personal practice, but I have a hard time believing that it becomes limiting in all contexts of asana.

    • Philip says:

      Brad

      The Sutras are sparse on Asana as you say, but not on principles.

      What I do as a teacher is try to compare what I am doing with the principles. And I am always asking, "why?"and "what is it for?" I am seeing more and more music being played in studios and the response when I ask why is either irrational defensiveness ungrounded in Yoga principles or teachers who have never asked "why" themselves.

      • I think I'm starting to understand the point of this essay. However, I think the tone of the essay conveys a different meaning than what you were intending. I do believe that any good story starts with a good title. I think that is where your article is lacking. I know someone else has already commented on this, but I would like to second their concern. The "wtf" in the title is a bit hypocritical. You ask us to question why we do things. I would ask the same as you. Why title the essay "wtf"?

  11. bflatbrad says:

    Great article, Philip! I do agree the WTF is a little too much, but not a big deal :)

    Now chanting after a dharma talk is a totally different story and I am totally on board with what Sharon and David are saying with regards to chanting.

    I have been a musician for over 20 years and I love music just as much as anyone else, but I do believe Philip is on to something.

  12. Bob Carocari says:

    I think that arguing about what is and is not yoga is a waste of time. I don't think Patanjali would know what to think of twenty people in $100 shorts doing high speed calesthentics, but I don't think he would call it yoga.We call it yoga though, and it serves it's purpose,which I believe is to alter our state of mind.I want my students to leave my class feeling joy, or at least with elevated hopes that is possible to feel joy,and I think that playing music way in the background that has a joyful tone is one subliminal way to make that happen.It would be interesting to hear comments from students about the effect that music in class has on them.

    • timful says:

      Without a doubt, the music adds to my joy as a student. And, there are times when that is blessing enough. But, in stepping back to look at the longer trajectory of my life, I see there is also a deep satisfaction and contentment that comes from certain achievements. And, yoga without music seems to better sharpen my focus and make me more effective toward those ends. I leave class eager to do something. The classes with music tend to leave me satiated. I am done. I am happy. Nothing more remains to be done.

    • nunh says:

      I agree. Best reply imho.

  13. bflatbrad says:

    I must be crazy for posting this, but here goes.

    If music plays such a role in the teaching of a yoga class, and is a make or break whether a student attends a class; then I think it is only fair to require yoga teachers to pay license fees to ASCAP, BMI, etc …..

    • As a musician whose music does get played in yoga classes here and there, I want to thank you for saying that. I would love it so much if the yoga community were more supportive of the artists behind the kirtan/chant/yoga music that ends up in class playlists. If I had a dime for every time I've seen a burned copy of a kirtan CD at a yoga studio…..

      That said, I also realize that yoga teachers and students who hear and enjoy the music in class sometimes ask about the playlist and go on to purchase the music themselves. And sometimes they show up at the live kirtans. Some teachers publish their playlists on Yogitunes.com or elsewhere so their students can find and support the music they like. I would rather that someone who can't afford to purchase my music obtain a burned copy—maybe they will pay it forward some day by coming to a live event and bringing a friend, or buying a CD. If yoga teachers had to pay ASCAP and BMI for the music in their playlists we might miss out on the opportunity to reach a broader audience with our music.

      As an Ashtanga yoga practitioner, I'm quite fond of a silent room, where the music of breath and bodies transitioning from pose to pose comes into focus. And then sometimes I go to Giselle Mari's Jivamukti class and get to hear awesome 80's dance tracks that make me smile and experience my usually serious practice in a more light-hearted way. As a Vinyasa teacher, I often begin class by sitting together with the students and singing a little kirtan together, before we move into asanas. I find that it fosters a feeling of community and brings a sweetness and open-heartedness (is that a word?) to a practice that sometimes just gets really intense. I also sing to them in savasana in some classes. Sometimes I teach with music and sometimes it's a really thought-out playlist that I intend to be very much a part of the experience. And sometimes I teach in silence, with no music, and try to keep my words to a minimum to give them lots of space.

      To me, there is value in all of these choices. I loved the "What is it for?" question in this piece and think that that's the real heart of the matter. Not so much about whether playing music or not playing music is best, but the importance of constantly questioning what and how we teach.

      • Oh and one other thing. Teaching yoga skillfully is really about giving the right practice to the right people at the right time. In some situations, playing music in class might help the students to concentrate or feel inspired. Especially for people who are newer to the practice. In other situations, it might be a hinderance. In the end, music playing or not playing is just another environmental condition, like the window being open or closed, or the heat being on or off. The practice is the same. If we have a strong preference or aversion coming up because of the external conditions, it might be a good thing to investigate….. ;)

      • Jenifer says:

        I agree — and I just wrote a blog about it for my community (students were asking why I didn't play music like other places), and as such, I decided to go with my inclination to teach without music.

        It's my preference anyway. But if I were to play it, I would pay for it! At least, now that I'm aware that it should be paid for. IIt's just cultural that we play it, but not that we pay for it. People just share their iTunes download list, etc, you know? It's just cultural.

        Once I knew better, I did better (and by rights, I should have figured this out 10 years ago when I was in law school. duh! but I didn't. LOL).

  14. Howaboutit says:

    Hi Phillip,

    It sounds, from your writing and your responses, that you have already decided for yourself. You don’t want to play music. You don’t believe in it. You think that you have back-up from the Sutra and from Patanjali. You ask others why they do it, and you have never had an answer that satifies you.

    You never will. It sounds to me that you have already decided that no answer is sufficient. You have already decided that anything outside the Sutras is the “it’s all yoga” logic, which is not sufficient for you. You have already decided that the Sutras (or your interpretation of them) are the only answer, and anything is is too universalizing, and therefore not sufficient. If that is so, for you, why ask the question?

    One answer is that no one has to answer to you, or convince you.

    Another is that just like biblical literalists, and strict intrepreters of the Constitution, you are a fundamentalist.

    Another answer is that, contrary to your assumption that yoga is “inward” and music is from outside, music actually IS inside, and leads us further inward. Another answer is that just as some yoga teachers hide behind playlists, others hide behind endless gabbering, and still others behind cueing and breath. Hiding anywhere is always an option.

