When I arrived to my first Silent Yoga Disco, it looked deceitfully innocent. Yogis sat patiently on Baker Beach, the Golden Gate Bridge glistening behind them. It looked like the average outdoor yoga class, but I knew better. I hesitated when Castel, founder of the Sound Off Experience, handed me headphones—I’d been to countless yoga classes, but I always knew more or less what to expect. A Silent Yoga Disco was far from my comfort zone.
Julie of Outdoor Yoga SF started the class by having us hug each other and went on to teach a powerful sequence. Julie told me that the Silent Yoga Disco was a powerful way to create a connection between you, the music, and the other people participating.
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“Your world can be instantly transformed when you put the headphones on. It helps you to create your ‘bubble’ and feel instantly connected,” Julie said.
After a few breaths, I knew what she meant. The music didn’t just surround me; it beat within me. Julie’s amplified voice was clear and comforting while the headphones silenced all distractions and allowed me to drop into my body and my practice.
Halfway through, Julie handed the mic to Setahrae who immediately directed us to dance around the beach. I was standing in a circle with a bunch of strangers, rocking my hips enthusiastically when I realized how odd this must look. Only we could hear the music, so to anyone on the beach we looked like a bunch of weirdos dancing in silence. I burst out laughing at the thought of it as the stranger next to me started jumping to the beat.
After we rested in savasana, we jumped up and kept dancing as the sun dipped below the horizon. When I returned my headphones, I was grinning ear-to-ear. And I wasn’t the only one. We mingled on the beach for a while, drinking tea and swapping experiences.
“I’ve always struggled with being present in yoga,” one practitioner told me, “but the headphones made it so much easier. It really eliminated distraction and made the whole thing my experience.”
That was Castel’s idea when he started the Sound Off Experience after attending a silent disco in Tel Aviv and realizing there were none in his home city. In the beginning he targeted outdoor music festivals and events where noise permits were hard to come by. Soon after he started partnering with yoga studios to offer something unique. Castel saw his headphones as a way to give people an immersive yoga practice where distractions disappeared and all that was left was the practitioner and the sound.
I expected the headphones to make it a more isolated practice but was pleased to find they created an interactive and communal feeling. Setahrae told me she loved teaching with the Sound Off headphones. “Getting everyone to dance together, hug each other, and break down barriers,” Setahrae reflected, “that’s what it’s all about!”
But was that what it’s all about? I thought about some of the more traditional yoga classes I’ve been to and how some of my teachers and mentors might scoff at this silly new yoga trend. Is the Silent Yoga Disco a deformation of yoga-proper? I wondered.
“In hosting this I knew I’d likely get some negative feedback about ‘westernizing yoga’ and turning the practice into party as possibly irreverent, or just being silly,” Julie said. “But I believe, like many great teachers I’ve learned from, that yoga is a vehicle to share the teachings of the yoga practice, from yamas and niyamas to guiding our students to be present, feel love, connect more deeply with ourselves and one another. And this type of yoga is greatly conducive to that—to feel the music, to be really connected to others, and to be outside in spacious and soothing environment. This appealed to a lot of folks, including people who are not regular yoga practitioners. And I think any opportunity to bring our friends into the yoga practice is a great one, as long as it is created with intention and integrity.”
When I arrived I felt nervous and uncomfortable. I thought a Silent Yoga Disco sounded silly. But by the end of class I was laughing and chatting effortlessly with a group of strangers. There was a bond of compassion, love, and joy between us. I had experienced a full hour of complete immersion where nothing existed but my body, the people around me, and the moment I was experiencing. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?