Not Safe for Yoga.

Via Kate Bartolotta
on Oct 21, 2011
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Does your spiritual path have a soundtrack?

A yoga teacher friend recently posed a question about music that you love that wouldn’t be appropriate for a yoga class. Of course being the silly, irreverent girl that I am I immediately suggested this:

Fun. Funny. Sexy. Silly. And totally NSFY.


Great for karaoke, not so much for yoga.

Then, I started thinking about this a little more. This past year, most of my yoga practice has been at home. One of the things I love about practicing at home is that I can play with pairing music with my Vinyasa that fits me, that raises my vibe, rather than some of the typical yoga class picks.

Don’t get me wrong, lots of “yoga music” is great. I’m even starting to get into Kirtan a little more. But music…well…I always say that music is my performance enhancing drug (second only to this one .) Everybody has those songs that just electrify them, that hit right at the base of the spine and work their way up to your smile and give you goosebumps all over. You can probably think of at least one song that immediately makes you turn the volume up, throw your shoulders back, and start dancing (even if you’re driving.) Or those other songs that make your heart swell so much with their bittersweet beauty that it brings you to tears. So why not include that in your yoga practice?

My yoga playlist has been full of those bittersweet beauties lately. It’s good to keep that raw, broken open heart. That’s keeping it real. It’s too easy to be jaded and hide under the armor of slick cynicism, busyness, and pretense…all the things that are the opposite of mindfulness.

So in my practice, I’ve been falling in love with life along with Ingrid Michaelson,


And letting go with Bon Iver.


I’m sure some people will balk at this one, but sometimes The Pixies feel just right:


And lying in Savasana soaking up some Damien Rice is perfect too.


Over the years I’ve used everything from The Clash, to Chopin, to Mumford and Sons, to Adele, to Sufjan Stevens and on and on including everything that connects to that internal spark and makes me hum––body and soul. We don’t have to be somber and serious to be spiritual, do we?

But I read something here on elephant journal recently that made me reconsider this eclectic, irreverent soundtrack I’ve been using.  If the point of our practice is to still the chaos, and quiet our minds, maybe it would be better to step away from these things that affect us so much. This isn’t just a workout. It isn’t meant to be yogatainment. I meditate morning and evening, and wouldn’t think of using music during that practice. It would be the exact opposite of what I needed.

Maybe the only music we need is the internal kind. Maybe the cadence of my heartbeat is enough. Maybe the swell of my breath and the space between my joints as they flow through these lyrical asanas should be my soundtrack.

Is music an important part of your practice? If you teach yoga, how much thought do you put into the music you include during your classes? Are there songs that you consider off limits or NSFY? How do you decide?




About Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is a wellness cheerleader, yogini storyteller, and self-care maven. She also writes for Huffington Post, Yoga International, Mantra Yoga+ Health, a beauty full mind, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds. Kate's books are now available on and Barnes & She is passionate about helping people fall in love with their lives. You can connect with Kate on Facebook and Instagram.


33 Responses to “Not Safe for Yoga.”

  1. Tali says:

    I love being a muse and love what you've done with the question Kate. When I posted this on FB originally it stemmed from a series of interviews I am doing for an upcoming writing endeavor and I can't wait to see how it unfolds there as well.

    For me, my home pratice includes The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Concrete Blonde, Rob Zombie, the list goes on and on. So many songs that I love and pull on me but would probably make my students stop their flow and look to each as though I were crazy.

  2. Right on, Tali! Thanks for reading & inspiring:)

  3. Apart from some trippy Wah! and some other stuff that mixes traditional chants with techno beats, I really can't force myself to play kirtan for my home yoga practice. My favorite yoga music is jazz–particularly Miles Davis (see my recent Elephant piece : ) and John Coltrane–but I've also witnessed the likes of Nirvana's "Breed" being used very effectively in a vinyasa class (its opening riff signifying that if I thought we were gonna slow down and take it easy, I was tragically wrong). Like anything, it's all in how ya use it…

  4. Another note: somebody really oughtta remake that Divinyl's song, perhaps with some traditional Indian instruments, with the lyrics changed to "when I practice yoga, I touch myself." Now THAT would cause a stir…

  5. Yes! Jazz is excellent…especially Miles. And I agree – intention is everything.

  6. Hahahaha! If only I hadn't sold my sitar….

  7. Kim says:

    I've been teaching for 13 years and I do not play music in class or in my personal practice. All yogic practices are about going inward and music takes us out of ourselves. For the first 4 years I taught I did play “yoga music” in class. I stopped when I realized that I was relying on it to create an experience in the classroom. I decided that I should be a good enough teacher to not have to rely on music to create the experience. I should have the skills to sequence and pace a class to derive a particular outcome. Remember, all poses have particular energetic effects and the way we sequence them has tremendous impact on the nervous system, as does the speed we move and breathe. I also, stopped because “yogah cittavrtti nirodhah” or “yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness”. Playing music was causing vrttis (mind fluctuations, thoughts, feelings, distractions), sometimes they were good vrttis, sometimes not, but either way they were vrttis, so music wasn’t helping me or my students find the state of yoga, the state of union with our higher selves.