    But my final suggestion is that like anyone who needs to open to music, you need to unstop your ears and open your mind.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Especially, the teacher keeping up rapid-fire patter during savasana … particularly the body scan of 3 to 5 minutes (when the entire practice is around 95 minutes long !?!) … Verbal instructions during final resting pose have to be done with caring, finesse and an adequate amount of time allotted for it to work … for SOME it may work … but I'M looking to feel centered after class …

  15. Right on says:

    Right on. Sounds a little like the speech Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character gave to the guy that kept interrupting him during his session in the living room in the movie The Master. Well said.

    • Philip says:

      What does it matter what I think. I’m just asking you to consider this question. This isn’t personal -to me at least. As i said in the article i don’t care whether teachers play music or not. I just want to ask yoga teachers to consider why they are doing what they are doing when they say they are teaching yoga.

      What is so threatening about this question?

      • ufo says:

        I think the annoyance is with the implication that yoga teachers have not already done so. That said, if you have settled the matter for yourself to the point where you feel that it doesn’t really matter what you think, why publish a column stating what you think and challenging other people to convince you otherwise? This is an open forum, not a teacher training session you’re running. You’re among equals here — write like it. It seems you’re the one threatened by others who have chosen differently. I agree with other commenters that your thinking about what comprises “yoga,” “breath,” “inward,” “outside,” “self,” and “hiding” and yoga versus everything else” are a bit, well, rigid. Again, if this pleases you, hey, go for it. But it’s pretty odd. The Sutras are from ages back in time that could never have imagined a yoga student population dominated by women, let alone one that included music. So what?

      • clockers says:

        Dude, you’re not Socrates. Don’t be so put upon that people don’t like you playing the role. Given all the scandals and shit that have twisted the yoga world, esp the latest one, most teachers are questioning why we do what we do and what is yoga and what isn’t. But yeah, if you’ve already decided for yourself, and you’re going to write a whole article about it, don’t then go and claim you think it doesn’t matter what you think. If you don’t thin it matters what you think, why write and publish an article? Obviously you think your own opinion matters. And obviously you think that playing the role of questioner somehow privileges you. it doesn’t, man. I don’t think that just because something is or isn’t in the Sutras it can’t be yoga. If you do, than stay with your silence and have a great time. But don’t throw down a gauntlet and then get coy about and pretend it’s not that when people know it is. Show some respect. Everyone is finding their own ways through this, and given the fact that you’ve taken such a narrow stand, why would anyone really want to discuss with you? Duh….Arrogant.

  16. Hatha says:

    This is all a bit too pious and, I don’t know, prudish. you do not have a corner on either the Sutras or what is or is not yoga.
    Music is throughout all life. All breathing animals sing or make sound with movement. It is not that yoga is everything. It is that music is deeper, wider, more complex trhan you apparently understand, experience, or respect. That is your own limitation Do not confuse that with others’ limitation.
    The music at our studio matches rhythm to breath. Sometimes it comes from taped music, and sometimes in comes from live drums. We are privileged to have generous musicians among us. In such classes, “asana” is precisely what it is supposed to do: marry breath to movement. In so doing, music helps students move inward, listen inward. Feel inward. Cast awareness inward and outward and THROUGH. Not just through the “self,” but also through and with the class, and with me, their teacher, and with the musicians. It is a shared experience of community. Yoga is not “inward” or “outward” any more than breath or movement or rhythm are. They are action verbs: they are ENGAGED. I suggest you change your ways of thinking. I suggest you relinquish your polarized categories.

  17. Michael says:

    Playing music for yoga really depends on what kind of music you are playing. Indian ragas and such can enhance a yoga practice for the simple reason that is relaxes the body and causes the mind to focus deeper. This is fact, music has an enormous impact on the body, even on plants. If the music you are practicing to in low density music like pop or rock or anything with lyrics really, that will occupy the mind in a distracting way.
    I play live music for yoga classes and I fell this is the best way to listen to music during yoga because the music is affected by the rhythm of the vinyasa and vice verse.

  18. flowjo says:

    When I read the article entitled, “I know it’s yoga, but WTF?” and found it was about mean girls, I understood the “wtf.” But this? Maybe you thought you were being cute, but it was a dumb way to title an article and introduce a subject that is in fact not seen as outrageous and anathema to yoga as mean-girl behavior. Music is deeply, deeply personal to people. I wouldn’t necessarily want to discuss my experience of music in yoga with a stranger, let alone a stranger taking such an aggressive stand. However, I also don’t think there should be some line drawn only “oh, only Indian music.” To that I would definitely say, wtf? Do Christians and Muslims only listen to middle eastern music? Even the music and verse now considered kirtan was once the popular music equivalent of its day. Stop being so culture-bound. For all the crap that has come out about sexual misconduct by yoga teachers, it should be obvious to you silly westerners by now that not everything that comes out of India or has been done, said or written by Indians is sacred. SO stupid! I love Bollywood tracks as well as Kirtan in my classes.

  19. Nicole says:

    I appreciate the invitation to inquire about all of our actions as a teacher…I notice in response to reading this that I do have specific intentions to playing music when I choose to play it. I relate to your definition of yoga as a practice that focuses on the internal to experience the external – and I also would add that the internal is the external and the external is the internal – - I have heard this being described as two pulsating as one – you can't have one without the other.

    I notice myself curious as to your perception definition of yoga. If music is not yoga, I'm wondering if you would define swearing and cursing as yoga? I wonder why you choose to swear while teaching?

    Having someone swear at me while I practice does not serve my avenue of peace, clarity, or happiness, nor does it help me with my internal focus. If I am looking for happiness inside myself, the chances of me trusting or listening to someone swear at me will not serve this, I would much rather listen to music.

  20. To Note says:

    “Heresy is the lifeblood of a mythology, orthodoxy the death of it”
    - Joseph Campbell.

  21. James Brown says:

    I think you missed that sutra that says to choose, as your object of focus, any thing that you find elevating. It's not your place to transpose your experience on to another person's path. If they find music elevating and int makes them focus, they are doing one those SPECIFIC things that Patanjali taught in his perfect method.
    BTW, I do not play music in classes, but I know a lot of very good teachers who do and for whom it facilitates the process of teaching good and authentic yoga practice to their students, many of whom will not even attempt practice without music.

  22. Jenifer says:

    There is an aspect to this that is often overlooked. I don't know why.

    Playing music in a public, profit-making venture without paying the license to do so is technically stealing and also illegal.

