Saturday, March 6, 2010

Yoga with Music or No Music

When I first started teaching yoga, one of the things that occupied my time and attention was the making of playlists for my classes. The music gave me a sense of time, and could change tempo and mood to help ease, loosen, encourage, soften, and relax. I worried about lyrics and whether the sanskrit would put people off, or if I could use the variety of genres that appeal to me. I had a few classes where the music making gizmo wasn't working, and even a few where the early questions and explanations simply expanded into the class itself without my ever turning the music on.

In my own practice I have used playlists to experience them before I use them in classes, or to provide my practice with exactly the same qualities that they do for a class: Indicating duration of practice, enhancing the level of energy and relaxation, and subtly signaling shifts in meanings.

Yet I thoroughly dissolve into silent practice. I have taken several kinds of classes that use no music, and I am beginning to sense that there is a greater depth of inner focus. The asana practice is a meditation on the breath. It is not simply an instructional pattern of physical postures for which we coordinate our breathing in order to get a greater physical result. The more deeply I investigate silent practice, the more my own practice is drawn in that direction.

When teaching those for whom a personal practice is not yet part of their experience, or for whom the taking of a class is for the purpose of introducing specific aspects of practice, I find the music adds valuable dimensions to the experience. There is another layer of communication taking place through the use of music and this can convey something nonverbal and deeper than the language I use. It also changes the very nature of the spaces in which we share practice, and in some of my classes this is really a magical and important aspect of the time we spend. In the homeless shelter, in all the clinical settings, and even in private spaces, the music in combination with a change in lighting helps students make an immediate and important inner shift towards that inner voice, towards releasing unnecessary effort, towards attention.

I guess this is something that I will keep investigating through my own experience and my students' experiences. I am grateful that my understanding of yoga is not some absolute set of rules, and leaves me deep in exploration of every aspect. It is a new place of self knowledge to find I do not have to have definitive positions on things, nor authority, nor routines in order to be effective and useful.

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