Ida Hardy, an Integral Yoga teacher, had formal training, similar to my own, that emphasized that silence was best. A licensed and certified natural health counselor, personal trainer, and yoga teacher, she settled in South Texas, after living all over the world.
“Music is an outside stimulation and can be a distraction and an obstacle preventing you from going deeper in the practice,” she says. “When I practice on my own, I am usually outside and have the sounds of nature: birds, the wind, coyotes in the distance. When I’m in someone else’s class, I am sometimes distracted by music, and my mind drifts away from the teacher’s voice, even away from my own inner voice.”
When I attended my yoga teacher training, my eyes and ears were wide open to grasp all the details from my instructors. Occasionally, I snapped photos in case my eyes didn’t remember the alignments or coaching subtleties. At night, to loosen up, physically and emotionally, we had freestyle dance parties to eclectic tapes and live bands. I learned to release inhibitions and connect my body and my soul beyond the asanas or pranayama.
Yoga and Music Wasn’t a Natural Fit
As we teachers-in-training prepared for our final “teach-out” we were instructed to plan our music beds carefully. Plan the yoga and music. That made me even more uncomfortable than standing up in front of equally qualified yogis and teaching them my first full solo class. I never used music during my asana practices, beyond an opening and closing prayer. Despite having taken yoga classes for decades, I never noticed the music in the classes. I recalled sun or sand, wind, and grass, or candles. I felt music would be unnatural, and that I should stick to my roots and comfort zone.
At the Nth hour, I picked a mellow CD by a female Kirtan vocalist. It didn’t sit well with me. I was probably too tuned in to the melody and the timing of each song, than to my students and my cues.
But then, a funny thing happened when I returned home after my teacher training intensive. Maybe I was bored. I rummaged through all my CDs. I listened to hundreds of tracks and created two playlists that mixed some of my favorite Kirtan, World, Latin, and New Age songs. I arranged them as I would my class. With slow starts, heat building crescendos, and cooldowns.
Music for Moods
Little by little, I created more and more playlists. Some were theme-specific. Others were for langhana or brahmana practices. I noticed that my teaching was closely tied to the music. The asanas were becoming an intuitive dance. The “flow” was natural and true. Not just a sequence.
Today, I have 55 playlists. All are either 60- or 90-minutes long, and no song is repeated — ok. maybe a few. My music is a key element to the structure of my class. It sets the mood, relays messages, and encourages my students to intertwine their bodies and minds with the keyboards, wind and string instruments, vocals, and percussion elements. Union to the max.
One day, I was talking to one of my subs. She asked me if I use music. I had a shocked reaction and blurted out, “Of course.” Then reality hit me and I admitted, “But that wasn’t my foundation. It took a while, and now I can’t imagine not using music in my classes.”
Ida Hardy, also discovered the benefits of music after soaking up the silence. “I taught a yoga class at an Air Force Base gym, in Korea. We shared the space with a martial arts class on the other side of an accordion-type wall. All the grunts and shouts were very distracting to our quiet class of 45 students trying to practice yoga in a traditional meditative fashion,” she explains.
“So, like Swami Satchidananda taught, I had to adapt and adjust in order to accommodate.” She chose music with meaningful or inspiring lyrics, promoting clean living and reaching for a higher good.
“In my humble opinion, thoughtfully chosen music, carefully knitted into moments of silence, then woven into a greater message of peace can help us develop and teach a deeply meaningful practice. If the music another teacher has chosen has a message incongruent with my values, it will be an obstacle for me and it will be difficult to simply practice peacefully.”
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I infuse a significant amount of music with non-English lyrics. Latin music and Kirtan form the bulk of my personal music library. But I love World Music. I mix in African beats and lyrics, Hebrew, Arabic, and other Romance languages.
On one playlist, I start slow and soft with Loreena McKennit, build up to Karsh Kale and Ibrahim Ferrer, and cool it down to Susheela Raman. On another, I juxtapose Lady Blacksmith Mambazo and Alejandro Sanz around DJ Drez and A.R. Rahman.
When I take time for myself, I belt out some of the mantras and tunes as I’m a warrior, in my child’s pose or downward dog. I’m in union, on the mat, with Krishna Das, Deva Premal and Miten, Snatum Kaur, and Jai Uttal.
Jai, a Grammy nominee and a pioneer in the world music and yoga culture, is on my side of the fence when it comes to music with your asanas.
Jai Uttal Prefers the Music
“I only enjoy yoga with music,” he says. “It helps my mind relax, so my body can take care of itself. Otherwise, I think too much and compare and complain.”
I, too, find the music transports me to another place, closer to samadhi.
“When I’m playing music for a yoga class, I enjoy it when the teacher is sensitive and tuned in to what I’m doing. I’ve had experiences where the teacher talked constantly, and at a high volume, and I just wondered what I was doing there,” adds Jai.
Jai’s wife, Nubia, is a dancer and yoga teacher, and the two collaborate at times. “I love playing in my wife’s yoga classes. She leaves space and teaches with so much heart and devotion. We inspire each other.
”As Jai sings in “Guru Brahma,” from his newly released, Shiva Station CD, “Ajnyaana Timirandhasya, Jnyaananjana Shaalaakayaa Cakssuunmilitam Yena, Tasmai Shrii Gurave Namah.” His translations read, “Salutations to the Guru who removes the darkness of ignorance from our blind eyes by applying the collyrium of knowledge. By whom our inner eyes are opened; salutations to that Guru.”
I believe it’s helpful to open the inner eyes, and the inner ears, so that the soul may open and unite with the body and the mind. That’s what yoga is all about.