    I wrote a blog about why I don't play music in yoga classes here: http://liftingbodyandspirit.blogspot.co.nz/2012/1

    And here's an article about what's going on in terms of this in Australia (copyright law in terms of ambient music in general):
    Here's an article, btw, about what's going on in Australia in terms of copyright and music: http://inside.org.au/the-copyright-cops/

    For years, I spent so much time having to justify why I didn't want to play music, usually getting overruled by my employers (at studios and gyms) and essentially "forced" to play music. For me, also having this level of 'it's unyogic to steal, and unless I pay the expensive license, I'm stealing if I play music in class" gives me some very, very firm ground to stand on.

    At our studio, we no longer play music in classes — this is my studio and my rules in this regard. It's inihibiting, yes. But ultimately, as the owner, I would be liable for the fees should I get fined or taken to court on this issue. So, the rule makes sense.

    And side benefit, we get all of these benefits of using silence in our classes. :)

  23. Jenifer says:

    sorry for the not-great editing there. LOL ;)

    • TwistedGuru says:

      If you are charging for music, then yes. It is not stealing at all. You need to not google but contact a copyright attorney. If it were stealing, malls and dentists offices would all be in jails.

  24. greateacher says:

    I enjoy music in yoga classes.

  25. Maru says:

    I am a beginner and though I adore my teacher, I detest that she plays music during class. I find it quite bothersome and distracting; to the point where I am forced to use earplugs to drown out the loud noise. I realize we all have different preferences; but it’s precisely because of this that music during yoga class should be a no no.

  26. Aaron Warren says:

    Hmm, Back in the day; Patanjali’s day who knows if they were playing (or not) the Sitar during Shivasana? Yoga in the western world has evolved, last week I took a class in Ankara, Turkey. At the beginning of the class the music was so loud I couldn’t hear the teacher! It really didn’t matter as I didn’t understand the posed being called in Turkish/sandscrit. I do recall thinking of how distracting the music is… the teacher was very nervous and new having the poses drawn as stick figures on a piece of paper to use as a guide, and another thought came to mind; all teachers have a beginning. But isn’t yoga more about evolving as a person or a human? The fact that I pass judgment on the class and then have the awareness that I have judged to me is yoga. When can let go and let it be perhaps I just evaded war. To me this is the real test and the real possibility of yoga, sure there are going to be many differing opinions about to have music or not, but when I can accept it then I have grown and am moving forward in my own evolution.

    If you have read this far let me plug a really good book; “How Yoga Works” by Gesne Michael Roach”

    Om. Shanti. Shanti. Om.

  27. Heather McCaw says:

    I still consider myself more-or-less a beginner when it comes to yoga (though I've been practicing very seriously and daily for a year now). On the mornings when I really struggled, light music in the background helped me get into that space. When I am focused and everything is flowing, the music fades away and I pay no attention to it. Would it be any different if there were birdsong, waves, or traffic in the background? Many beginners are assisted by the music because of their level of practice. Later on, the need will probably just fall away gradually. Why be dogmatic about it?

  28. [...] the original post here: Music in Yoga Class? WTF? | elephant journal ← Laughter Yoga on American Morning (CNN) With Sanjay Gupta [...]

  29. michelle says:

    i'm a yoga teacher and couldn't agree more..the idea of yoga is to pay attention to your own internal rythm..music takes it external..you end up moving to an external rythm instead of to your own…i don't use music in my classes, but i do get alot of students asking for it. and there are alot of other teachers they can go to if music is what they want…make your breath your music and move to that rythm..but then again…each to his own..the people who want music will be attracted to the teachers who play it, and vice versa..this is also the freedom of finding what works for you in the now…live and let live.

    • Thanks says:

      Thanks, Michelle. live and let live. I’m a new student, and contrary to what you said, as I try to yolk breath to movement, music helps me do so. In silence, monkey-mind can take over. And yes, while I can breath and move through it, and note it and not get attached and blah blah blah, music helps actually calm monkey-mind. The cliche that music tames the savage beast is so true. Monkey mind can be savage. I am i yoga for peace, centering, strength, and ease. When I hear music I do not experience it as “external” to me. It moves in me, through me, with me. There is already rhythm in my breathing, my heartbeat, my movement. Music helps me listen to and be aware of it and be in it. Music is not a distraction. It is a helper.
      It sounds, though, as if Philip has already named music as external, not only for himself, but for everyone, for all time.
      Learn to live and let live, Philip. And learn to repsect students’ experiences.

  30. Satsang says:

    If Philip is so influenced by “A Course in Miracles,” it is no wonder he is rigid about what constitutes the “inner.” ACIM is pop-Christianity written by people who claimed to have been spoken to by in inner voice that was Jesus himself. It is a heavily packaged and marketed form of new age pop spirituality and has been rejected by many on theological grounds. I have no opinion about whether one’s “inner voice” might or might not have been “Jesus” — it could have been Barney the Purple Dinosaur, for all I care. My point is that ACIM places an intense focus on the “inner.” Yet you have to buy the package and purchase the classes to receive cues about how to hear your “inner” voice by “external” self-proclaimed authorities. Yet another oxymoron with spiritual “self-help.”

    Why hone in on this? Because I’m questioning why Philip needs to “question” others. Why has he posited himself as an authority to whom anyone might answer? On what grounds?

    • Satsang says:

      In 25 years of yoga and meditation, I have encountered far too many self-proclaimed authorities. Many of them are, frankly (and I don’t know about this one; I’m only responding to the tone of his writing) rather prissy little white guys who glop together many pop psychologies and spiritualities over the years and market themselves as “teachers” and “trainers.” Yet even the individual “influences” can be pretty silly. Baptiste, for example, is one of the most crude, scripted, franchised forms of yoga out there. (I love it, but have no illusions that my sweat-teacher is a yoga master.)

      • Satsang says:

        My overall point is, where the hell is all this coming from? Who the hell are you, man?
        First these guys want to “question what you think you’re doing when you’re teaching yoga,” and then question “the use of music in the yoga classroom,” all the while with the implication that they know and you don’t. Then, as I’ve seen in other studios, the “questions” become all about what mat to buy, what clothes to use, what foods to eat, how to ties your shoes, how to wipe your own ass. All the while claiming, “Oh, what does it matter what I think? I’m just asking.” Yoga may not be “everything,” but there are plenty who claim that yoga is a whole way of life, and pretty soon, man, you bet they’ve got all kinds of things to say about how you live your entire life. But all…well…implied. And the tendency of yogis, esp. women, to doubt themselves, to compete, to want to prove better than….it all starts this orthodoxy in studios that turns into a very weird, pressured, cult-like environment.
        Then, it gets very easy for these guys to take things even futher, whether the atrocities committed by Geshe Roach, the indiscretions committed by John Friend, the sexual abuse committed by Desikachar.
        And why? For what? For whom? For another new-age-touting dweeb who play passion aggressive games about authority and orthodoxy and whose yoga is the real yoga?
        I’m all for open conversation. But only among equals. I find the rest of this dynamic intrusive and insulting. I’m adult. I can make my own decisions about music, diet, and the Sutras.
        Who the hell do you think you are playing this “role,” man?

