If you think of yoga as just another form of physical fitness, having music present seems like a no-brainer. I personally cannot fathom going on a run without my earbuds (what on Earth would I THINK about the whole time?!) but of course the ability to do this has really only been available to recent generations. Yoga, as one of the oldest organized exercise routines, was getting along just fine before the invention of gramophones, record players, iHomes or bluetooth speakers. That is not to say that yoga was ever doomed to be completely silent in its practice. Chanting, for instance, has deep roots in yoga. It is a less common practice now and yet somehow the prolonged “Om” is still a common association to even Western yoga classes.
Some argue that while music may be an excellent way to increase your heart rate and maximize physical benefits of yoga, it is ultimately a distraction and a barrier to achieve the meditation of movement. Personally, I think the former is why you see so many power yoga classes adding upbeat, popular music - because they are literally marketing to the crowd craving physical benefits. I am guilty of falling into this category - I LOVE music in my yoga class and I also prefer fast-paced yoga classes. I have even attended classes with live acoustic guitar, which I found to be absolutely lovely. On the other hand, I have been a part of classes during which I found rhythm in my practice by syncing with the breathing of the collective group. Though my exposure to classes with music is greater, I see the strengths to each type of practice.
Ultimately, the presence of music and, when present, the type of music, depends on what your intention is. To the lay person, yoga is all about flexibility, right? Well, most yogis know that to be only one of the benefits to consistent yoga practice. I would argue that most people practicing yoga consistently have begun to crave the mental clarity that come from elements such as yogic breathing, rhythmic practice, and reflection. Achieving this mental clarity can be difficult with loud and/or lyrical songs present in the background.
For me, yoga practice without music or sound would be inherently distracting - but should it be? Should I be better at focusing on my practice without the assistance of a familiar tune or catchy lyrics? Even I would say ‘yes’ to that. This makes me chuckle because when I am at CrossFit, working balls to the wall for a 15ish minute WOD whilst gasping for air, there might be music on in the background but it might as well not be - I’m so focused on the task at hand (or not puking) that I don’t bother to process whatever music is playing around me. But I leave CrossFit feeling much different than I do after a yoga class. I don’t have the sense of connection or clarity that I do after yoga and I think I could enhance this feeling by maintaining an uninterrupted connection to my practice without music.
If you have never practiced yoga without music, I challenge you to try it. As is often said, focus on the sounds of your breath. Or, if you seek to change the type of sound that is part of your practice, here are some things to consider:
Pick instrumental music that has no words. Even the most well-meaning lyrics can hit someone in the wrong spot. And remember: lyrics in foreign languages are still lyrics.
Keep the volume low. If you have to shout over the music to be heard, the music is too loud.
Resist the temptation to play any kind of music during final savasana pose. Many people, conscious or unconsciously, seek silence as its own type of sound and deserve this reward during that restorative time.
What are your thoughts? Do you LOVE having music in your yoga class, or do you find that your own breath is the only music you need? Be a part of a conversation below!
Rachel Wiegand has been an athlete her whole life but yoga has been the only constant throughout moves and life changes. A former personal trainer, she is now a practicing chiropractor in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and enjoys helping patients find a physical activity that fits their lifestyle best. In addition to yoga, she practices Pilates and is an avid Crossfitter. On her weekends you can find her teaching yoga at CrossFit Sheboygan, with her hubby at Lake Michigan on her paddleboard, or at the dog park with her boxers, Dug and Rosco.
Images via: @yogastudiotahoe