Music has been a big part of my life. I took piano lessons for 10 years and continue to play. Coldplay and the Foo Fighters helped me survive adolescence. There's a music staff tattoo on my back. The "Five Dollar Footlong" jingle has been stuck in my head at various times since 2009.
You get the idea.
We all appreciate music to some degree, but what about in the yoga studio? Should it be playing during asana? During meditation? It's a recurring topic of discussion for teachers and students alike, with no definitive answer. Silence is golden, but music has its own colors.
What works for me is silence.
As much as I cherish music, I don't need it in a practice. If it's on, it doesn't bother or aggravate me at all, but it does distract me. It's like putting cookies on the table during a meeting. I will happily eat some cookies, but pay less attention to whatever we're working on at that meeting. (The "working lunch" always became just the "eating lunch" in my corporate days.) In yoga class, every song I like is a cookie my brain wants to consume. Some teachers have amazing playlists, and I just stuff my ears with all of that sweetness. Katie Perry's "Roar" make me want to dance. The Killer's "All These Things That I Have Done" makes me want to fist pump. Coldplay's "Paradise" makes me want to run through a field. "Florence and the Machine" makes me want to head-bang, cervical spine be damned! All these reactions are exhilarating...but not exactly concentrated or mindful. Even classical music makes me visualize piano keys or violin strings, wondering which movement of which symphony it is. Whale sounds and ocean noises are safest, but even then I'm thinking about the whales and the film Whale Rider and deeper down the rabbit hole I go...
The teacher's voice and cues are important for me in studio practices. I like to be able to listen without other voices streaming through. This is why instrumental or atmospheric music works better if there is music.
Maybe you're thinking, it's not the music's fault, Caitlin...you might just have attention issues. And you may be right! That is why silence helps me connect totally with my body, breath, and mind during yoga. There is so much music and stimulation in my life. Carving out time for simplicity, silence, and single pointed concentration restores me. It helps me appreciate and hear all the sounds of life more keenly after class. The Yoga Sutras defines Dharana (concentration) as:
The process of holding or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place. (3.1)
I cannot attempt that with both music and asana at the same time. That being said, I do find music soothing during savasana, because there is no longer movement. However, that lifts the attention off my breath. Musical chairs of dharana!
As a yoga teacher, I also teach in silence. This is not the "right" way to teach, merely the way I know and offer for my students. Plus, I don't want ASCAP to come after me for music rights. Talk about stress! Some students at another location where I teach are very uncomfortable with the silence. They are turned off by my class for this reason. Many of them have only known classes with music, and the alternative is awkward for them. I believe the silence is good for them to try. As the saying goes, "Life begins where your comfort zone ends." For this very reason, perhaps a class with music is good for me to take once in a while.
If you are not sure whether you are effected by music in class or not, consider drama. Television and movies use music all the time to enhance (or some would say "manipulate") our emotional reaction to the scene. Is the same dialogue or action as effective without beautiful strings playing? Would Jaws have been as scary without the cello? Would the opening crawl of Star Wars have seemed as important without the theme music? I'm not really sure. Everyone experiences these things differently.
As much as I cherish silence, it's sad to think of music being taken from everyone's yoga practice. If someone took away the blocks or straps that I so often use, I would resent it. Perhaps music can be another prop to be used or not by choice, depending on the day.
What role does music play or not play in your yoga practice? Is the soundtrack full of breath-related songs, or the sound of your own breath? I'm interested to learn and keep this interesting conversation flowing.