        • Matt says:

          I have felt some of the things you mentioned a few times in the past. I am not a follower of A Course In Miracles, but after hearing Philip reference them time and again in his teaching, it seems to boil down to one point. What is real? What is not real? That's pretty much it as far as I can see. After realizing this I came to the conclusion that it's not necessarily a bad thing for a teacher to ask this question. It's a good and valuable idea to consider. What is real? What is not real?

          • satsang says:

            Sure, sure, ask away. Ask anything! But if you address other adults, respect them as adults. If you play the role of teacher off-line, be aware that your position sets you up as an authority that may translate as a power differentia. It may give your opinion more weight by fiat, even if you are even more clueless than most people in the room. Also, playing teacher off-line doesn’t translate into playing teacher online. Online, there is only the written word, at least outside audio tapes and youtube. There is only rhetoric, claim, question, tone. That is the ONLY thing that can be read, evaluated, responded to. Given that, given all that, I just don’t tend to have the “what it real?” conversations outside intimate circles. Why should I? Too personal. And I don’t mean to be nasty to this guy — the “dweeb” stuff is my impatience and disgust with a general pattern. I don’t know if he is a dweeb. But I don’t know that he isn’t. The guy has no repoire, no relation, and certainly no authority with me. My overall point is, why do these guys keep setting themselves up as authoritues, questioners to whom we are supposed to answer? And why do people keep following them? I mean, it’s the same way I feel about Paul Ryan. Why would anyone see that sniveling little douche-canoe as an authority about anything? Ew.

          • DAJR says:

            You're attacking him personally now? The more you write, the more inflamed and out of control you sound. How did this put you in such a state? Did Philip hit on one of your sacred cows?

            Isn't EJ a forum for opinions and discussions? I re-read the article. He sounds pretty neutral. He didn't claim to be an authority. He gave his opinion and he's asking for yours, just like most other EJ articles. Based on the number of responses, I think he started a successful discussion. Based on the outrage, perhaps he's hit on something that is sensitive and fragile and does not want to be looked at.

            Do you have a good answer to his question? How does playing music help a teacher teach tools and principles of yoga?

            BTW – ACIM is a book. Buy package and purchase classes? Really? What are you talking about?

          • Whodunit says:

            Reading your words brings one question to mind. 25 years of yoga and meditation???

          • Allsmiles says:

            You did at least used to have to purchase ACIM as a package and get trained to teach it and offer it to a bunch of people at a time. There were tons of copyright battles b/c of the profits from that. I giggled my way through ACIM when it was offered by my Unitarian church back in the 90s. I thought it was half-baked even then. People who mouth that stuff now do sounds silly. Like there are people still into The Forum and all. But whatever. I don’t think Satsang sounds “out of control.” Pretty scrupulous about trying to express exasperation with a “dynamic” — too many self-proclaimed authorities. I agree. I did get that tone from the article. If you didn’t, cool. You yourself sound a bit “out of control” with defensiveness. No need. Yes, music — like the choice of diet, clothing, whatever — is a personal and sensitive matter. It however does not have a conciousness and therefore can’t “want to be looked at” or not. So in the future, I think people should just broach the subject more respectfully. Music is sacred to many of us — as sacred as prayer. Show respect.

  31. DAJR says:

    This is an interesting discussion. What fascinates me the most is how highly defended music seems to be.

    What keeps coming to me is that we as yoga teachers have the rare opportunity to help people awaken from lives of uncertainty, anxiety, and frustration.

    We have the chance to teach people tools that can do this. In the precious little time in our classes, we have a chance to teach pranayama, asana and meditation, at least. This requires we teach our students to sustain focused awareness on breath, to explore and trust their living inner body through asana, and to meditate in a way that can open to real forgiveness.

    Can we really teach all that while blasting their awareness with what we hope are their favorite songs?

    If we are successful as teachers, our students can achieve the elevated state of yoga, at will, without depending on any external circumstance or stimulus.

    Some of you describe classes with music as leaving you in an elevated state that fades away afterwards like a temporary high. To me, a temporary elevated state is missing the mark; it’s another dead end. Isn't this obvious?

    Some of you have interpreted Philip's tone as authoritative. Isn't EJ a forum for opinions and discussions? I re-read the article. He sounds pretty neutral. He didn't claim to be an authority. He gave his opinion and he's asking for yours, just like most other EJ articles. Based on the number of responses, I think he started a successful discussion.

    Some of you have gone so far as to attack Philip personally for asking you to think about this question. It's been my experience when I have such a visceral reaction, there's usually something within me being protected and defended. It might be worth taking a look.

    • Satsang says:

      Oh, now, Matt, be at peace. I was not attacking anyone personally. Yet already in your reply you take up one of the bones I was picking: the issue of authority. You say “we teach” — you want to make a pedagogical stand of authority as a teacher. Yet we are are equals here. You cannot play teacher. You have no way of establishing authority online. Many of the credentials people claim are just laughable — ACIM? Baptiste? Okay, sure. Not enough in my book, is all I’m saying. And EJ is not just an open forum — it’s a collection of blogs which many people use to market themselves and their services and try to sell themselves as experts. Why then list all those “credentials” in those silly bios? Wise up. Yes, 25 years of yoga and meditation have made me savvy and skeptical.
      If you don’t want to use music in your classes, if you have pedagogical passion about it, certainly, don’t. But judging from your argument, you don’t seem to have read carefully — many here have attested that music works in far more a complex matter than just “hoping our playlist is our students’ favorite songs.” Many here have already written that music is actually extremely helpful. If you are that passionate about your teaching, I’d suggest being a bit more open to those students’ and those teachers’ experiences.

      • Satsang says:

        Sorry — I meant “DAJR” —

      • Jenifer says:

        I don't think the "we teach" is a pedagogical stand for authority per se. I can see that it can be, but I think it's also just the linguistic mechanism to describe the job that I do.

