If you love both music and movement, as I do, you’ll know that the two are closely linked. Music is built through pitch and timing; while movement is created through direction and speed. Being the dancing and singing types that we are, without thinking too much, we are able to wrap together pitch, timing, direction and speed into a feeling or sensation that comes from within us as we ‘move to the groove’. Even Confucius, who was probably unlikely to tear up a dance floor, says that “music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without”.
So what place does this have in a yoga practice? Can we cultivate a sensation beyond what asana brings us through playing music during our practice and/or teaching? Isn’t there enough sound in our daily lives already that the sanctity of a yoga studio calls for a meditative silence in which we can just be in peace? Or, is there a space in between where we can use music to cue movement and emphasise silence?
These are tough questions to answer because, as we all know, everyone’s practice is personal (as is their music taste)! There are a few things to consider, though, which may help us as we embark on creating a journey of movement wrapped up in music.
1. Sequence your playlist with your class in mind
Many yoga classes have an arc of intensity, with a beginning, middle and end. Your playlist should mirror your sequence and help to cue movement as well as stillness. If you’re beginning your home practice or class with a centering or grounding section, think about using the sound of silence (more on this later!) or ambient vibrations to calm. On the other hand, if you’re working through a series of vigorous transitions or strong holds, you could draw on more driving music to encourage determination. This may seem logical but is maybe more complex than we think…
2. Be aware that music is what feelings sound like
Music, like smell, is super nostalgic. Remember what was playing during a first dance with a crush? Or the song you listened on repeat during a summer holiday? How about the tune that reminds you of an ex? A road trip? The list goes on. So it may be a good idea to stick with more recent and slightly less mainstream sounds to keep your practice fresh and association free! After all, yoga’s about removing the fluctuations of the mind.
3. Consider the power of silence
Our lives are filled with sound. What do you or your students want from a practice space? While music can potentially enhance the experience (as we all know), it can also detract. Ever been asked to ‘Om’ while music’s playing or wished that you could withdraw your senses a little more during a savasana but been caught up in a gut-wrenching melody? There is real beauty in silence, so integrate it into the soundtrack of your practice so you or your students can spend time with themselves more intimately.
4. Keep technology as invisible as possible
One of the most joyous things about yoga is the sincere connection we build with ourselves. Fiddling with a device to find the right song or reconnect to wifi is often tempting but will probably take us away from, rather than towards, our purpose. Download the playlist onto your phone so you don’t need wifi and, before your practice or class, decide when you’ll begin/pause/end the playlist.
So as you use movement and stillness, use sound and silence as tools to create atmosphere and energy. If you’d like a playlist to ponder, here’s one I created for a 90-minute Vinyasa flow. As you listen, think of what you’d tweak to suit your own practice. If you’ve got a magic playlist, share the link with us in the comments below!