Is Silence Always Golden Or Is There a Place For Music In Yoga Class?

I was sent a link to a blog submitted to the Toronto Body Mind website by an author listed as “Gary Empty Book Justice”.  The blog, titled Using Silence in Yoga Classes, http://torontobodymind.ca/blogs/gary-empty-book-justice/using-silence-yoga-classes, expressed Gary’s opinion that music is a distraction to the mindfulness practice of a yoga class.

While Gary makes some excellent points, and I agree that silence can be one means of finding a sense of presence during yoga class, I am also an avid proponent for the use of other tools – including music.  Mindfulness and presence are beautiful components of a practice.  However, as a yoga teacher, I also strive to create an environment, and a catalyst, for each student to find something new.  Sometimes they discover they have been holding a limited view of their capabilites.  Sometimes they uncover a new understanding of how they think and react.  Sometimes they tap into a personal power that had been buried and forgotten.  Sometimes they find a new stillness and balance.  Whatever it is that they discover, it will make a change and, for me, it doesn’t matter if that transformation is sparked from my words, energy, the sequencing of asanas, silence, or a resonance with the music.  I’m happy to use whatever entry is available to facilitate that growth.

As with any tool in the toolbox, the use of restraint can add value.  I always try to remember that the class is about the yoga, not the music.   Through my mistakes and my successes in using music as an enhancement to class, there are some lessons I’ve learned.  Following are a few that might be of interest:

  • The flow of the class, the intention, and the asanas all dictate the music that I play.  Rethink Yoga is a form of Power Vinyasa, which has a very distinct arc that ascends fairly early in the class, holds on a plateau until it peaks and then descends slowly.  The music compliments that arc, but doesn’t dictate it
  • By the same token, I am the only teacher in the class, the music doesn’t teach.
  • The music that I play is specific to the class I’m teaching.  I am personally a big fan of classical, heavy metal, rock and roll, and hip-hop music.  However, the tunes I choose to play in a class are not what I happen to be listening to on my iPod that day.
  • I don’t play music straight through class from beginning to end.  It’s on when it will add something and it’s off when it won’t.

I think to use music effectively you have to love music and be willing to spend a fair amount of time preparing class mixes.  To effectively hit the points above, it’s not possible to throw a CD into the stereo, hit play, and call it a day.  If that were the only option, I might agree with Gary’s position that no music is better.  Since that’s not the case, I think the lesson here is to learn how to use your tools well – as many, varied tools as you can.

What Are You Waiting For?

Here in the northeast we’ve had a long transition between spring and summer.  After a long, cold, snow filled winter, we’ve lately endured months of grey, wet, cloudy days.  I find myself waiting.  Waiting for the rain to end.  Waiting for summer to start.  Waiting to be able to garden, to be outside, to break out my summer shorts…..Waiting.  Once I’m deep within that mindset, the now moment no longer exists.  It’s like time spent on the tarmac after the plane has pushed off from the gate, but hasn’t been cleared to take flight.  It’s like the lame duck period between presidencies or senate sessions.  The old hasn’t moved out.  The new hasn’t moved in.  At these times, being in transition starts to manifest as being stuck in neutral.

In yogic philosophy transition does not mean neutral.  The concepts of being fully present, mindful, in the moment, has significance during the in-between times as well.  Luckily, there’s plenty of opportunity to practice as there is a lot of life that’s spent in-between.

Transitions can be uncomfortable, especially when we don’t know what’s coming next.  We can feel like we’re drifting and disoriented.  We just want to get it over with and move on to the next thing.  On the mat we learn to be present in the transitions between poses rather than rushing through to the next goal.  Bringing awareness and energy to the in between moments of our asana practice significantly increases the balancing and centering benefits of our time on the mat.  However, gaining those benefits requires that we not close our eyes and tune out.  That we don’t hesitate or rush through.  These practices serve us off the mat as well as they do on the mat.

We don’t always know where our path is leading us, especially when we are in between mile parkers.  The poet David Whyte wrote “If we think life is always improving, we’re going to miss half of it.”  There is opportunity to gain strength on the journey, rather than waiting until we find the man, get the money, or loose the five pounds.  However, to gain the knowledge and strength that is available to us, it becomes necessary to not just be all in, all the time, but also in-between.