Ahhh, the age-old western question of whether or not asanam (the physical aspect of yoga) should be done to music. I usually avoid this question, because I do feel that there is no “right way” to practice asanam, and yoga is a way of life as well, however, I do personally believe in practicing in silence, and teaching in silence, and thought I would share why. This is just a blog, isn’t it?
Now, I came into my real discovery and love of yoga at a studio that believed whole-heartedly in music during class. I’m talking postal service, death cab for cutie, reggae, bluegrass even, and I loved it! So what happened? I went to India, and practiced in a concrete room in dead silence for 30 days in a row. My world was rocked. I heard every breath, every movement, how loud my movements were, every word in my mind that would bully my body, and every positive thought, too.
I just had my first practice back in India yesterday, and it hit me again, this is what it’s [yoga] is about. In India, there is no option for music, asanam is a time to look inside our human vessel, our body, which displays our mind. As I go deeper into my postures I have to control the mind even more, and in this control I have to block out those voices that say, “You can’t do it,” and listen to the voices that say, “your body isn’t ready.” The times where I have injured myself in yoga were with music, and I could guess that it is because I was so into the song I forgot to listen to my body.
This begs the answer to a question some might ask; why does she post pictures of herself in crazy postures?
The answer is this: I do it as an example of what can be accomplished through the practice of yoga, as classical yoga, which means following practices like Ujjayi breathing (pranayama) during practice, clean eating, control of the mind (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana), and being present with where my body is now. When I first came to yoga, I could not sit in Virasana, let alone supta virasana. I have torn my ACL twice; my knees were not going into that posture anytime soon!
Yoga is in fact the joining or union (Yuj) of the body to the universal consciousness (or God), or, in a more practical sense, yoga is the practice of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind, and emotions. As B.K.S. Iyengar says, and one of the eight limbs of yoga, it is also a controlling of the mind (Dharana). Asanam is a time to practice the ability to control your emotions, not run away from them.
So my question is this; how are we supposed to practice looking inward and examining what is happening in our deepest physical and mental being when we are saying, “oh, I love this song!” How are we supposed to hear our breath in each moment of practice when postal service is on a speaker above our head? How are we supposed to really hear what is going on in our mind when Ben Harper is telling us we can save the world with our own two hands? [I had to; I used to play that song in my classes!] I know for me music is a cop-out. It is a way to avoid listening to what is really happening, whether it be pain in my leg that I am not respecting, or thoughts like, “wow, this teacher is really annoying me,” both extremely important things to hear yourself saying in practicing control of the mind. It’s my only option in advancing my asanam practice.
Now here is what I will also say, and close with. I came to yoga loving music during class for three years, and taught class for a year with music until studying in India. This doesn’t mean you are not practicing, and it’s not to say that it is wrong, either. I will however, say that if you wish to take your practice deeper, silence is a pretty sure way to do this. Maybe today you only enjoy physical practice with music, and that is where you are; so be where you are.