        I have studied and practiced yoga for many years. I have a skill. I also have the skill of being able to teach that skill-of-yoga to others. So, I teach that skill (yoga) to others.

        I am not an "authority" on yoga per se. I just have a particular (and limited) understanding of what it is, and I teach what I know to others who want to learn from me what it is that I know about yoga.

        And, there's also just the transmission of yoga itself. It's transmitted person to person. In my experience, it's transmitted not only from the teacher, but also body-to-body between students in the room. The more experienced people "speak" (often without words) with the less experienced ones, teaching that "skill" in a lateral way.

        And I, myself, see this process as lateral, not vertically (of me on top). If there is any vertical, the student is "above" me. I see myself as a servant to what the student wants to learn — we are in partnership. The student wants to learn yoga for a reason (known or unknown to me — though I usually ask), so I try to teach that to them for their own use, without dictating to them what the meaning, value or purpose is for them.

        I also train teachers (in particular, the skill of teaching), and I ask them to question their own teaching. I teach them to look at the material (at the most basic level, asana which is a starting point because it's an easy thing to focus on and learn about in terms of teaching. . .a doorway to the skill of teaching, one might say) and then figure out for themselves what they "value" and then how they are going to teach out of that. For example, from an asana perspective, I value the pelvic alignment because it better stabilizes the spine IMO. But, that doesn't mean that other emphases or other ideas (such as how yin emphasizes the tendons/ligaments throughout the body) are invalid or not appropriate.

        Instead, we simply weigh what we think is right/best — or what methods/ideas make sense to us — and what works for the student. Sometimes, a different methodology (and thereby studying and comparing methodologies is part of the teacher training) is right for the student in front of you, so you go that way (or send them to a teacher who goes that way).

        In terms of music, while I have a preference to not play it, I do not think it is wrong to play it. There are times where it can add value to a class. I think the process needs to be very deeply thoughtful, not just "I like it" and I think there needs to be a deeper understanding (than I have) of how music works and what impact it has on the whole person. I'm not sure all teachers work that way, but I'm sure many do. I never did. When I played music, I literally had the studio or students pick it. LOL

        But, what I encourage my teachers to do — if they are going to play it — is to pay the licenses to the artists so that they are not "stealing' that music.

        Likewise, since I own my own studio, I can also make rules about what happens there. Because no one is able to pay for the licenses, we do not play music. It's not because playing music is "wrong" — it is because playing music has implications that exist *outside* of the classroom. . . implications that could break the studio if we were to get fined (one gym in Australia was recently fined over $10,000 for not following copyright laws in regards to music). We wouldn't be able to handle that kind of fine.

        So, I'm protecting the opportunity for students and teachers that the studio provides — a clean space for classes, good teachers from whom the students can learn, and a good community for teachers to continue training and get supervision (so that their 'stuff' doesn't become part of the teaching).

        On the point of bios, I find them silly too. If you follow the link to my site, you'll notice that our bios do not mention credentials. The reason being is that credentials are essentially meaningless (they don't understand who teacher X is or training Y to compare as to whether or not this or that teacher is better trained, a good fit for them, etc), and that the real connection is the human connection.

        So, we focus on our humanity in our bios — we use humor to attempt to express our unique weirdness. And if the client resonates with our unique weirdness, then they'll come to us. And if that resonance continues, they'll continue with us. And if the resonance is not there, we are usually able to have a conversation and recommend teachers in other areas.

        • Satsang says:

          Thank you for your thoughts. I would love to visit New Zealand someday! I don’t know if they copyright stuff there is true here in America, but if it is, oh man, virtually gym in the country let alone yoga studio is in big trouble.
          This is off-subject, but credentialing is a real gas. After a zillion years in grad school in my own professional field, an unbelievable amount of work, I take credentialing damned seriously. And what goes on in the yoga/meditation/spirituality worlds is a joke. It means nothing for some one to claim lineage from this and/or training from that. And “teachers” in the Omega and Kripalu catalogues list MEd’s and PhD’s in things that much have cost fifty dollars for a certificate in the mail. It’s ridiculous.
          Re: yoga. I like blurbs about teachers well enough, if they give me an idea of the yoga style some one prefers.
          Beyond that, frankly, all the sell-sell-sell, is exhausting. It doesn’t mean anything to read that some one “is really passionate about a joyous journey to the inner self and helping teachers-in-training discover their own inner rhythm” or whatever. You can basically plug the buzzwords in anywhere. They say nothing, mean nothing.
          It is nice, though, to read people really articulating what silence or sound does for them in practice, without anyone being rightoues about it.

          • Vision_Quest2 says:

            I agree with you.

            So much of the buzzword teacher bios have the teachers believing their own press …

            Further, the rules change if you are primarily a home practitioner who, at the time, happens to take yoga at a primarily-home-practitioner UNfriendly studio, in both word and deed …

            Music then could be a nemesis !

            I'd found that even loud music worked well in class with a later, more suitable mellower style …

          • Satsang says:

            No, no contradiction. Because as I tried to specify in an additional post, I don’t think anyone’s training path sets them up as an expert, necessarily. I love Baptiste, but I don’t think it’s too heavy on the spiritual end. So some one from a Baptiste and ACIM background has no authority whatsoever about the Sutras, as far as I’m concerned.It’s pretty funny to read somebody’s stuff who’s going O, this is yoga and that isn’t, and those are his “credentials?” Erf. Beyond that, yes, some of these credentials that people list ARE hilarious. I was speaking more broadly about all the self-promotion that goes on.

          • Jenifer says:

            Totally agree. I mean, not only is the training itself basic, it's not even pass fail. It's quite literally "sit through enough hours" and then pay a fee to yoga alliance.

            It can help people get a start and it's better than the pre-YA days wherein people would watch a video and start teaching, rather than going through the study models of apprenticing or going through an ashram training, but it's not a great system overall.

            And honestly, when trying to fill vacancies (ie, we have corporate classes that need teachers, so this is a paid gig for them), it's difficult to know whether or not the teacher is a good, decent teacher (in terms of the skill of teaching).

            If I'm lucky, I'm able to contact the trainer and get an honest, clear description of what the teacher knows and doesn't, his/her personality and overall relational style in terms of teaching, etc. More often that not, I can't, because the trainer has no idea who the individual teacher is, or even if they do, they don't know what they do or don't know. They can only talk about what was covered in training, which doesn't indicate what the teacher knows and understands from that material.

