I think it’s safe to say that most modern yoga classes in the United States are practiced to music. Some people might even be surprised to find a class that didn’t include at least background music to set the mood. However, some traditions of yoga recommend against music, preferring silence to better tune in to the body and breath. Should yoga be practiced to music? Does music enrich the practice or is it a source of distraction? The answers to such question can be influenced by the school of yoga that you follow, but ultimately it comes down to individual preference, so really the options are endless.
I don’t recall music playing a significant role in my yoga classes when I first started practicing yoga in the early 1990s. That could be because my first classes were Kundalini and Ashtanga, both styles that tend to avoid the use of music. Or it could be simply because I was so overwhelmed and enchanted by the new experience of yoga that the music just didn’t register as an important factor.
In more recent years, I’ve begun to notice the music played by different teachers in class, often appreciating how the selections reflect the teacher’s style and the energy level of the class. Sometimes I’ve liked songs so much that I’ve asked about it after class in order to look up the artist or album. On rare occasions I’ve found a track a bit jarring and distracting, but never so intensely that it affected my enjoyment of the class.
I’ve found an appreciation for the way that music can set a tone for a class and even help to bring focus to the practice. Along with the other factors of the environment, such as temperature, lighting, candles, scents, music can enhance the practice, assisting the class in keeping the awareness on the here and now. Keeping in mind that silence is rarely ever truly silent, the use of music allows the yogi to control one more aspect of the environment. Whether practicing at home or in a class at a studio or fitness club, distracting sounds can interrupt one’s practice. One response is to say that the ability to re-focus one’s attention from distractions such as dogs barking, traffic noise, wind or rain, or loud voices outside the classroom is part of the practice. But why not utilize music to help minimize such distractions?
When I first began teaching, I used strictly instrumental music without lyrics, new age music that one might hear in a spa. It provided a soothing background for the practice, like white noise. It was also a way of playing it safe to be sure that I wouldn’t offend any students with music or lyrics they found disagreeable. But over time, I’ve become bored with playing it safe and I’ve started looking for music to energize my classes. My new rule of thumb is that if its music that I like to practice to, I’ll use it in class.
I still like to start and end a class with quieter instrumentals during the opening meditation and breathe work and the closing deep relaxation. In between I search for uplifting tracks that help to keep the mood light and inspire the class to meet the challenges of the practice. My favorites right now include Krishna Das, Donna De Lory, Jai Uttal, Dave Stringer, Deva Premal and others. So far no one has made a negative comment about the music, even with the chanting in Sanskrit.
So, the answer of whether to practice yoga to music or not, like so many other questions in life, is one to be answered by personal preference. Try it both ways. Try different music. Be creative. Listen to the wisdom within. This yogi thinks there’s no right or wrong answer.