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In Praise of the Quiet Class


In 20 years of teaching yoga, I’ve never played music in my class. Not once. If you play music in your class — or you prefer to go to classes with music — I don’t blame you. In fact, there are plenty of good reasons to listen to music when you practice and teach. Playing music is emotive, it’s motivating, it’s enjoyable, and it creates an ambiance. Even more, music can help hold the space for your students and allow you to rest your voice more often. Still, I don’t play music in any of my classes, and, while I’ve changed my tune about countless other things in the past, I don’t anticipate a James Taylor accompanied Savasana any time soon.

I get asked all the time why I don’t play music in my class and my immediate answer is that I would never subject anyone to my record collection. Unless you already listen to Sick of It All and Avail in steady rotation, we’re not on the same page with our musical preferences. I respect that most of my students’ musical sensibilities are different than mine and I don’t want to make them suffer through my taste. Here are a few other reasons I prefer a quiet classroom.

BECAUSE IT’S QUIET

I live in San Francisco. Our street is not particularly busy, but our upstairs neighbors are loud enough to drive me to the brink of insanity each day. I use a laptop, an iphone, and a Kindle each day. I listen to the radio, I watch television, I interact with the world around me and I’m also overstimulated. The majority of my students are the in similar circumstances and the yoga room is one of the few environments where they can get peace and quiet. I cherish the silent moments of Tadasana, seated meditation, and Savasana. I revel in hearing everyone’s breath in Surya Namaskar and knowing that when I am quiet for a moment when the entire room settles.

BECAUSE IT’S A [email protected]#$%!! CLASSROOM

Alright, alright, alright, I know I sound uptight. So, let me own this one: Yes, I’m being uptight. That said, I still think that yoga is a subject matter. It’s a discipline. It’s not just a 90-minute thing that makes you feel better about existence for a little while. Yes, thank god, it does have this effect. But, to me, yoga classes are learning environments. We learn how to use our body with greater skill, care, and efficiency. We become more adept at focusing our attention. We learn about the philosophical and historical context of the yoga tradition. We learn to become a witness that observes ourselves more objectively and compassionately. We learn to unplug for 60, 75, or 90 minutes at a time. For me, a quiet yoga room provides the best opportunity to have these experiences.

IT’S OLD SCHOOL

Sometimes I feel like I’m a dinosaur because I don’t play music in class. But quiet classes are old school. Meditating on subtle sound — -nada yoga — is old, but that’s not the same as doing Sun Salutations to beats supplied by your studio’s in-house DJ. The saints, sages, and mystics after which many postures were named weren’t concerned with their playlist. Krishnamarcarya and his principle students who have had such a lasting impact on contemporary practice taught in quiet rooms. And, very few of the West’s first generation of master teachers play music in their classe. Maybe they’re just fuddy duddy and I’ll be standing in the unemployment line with them soon. Maybe they just didn’t have the interest or technology, or maybe they were on to something important. I don’t have all the answers, but if you’re a dinosaur — or, if you choose to become one because — you’ll have decent company.

I originally wrote and published this article for yogaglo’s blog. In case you missed the news flash, yogaglo is really awesome and you should practice and train with me on their streaming service. Please check them out!



37 Comments

  1. I respect the meditative quiet of yoga practice but, I also enjoy sounds of Nada yoga as reflected in the Bhajans of the Divine Names sung peacefully and accompanied by a guitar or harmonium. Music is healing. Jai Ma. Alan

  2. I find music to be a soothing antidote to the noise of traffic, machines, and the endless chatter in our own heads. I love the variety and creativity offered by yoga today. This variety is what has brought yoga to the masses. All is beneficial.

  3. I understand and respect your reasons for not playing music in your classroom. To be honest, I love it to when it is quiet, but still I always play music when I teach yoga. For me the most important reason is that for a lot of people, unfortunately me to, it is never quiet in their head. I do not mean the noice from outside or the thoughts in their mind, but the sounds because of Tinnitus. When I told my (new) students about this ‘problem’ I have, I was so amazed how many students share this problem with me. So for all of them and myself I always teach with soothing soft backgroundmusic.

  4. How wonderful to learn about a fellow teacher who shares my love of a music free space. I love the honest and humorous tone of your article. I will be sharing it with my teacher training students for sure!

  5. Thank you for spelling the reasons out for no music…one of my students asked me the other day why don’t you play music…I wanted to say all those things but it seemed too much too explain. I must be old school too but glad for the quiet atmosphere when practicing yoga as there is so much noise in our lives the rest of the time. Sometimes I wish I would stop talking while I was teaching so they could have even more quiet!

