Whenever I go to a yoga class, I look forward to losing myself in movement and feeling my body as it moves through space. I look forward to finding balance on the mat and in my mind and to losing track of time as the class blooms from opening to close.
In most cases, my favorite yoga classes that have taken me to this blissful state have involved music. For me, music is a tool to get me more deeply connected to a yoga practice. Through music, it feels as if my body is dancing through an ocean of sound.
When I became a yoga teacher earlier this year, I knew that music would be an integral part of my teaching. I knew that selected playlists and setting the right vibe for a class was an art, and it was one I had to be patient in learning.
Just like with asanas, you must test how music feels in your body as well as how it affects others. Not every song will resonate; not every pace will flow, and not every class needs music. Some yoga classes are better off by focusing on cues and stillness.
When exploring the type of yoga teacher I wanted to be, I knew the most important thing would be focusing on how people would feel upon leaving a class. I want people to feel like they’ve let go of something they’ve been holding onto and found more space in their hearts to fill once they leave the mat.
For me, I know music helps create the right conditions for bodily inspiration and anxiety relief. According to Psychology Today, research has also proven that, “Listening to music, you enjoy decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which counteracts the effects of chronic stress.”
The way I see it, adding music to a yoga class is another way of practicing self-love by giving students another dimension of connection. Whether that music is used to link breath to beat or just another way to let go as you flow, it’s a complementary addition to many yoga classes.
I reached out to speak with a handful of experienced yoga teachers on how they incorporate music into their classes and how it affects their students when it comes to self-love.
Ava Johanna, yoga teacher and meditation instructor, sees the benefit in including music into her practice. When teaching, Ava said, “Music is essential to my yoga classes. I use music to energize the class, to carry my students through fluid movements, and to inspire their strength. I put music on in the background and add songs that make me stop what I'm doing to recognize how good I feel from listening to it.”
Ava’s go-to song on her yoga playlist?
On inviting self-love through music, master teacher trainer and author, Mark Stephens had this to say, “Rather than a self-adoring narcissism, we come to qualities of self-love that open us to greater self-acceptance, compassion for ourselves and others, and openness to just how precious all life is.
Yoga teachers can share the practices of yoga with students in ways that encourage this sense of self-love, allowing our students and ourselves to more deeply connect within, with others, and in the world around them. Loving oneself brings one to the deepest intimacy of self, to the essence of human existence, through which one more purely and powerfully shares in love with others. This is part of the promise of yoga free of narcissism: when we love ourselves, we expand love everywhere. What a beautiful thing.”
Stephens, went on to include that “In crafting playlists for classes, I try to align the vibe of the music with the arching rhythm of the class, also considering things like the time of day, season, and other things than suggest certain moods. It’s all about the mood and finding the love.”
Mark’s go-to songs for a yoga playlist?
A Bone Crone Drone by Sheila Chandra
Gayatri Mantra by Deva Premal
Fragile by Sting
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
Yoga teacher and wellness warrior Mindful Jess said that the music “really depends on the feel and the message I am trying to deliver. Something more light, acoustic, instrumental, or folky works best.”
Jess’s go-to songs for a yoga playlist?
Hands by Jewel
Rise Up by Andra Day
Margo Lee Burton, social worker, psychotherapist, and certified yoga teacher, ends all of her classes with a final relaxation incorporating music. “This is a natural time for self-love, and I will put on a healing mantra or prayer music that is written specifically to invoke love. I will add a mantra, or a repetitive Om during the final relaxation to again invoke self-love.”
Margo’s go-to song for a yoga playlist?
Mantras including Om Tara, Hari Om, and Gayatri Mantra.
Morgan Balavage, yoga teacher E-RYT 500, said she loves “teaching long moments of yin holds in silence, and then bringing a banger in to lighten things up for a dancey flow. I keep an on-going playlist in Spotify for songs that I hear in class or in the world that hit me in some way. Sometimes it's a ditty that gets me moving; sometimes it's a tune that makes me cry. I need a good mix of energizing, relaxing, and neutral music to help my students take an aural journey and inspire their bodies to move in a way that feels like a dance.”
Yoga teacher Alex Tran said that “Depending on the class, music can offer energy or help you relax during practice. Fast pace, upbeat music is great for vinyasa classes. Classical, slow music, no lyrics, chanting, etc. are great for slower classes such as Hatha, restorative, or yin classes.”
Alex’s go-to songs for a yoga playlist?
Random Rab - Lives to Live
UTAH - Hail the Underdog
Men I Trust, Ghostly Kisses - Again
Tran added, “These songs make me feel like I am okay on my own. Not because of heartache or interactions with others, but because it's ok to be alone because you are worthy of spending time with yourself.”
Yoga teacher Alex C. Wilson believes that “music is universal and transcends all generations. I feel that music enhances the body’s ability to transition into poses more easily, to hold poses to obtain the most health benefits and to more deeply relax in Savasana at the end of a yoga class.”
Alex’s go-to song for a yoga playlist?
Sagittarius by Trevor Hall
Donna Brown, yoga teacher and yoga therapist, said she feels “playing music is most appropriate in almost every type of yoga class. I teach Hatha, which incorporates meditation, breathing (or pranayama), and poses. If for whatever reason, a person I am working with, especially in yoga therapy sessions, requests that I don’t play music, then I will honor their wishes and conduct a session in silence.”
Donna’s go-to song for a yoga playlist?
Anything by Prem Joshua
Nina Endrst, yoga instructor and practitioner, believes that music is the same as yoga because it’s all about connection, as is self-love (a connection to the self). To Endrst, music is, “about deep diving and listening to what moves you internally and externally. Music is a way in and a way out. I choose songs very intentionally to encourage students to expand and create more inner space and release what they're holding that often doesn't belong to them. My class is about freedom and finding your rhythm.”
Nina’s go-to song for a yoga playlist?
Show Me Love by Hundred Waters
Jessica Winderl, yoga teacher and Ayurveda yoga therapist, said that it’s “very important for yoga teachers to understand how to use music to support and encourage students. I choose music that has an emotional component to it, has positive messages and excludes explicit language. Think about your why and how you want students to feel after leaving your class.”
Jessica’s go-to song for a yoga playlist?
Anything from: Nahko and Medicine for the People, Trevor Hall, Sol Rising, Wah!, Krishna Das, Janet Stone, DJ Drez, Earthrise Sound System, Desert Dwellers, and Govindas. Here’s a taste of Sol Rising because that’s a personal favorite of mine:
There is something incredibly beautiful about including live music in the closing of a class.I recently attended a class at Ishta Yoga in New York City, where a unique experience humbled me. Our instructor, Hattie Rose, sang and played the harp while we were laying in Savasana. It was the most soothing experience and a beautiful end to a day.
And then there’s one of my 200-hour yoga teacher trainers, Yuval Samburski. Yuval would sing at the end of his classes and often incorporate sound healing bowls. I may or may not have cried on our last day of teacher training day when Yuval sang for the final time to our class of yogi graduates. There was so much self-love in the room, and the music only amplified it.
By adding in this live element, it becomes a much more personal, vulnerable, and beautiful experience for students to relax into and contemplate how the entire practice made them feel.
If this is something that resonates with you, I encourage you to look for yoga classes or instructors that incorporate music for a multi-dimensional experience. In general, bringing yourself to yoga is already an act of self-love. Falling in love with yourself while you flow or melt into the music? An amazing bonus.