The Beat Goes On

What's the hardest part about teaching yoga?  Surely, you would think it's the public speaking, or the sequencing, or maybe the assisting and adjusting.  But no.  It's the playlist.  Creating a new playlist for every class is ridiculously hard for me and inordinately time consuming.  Sometimes it takes longer to put together a playlist than it does to design a class.  There's something wrong with this picture.

I don't listen to music when I practice.  In fact, I don't listen to much music at all and I am, for whatever reason, feeling some shame wrapped around that little truth.  It might have something to do with the fact that this is a music town -- the live music capitol of the world.  Music permeates identity here.  I can say without exaggeration that half of the people I know are in a band.  Austinites take their music very seriously, so I shouldn't be surprised that this enthusiasm carries over into the yoga community.

Some of the teachers I know put a good deal of emphasis on the music they play.  They post their playlists on facebook.  They announce them pre-class to the delighted squeals of adoring students.  They take requests.  I feel very far removed from all this.  I get frustrated when putting together a yoga playlist because I'm conflicted about the use of music during practice.  It's not that I don't see the value of music in a class setting:  music can provide a nice buffer zone around the students, lending some privacy to the whimpers, groans, gutteral noises and gastrointestinal shifts that tend to accompany the practice.  The right playlist can elevate the energy of the room or bring it down a notch when appropriate, but it also makes it difficult to hear the breath and serves as a convenient place for the mind to wander if focus falters.  Music is great until it distracts from the moment. 

But I'm pretty sure that no music is not an option.  I just wish I could tweak a few winning playlists out of the mix, stick with those and never need to make another playlist again, but I don't think the students would go for that.  So I'll keep mixing and rearranging, digging through the archives trying to organize a series of songs that will suit my purposes and engage the students without being distracting.  It seems like such a daunting task.

Hey, yoga teachers!  How do you handle the playlist situation?  And students, what's your preference?


  1. I'm feeling an immense gratitude that I don't teach in your city! I would hate to create new 'playlists' for each class! I only use music in venues where the background noise is distracting and in these situations, I choose Traditional Indian instrumental or chanting. Occasionally I'll opt for electronica, but only if it's low key and doesn't distract from the practice.

  2. I make a bunch of themed playlists and put my I-pod on shuffle. That way it always sounds new. When I get new music from I-tunes, I ad it in the different mixes by theme and tempo. Up tempo for standing and low tempo for seated and svasana.


  3. I teach vinyasa classes (multiple levels), all without music. I just have a faint background of OM (barely audible). The focus of the practice is the breath, and anything that takes away from the breath is a distraction. All other Vinyasa studios in my city play music, and the consistent feedback from all my clients is that they are able to focus better without music.

    I choose to focus more on the practice and than worrying about playlists. After all, we are yoga instructors and not DJs.


  4. I typically play music for classes just for soft background music. Typical "yoga music" most of the time, but lately I've wanted to add a lot of miscellaneous stuff.

  5. When I was teaching strong pilates-yoga classes, there was always music. A new playlist for each class (creating it was a challenge). I found it uplifting, most of the time, but what really bothered me was the fact that I couldn't play with my voice. The back row barely heard me.
    In Iyengar class I don't play the music. Not even at the end. My home practise is also quiet, I prefer it that way. I find it refreshing. Music is also a "mindfiller" :-)

  6. So many people say this about playlists. I have never taught to music, mainly because I hate practicing to music. I find it distracting beyond belief. I love music, but hardcore punk is not compatible to a yoga class!

    Also I do not own an iPod (I do have an MP3 player but it's a million years old and incompatible to any studio speaker systems) so playlists are like some sort of thing from the future to me. I still play vinyl ;)

  7. Student piping in here. I just love a class with a dedicated teacher. If you are present and into the class, you could be playing an eight-track of monkeys frolicking in the jungle and I wouldn't care. My iyengar instructor never has music and the different vinyasa instructors I have all do different things. I never expect a totally new playlist each week, though! That is a lot for you to do. Actually, I rather like coming back to the same song for a particular chunk of a flow. Makes it feel like coming home. So I'd say do what works for YOU.

  8. Thanks for the input everyone!

    It looks like the new venue I'll be teaching at in a couple of weeks will allow me to teach without music, so it will be interesting to compare the two classes and feel the difference.

  9. I think music can add to the tempo (tala) of the class. But in the wrong hands it is a no-no.

  10. When I go to a yoga studio, I enjoy music but when I am at home I never consider it. I think it can be useful but it is not necessary.

  11. I like practicing to music in the studio but I don't practice to music at home. However, I notice if the instructor doesn't change the music up every once in a while. My advice is to make a few play lists that make you happy and switch around occasionally so the students don't get bored. Don't take it too seriously though. Cuz, if the class is a rockin' what difference does the music make?

  12. The best yoga classes I've ever been to haven't had any music, but I agree that 'here' that probably wouldn't work. Who would have thought that making a playlist would be so hard? Or that people would choose a class based on the music promised? Craziness. Lol. BTW, I LOVE your sense of humor--"lending some privacy to the whimpers, groans, gutteral noises and gastrointestinal shifts that tend to accompany the practice."

  13. My main lineage is Iyengar yoga, and music is rarely an accompaniment to asana class (much less home practice). To me, music is unnecessary, even a distraction, to a practice that should be inwardly focused. If one is lethargic, one should try to conjure up energy from within, not from the Bob Marley cranked up loud

    That said, I don't mind attending a class with music. A good class is a good class. But I think something is wrong if a teacher spends more time planning playlists than asana sequences. I have a draft post on this very topic. Stay tuned!

  14. Contrary to Iyengar, in the tradition that I teach-- Kundalini-- music plays a big role. We use mantras and rhythms, we chant and sing, and so good Kundalini music is crucial. The right music at the right moment can really take your practice to a whole new level. I love it.
    I never create playlists beforehand, I improvise on the spot depending on the energy of the class and pose. I always joke that I'm a teacher/DJ. But with some practice, you get the hang of it (and the songs are long enough that you're not constantly reaching for the ipod).
    Outside of class I do listen to a lot of music so that I know the songs, their rhythm and their energy well. Then during class I let my intuition guide me.

    That said, the other day I was in a vinyasa class where the instructor had a playlist of "non-yoga" songs in the background (Regina Spektor and others) and I found it not only distracting, but annoying. It didn't match the practice, and frankly I don't want to be listening to lyrics about lost love or whatnot while I'm doing yoga!