Music: To Play Or Not To Play During A Yoga Class?

It might appear as yogic blasphemy to some, but my yoga journey involved a lot of Snoop Dog. In fact, for almost an entire year, my practice consisted of a variety of beats that you’d find in a nightclub. Trey Songz, Ludacris, Usher and The Weeknd – they were all there. Their urban lyrics coaxed my hips into downward dog, or lifted me that little bit higher during warrior one.

But then I moved to a different yoga studio to further my practice, and everything changed. My body and mind were shocked into an uncomfortable state when I soon realised that blasting Dre was not the norm. My new teacher’s class was silent; an eerie, synchronous dance that flowed to the sound of our collective breathing. No beats. No raps. No rhymes.

Today, I’m okay with bending and stretching without music. But after a friendly debate in the change room with a friend who loathed music during yoga, I wondered; Why would you choose to play music during yoga? Why would you choose to practice in silence? Does music help you get further in your practice, or is it just more fuel for that egoic part of our brains that refuses to let go?

I’m not the first to write about this, and I won’t be the last either. In his article for the Huffington Post, Dr. Ali Binazir wrote of the potentially harmful effects of playing pop and rock music during yoga. Referencing the second of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah, he notes the purpose of yoga is to calm the fluctuations of the mind. When you listen to music the auditory, emotional and language centers of the brain are stimulated. You’re essentially holding an active powerhouse on your shoulders. And if your mind is focused on the lyrics, the beat and crescendo, are you paying enough attention to what’s happening with your body?

“With all that interesting sound coming at you and your brain figuring out pitch, intervals, melody, harmony, the meaning of the words and the appropriate emotional response to them, it becomes much more challenging to focus on the orientation of your thigh in Warrior I pose, the rhythm of your breathing, or the subtle opening of your heart chakra,” says Binazir.

As he’s a professional hypnotist, I was skeptical that Binazir’s views were biased. But he’s not alone in the anti-music stance.

Yoga instructor and eternal student Vidula Sawant, who’s been teaching yoga for over 13 years all over the world, also references Patanjali’s stance – yoga is supposed to quiet the mind.

“If a general yoga class is being conducted with this objective then playing music – any music – in the background could be causing further emotional havoc to participants who have come to class with the expectation of – among other outcomes than a quiet mind experiences – emotional control. I never play any music.”

But for every yoga teacher who puts Spotify away during mat time, there seem to be another 5 yoga teachers who prefer to run their classes with music. And not just any music. In fact, the fusion of music and yoga has seen the rise of a hybrid-style yoga. Think death metal yoga, disco yoga, and hip-hop yoga – my alma mater.

Is hip hop and yoga an unconventional marriage? Absolutely. But for certified yogi Samantha Veall, combining hip-hop music with yoga makes perfect sense. When an accident left her with severe scarring to 35 percent of her body, Veall turned to yoga to stretch out her skin grafts and indulge in a form of emotional release.

After moving to LA to study acting, Veall found herself learning and then teaching yoga under the guidance of Steve Ross, host of INHALE Yoga, and founder of Maha Yoga. Once she completed her Yoga Teacher Training in Bali, Veall returned home to Melbourne, Australia, and opened up Yoga 213 in 2013. The Richmond studio is popular for its signature hip-hop yoga classes, as well as its more tranquil sessions, for those who prefer their beats down-tempo.

“Would you dance without music? Everyone knows the power and the uncontrollable feeling of happiness that one of your favourite songs can give you, so why practice in silence when you get your downward dog on to Snoop Dogg?” says Veall. “[My students] love the music and the welcoming relaxed environment of the studio. A lot of people have said that the music is a great distraction during the physical practice because it makes it easier for our minds to calm down towards the end of class.”

Point taken. But does music have a place in a yoga studio? With so many diverging opinions, it appears that it’s important to understand the motivation behind playing music.  Perhaps a silent practice is more cathartic, allowing you to achieve the true meaning of yoga – union of the mind, body and spirit. But I, for one, am not averse to feeling my way through a vinyasa class while Sia’s voice helps me move in and out of a pose. 

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Camilla Peffer

Camilla is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She began practising yoga 2.5 years ago after taking a break from running. You can find her perfecting her handstands, eating her way across her adopted home town, or bothering people for a vino.