Is music appropriate for yoga?

The Role of Music in Regulating Emotions and Achieving Yoga Goals - By Vishaka Vittal

Reading time: 3 minutes

Knowing that I am a professional musician and an experienced yoga instructor, one of my students asked me whether we could play music during our Yoga session that was scheduled on the 21st June, International Yoga Day. I said both yes and no. She was confused. I asked her to do a quick homework on the internet and let me know her thoughts. She came with mixed inputs. She said, finally she approached ChatGPT for a response to her question: “Is music appropriate or inappropriate for Yoga?” After its usual advice and disclaimers, its response ended saying, “Ultimately, it’s best to find out what works best for you personally”. She reached a point where she started. I felt it is appropriate to elaborate this response more from the learnings I had from my University Course and the classes at Sitalakshmi Gurukulam, Bangalore, India, under my guru, Dr. R. Rangan, Founder President of WEBOLIM.

Most of us have two purposes for doing Yoga. First, doing yoga for physical fitness. We view Yoga as an exercise to get a physical structure to our body. Playing music during yoga for physical fitness provides a rhythm during various exercises. Under this, we do two tasks at a time: music plus exercise. Second, doing Yoga for inner peace and long-lasting health benefits. The focus here is on experiencing the yoga asanas. We relish each step of Yoga through inhale and exhale, watching our breathe. This gives us peace as we are only focusing on one activity at a time. In this approach, it is advisable not to listen to music. I would recommend the latter approach.

Another dimension of the same question is relating to human emotions. We know that Yoga, Music and Emotions are inter-connected. High emotions, particularly when negative, has the potential to cause damage to self and others. Therefore, controlling of senses is important to develop control over self. Among the eight limbs of Yoga, i.e. “astangayoga”, “dharana (means concentration)” includes ‘indriya nigraha (means control of senses)’. Senses which impel emotions can be moderated through music, making it relevant for Yoga. However, the question remains unanswered: will all kinds of music moderate emotion?

Jazz may work well for exercise but not for emotion regulations. Research says that any classical music that soothes the ears and appeals to the mind would control our senses and regulate our emotions. For instance, Indian Classical Music has a large treasure of classical ragas and musical strings that have proven their efficacy repeatedly. There are few ragas such as Nilambari (induces sleep), Darbari kaanada (eases tension), Desh (invokes patriotism) and Hamsadhwani (makes the mind calm). Yoga Vashishta said, “manaf prashamana upayaha yogaha (means yoga is a skillful method of calming the mind”. Thus, yoga together with music has the potential to relieve stress. It provides peace to our mind.

Thus, I answered to my pupil that there are relationships among Yoga, Emotion and Music. Whether it is appropriate or inappropriate is not only based on what works best for us personally, but also more importantly, what is the goal we want to achieve through Yoga.