Music in Yoga Class?
Is music beneficial to the practice of yoga, or is
it simply a distraction? In Part 1, we discussed how the tantric traditions of Kashmir Shaivism and Rajanaka
view externalities such music, wine, or sexuality: Not as temptations to be
overcome, but aspects of the divine to be celebrated and integrated into
however, this tantric perspective is appropriated by the hedonic treadmill of
modern consumer society. Philip Urso touches on this in his blog, where he
laments the usage of yoga in music classes as a blanket condemnation of the
idea that “yoga is everything,” so you can “do everything you want and you will
awaken.” This reflects a common thread underlying American new-age yoga
culture; Americans like to do what they like, and what feels good. Thus, we get
Hangover, 420, chocolate, wine, sex, and nude yoga classes, among others.
reasoning is a slippery slope. Just because the impulse towards overindulgence
exists does not mean we should condemn the externalities themselves. If we
consider that the entire world is a refraction of constantly expanding divine
consciousness posited by Rajanaka, it’s our relationship to the world and its
offerings that’s most informative. Traditions such as Kripalu
yoga teach that yoga is fundamentally
relational; 99% of yoga happens “in the world” and not on your mat. Kripalu
yoga invites practitioners to undertake actions aligned with greater evolution,
rather than habitual over-indulgences that can detract from well-being.
Music is one externality
that extrapolates to life off the mat by enhancing the intermediate- or
advanced-students’ capacity to manage competing stimuli in awareness. Music
also sets the context for sacred space, facilitating deeper experience. Still,
there are good reasons to inquire into the usage of music in yoga class and
determine if it’s of service to either you as a practitioner, or your students
as an instructor.
Urso points out that many teachers use music to fill
space, as a substitute for teaching mindfully. Yet, for more intermediate or
advanced students, music in class can be an opportunity to more skillfully
engage with distractions. His concern that music turns yoga into another form
of entertainment is warranted. Yet, in commenting that entertainment eliminates
the chance of transformation, he delineates an artificial distinction. Music
can be a conduit for transformation.
The right music does not just entertain, but invokes a state of mind that can
be as sacred as silence. It does not have to be kirtan to do so. Like “thin places,” it can be music that brings you back to
yourself, inside yourself, into the sweetness or sorrow of the present moment.
Like yoga, music
can be powerfully evocative of the human spirit. Music is vibration, and as such embodies spanda,
a KS construct referring to “movement in something that is motionless,” “a
throb, a heaving of spiritual rapture in the nature of the divine.” Who among
us has not had a transcendent or spiritual experience when listening to music?
Consider Sutra 18
from the Roche’s Vijnana Bhairava Tantra:
Immerse yourself in the rapture of music,
You know what you love. Go there.
Tend to each note, each chord,
Rising up from silence and dissolving
Vibrating strings draw us
Into the spacious resonance of the heart.
The body becomes light as the sky,
And you, one with the Great Musician,
Who is even now singing us
What do you think about music in yoga class?