As yoga continues its rise in popularity, the use of music during class continues to be highly debated. Does music add or does it distract from the overall experience of an asana practice?
Over the years, many artists including Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, and DJ Drez have found a home for their unique sounds in yoga studios and many yogis feel that flowing to music elevates their practice while creating a sense of groundedness. On the other hand, some argue that if a student is focused on a beat instead of their breath, they are at risk for injury or are not truly absorbing the teaching. This decision may differ for every yogi , but it’s important for teachers to explore both options and choose what is right for themselves and their students.
Tasha Blank is a DJ, dancer and visual artist who performs at Wanderlust festivals, wellness retreats, and nightclubs from Brooklyn to Montreal. She has a unique perspective on the power of music in general, including using it in yoga class. Tasha first discovered the real power of music and movement at Burning Man in Black Rock City Nevada, where she learned that creativity in the body is accessible to anyone while music and dance can help enable that creativity and expansion.
This free feeling of dancing in the desert led Blank to check out Gabrielle Roth’s 5rhythms class, where she discovered she could get to the state of consciousness she found in the desert by putting her body in motion and surrendering to a wave of 5 specific rhythms.
“If you’re willing to surrender,” Blank said. “It totally works, and those classes became a playground/laboratory for exploring my own dance and the relationship between movement and consciousness, ultimately enabling me to find Freedom in a lot of different dance environments.”
Creating these unique ‘dance environments’ has become Blank’s specialty and she excels at making people move even when they may feel timid or self-conscious about doing so.
So what does Blank think about playing music during a yoga practice?
“The question is: what kind of vibration is most supportive to your practice? To me, practicing yoga means fully inhabiting the present moment. If you can’t do that with sounds around you, then, I don’t know, good luck being human.”
She also believes that living in the present is supported when we put our bodies in motion.
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“We direct our attention to what’s happening now. We can let our minds ride on the rhythm of our heart, the beat of the music, the pounding of our feet. We can hand over the reins to an intelligence larger than our minds could ever think up.”
Based on this philosophy, when there is a soundtrack to our practice, we may be better able to tap in and be truly present to movement of breath and body.
But Blank also feels there is a place for silence in the studio.
“Music-free practices allow us to tune into the music of the body – the pumping of blood, humming of cells, the ebb and flow of carbon and oxygen. But having both soundtracked and silent practices makes both more potent. It reminds me of that Rumi saying: In order to understand the dance, one must be still. And in order to truly understand stillness one must dance.” Perhaps then there is something to be said for creating a playlist that incorporates both sound and silence, allowing the practitioner to enjoy and experience both elements.
As far as genres go, Blank doesn’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to the style of music played in class.
“I really can’t speak for yoga as to what does or doesn’t belong in it. None of us can. That’d be putting a subjective limit on something that is bigger than any one of us. As far as I can tell, yoga is a tool for tapping into the here and now. So, which types tap you in and which don’t? I just try to play stuff that feels good in the ears and speaks to the body.”
One thing is clear, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the music in class debate. Just as many students gravitate toward one teacher or style, some will appreciate sound in class, others will not. Perhaps the real takeaway then is finding the balance between sound and silence and learning to appreciate both as a deeper way to dive in to the practice of yoga in a modern context.