  6. I always practice personally without music. As a teacher, i feel pressure to have music and there is great “discussion” about what is appropriate music. I have kind of solved the issue by having a specific class that I teach that says in the description “NO MUSIC.” In my other classes, the music is played so quietly that it is essentially background. Sometimes, I can use the theme of a song to support the class theme. I also think that music needs to support the Yama of non-violence and a lot of the music I have been subjected to in classes that I have taken is definitely “violent” in lyrics, in theme, in rhythm! I am grateful to teach yoga and to NOT be a DJ! thank you, Jason for your leadership and example

  7. I would also add that yoga is about learning to listed to yourself – your body and your mind. While music might be soothing and/or distracting, isn’t that counter to the goal of svadhyaya? I have never taught with music and my students don’t mind one bit. They come to class, work hard, and finish feeling calmer and quieter – all without any music playing to distract them.

    1. I just noticed a typo in the comment I just submitted! I meant to say “learning to listen to yourself” in the first sentence.

  8. Let me add my name to the dinosaur list! My main reason is the general over-stimulation of us all these days, so I keep the room quiet to encourage all to listen more deeply within. Fortunately I live and teach in the beautiful nature of Costa Rica, where the sounds of the monkeys, parrots, geckos, etc., bring in a better soundscape then I could ever bring with my playlist.

    Thanks, Jason.

  9. Quiet is a highly underrated overall. I find it invigorating When the class breaths as one, as you mentioned.

    I’ve never played music when I practice at home (it didn’t even occur to me!). In class, I find 80% of the music is so benign as to be completely ignorable… so why bother playing it at all. I’m consistently surprised when someone approaches the instructor after class to complement the music and think “I didn’t even hear that.” Also, I loved your comment about it being a classroom. Thanks for bringing this up Jason!

  10. I sometimes play music. Quiet sounds like the sounds of Nature for ex. but sometimes I find myself so quickly and completely immersed in my teaching and my students that I actually forget!!!!
    At my Y12SR classes I do not play music for my meeting support part which is the first part of the program.
    At that point I let it go and we have the no music space.

  11. Omg – thank you! Seen too much focus on ‘the playlist’ of late and not the yoga. I want to learn. I want to teach. I want to be quiet.

  12. I don’t play music in my classes. My students have come to appreciate the silence of their own thoughts, their own breath. New students sometimes ask but when I explain my reasons, similar to yours they settle in and often their comments afterwards are very appreciative…You are not the only teacher out there with a no music class…

  13. Haha Jason great post. I don’t mind music in class but I find is especially distracting and counterproductive in savasana. I rather listen to SOIA in class to be honest rather than some of these emo covers of songs like Black Hole Sun and Seven Nation Army which I find so silly. Thank you for your perspective.

  14. Haha Jason great post. I don’t mind music in class but I find is especially distracting and counterproductive in savasana. I rather listen to SOIA in class to be honest rather than some of these emo covers of songs like Black Hole Sun and Seven Nation Army which I find so silly. Thank you for your perspective.

  15. Cool – My favorite classes are no music – but hey I love a great playlist as much as anyone… lately leaning toward no music so I can hear the rhythm of the breath. In the class I teach I opt for Ottmar L (a monk/yogi – who knew), or other guitar, piano, flute (Nakai R. Carlos) – Pandora paid channel so not to stiff the musician – I always turn off the music for Shavasana… So lately I’ve been questioning everything I do, especially as a teacher – glad you weighed in on this as your position is empowering (yea!). All the best.

  16. I wish I could find a yoga class that doesn’t play music! I find it distracting as a student. As a new teacher, I’m glad to know that others feel the same!

    LOVE the podcast!

  17. Also, for those of us teaching yoga to seniors, another reason for no music during the teaching phase of the class (i.e., before Savasana): some students may be hard of hearing! For those students, music is just plain interference !

  18. I too prefer quiet when I do yoga. However, this was not the case when I first started my practice. I used to do gym training and competitive sports and to me then the music worked as some kind of “distraction” from the effort and pain. I think people are so used to sounds 24/7 that being in a quiet room practicing yoga is difficult. Now after several years of regular practice I have learned to go deep into myself and the rhythm and soothing sounds of my breath is the only sound I listen to. I too have tinnitus but I find that the sound of the breath helps. I don’t even listen to music when I run or go to the gym anymore. Yoga has taught me to quiet my mind and I don’t react to my senses. Just observe. It’s a very nice and soothing feeling! If I use music when I teach it is very soft and mellow.

  19. I agree with every single word. I don’t use music in my yoga classroom either and yes, it makes me feel like a dinosaur. But the world is already so loud and bright and overstimulating. I’m committed to offering an oasis. Thank you for making me feel less alone.

  20. I totally agree.
    As a musician, music is also sacred and should be listened to with the same care and respect that we give to out practice.

    1. I agree! I have a colleague who cues her classes using music but for me that’s like trying to paint whilst dancing. Both yoga and music are forms of observation and, for me, I can only observe one thing truly at a time. And please, whoever’s out there, save me from the harmonium as played by an amateur. Maybe there is someone there who can make it sound good but I’ve yet to hear that. The harmonium makes me feel most inharmonious.

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