music in yoga class

Removing the external distraction to promote internal awareness. But does it always work?

I teach mostly restorative yoga classes and I love this style for its soothing, stress-reducing, and comforting benefits. When I first began teaching I never used music in my classes.  I wanted students to have a chance for their senses to rest in addition to their bodies and minds.  How often are you listening to something throughout the day? – children, spouse, the radio, nearby construction…  Restorative yoga class seemed to be the only place one could go to face true quiet, maybe even silence.

What I discovered over my first months of teaching, however, is that when you remove the external noise, what becomes more prominent is “person noise.” The sound of loud swallowing, a slightly congested nasal passageway creating a smooth whistle on the inhale, the soft scrape of the blanket across the bolster when you shift, rumbling of tummies as digestion kicks in; and then there’s the external noises you cannot control, such as motorcycles speeding down the adjacent highway.

A large component of restorative yoga is allowing the senses to dull to help achieve deep relaxation. As you get deeper into the pose, the sounds will still be there, but they won’t bother you as much.  For newcomers, external sounds are tough to drown out.  Over time students can learn to become indifferent to the sounds from the start, yet that first pose in any class, when you need to swallow or clear your throat, but it’s SO quiet, makes even a small sound seem like a thunderclap!

There are four primary environmental needs for a good restorative yoga class:

  1. Still  – stillness rather than moving through a flow allows the student to become hyper aware of the body
  2. Quiet – reducing external noise stimuli allows the student to become aware of the patterns of the mind
  3. Dark – darkness reduces vision stimuli and promotes rest, much like when we sleep at night
  4. Warm – warmth allows muscles to relax and provides soothing, enveloping comfort

Quiet – that’s the component at debate here. I once held class in utter quiet, and then I coughed.  At the end a student said to me “I jumped out of my skin when you coughed!”  I hadn’t detected even the tiniest movement in any of my students when I coughed, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how the student felt. She became distracted. Although I want her to be able to remain at peace and rest when faced with unexpected noises (and situations in daily life), I also want to her to have the best experience possible in class – the one place where the stimuli can be [somewhat] controlled.

I chose to start using music in my class and I haven’t turned back.

I play acoustic, instrumental, or gentle music now so that students need not worry about their own sounds. They can swallow without worry of the sound of their throat being an annoyance, let their tummies rumble and fully embrace the benefit of digestive action, and sniffle if needed.

Despite that yoga is about what is happening within us and not about what is happening with others, my goal is to provide the most relaxing experience possible for students. Music helps to achieve that.

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