Yoga playlists fascinate me.
They are so personal and reflective of the teacher who makes them; their mood, what they are trying to communicate, what speaks to them and what they’re hoping will speak to you.
As a yoga instructor, I know when I put my playlists together I’m trying to find a balance between originality, inspiration and appropriateness. I’ve made a lot of mis-steps: Imogene Heap and Digable Planets haven’t resonated with my seniors, and conversely, when I sneak in some Style Council or Chet Baker I can feel my high school students blanking out as they hum a few bars of Sweet Disposition from the Temper Trap just to get through that last sun salutation.
It’s easy enough to play a whole album by Soulfood and just keep everyone generally happy, but when I want some diversity and unexpected infusion of energy or beauty, these are 20 of the songs I gravitate toward.
1) Anything by Habib Koite
Habibe Koite is an African musician who, in my mind, can do no wrong. His intricate and passionate guitar playing is belied by a delicacy and raspy voice that never fails to enchant.
I’m not usually one for classic rock on yoga playlists as I find it distracting and dated, but some songs transcend this problem. “Seagull” is one of them. If you’re going for classic rock, I think it’s best to choose lesser known songs so your students aren’t unconsciously singing along and ignoring their practice. Weirdly, this piece is basically under the radar. Lucky for everyone, that means it makes the cut.
Yes, I’m showing my age, but The Cocteau Twins have made some seriously ethereal and important music. The otherworldly harmonies of Pitch the Baby seems tailor made for yoga.
4) Song to the Siren: This Mortal Coil (written by Tim Buckley)
This Mortal Coil had the same lead singer (Elizabeth Fraser) as The Cocteau Twins, and so has a similar sound. This sincere and multi-layered piece, released in 1983, reduces me to a pile of open heart and bone every time.
The epitome of cool, Only You is a sneaky, sensuous and uniquely constructed song which will give edge to any playlist.
Great for more intense parts of a sequence, the funky trance-like beat and signature early Police ska sound will get everyone into the zone.
A delicate, girly song Ooh Oh is great for winding down…a bit like a musical cigarette after a passionate turn in the sheets.
This brief but passionate song has an eerie incandescence that makes me turn inward and focus intently. A great way to start or end classes.
9) Peter Gabriel: With This Love ( from the soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ)
A single oboe plays a haunting melody in this rarely heard but exquisite piece.
A groovy rap, Mango Down Pickle River is an odd tune which may not resonate with everyone, but I love it because it isn’t so solemn. Loaded with off beat imagery, it kind of reminds me of an Electric Company segment. Basically, it makes me smile and it’s cool to move to.
Whispering female vocals and a raw sounding acoustic guitar make this fresh and delicate, soulful, and easy on everyones’ ears.
This song has a similar feel to Mirah’s Make It Hot: the two go wonderfully together and create a sustained mood of tender introspection.
Unlike any other Style Council song, this is their tribute to the 40’s piano bar sound. Sexy, sad and soft, it speaks to the sensual undertones of yoga.
Tia Malia’s upbeat and joyful song Heaven makes me want to open my arms wide in warrior and give thanks that I’m on my mat.
I’m not normally a huge fan of this “spa” style music, but this song has an oddly compelling sound. It is as if you are listening to someone else’s dream of a piano being played across a vast distance. I find it incredibly centering.
This tune is from a lesser known—but I think superior—Gypsy Kings album called Mosaique. I first heard it when I was in Puerto Rico in my 20’s on a strange trip where I fell in love, got the chicken pocks (was told it was the German Measles) and that I was going to die by a “doctor” in a shack in the jungle—and ended up being carried to the airport on my final day by an Olympic gold medalist who inexplicably handed my four bottles of very good champagne before he left.
Granted, the unusual circumstances surrounding my first exposure to this album have colored my perception of it, but even if you hear it for the first time in your yoga class I bet you’ll find it delightful.
17) Stevin McNamara: Moon Magic, parts 1&2
A contemplative exploration of sound and energy, this piece is long enough to sustain a lovely flow in your practice. I feel like it winds in and out of my consciousness as I move, helping to expand my awareness.
I realize this isn’t exactly a “curious” choice—Zero Seven being a relatively popular go-to band for yogi types. Nevertheless, it casts a special spell and gently nudges practitioners into acceptance and expansion.
Somehow I always want to include reggae on my playlists but it always sounds weird. This sweet and bouncy little song hits just the right note of simplicity and wistfulness…except for the sound of an angry guy banging on a door in the opening bars, but maybe you can cut that part out—or just play A Message To You Rudy instead.
Such lovely song, Awakenings has the unusual combination of a faster beat, big sound, and softer undertones. Great to wake up students and make them take big gorgeous breaths.
*Bonus) Liz Story: Out Of Time
You can not go wrong with this placid, wordless melody lovingly picked out on just the piano. Perfect for savasana (resting pose).
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives