Tuning In: DJ Drez and Janet Stone on Music and Yoga

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Music in yoga class: it’s a discussion that in some spheres of the yoga world can become just as heated as a fierce political debate. In a Speakeasy lecture at Wanderlust Whistler, legendary yoga DJ Drez, and master teacher Janet Stone, were bold enough to take on the topic.

As Janet explained in the talk, music rose from devotion, and so too can it live in devotion. But, Drez noted that the classical teachings of yoga were not meant to oversaturate the senses in the way a sweaty, sensual hip-hop class seems to do. As yoga evolves, though, Drez and other artists like MC Yogi have shown that contemporary music can be used to illuminate the practice.

For teachers who choose to play music and students who choose to practice to it, Drez and Janet offered a handful of suggestions to make sure the use of music is both integral in itself, and integrated into the practice. Here’s what they had to say.

1) Be mindful of what kind of music you play.

Drez emphasized that music in yoga class should be “intention-full,” with priority on matching the tunes to the tone of the class.

As for the debate of spinning contemporary beats, Drez admitted that when he first started DJing for yoga classes, he swore that he would never play a song with English lyrics. But, as his practice evolved, he learned it was possible to use modern music to complement traditional tunes.

For teachers who are looking for a similar effect without the task of mixing mash-ups, Drez suggested playing instrumental versions of recognizable songs to musically engage yoga students without resulting in sensory overload.

For example, a popular song like Lorde’s “Royals” is fun to flow to, but can carry loaded mental associations that can distract, and ultimately detract, from students’ practice. However, a version without vocals, which can easily be found online or in iTunes, is just enough to tune students into the rhythm without tuning them out of their practice.

2) Make friends with the fade.

Any yogi who has practiced to music knows that a good beat can be a powerful current for a transformative flow. Accordingly, it can be mentally and physically jarring when that beat comes to an abrupt end. As a solution, Drez and Janet recommended teachers learn how to fade in and out their volume levels for smooth and natural transitions.

3) Appreciate silence.

Music can add mojo to a class, but not just through sound. As Janet explained, there is sanctity in the second before and after a mantra ends, and so too with a song. Those few seconds of silence open up to ether, or space, for the mind and body to integrate and savor all it has received.

4) Don’t let music become a crutch.

Drez and Janet admitted that music can easily become a crutch, both for teachers and their students. In order to combat this, the duo recommended that teachers keep the music off every now and then.

After all, Drez explained, teachers shouldn’t strive to create an amped-up festival vibe in all of their classes. While there is certainly a place for all-out, ecstatic flows, there is equal benefit in a quiet restorative practice or silent meditation.

5) Be a teacher first.

The pair noted that it is far more important to be authentic to teaching than it is to be authentic to music. Whether or not a teacher plays a song with vocals is second to whether or not a teacher engages his or her students.

If a teacher takes thirty minutes to create a playlist before class, he or she should at least three seconds to connect with each and every one of their students during class. Ultimately, Drez and Janet agreed, the tune a teacher plays is far less important than being attuned to the students themselves, and to their practice.

katie doyleA digital media assistant for Wanderlust, Katie Doyle joined the team while traveling southeast Asia. A month after graduating from college, she took her journalism degree on a tour around Indonesia, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. A writer at heart, she lives for the moments when a good story pops in her head – especially when it happens during savasana. In addition to practicing yoga, she is a ski instructor who loves sunshine just as much as she loves snow.

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