“If The Music Is In Charge, It’s Not Yoga.”
This was the response my first yoga teacher Fran gave me when I told her I wanted to choreograph yoga with music. And she is absolutely right.
The power of music is undeniable. Virtually all of us have a personal device we can choose our music on, headphone up, and disappear (you are likely reading this on it). We have an endless supply of ways to create custom soundtracks to our lives. As a performing musician since age ten, I have always been captivated by this power, this need, for us to keep music so close to us. As a meditation teacher, I have learned to use music in a new and riveting way: to heal.
Think of your favorite song to crank up really loud. Chances are when you bring this music to mind, you are transported to a specific moment you were listening to that song. It’s wonderful how our memory plays this soundtrack alongside our life. We can probably go through and find our personal theme songs for pumping our adrenaline (even anger), comforting our sadness, empathizing with our heartbreak, unleashing our best in our triumphs: a whole litany of certain songs that always make us feel a certain way.
It’s really cool – but it’s the opposite of what we want to happen when we are practicing yoga.
Be Here Now: What To Listen To When Practicing Yoga
Music should only be used as a tool in yoga practice. Absolute silence is a luxury many of us have to travel to find and it is very common to play music or ambient sounds to cancel out the noises of the outside world. Practitioners who choose to use sound in meditation should find something pleasant to their ears that does not attract deeper attention.
You may want to get on your mat and half-dance your way through your stretches to your favorite beats, or crank up the volume and cardio-blast your frustration away. That’s wonderful and likely, very therapeutic. But it’s not yoga. If the music distracts you, takes you off the mat, makes you remember the good times, bad times, whatever, shut it down. You forgot about your breath. You’re stirring, not clearing.
Triggering emotions, whether positive or negative, has the ability to influence internal systems regulated by our sympathetic nervous system, reducing the physical cues for relaxation. If the music gets too emotional or intricate through the lyrics or a ripping guitar solo for example, the body signals for increasing blood-flow to comprehend what is happening, engaging all the senses at a higher level. It’s why your favorite rock song pumps you up, and precisely what yoga tries to temporarily shut down. Stress reduction comes from the physical effects of lower brain wave states and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga and meditation are natural practices for this engagement.
Granted, there is a highly subjective level to these preferences, so it comes down to stimulation. If the music is over-stimulating, if it keeps grabbing your attention, then it is not supporting the practice. The volume should be set to a level that feels comfortable without being distracting. The type of music is secondary – the simpler, the better, and I recommend instrumentals. If you feel attachment to certain songs in a context outside of yoga, let them go while practicing.
This should be a fun trial and error process! Gathering music exclusively associated with your practice and ONLY your practice, will help keep your mind on your mat. Regardless of personal preferences, the goal is simply to neutralize uncontrollable auditory surprises and make the distracting sounds of the outside world disappear.
How To Use This Project
If this leaves you feeling unsure of where to begin, that’s exactly why I make these mixes! I love providing music for yoga classes and I always practice my asana with some form of sound accompaniment. I have amassed a collection of unique and amazing artists over ten years that most are unlikely to encounter in routine life – a great head start into finding a soundtrack unique to your practice.
The primary intention for this project is to soundtrack your asana practice utilizing the aforementioned music theory. Each episode is assigned a number (based on the release date) and is followed by a description of the mix by the dominant genre, and a secondary genre / descriptor for distinction.
Each mixtape is about an hour, varying from 55 – 65 minutes. I end each session when it feels right, not really watching to ensure exactly 60 minutes. Most mixtapes start slowly for a warm up and then build up, peak, and cool down. If the first track is very upbeat, so is the rest of the playlist. The peaks come at different places, sometimes towards the thirty-minute mark, some at forty-five minutes. Each mixtape slows down and ends with a track dedicated to savasana, usually around the fifty(ish) minute mark.
Find mixes that suite your style of practice and explore others with similar descriptors. Here are some quick clarifications to my terminology.
World music is the broad category I use to signal a variety of different traditional instruments and cultural music from all continents. The drums of Africa and the Americas, the stringed beauties of Europe, and the percussive sitar solos of India are featured in these tapes. The second descriptor is usually distinguishing the highlighted instrument of the playlist.
Chill means slower tempos (sometimes downtempo), suited for slower / mellower practices. Electronica is the use of synthesizers and electronic instruments. Sometimes these two are synonymous within this project (lots of the world chill music is electronica).
Upbeat denotes a speed for the times you need to leave it on the mat. Really crank it up and let it go. It’s almost against my rules, but each mix cools down, and some of us practice with a fluidity that calls for a quicker beat. These are for you.
Vocals always indicate singing within select songs, but in languages other than English (and very little Spanish). This is intentional so that the lyrics aren’t stimulating and the voices carry on as instruments. Mantras are not always accounted for by a vocals tag.
Ambient means little to no drumming, or percussion, mostly just new age style tones and light instrumentation. These are the most meditative.
Click Here to return to the 108 Mixtapes Project.
Last Updated February 5th, 2018, by Johnny Scifo.