Yoga and Music

Nov 30th, 2017

If music be the food of love, play on … unless it is really irritating and vexatious to the spirit!

Once upon a time a yogi headed off to Los Angeles for a brief trip from Hong Kong. Suffering from Yoga withdrawal symptoms after a long fiight, HK yogi decided to find a studio in the vicinity for a bit of asana practice. After a quick scan of the internet he spotted a well known studio within walking distance which apparently was a Yoga mecca for the LA celebrity set (maybe that should have been a warning sign)!

The room was pretty packed on his arrival but he managed to squeeze his mat into a small gap and started to limber up for the 90 mins ahead. A friendly lady on the mat next to him, clad in Lululemon from head to toe, enquired whether this was his first time to the studio and, on receiving an affirmative answer, assured him that “you are just gonna love it, this class really rocks!” (that maybe should have been his second warning sign)!

Shortly thereafter, a buff and well tanned teacher entered the room and headed straight for the impressive looking sound system. Boom!!! Poor HK yogi was nearly blown off his manduka mat by the tsunami of sound that hit him, and as he was checking for perforated eardrums, the class began. The vinyasa flow sun salutations got underway under the careful instruction of the teacher, but sadly the careful instruction was completely inaudible above the sound of Britney Spears singing: “if I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me”. Fifteen more minutes into the class and HK yogi had a moment of Samadhi, in which he realised that the road to enlightenment would be more easily attained if he had brought along the airplane ear plugs.

By now the class was pulsating to the sounds of rap artist J Cole singing “Workout”. Apparently in a state of complete rapture, Miss Lululemon still gyrating and hip grinding in downward dog began to burst into song, before leaning over to hapless HK yogi to say: ”……………” “What?!” he replied as he couldn’t hear her either. “Don’t be shy, sing along too” she screamed. This was indeed rather disconcerting, firstly because this was not the typical kirtan that HK yogi was used to, and secondly because he had no idea of the lyrics other than the oft repeated chorus of: “when we together, oh oh oh, come here girl, let’s get it on!”

Eventually the torture ended and HK yogi was able to crawl to the door, ears still ringing. As he was rolling up his mat and re-checking for any signs of blood escaping from his inner ear, he could just make out the dulcet tones of Miss Lululemon calling over to him: “Man, that was awesome … see you next week”. He was tempted to respond “you’ll be lucky to see me next lifetime in that class!” … but that wouldn’t have been very yogic!

Now some readers might be thinking that HK “yogi” was a bit of a HK “old fogey”, but rest assured he can be as hip and down as the next dude! I guess the point of the above story is to question when and how music can be incorporated into our Yoga practice to enhance the experience. Clearly this is going to be a subjective topic, as Miss Lululemon didn’t seem in the slightest perturbed or frustrated by the fifty thousand decibels ringing out …

Regarding my own practice, I find songs with lyrics a little bit distracting when I’m trying to focus on my breathing or concentrate on my inner spiral of the legs.

Lyrics tend to move my focus externally rather than assist me in my inward journey. So instrumental music whether of a classical, Indian or pop genre are my preferred options. But no matter what music a teacher chooses to set the mood and adjust the energy level of the class, I do think that it is prudent to ensure that the volume of the music does not exceed the volume of his or her vocal chords! Unless you are teaching a class who are well versed in lip reading, then some audible instructions are usually beneficial and advisable!

Whether one is practising asanas, pranayama or deep meditation, music can be wonderfully life affirming and beneficial. As Aldous Huxley once said; “After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music”, and I have been blessed to attend Yoga classes with beautiful live singing and guitar playing. But when it becomes the dominating factor, then maybe we are at risk of turning Yoga into aerobics … and that would be a great shame.

PS Ok folks, I confess … “HK yogi” was me.

About the Author
Andy has been based in the Far East on and off for over 20 years. An ex-investment banker and now headhunter by profession, he began to practise Yoga more diligently post his return to Hong Kong in early 2008 enjoying the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits that Yoga offers. When not practising yoga, Andy also enjoys learning about different worldviews to better appreciate the perspectives of others. Born Jewish, Andy would now consider himself a Jewish Tantric Christian with Buddhist tendencies … if he had to be labeled at all!

Asana Journal

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