Yoga chitta vritti nirodha.
This is how Patañjali defines yoga in the second sutra. It translates as, calming the fluctuations of the mind. Aside from the obvious fact that traditionally, yoga is not practised to a soundtrack coming from an iPod, this argument lies in the notion that by providing distractions such as music during our practice, we are not practising yoga at all.
We Need The Silence
We are all part of a busy generation. Hell, the busiest generation. It appears busy is the next big trend – accessorized with a neat espresso and anxiety attacks affecting 9.7% of the population. We are immersed in superficial noise every moment of the day. Our minds are constantly busied with artificial stimulants, to-ing and fro-ing our concentration in every direction other than inward. If we can’t succumb to the silence in a 60-minute yoga class, when can we? The point is we need this silence and I’m not so sure it’s a case of can’t succumb but rather won’t.
Subconsciously we’re living in a world where it’s so good to be busy that to not be busy — to be calm, have some free head space, are able to quiet our ‘mind-stuff’ — must be bad. Lazy. Not working hard enough. Right?
Wrong. So very wrong.
It’s possible that this generation’s fitness obsession is wrapped up in all this too. An addiction, disguised as health, through which we work ourselves into the ground in our professional lives, and then go on to punish ourselves physically. Touching on this opens up an entirely different argument; the damaging effects the relentless strive for ‘perfection’ has on us all.
The Great Yoga Divide
In a world where yoga studios are as common as coffee shops, it is inevitable that an expanse of ‘hybrid’ classes will emerge. Marketing for most studios is leant far more toward the physical benefits of yoga than the mental and spiritual, which is an inevitable by-product of living in the consumer-led 21st century. This leads to a counter-trend where many people, understandably, become protective of the ancient practice. These ‘protectors’ are those who consider yoga done to music not authentic. Not really yoga.
Personally, I agree with Sharon Gannon’s assertion that, “yoga is whatever you want it to be.”
As a yoga teacher and long-time student, it is easy to forget the bravery required to step into your first yoga class. Not only to turn up to a studio convinced everyone else is stronger, calmer, fitter, and more flexible — but to take the time to feel your way into the depths of your own body and mind. If music is going to help a student let go and give themselves to their practice then why should we disallow it? I don’t feel I have the right to pick out a student and say, “you’re only here for the tight butt.”
Even if they are, if that is their intention, so be it.
Yoga changed my life on a mental level but I don’t expect it to do the same for every person that walks into my class. What this boils down to is the obvious fact that music makes an ancient practice more accessible in a modern world. Of course the more a student develops their practice, the more in tune they become to what works for them. Some people like their yoga in silence, with the steady beat of the heart as their only metronome whilst others find a soundtrack can be the difference between a flowing practice and one that feels disjointed, frustrating and in turn entirely counter productive.
Finding The Stereo Balance
In my personal practice, I love music. But perhaps this is because I know the tracks that work for me. My Forearm Stand breakthrough came with a crescendo in a Bon Iver B-side, but I am every part aware that this same track could evoke the opposite in one of my students.
If I spend three hours constructing the perfect playlist, then walk into my studio to find a class full of yogis who are largely Iyengar (a style in which music is never played) I will scrap it. As a teacher my yoga becomes largely about sharing, and whilst I would love to open a student’s mind to the power of music, if it’s clear it’s not for them, I won’t force it.
Similarly, if a class of tired yogi’s pad in on a Sunday morning, I might spontaneously play a track to crank up the energy for the 10 rounds of vinyasas about to follow.
I believe that the only time you are not practising yoga, is if your practice is moving you away from enlightenment. Chances are if you are here reading this article, then you have some emotional investment in this rich and multi-layered practice. It is one that you, about 40 million others and myself have all chosen to enrich our lives. We must not place each other in a hierarchy of worthiness because one students practice is more ‘authentic’ than another’s. Yes it is sacred, but it is also an infinite resource, the benefits of which shout louder than any background noise.
Where do you stand on the music in yoga issue? Do you blare the tracks or contemplate in silence? What kind of music gets you in the mood: Krishna Das, Mozart or Jessie J? We’d love for you to weigh in in the comments below!