Choosing the Right Music for Your Yoga Practice or Class

As a new teacher or a home practitioner, setting the right mood for your yoga practice is crucial. As this story over at Yoganonymous argues–yoga teachers and practitioners are essentially Zen DJs. Music can make or break your class or your home practice so it pays to spend some time building something that feels right.

Funny enough the rule of music was one of the first things I learned when I stepped into the role of yoga teacher.

One of my first yoga teaching gigs was at a studio not far from my home in Austin. I was subbing for a regular teacher who had gone out sick. I’d done my research and attended her class before so I had an idea of her style and a pretty good idea of what her students expected. I spoke to the woman who hired me and asked her about what she thought students would want and she said that she wanted to see them move a bit more than they had been at other classes. As a result, I decided to put together a contemporary style soundtrack.

Contemporary often means different things to different people. It can mean very new-age sounding music that’s ambient and mellow. It can mean music that skews more electronica. It can even mean some rap and R&B. To me it means a mix of these things. Using contemporary music in yoga sequencing is a powerful and relatable way to make your sweaty sessions that much more enjoyable. Think about it–when you’re doing something that is physically demanding don’t you tend to work, just that much harder, when there are good tunes playing? I know I do.

With that in mind I built a warming sequence that moved–all around the theme of the heart and heart opening. Personally, I was totally thrilled to teach it and I was absolutely certain that everyone that came to class would leave feeling inspired and lifted up by my playlist.

Boy, was I wrong.

At the end of class, a couple of women came up to me to talk. Like anyone new to a studio or a gig, I wanted feedback. I asked my students to feel free to come up and let me know their thoughts. Both, separately mentioned that they didn’t like my music choice.

“Play something more yoga-like. We like that better,” they said.

In that moment, I was grateful for their feedback. As yoga teacher you are there to serve your students. Being a yoga teacher means that you guide others through the process of yoga, or yoking breath to movement. If your students are distracted by your vibe, your music, or the space you hold, then you haven’t done your job. I’ve been in classes where I’ve hated a playlist, or a sequence. I know what it feels like to climb into your car after  a class like that. I wanted to do better for these women.

The next time I went back to sub, I was ready. I’d spent a few hours building a more yoga-like, less lyrical, playlist. At the end of class, (and a surprising round of applause from my students!) the same two women came up to me.

“We absolutely loved your playlist! Thank you!” They reached out and hugged me with sweat dripping off their bodies and smiles playing across their lips.

I gave them what they needed at that moment and it felt amazing.

In that vein, I thought I’d put together a basic guide on how to choose music for your next yoga class–whether you’re practicing at home or standing in front of a packed room of sweaty yogis.

Follow these rules and you’ll be sure to return to the practice again and again.

1. Who  is Your Audience?

Knowing your audience is crucial no matter what you do. The best way to narrow that down is to ask the same questions that I do when I’m wearing my professional journalism hat:

Who is my audience? How old are they? What’s their background? Where are they coming from ( logistically speaking, financially, emotionally)? It’s crucial to choose music that speaks to your audience and knowing who they are is part of that equation. If you’re subbing attend the class you’ll be subbing for so you know who your students may be.  If you are trying something new in your own practice, listen through songs that feel good to you.

2. What Do They Want or Need?

Once you know who you’re working with whether it’s yourself or a room full of people, you know more about what kind or genre of music you need. There’s still more work to do, though.

Ask yourself what your students need. What do they want? What kind of class are you teaching? Flow? Power? Yin? Choose music that is appropriate for your class and the momentum of your flow.

Typically, I work from the outside in. If I am building a sequence with single peak pose I start with whatever song I think is great for that pose and build around it. If I’m working with a theme, I pick songs that are centered around that theme.

3. Where Are You Practicing or Teaching?

Part of the yoga experience is the space in which it is practiced. That space is also going to have an impact on the kind of music that works for what you are going to do. Is it outdoors? Indoors? Warm? Cool? Open? Muffled? This is where it pays to go and visit the places that you’ll be practicing. You can get a good idea of the vibe by visiting the space, closing your eyes, and letting it speak to your musical sensibility.

You can teach or practice yoga anywhere and music is one more element that you can use to create and hold space for your practice and your students.

4. When Are You Practicing or Teaching?

Are you planning to hit the mat early, at first light? At the end of the day? At mid-day? At midnight?

Time of day has a big impact on what kind of mood you’re in, what kind of mood your students are in and where you want to move them to. Music can uplift, motivate, mellow, and fundamentally change how you and your students practice.

If you are practicing or teaching in the morning you may want music that builds gradually over the practice. If you are practicing or doing a more power oriented practice at lunchtime you probably want music that is faster paced with bigger beats. If you are practicing at night, its best to choose music that soothes at the end of a long day.

Be conscious of this when you build a playlist and you’ll be sure to keep yourself and your students coming back to the mat on the regular.

5. Why are You Practicing or Teaching?

Do you have a peak pose in mind?Are you sequencing around a theme? Building to something intense? Heading for Savasana? Know what you want your students to take away from the experience. If you’re practicing for yourself, know why you’re coming to the mat. Do you need to decompress? Focus? Relax? Music can help you and your students get there. Just pick the right playlist.

Use the basics of storytelling to narrow your musical choices and you wont go wrong whether you’re working on your own practice at home or teaching a class.

If you want to check out my first playlist of contemporary music, you can find it here, on Spotify.

The playlist that earned me hugs that and was a lot more “yoga like,”  was this one.

Follow me on Spotify for more of my own music choices.


One Comment

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  1. This is a great piece – thanks for sharing! I agree music is so, so important.

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