Good Yoga Music Playlists? There's no wrong answer to this. You all know this boils down to preference. I myself have shifted attitudes over the past 5 years about playing music while I teach my sessions.
I stumbled across several blog posts about different bloggers' favorite songs their tribe of teachers could play during Savasana. They talked about the benefits of Savasana and why it's such a juicy pose to finish the practice with. Then, they listed several tracks in their yoga playlist (some with very clear lyrics). I've also taken yoga classes where the teacher sings a song or a sanskrit chant, which did feel like a nice sound bath but they didn't take up the entire time to do it (which was nice).
While I respect their stance on playing music during Savasana, I disagree about playing songs the entire time my students are resting on the mat. Savasana is said to be the pose we all are striving for. After our journey through 15, 30, 60, 75, 90 or even 120 minutes of all the other poses, Savasana is when we get to be in full meditation mode.
If I do choose to play music during the majority of the sesh, I would prefer to play ambient music with a slower BPM (beats per minute) with indistinguishable lyrics or none at all. I definitely prefer instrumentals, but I'm an urban yogi so I'm not really into the kirtan/classical guitar/easy listening instrumental tracks. I'm more into the tropical house, deep house, downtempo, ambient, chill house and genres of the like. Unfortunately, in my experience it's been really difficult finding other teachers' playlists in this niche. They've all been with distinguishable lyrics, pop music, kirtan, chanting, classical guitar or somewhere in between. Fortunately for you guys, I've put together a few playlists that have most of the ambient-electronic-downtempo instrumentals myself.
I would give my students several minutes to practice their Ujayi breath, to hear the sounds distinctly, then begin to fade into the first track of the list. So, there is some melody, but not enough to drown out the sound of my students' breath. Ujayi breathing is so critical to the practice that it's just as critical to play music that accompanies that. Then, I'd gradually fade the last track out during the first minute of Savasana so my students can get the full benefit of their meditation the remainder of the time. This can range from 10-20 minutes of quiet.
For my other sessions like Yoga Nidra, Ashtanga and morning sessions at my yoga retreats, I don't play music at all. I've just found in my experience that these were the scenarios that forgoing music was the best thing.
Why? Because music can be used as a filler to avoid dealing with the inner silence. Some people have a hard time listening to themselves. It's also not common to be asked to breathe loudly in any setting outside of a yoga studio. People can feel really self-conscious about their audible breath. But, I'm not trying to make yoga a pacifying experience. Yes, there's the case of Yoga Nidra, Yin and Iyengar-based Restorative sessions that are about rest and keeping the body still. But, they still encourage mental awareness.
For the most part, I'm trying to teach yoga to help unearth the layers so my students can be way more connected to themselves. I don't want yoga to be just another "band-aid" and outlet for stress like all the other workouts are. Yes, I want some of my classes to induce sweat, but I also want to encourage my students to think with a clear mind. So, I don't play any pop music that has lyrics that can trigger someone's memory and distract him/her completely from paying attention to the Ujayi breath. This just leads to risk for injuries, you know?
EDIT: My dear colleague Jennifer R brought up a great point about using music with lyrics. If she has a theme for her class, her music will be intentionally reflecting lyrics that stimulate thoughts around that theme. I think that's a great idea!
This leads me to the main topic at hand: How do you create a good yoga music playlist?
There's a few things to consider as you put together your list:
- What kind of class are you planning to teach? Is it a creative Vinyasa flow with lots of Vinyasas? Is it a Power Yoga session with fewer Vinyasas and long-holds in postures? Is it a gentle Restorative class or are you leading a yoga workshop (Click here for my article on leading a yoga retreat or workshop)?
- Based on what kind of class you're teaching, think about what intention you have with your yoga music playlist. Are you wanting to stimulate a heart rate increase? Or do you want to keep the heart rate slow and steady?
- What tracks have been great for your personal practice? Have you heard a track somewhere and felt compelled to put it in your playlist?
- What kind of music are your students into? Would they feel annoyed if you blasted Massive Attack (even though you LOVE their tracks)? Or would they feel that track by Dr. Toast? Definitely think about the kind of music that you all would enjoy (that won't distract them or your own yoga teaching).
- Do you have the licensing to play the tracks in your studio? (Sorry, paying a monthly Spotify account doesn't count). Sure, your friends and studio owners aren't reinforcing this legality, but if your class is really popular, I would have your butt covered in that respect! Before each Deep House Yoga SF session, my yoga business partner and I would purchase each track from Beatport. We would keep the receipts for record-keeping (Did I mention these track purchases are tax-deductible if you're on "Independent Contractor" status with your studio?!?) There's so many different genres of beats on the site with very little lyrics. You can always preview the tracks to get an idea.
- Make sure the first track in your yoga music playlist is gentle-sounding and slow. If you're teaching a creative Vinyasa flow, then you'll want to choose subsequent tracks that begin to speed in BPM(Beats Per Minute) as you guide your students towards your peak pose. Then, the following tracks should be slower in pace to bring them to their Savasana.
- Aren't sure about what a BPM is or what all those numbers mean? Not to worry at all! What I always like to suggest to other teachers and DJs is that they choose a track that either goes with the natural pace of your breath, goes faster, or goes slower. Try out any of your tracks along with your breath and you'll see what I mean.
BONUS TIP: This might not be obviously noticed by your students, but if you care about providing the best experience in your classes, pay close attention to this tip. If you're playing music while your students are setting their mats down and hanging out, please please PLEASE don't just shut the music off abruptly when you start your class. The abrupt shutting off really jars the energy in the room.
Instead, fade the volume out, lower it really gradually. Then, start your class. Gradually increase the volume as you start the first track. Gradually lower the volume as you finish the last track. This creates a really dream-like experience as your students enjoy every bit of their Savasana.
The same goes for switching to another track. If you've suddenly found yourself hearing a track you don't want to play anymore, definitely fade out of the song, then fade into the next one. It's just a nice pleasant detail that goes a long way. I can't tell you how many times I've sat in a yoga class and this has happened. (It's happened a LOT).
For all of my Spotify playlists that I share, it's really for your personal practice at home or for suggestions in case you choose to pay for the music and play it in your studio.
What's your thoughts on this, Rogue Yogis? (Remember to respect each other's comments. Everyone's opinion is legit. Everyone's experience is legit 💜)