            So, it mostly means testing them out in classes and see how clients respond over time. Most give great feedback, so that's awesome. And, when I take several classes, I begin to see over time who the teacher is and what we need to do to develop them professionally in the knowledge that is relevant for our client base (if they don't already have that knowledge). So I provide that training on-going for free for those teachers, just so that I can make sure those needs (of the clients) are met.

            and yes, buzzword bios give me a good giggle. I like to "mad lib" them. ;)

        • Vision_Quest2 says:

          "The reason being is that credentials are essentially meaningless (they don't understand who teacher X is or training Y to compare as to whether or not this or that teacher is better trained, a good fit for them, etc), and that the real connection is the human connection."

          So, we focus on our humanity in our bios …"

          Not necessarily true for me as a student, Once I was no longer wet behind the ears in my attendance at a studio. When I matched what I did not like (at first) physically about a certain clas with the (later disclosed) teacher/style, etc.; I adapted this knowledge to fashioning my home practice to cross-train for these demanding classes.

          Of course, there was the inevitable showdown due to the style mismatch, and I did later move on.

          No sense snowing newbies. Yelp would disclose what the website fails to.
          So would word of mouth, in certain communities.

          • Satsang says:

            Ditto. And what I meant re: training background is that some one trained in one thing or another is not an expert from on high about everything in the yoga world: the sutras, music vs. no music, whatever. No one can say for everyone, “this is yoga, this is not yoga.” Training background info is good in a bio if it lets you know what a teacher might be doing in class. Beyond that, not so much.

          • Vision_Quest2 says:

            FYI, Satsang … in the early days, when cross training with what essentially was and is a yoga-pilates fusion practice to something I was told, at first was vaguely Jivamukti-ish (later, I found out it was AS power yoga as they come–down to the 87 degree heat; with a bunch of Sanskrit and spirituality thrown in) .. the teacher's hook in advertising that seemed to match in "weirdness" factor (which ensared me in that overarching "snow job") was how very creative, and with no allegiance to any one movement form, characterized this Jivamukti-ish practice …[hey, I, VQ_2 had been, was, and am creative … I have a home yoga practice that's longer than class length!)

            Music had not been my friend in those early days … I'd had to migrate from a very cardio-yoga hybrid (that I innovated as my home yoga practice–I'd had my reasons, and yes, my sport at the time had been one of them!), done at ambient-to-nearly refrigerated temperatures (in a semi-upscale gym's stretching area during part of this time (it had been fully self sequenced and independent EXCEPT for the music, standard gym music was there, and I did not care to block it out physically; my practice was done to piped-in caterwauling grunge that had been extremely jarring). My gym membership ran out, and I did the practice for 6 months at home. NO music during that time and for some time afterward–but that was only my home practice; and I'd needed every strategic advantage I could muster up to cross train in the techniques I had not previously had in my practice: most notably standing balances, backbends (with unsafe use of blocks), and any inversions, including shoulderstand.

            There had been mostly soft, jazzy, New Age or kirtan music at the studio for class. I really hated doing yoga to their hip-hop music. Still do.

          • kmk says:

            'No one can say for everyone, 'this is yoga, this is not yoga.'? Yet you just said, above: 'Many of the credentials people claim are just laughable — ACIM? Baptiste?' Um, contradiction? Sorry, but I am so damned tired of yoga snobbery, especially from those who have oh-so-much 'experience.' It's disappointing

          • Satsang says:

            Sorry, I put that in the wrong place —
            No, no contradiction. Because as I tried to specify in an additional post, I don’t think anyone’s training path sets them up as an expert, necessarily. I love Baptiste, but I don’t think it’s too heavy on the spiritual end. So some one from a Baptiste and ACIM background has no authority whatsoever about the Sutras, as far as I’m concerned.It’s pretty funny to read somebody’s stuff who’s going O, this is yoga and that isn’t, and those are his “credentials?” Erf. Beyond that, yes, some of these credentials that people list ARE hilarious. I was speaking more broadly about all the self-promotion that goes on.

          • Vision_Quest2 says:

            Too much. And during the class, too. With their patter. Self-promotion under the guise of being "pragmatic" and "up-to-date"

            If they don't use music, just so much of the patter I could take. Though it depends what kind:

            At another music-free pilates class (which teacher is beginning to speak to me, too) the teacher talks about movement and anatomy, and not about the banalities of the day, or injecting her personality into the class patter–as so many Baptiste teachers do …

            No, not taking live yoga classes right now … have not for over a year …

          • Jenifer says:

            True. I think a lot of people — teachers included — struggle with quiet. Being quiet. Being in quiet.

          • Jenifer says:

            There's nothing about "snowing" anyone in this situation. It's mostly about audience accommodation and how I perceive that.

            Our primary audience is brand-new to yoga people. They generally do not know what yoga is (by experience) nor do they know about styles, lineages, teacher trainings (and their relative quality), and so on. A list of credentials doesn't provide them with any real, useful information as far as I can tell.

            That being said, the description of the classes is really important because people want to know what to expect and what they're going to get.

            I'm not hiding this information — anyone who asks is told very directly and I'll answer in depth too about, say, what "krishnamacharya" means in context. Simply, the focus of our website is about brevity as well as levity, and giving people the invitation to "come and see" without any real pressure on doing so.

            And, it works. We've grown very quickly because the marketing works *and* we can follow through with very good client experience in the classes.

            That being said, word of mouth/yelp and related are incredibly valuable.

            We have also started using 'secret students' to get evaluations about that client experience through anonymity. That's been awesome for us as a learning tool.

    • Michelle says:

      Dear Matt,
      I don’t feel like my awareness is blasted by music during yoga. I feel like my awareness is helped, guided, deepened, expanded. Even when I don’t “like” something, I can usually match my breath and movement to a beat. It helps. And sometimes even when I don’t like the music, I grow to like it. And sometimes it’s just great to be exposed to new music! It’s a much more warm welcoming environment.
      But will you please stop saying what we all need to stop protecting and defending and “really look at.” WHo are you to tell us what we need to look at? I’m already looking. I “look” every day. Just because people disagree strongly doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them and they’re in denial or whatever. That’s so arrogant! Cut that out.

