In the beginning, of my teaching I spent hours finding inspirational songs and working my playlists to fit my yoga theme for the week. About 6 years ago, a friend of mine who is a yoga teacher and musician talked about producing a yoga CD that would incorporate the “arc” of a yoga class. Beginning with a slow metered song that could help center and ground students, and then building to a crescendo for the active, strong segment of the class and then tapering down into the inward parts of the practice and finally settling into the stillness of savasana.
Jessica Lee and Brazilian musician nailed this with Surya Gita’s debut album, and it is one I often use for yoga classes. My other favorite is Jeremy’s Arndt’s “Journeys”, Handan Solo. The Handan instrument is sometimes referred to as “the Halo”. This angelic instrument has the effect of grounding but also tapping into heart energy, which is a coveted experience in most yoga classes.
A few years back, as I was reading Yoga Sutra 1.2 for the 108th time, and I had a revelation moment. The state of yoga can be achieved through the calming of the fluctuations of the mind. About the same time, I read a quote from Fr. Archimandrite Melitios Webber, who wrote that “Silence is the language of the heart.” Silence is not a vacuum or barren desert, but the source of creativity, love, compassion and transforming wisdom. So I began using no music or at least more contemplative tunes during my practice and teaching. If both music and silence can guide us towards our hearts and calm our minds, I wanted to be sure to include plenty of both in my life. The sounds of silence are my “go to” healing modality of late. I think silence maybe an acquired taste, and could be a 10-15 year project. I get it when newer students want hip music or something to help them stay inspired, or calm or easing them into the meditative practice. In the beginning it may be overwhelming to listen to our inner dialogue or the quiet might be considered too boring if the mind is particularly noisy. The fifth limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga is about sense withdrawl or softening. In a culture that can be over stimulated, silence can be a place of refuge without the chaos and clamor of our “outer lives”. This retreating allows our central nervous system to settle and tap into another source of energy. Over time this energy from within, has the potential to be more sustaining and uplifting than our favorite “dance around the living room while no one is home” song. Jason Crandell, yoga teacher from San Francisco, gives justification for not using music in his classes as being “old school.” “Sometimes I feel like I’m a dinosaur because I don’t play music in class. In better moments, this emboldens me and makes me think that I’ll be in even greater demand at some later date because of my retro sensibilities. But, more to the point: quiet classes are old school. Meditating on subtle sounds-Nada Yoga- is old, but that’s not the same as doing sun salutations to beats supplied by your studio’s in-house DJ. The saints, sages and mystics after which many poses were named, weren’t concerned with their playlist. Krishnamarcarya, and his principle students who have had such lasting impact on contemporary practice, taught in quiet rooms. And, very few of the West’s first generation of master teachers, play music in their classes to this day. Maybe they just didn’t have the interest or technology, or maybe they were on to something important.”
It might be professional suicide, to commit to the idea of doing away with music in yoga classes. I love music and even plan a trip to Ireland later this year, just to hear Van Morrison in his own dwellings. Music is powerful beyond belief. It has the ability to transform, reverberate our psyches, heal and touch parts of our soul.
Life….like the ending of Van Morrison’s “Slim Slow Rider/Start Breaking Down”, can be sudden, disturbing and emotionally wrenching. This is something we all can relate and connect to.
All that aside, unpopular as it may be, I won’t be using a groovy playlist in my yoga classes. My intention and my hope, is to help students capture lighting in a bottle, and find that music within.