Music and Yoga
One common gap between teacher and student.
Posted on: October 3, 2018
Whether or not to play music in a yoga class is a long-debated topic. Here at Tadasana.Yoga, we made the transition from a Bikram studio (where no music is used), to a Vinyasa studio (where music is sometimes used) back in 2012-13. As the Vinyasa Flow style grew in popularity, it also became more common for teachers to bring in music. Eventually we went so far as to add a “Hip Hop Flow” class to our schedule, where we deliberately turned up the volume. Today, it is rare for a class to be held without music in our studios, and sometimes it feels like every class is a “Power Jam” class (our new name for Hip Hop).
And then I wonder, have we gone too far with music?
You won’t be surprised to hear that the opinions of the yoga community fall squarely on both sides of this issue. I did a little googling, and while my sample is in no way statistically significant, what I anticipated was verified*: teachers who adhere to a specific lineage tend to prefer no music, those who cross styles frequently use or espouse the use of music. In other words, if you are seeking to remain true to the original teachings of Kundalini, Bikram, Bakhti, Ashtanga, and many others, as a teacher, you will likely prefer to avoid music, and the inverse is also true.
Interestingly, the articles written by practitioners seem to err more on the side of preferring music. While some practitioners spoke about the importance (to them) that the music not drown out the experience, most were not only in favor of it, but also suggested that the main reason they started, or continued, or made it through challenging classes, was because music was used.
What’s interesting about this music-or-no-music debate is how it reflects a gap that can develop between teachers and students. In my yoga studio where I have had 50+ teachers lead classes over the past 5 years, I have found that yoga teachers (like the rest of us) are constantly growing and changing, and their attitudes about yoga do the same. Most often, as they gain more experience with teaching yoga, they choose to go deeper into the history, lineage(s), and spirituality of yoga. And they frequently get excited about what they learn and wish to share it with their students. This works sometimes, but sometimes does not.
One challenge yoga studio owners and managers face is helping teachers stay relevant to their target audience, even as the instructors themselves wish to alter what and how they teach. I see this happen in three ways: 1) a desire by teachers to be more “true” to what they define as yoga; 2) a tendency to become hyper-focused on alignment out of fear of injury; or 3) a tendency to bring in messages that may lack universal appeal.
What happens as teachers grow is that they become more aware of what is important and valuable to them – and that is a great thing. Often that clarity can be directly translated into amazing yoga classes. Sometimes however, teachers can lose sight of what brings the majority of students to a class. That can leave students feeling disconnected from the teacher, then the studio, and then even yoga itself. A studio owner must then decide how to best guide their teachers.
In our case at Tadasana.Yoga, we’ve made a brand choice to try to bring our style of yoga to as many people as possible. That means we need to stay relevant to the newer practitioner first and foremost. And that means we will provide a classroom experience that has broad appeal in its music, athleticism, and dialogue. With music, our teachers are encouraged to work on their playlists to create a deliberate experience that connects with the intention of the class. In the physical flow, teachers must always know how to guide a student in proper alignment, but should not allow fear to paralyze their ability to create an athletic class. And finally, in their dialogue, our teachers are invited to speak about ideas and issues that they can be authentic about, as long as they run no risk of alienating any listener.
As a current or prospective Tadasana.Yoga student, I hope this approach resonates with you.
And in case you should wish to sample some of the recent playlists from Tadasana.Yoga classes, check out these Spotify lists from Kelley Sandahl, and me. Two high-energy Sculpt playlists, and two Power Flow lists. Enjoy! ~Melissa