    • Flowjo says:

      Oh my god. EJ as an open forum? Only that? Are you kidding? Look at all those ads! Look at all those names and faces! Look at what keeps this thing afloat! EJ is also moderated by people, so it’s not totally “open” — sometimes that’s good, sometimes not. People are hawking their stuff all over the place. But rock on. Have your big “pedagogical arguments.” I agree though, having been in yoga for 28 years, I think it’s funny how many people come out of the woodwork as experts. Some of them are the same flakes I’ve encountered here and there in different workshops and retreats for decades. They’re still the same. It really is kinda personal. I just hope the new generations coming into the scene take it all with a grain of salt. Nobody has all the answers.

    • SharonEllis says:

      You wrote:
      “If we are successful as teachers, our students can achieve the elevated state of yoga, at will, without depending on any external circumstance or stimulus.”
      There is no such thing. There are always “outside” stimuli: everything from the studio, the classroom, the teacher, the other students, the vibe in the room.
      What “elevated state?” Yoga is the yolking of mind to body, breath to movement. Yoga is an action verb. It is not a “state” to be “achieved.” That in itself seems like a really ambitious, ego-driven conception. But maybe that’s not what you meant. Still, it’s nice to make definitions.
      Yoga is an action. A process. Through that process, in that process, the categories of “inner” and “outer,” “self” and “other,” “body” and “mind,” “breath” and “movement” dissolve. Cueing, music, meditation, guided meditation — these are all tools to assist that engagement.
      Loosen up.

  32. G.C. Aloha says:

    You make excellent points. I've never been to a class that used background music; that just sounds pointless and distracting to me. I can see how an inexperienced teacher might use music as another "voice" to fill the silences. Some people are afraid of silence. But silence in a yoga class is a good thing. It aids focus and concentration, and as you say, then you can hear the breathing or know when your students are holding their breath.

    Sometimes, when I practice alone at home, I like to use music to inspire my practice. I have a few different yoga playlists with songs from different musical genres that I find motivating or moving, and I like to turn on a playlist and see what poses the music inspires me to do. Sometimes I will skip a song if I'm not feeling it. It gives me a lift when I otherwise am feeling not terribly motivated to practice. This approach doesn't inspire great sequencing; however, I could see matching a sequenced practice to a planned sequence of songs, and as soon as I'm feeling motivated enough to do that, I'll give it a try.

    For me, there is just one problem with a teacher playing music in class: what if the student doesn't like the music? I am very particular about music, and it impacts my mood strongly. Some teachers favor music that I find schmaltz or devoid of feeling and authenticity. If I have to listen to that in yoga class, then suddenly my practice becomes all about how to let go of hating the music instead of about focusing on asana in each moment. That's what's kept me away from classes that use music in the past.

    In the end, I think the teacher should consider the very apt points you make and consider why the music is being used before employing it. Above all, the class should be advertised as a class with music, and if possible, the playlist also should be advertised, so that the student can make an informed decision. While practicing to music is fun once in a while, I don't think it would be a great way to practice all the time.

    • wowza! says:

      So funny — because my own preferences are precisely the opposite. Also, the choice of music does not connote inepexperience or insecurity. Very experienced teachers quite confident of themselves allow many voice into the room, too, and are not threatened. My best yoga teacher in Boston, Lynn Beiger, used to teach whole classes to Lady Gaga and Madonna playlists. Outside class, I fucking HATED that stuff. But Lynn made it work. My god, that woman can teach.

      • Vision_Quest2 says:

        I have found that to be true, too. But, unfortunately, not to hip hop.

        You see, active yoga is different from aerobics. It could be taught to heavily syncopated music, sometimes the more the better. It needs no driving, hypnotic, disco beat.

        But lyrics are the elements that would have to be tuned out, at least at first.

  33. Joann says:

    This sounds a lot like my Mormon upbringing…some male trying to tell me what the "one true yoga" is all about instead of the "one true church". Not interested one bit.

  34. kathik says:

    I think Philip's most important point here (to me, anyway) is INQUIRY. Just know the TRUE reasons behind what you're doing, to look fearlessly and constantly. Isn't this the heart of practice?

  35. Ria says:

    Thank you Philip. Let those who want to hide, hide. Let them be under the illusion that they are teaching Yoga. Ahhh in the west anything and everything about Yoga is up for the taking. I did a teacher training (gosh never again) where the teacher loved to play the song "I'm bossy" she said to play that so the teacher and students know who is in charge. omg seriously sooo funny.
    If the goad of asana practice is tristhana then seriously how is one suppose to achieve that with loud music being played. I just want all the teachers who teach asana with music to call their class 'stretching with music' and not Yoga.

    • Sharon Ellis says:

      Oh yeah? Oh YEAH? Come at me, Ria. I ain’t hidin’ nowhere. I just want all the self-righteous assholes to shut up. You can breathe to loud music as easily to silence. I did a teacher training (gosh never again) where the teacher was SOOOOO rigid and sanctimonious about everything he did that his way was THE WAY. omg seriously soooooooo funny.
      Jesus Christ. Grow up and get over yourselves, folks. If I wanted to hear people spout what they thought was the One Way the Truth and the Light, even while pretending not to, I’d have stayed with the evangelical christians.

    • Get over yourself, Ria, and your veiled insult to the West. Not only does dogma regarding yoga get really old, really fast, but so too does elitism from those who don't live in the West. Gosh, Americans are so dumb! That is playing into a closed-minded stereotype that, as a yogi at all, should give you reason for pause. You sound more elitist than yogi. Just because you don't teach yoga with music does not make you a skilled teacher. I just want all of the "teachers" who teach asana in silence to call their class "stretching in silence", not yoga. Especially when those "teachers" are so single-minded as to what is right that they consider everyone who does not do it that way to be wrong. I enjoyed Phillip's article and his question, and I have also enjoyed the variety of replies. Your comments, however, just come across as platitudes wrapped up in snobbery.

  36. Anne Falkowski Anne says:

    Musicians tap into the thing below the surface, that thing that connects all of us to something greater than who we think we are. Musicians are yogis. They surrender into the wild, the dark, the light and the tender. For a moment music can make you remember who you are. Sometimes music can help us go there-deeper into the practice. Sometimes not. There are no guarantees. I teach a class with both music and silence. I respect both ways. On the yoga mat, there is no right or wrong.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      I think it makes no difference, in my experience. I have used overwhelmingly the same home sequencing to both dark themes (take Derek Beres' The Yoga Sessions as an example; I was once informed that he allows yoga teachers to use his music without express or implied permissions, by the way) and lighter themes–with no difference.

