This question comes up all the time in my Facebook group for yoga teachers. It seems like an innocuous question, and I’m more than happy to answer it, but it’s interesting because it really gets people riled up!
First there is the Music Camp:
These are people who love music and feel like it really supports and inspires their physical practice. They love teaching with music, and spend tons of time crafting playlists that have inspiring music organized to fit the arc of the class. These music lovers sometimes play popular, well known music as a way to connect more deeply with their students and get them more engaged in the practice.
Then there is the No Music Camp:
These are people who never practice to music and don’t teach with music and are incredulous that anyone would suggest it! They argue, and I don’t totally disagree, that the music is a distraction, and it doesn’t at all support the aim of bringing the attention inward to facilitate presence, healing, or enlightenment.
Well, you know what to expect from me by now right? As a very consistent Middle Path Girl, I align with both of these camps…and sometimes within the span of one day!
What?? How could that be?
Here’s my take:
Music can often be a really helpful tool. Period. So sometimes it supports and inspires a practice, my own or my students, and sometimes it distracts. It totally depends on the person or people practicing, and what they need. The kind of music also makes a HUGE difference.
I play music in most of my group classes, which are Fridays at 10am and 12pm, for the locals in the house….:) and I play music in about 20% of my private sessions. Some private students always get music, some never get music, and other students get music sometimes. If I think it will be helpful to play music for one of my private students, I just use one of the playlists I’ve made for my group classes.
What is the intended benefit of Music As A Tool?
I will play music when I teach if:
- my student is super frantic and I think it will help them calm down
- my student seems distracted and I think it will help them focus
- the energy of the space we are in is yucky for some reason, I’ll use music to shift the vibe in the room
I’ve got a few rules I adhere to about 90% of the time:
- No popular music. You never know what kind of emotional connection someone might have to a well known song. It’s not fair to bring that into the safe space of a yoga class. Plus, it’s distracting.
- No music with English words. If people are listening to lyrics, and following along with a story, they are definitely not turning their intention inward. I think this tends to be more distracting than helpful.
- Not too much strong drive in the beat. I use music with enough of a slow rhythm that it helps people deepen and slow their breath, but not so much drive that it feels like we are dancing and have to be on the beat!
- I don’t use a ton of super short songs, and when I do, I repeat them. This playlist and this playlist both have a few good examples of that. When the song changes, you’ll sometimes see people wake up and focus in a new way. This is a nice moment, but if it’s happening every 90 seconds, it is distracting.
- The music should not take center stage. I like music that is gentle and soft. It should simply provide a container that people can relax into.
If you want to see some examples of this kind of DJing in action, you can follow me on Spotify right here! I’ve got about 25 public yoga playlists you are welcome to use!
Do you play music when you teach or practice? Which camp do you fall into? 🙂 Leave a comment and let me know right here!
Hi there! Music…i used to be very middle path in regards to playing/not playing music when i teach/practice. And in terms of my opinion about whether it is beneficial or not, i am STILL very middle path. I truly think it’s fine either way..and i get both arguments. However, these days i can safely say i always play music in group classes (exceptions being brand new beginners series’..i like to introduce them to the practice for a while first before bringing in music). The reason for this is because i find that music just cracks people open! I know that in my own practice so much more is accessible to me when there is music in terms of my ability to MELT into my body and soften my heart…and i perceive that same experience in my students. With privates it could go either way. I feel it out. Now, that being said, the music must be appropriate and tasteful. No popular music. I find english words to be ok so long as they are in line with the theme of the class…and not straight through from beginning to end. Thats my two cents! 🙂
Yes! Thanks for sharing Kira! We are totally on the same page here. Must be those OM roots. <3
HI! I love to play music during the practice. I might adjust it, depending on the mood. I definitely have music for the kids when I’m teaching and when we practice savasana.
Yes, thanks for sharing Krisber! What kind of music do you play for your kids?
I am also very middle path but I do typically play music. Like you I try to avoid popular songs for the most part but I have been known to throw in some lesser know songs by Tracy Chapman or India Arie. Then some days I break all my rules and play Bob Marley because, who does not find that to be an instant mood boost? Thanks for starting the conversation.
You’re so welcome! I break my own rules sometimes also! That’s why I said I follow them about 90% of the time. Sometimes on a really gray, rainy day when I can feel we all need a pick-me-up, I’ll throw in a few Motown songs. Rules are made to be broken! 🙂
I use music in my group classes but not in my privates. I find music to be distracting when teaching a private. I sometimes add music at the very end, if my client wants Savasana.
That’s nice Betsy! What are some of your favorites for savasana?
I usually always play music whether it’s a group or private class. The music is usually nature sounds for our practice and definitely doesn’t have any words as I find that distracting and storytelling. Music is such a big part of relaxation if you pick the genre and melody for what suits your class or private. I LOVE the music! It helps create the space / container for yoga practice for me! 🙂 Hugs!
Great point Sherry! It really can help to “create the container”. 🙂
I sometimes play background music which is very very soft….definitely no words, mostly nature sounds, gentle flute or slow sitar that’s not distracting. I dont play music during grounding
practice or during shavasana.
I’m with you there. I didn’t mention this in the blog, but I never play music in the very beginning of class, and often not at the very end either. <3
In addition to teaching yoga, I also teach piano. Music is a part of me so I always play music in my classes. I’ve even started playing a little piano myself during Savasana. I never play music with words or any strong, discernible beat. In my Yin classes I feel it’s integral to the sequence . I’ve tried not playing music and it just doesn’t work for me.
Oh wow, that’s so cool! Do you have a piano in your studio?
I follow the exact same rules for music as you do which is not surprising since we are both OM yoga teachers! Cyndi was so clear about how and why to use music and it makes complete sense to me. So glad the OM wisdom is still prevailing!
Yes Deb! The OM wisdom lives on! Sending big <3 your way.