  8. catnipkiss says:

    I've never practiced in a class with music. One class played a kind of chanting very softly in the background; she also rang a HUGE gong at the end. I can see getting into music in a personal home practice, though. And yet I agree with the poster above and I think that music can be very distracting and fills us with emotions that can detract from the practice. My main practice has been Bikram, and I can't imagine any kind of music competing with "the dialog", even in the background!! Maybe The Boss (Bikram, not Springsteen 🙂 will do his own hip hop version of the prescribed dialog, now THAT would be cool! Even pay someone clever to make it rhyme…. Eminem, are ya busy???

  9. Thanks Kim! This is what I was alluding to…relying on the music to affect us…I enjoy it, but am not sure it is always the most beneficial approach. I hope to eventually stay as focused without it.

  10. How 'bout "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads or "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash for during Bikram? 😉 Thanks for reading!

  11. Flamenco Guitar = always a great option! Love it!

  12. It never occurred to me that anyone would want to do Yoga to some of my wilder gypsy guitar playing until Satkirin suddenly started posting these videos.

    We had a great time doing this kind of thing live at the Mountain Pose Yoga Festival in July at Copper Mountain

  13. Nice! I am getting a few friends together to head to Hanuman next June…Bring your guitar!!!

  14. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Hi Kate, I have only tried using music in my classes a couple of times and I just can't seem to pick the right stuff. Thanks for the suggestions. As per my personal practice, I try to keep it as quiet as possible – at least on the outside. 🙂

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  15. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    I suppose things like Rage Against the Machine and Metallica are outties. 🙂

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  16. Thanks Tanya! Yeah, I think Rage & Metallica would be out for me during yoga too. I wrestled with ADD when I was younger (still?) and having some external cue actually helps me focus a little more. When I started meditation, I always worked with a mantra – usually in Sanskrit – to give me one spot to focus on (like during a pirouette in ballet…if that makes any sense) helped keep my mind in one spot. I can now meditate and still my mind without that, and hopefully will get to that point with yoga as well.

  17. Music during class or home practice can assist in the inner experience or take away from it. You can test it out for yourself, are you pulled out of going inward due to the distraction of the music?

    Using mantra/Sanskrit does have a different affect on the mind than other languages, so that can assist in directing the your awareness inside. I've taught/been to classes without using music – to me they are rather dry.

    Sounds like it depends on what kind of practice you are doing, based upon the responses.

  18. I agree Janis. For me, I find it assists. My monkey mind likes to go all over the place & music gives me a focal point. I mentioned using Sanskrit mantras below…really helped when I 1st started meditating. I find with yoga (especially if I am at home & not in a class) music helps me stay present…I find this true when I massage too. Music + Movement and I am completely focused…was true when I used to dance too.

  19. msquarey says:

    I really enjoyed this piece of music. I'm a musically inspired person, no matter where I am I tend to be found humming anything from Moonlight Sonatas' to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. So, it makes sense to me to use that inspiration i find so easily through musical notes and interpretations in my asana practice. My moving meditation becomes more so than when I am constantly distracted by the silence of a small room.

    Classes vary as much as the people who partake in them. I hope someday someone else would jive to my eclectic sound but in earnest I feel like keeping it real. Not everyone is willing to to listen to the S&M album that metallica put out and incorporate that into their practice but perhaps adding any music can stretch the boundaries of what we become comfortable with and challenge ourselves to be more present.

  20. Thanks! I know just what you mean about being musically inspired!

  21. I have a similar music/ADD dynamic. People are amazed when they see me reading and writing with loud music blasting. I explain that, a lot of the time, I can focus enough to read and write WITHOUT the music. Similarly, in my home yoga practice, on most days I'd have a very difficult time staying on the mat for very long without music playing.

  22. Correction: "can" in that third sentence should be "can't."

  23. Yeah, I do the same thing for reading/writing/studying too most times. If I am over at school & studying, I turn my ipod on & put my headphones in…I like the constant of the music rather than intermittent interruption. I find that I retain more of what I read if I have music on too.

  24. Maria says:

    Kate – the question of music in class is one that has been weighing heavy on my heart for a while. I am totally with you on the effect that music can have on my personal practice. I find it helps me relax and let go of the chatter in my mind, so I can go deeper into my practice. I have had many students tell me that the music I play in class has enriched their practice as well. As a yoga teacher I started out with a heavier mix of music with lots of lyrics and have started to move away from that to a lighter mix of music with very few lyrics.

  25. Thanks Maria! It's such a tricky balance…even more so in a class than a personal home practice. Loved your list…especially the Adele cover & the Ray Lamontagne for Savasana. Ugh, his voice is amazing…love it! Have you ever heard Mason Jennings's song "Be Here Now?" not necessarily a good fit for yoga, but a great song.

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