      Then again, I have pre-sequenced everything to the rough phrasing and pacing of the music. Full, classical, 12-point sundial-inspired sun salutations need not apply.

  37. Taylor says:

    Why fight? Why say yours is the real yoga and what others do is not? Where is your generosity of spirit?

  38. Mia says:

    Music can influence the pace of movement asweel as ambience. In my experience music is what feelings sound like and it really should come from an organic place. Yes I agree if you are talking about techno (which is a reflection of stress) or modern pop (too many lyrics and most of the time dumbed down). Lyrics can take us away from our focus especially if you here a song you recognise and can relate too. Other than that I do believe there is appropriate music for a Yoga space. I teach yoga myself and always try to make sure that the pace is slow to influence a relaxed state with slow deep breathing and also that the artists are coming from an organic place. It makes us feel human and thats what music should be. Its really what feelings sound like. Its pure innovative and creative. Present. Music should teach us those things just like the movement meditation concept should. I am sure there are teachers who hide behind the music but with my lessons it was more about including sound. without it I feel challenged as there is a silence and that is also agood thing and I like to play with that sometimes.
    Peace

  39. Klass says:

    I struggle with the music concept, I have tried and failed on a few occasions, to get a vibe though a vinyasa with a song. I think this article was a timely reminder to me to stop hiding behind "noise". I am in the process of weaning myself off the "need: for background noise while leading a class. I currently only play, low, instrumental music. But my next class silence. Thanks! I too agree with the swearing from teachers, not necessary! BUT, having said that I personally love a personal practice to my favorite tunes, it allows me to actually get deeper into myself, and actually focus on the inner, but it may not translate to a class situation. Some days music, some days silence depends on my mood.

  40. papillon says:

    the music isn't for the teacher. it's for the people attending, if they like it- that does not make it wrong. i think the people that enjoy asana practice do not care very much about how much more enlightened all you yogis that are 'doing it right' are getting. we're happy for you. keep up the good work. some people have very stressful jobs (that is a real job) and are looking for an environment to unwind in. If you have not lain in savasana while 'Jewels of Silence' by Ashana & Thomas Barquee was playing, then I'm sorry for you. If you have never done Sun Salutations to 'Saltwater Mournings' or Amora's Soul', by Ashana Sophia Morrow, then I am super sorry for you, and if you really want a full house full of newbies, do a full class to Sting, 'Symphonicities' mixed with some of his softer stuff, and they will come for the music– but they will return again and again for a completely different reason.

    Some people don't want to transcend into perfection, they just want to enjoy the present moment. it takes a while for someone that has never practiced to begin to enjoy the sound of breath and silence broken in with the voice of a profoundly enlightened narcissist that means well. The right music is also important, not a fan of anything loud, harsh or distracting, and that goes for the instructor, too.

  41. maya says:

    music is the breath of life, it is beautiful, and sound & movement are intimately linked. This is your opinion that they don't go together, not a fact. Let people feel what they want.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      I personally find that music neither perfects nor completes my practice. Music augments it. [What is "perfect" in a "practice" anyway?] My practice could easily stand on its own without music, but why should it have to?

  42. Steve Clark says:

    With all the comments about "Patanjali" here, it inspires me to draw everyone's attention to the post on this blog entitled, "A Woman Authored the Original Yoga Sutra." Perhaps if it had been titled, "Patanjali, WTF?," more of you would have read the post and now be crediting the YS to "Gonika."

  43. livetstrae says:

    thank you for writing about this – it gave me something to think about :-)

  44. Joe Sparks says:

    Thanks Phillip, this is a great opportunity for both groups to work on their feelings around this. You might ask yourself, what do I have to face, feel, discharge if I couldn't play music in yoga? Or, what do I have to face, feel, discharge If I had to play music in yoga? It is useful to get the feelings out of the way, before you decide what makes sense, for you as a teacher, your students, your studio. We all have hurts around our thinking, and have not healed from it. Trust your thinking. No one can tell anyone what to do. Waste of time.

  45. WDW says:

    So if you practice yoga in a class, you really are not practicing yoga. The practice is done one on one with your Guru then all by one self. Yet here we are in the modern capitalist society telling our students and eachother what is and is not YOGA.
    Yoga is union and anything that disrupts union is not yoga, but let's blog about it and make it our livelyhood and build our yoga buisness. Does anyone see?

  46. Sarah says:

    I used to always play music, usually JS Bach for solo piano or cello. Bach is the sattvic music I've ever heard.

    Eventually I, too, realized it was a screen, a crutch, ambient clutter. Now I like the quiet, but sometimes the students ask for music again…so I oblige.

    But really, I like the quiet.

  47. Birgitte says:

    For some it is sufficient to have a good workout and listen to nice music. I see no problem with that. I just find myself unable to teach that way.

    Music dropped out of my classes early on as i realized that it subtly manipulates the students state of mind (and my own too). Making them feel ok and comfortable even if they are having the worst day of their life. Giving them a break, easing them in, making them feel serene for 75 minutes. But i want to help people deal with the life they live here and now. To do that i need to invite them to come to the mat just as they are. So no music, no clapping, no smiley voice. When the music stops and they go back home they will have no soundtrack to take the edge off. I want my class to prepare them to find peace with what is actually happening.

  48. thank you so much for this. finally. amen.

  49. Yoga Teacher says:

    Amazing blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers? I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.

  50. Sharon_Marie says:

    Wow. This is such a GREAT topic. IMHO, The "teacher" side of me – Music distracts me from focusing on the student(s). The "practitioner" side of me – Music takes me out of my practice. I can't hear my breath. I can't get deep into my meditation, on my breath at all. ( i don't know if this matters, but I personally need as little distraction(s) as possible to get this sense of going deeper into my practice and I do gravitate towards the Ashtanga practice) The "emotional" side of me. Music does MOVE me on some energetic level; an emotional, wonderful frequency. SOMETIMES a beautiful piece could be played during savasana and i get wonderfully lost in it. Music invokes a FEELING inside of me. Vinyasa yoga and the Breath invoke a, i don't know, a medicinal quality, like, I FEEL more centered, I FEEL more grounded, I AM calm. Music takes me somewhere, but not THERE. Does that make any sense? Do I need music to teach a class? Do I need music as a practitioner? Do I NEED ANYTHING EVER? I do not know. I think self inquiry, and to Philip's point, WHY music during class is always a beautiful place to ask as a teacher, as a student.

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