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The Soundtrack of Yoga

If music be the food of love (and yoga), then play on, by Victoria Jackson

What does yoga sound like? I would once have said it was the sound of silence. Perhaps sometimes a soft footfall or the whisper of breath in and out. This is usually how my home practice is. Gentle sighs on my more yin days, or the stronger susurration of ujjayi on the yang days. That might sound very pure, ascetic even, but actually it’s just because I have such limited powers of concentration that music can only seem a distraction.

Yet when I go to vinyasa class there’s always music. And I used to find this a real challenge. It was so different to what I was used to. Then one day after class I heard a conversation in the changing room about whether music was a good thing or not. One girl was definitely the purist type and said that she would have enjoyed the class more if it had been silent, that someone else’s music taste couldn’t match to her own, and that having a loud soundtrack was too distracting. And just too modern.

And I suddenly found myself speaking up strongly in favour of music. Sure, it might not be traditional, but is a modern twist so bad if it helps us to experience yoga? In our culture there’s so often a soundtrack, from elevator music to ringtones. Background noise is the way we live, so for many people silence is intimidating rather than supportive.

And often music can help cultivate a certain mood. It can bring a class together and create a shared experience. During standing sequences upbeat music lifts the energy of the room, helping people stay in a rhythm and measure their breath; in seated postures slower music creates a calmness and steadiness. The right music can enhance the experience of savasana, bringing a sense of completion to the practice, allowing mind and body to let go and sink into welcome stillness.

Yes, I really did come out with all this in the changing room. So it turns out – a surprise to me too – that I can practice with music after all, and that I like it. I don’t know if I convinced the girl getting dressed, but I certainly convinced myself. I realised that music can help, rather than hinder, my concentration – if only I let it. If I’m really enjoying a track, the music seems to flow through my body and lift me up (and any help I can get in upward bow pose is worth having!). And the tracks that I’m not so keen on? Well, there’s always my ujjayi breath to focus on again. With a healthy dose of good yogic non-judgement and acceptance of what is!

Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a vinyasa yoga teacher. Read more of Victoria’s OM Lite columns.

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