When curating music for yoga practice, the most important guideline of all can be summed up in one word: space. In a yoga class, students are focusing on their breath, alignment, being present, listening to instruction from the teacher, processing what’s going on around them and turning all of this into a single, unified experience. The accompanying music needs to support this experience, a task best achieved by creating a space in the realm of sound where all of these pieces can exist.
So much music is written for other purposes and therefore is naturally full spectrum, engaging the listener completely. Spacious music means rhythms, harmonies, melodies and lyrics (if any) that are simple, pure and easy to receive. This results in musical elements that transmit the intention of the song without going overboard. Think refined, think reduced down to the core essentials, think elixir or concentrate.
When selecting music, you also want to be aware of tempo and intensity. Tempo relates to the speed of the music, while intensity denotes how much is going on musically. Optimally, you’ll have a sense of the arc of a class and be able to stimulate and cue shifts in pace by picking songs that match where you want the class to go.
There is so much music out there that can be exciting, but always avoid overwhelming tracks that inhibit focus.
There are a lot of elements to consider here, which is why being guided by curators, DJs, taste makers and people who spend lots of time picking musical gems can be a helpful trick in your yoga teacher’s toolkits. When you get the combination right, the result is truly powerful. People naturally deepen in their focus when the music is well-matched to the energy and flow of their practice.
Of course, experimentation and creativity is key when it comes to curating. The best skill to develop with regards to experimenting with music is active listening. Listening to the music, the pace of your instruction, the breath of the class and how people are responding to changes in the music are all vital pieces of the puzzle.
In music we train professionally to be able to listen to multiple sources of information at the same time and process them as a unified whole or break them down into their constituent parts. The more you practice this, the easier it is to spot harmony or dissonance.
If you find yourself not listening actively, perhaps focusing on your thoughts instead, it’s likely your students will have the same experience. Guide them to behave as they would in any meditation practice: Compassionately bringing themselves back into the moment. Pause, breathe, relax and continue.
Alex King-Harris is the CEO and co-founder of YogiTunes. He is also a prominent artist known as Rara Avis and has contributed heavily to the sounds behind the bands Shamans Dream and Desert Dwellers. He is a visiting instructor at the California Institute for Integral Studies, Sound Healing Program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.