Ragas are for yoga class, so please leave the pop music at the door.

Via Jerome Burdi
on Dec 19, 2011
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Yoga postures and raga music are counterparts. The music is open ended and flows into eternity like the room full of bodies saluting to the sun and moon.

The music is so intertwined with the movements that neither is noticed…they are two strands of a double helix. One that pop music has no business being part of.

I am grateful for the spread of yoga and its popularity. The more yoga you do, the better you’ll feel and you will spread that glory of self and being.

But when the teacher fills the room with empty music that has no relation to the spirit of yoga, then it’s one more distraction — and a very intimate one — that will have to be put aside to have a proper practice that aligns you with the spirit.

Why would someone want to listen to pop music that does everything it can to destroy the meditation?

If the music is born out of devotion to the ego, then it has no reason to be played in a room full of people who should be obliterating the ego in an inward cosmic dance of godhood…

I was in a class the other day while thinking about poor music choices by yoga teachers and on came some Krishna Das.

“Finally,” I thought. “I can work with this.”

Kirtan music can work just as good as ragas because it is born out of a devotion to our higher self.

But the glory was short lived. For some reason Dave Matthews came on next.

In another class with equally disturbing music my brother Michael asked the teacher, “Have you ever considered playing ragas?”

“What’s that?” he said, looking puzzled.

“You know, Indian music, like Ravi Shankar?” is what Michael asked but the teacher’s demeanor was the same as if he were asked “Have you seen any space aliens lately?”

Yoga is what connects us to the higher self.

When the raga weaves seamlessly into the practice one becomes the raga and the raga becomes the posture. You are connected, in the moment. All is bliss.

I don’t write this to upset teachers, they are wonderful. I write this to make them more conscious of music choices. There are plenty of teachers who guide the students beautifully on their hour or 90 minute journey into the self.

But the music should enfold the practice like flower petals around the bud.

In some ways, music is even more of our guide than the teacher. It’s affecting our posture and how deeply we can go into meditation. Any music the students can sing along to is immediately taking away from the inward practice and putting them on the outside again.

And any buddha will tell you the trouble with reaching out instead of in.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music,” the wise  Aldous Huxley said.

When it’s not a music of pure devotion, it takes away from the practice even in ways we don’t notice.

So please yoga teachers, the next time you step into your shala, step outside your culture and say “Namaste,” then play some Ali Akbar Khan instead of Adele.

You can pop in some of the diva’s tunes on the way home and sing along…




About Jerome Burdi

Jerome Burdi is a writer, yoga teacher and darbuka player living in New York City. He believes in the power harnessed by silence, music and shamans. Find him at facebook.com/Dhamma.Bum


11 Responses to “Ragas are for yoga class, so please leave the pop music at the door.”

  1. Patrick says:

    I also prefer yoga related music, kirtan music, indian music, something that is link culturally with yoga. But I secretly

  2. YesuDas says:

    I couldn't agree more, Jerome; thanks for this.

  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thank you, Jerome!!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  4. Allison says:

    Although I do prefer playing devotional music in my classes, I would have to disagree with the statement, "any music the students can sing along to is immediately taking away from the inward practice and putting them on the outside again." There have been so many studies on the healing benefits of singing, not to mention that it helps open up the throat chakra so that we can open up to our truth. I find that when I play a "pop" song and encourage my students to sing, that immediately takes them out of their minds and into their hearts.

  5. Prasad Rangnekar says:

    Why would some one play music in a yoga asana class anyway ? Do we really need music in an asana class ? When do we listen to our breath and physical sensations then ? What if Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's sombre Sarod note reminds me of a past break up and makes me cry in a forward bend and distracts my mind ? What if an upbeat pop song lifts my spirit and helps me pull back my wandering awareness to the body ? ….. Just a few questions that come in my head after reading the article.

  6. Jerome says:

    I see your point, and I think whatever way you can get there is great. But American yoga has lost touch with the spiritual side of yoga, which is the whole point. This is evident in some of the music played in classes. It's one complete practice and music is energy and yoga is energy and we are energy so if one is on a lower level, it effects the others. I'd be surprised if anyone serious about yoga has complained about ragas being played during class. They likely would not notice them, because the music melts into the practice.

  7. Michael says:

    It doesn't need to be a raga. But music can provide a physical pro or con. Music is vibration. Just like plants grow faster listening to Indian classical music, humans also respond psychically to music. Your heart rate is a factor. If the song being played has a high bpm (as most pop music does) than getting your breathing and heart rate to slow will not be as easy. And all yoga instructors speak of the benefit of slowing your breathing and heart rate. I think the point is less about weather raga is tailor made for yoga, and more about the distractions of music that doesn't complement the techniques being shared.

  8. yogaj says:

    THANK YOU! Well said. Teachers should not be competing with their music. This is one of my biggest problems with the popularization of yoga in the West.

  9. Sasha says:

    To each her/his own. Let's let the individual decide what is "a music of pure devotion," as what's yours may not be mine. There is no wrong way or single path.

  10. […] don’t have to listen to anyone else’s taste in music, and more importantly I don’t have to hear a teacher tell me “to let my muscles fall away […]

  11. sacredgoddess says:

    I agree, I think the dogma needs to be left out of individual likes and dislikes. If you are taking yoga, find the yoga/class guru or yogi that manages or fits your needs. Sometimes there seems to be a cast system within the western yoga world. Kind of like the same thing that happens at Tennis clubs and Golf clubs. Find what you like and do it. Otherwise, follow it as a religion, and go out and actually live as the yogi's do. Go bear foot, beg for money, go out and live without for a while, and live as the yoga life intended. That means no hamburgers too lol!