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Drop the Technique. Just Dance.

Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana

I typically think of Jason as the contrarian in the family. He’s insightful and he excels at communication – especially when it goes against the grain. Last week, Jason wrote In Praise of the Quiet Class, a piece that talks about how, contrary to modern yoga norms, he’s never played music during yoga class in his 20 years as a teacher.

And as I read it, I found that my own inner contrarian was rising up to meet his contrarian. So, I wanted to add my voice to the topic. You see, I truly enjoy and value taking yoga classes with music from time to time. So much so that I interviewed Stephanie Snyder for the podcast this week to talk about how she does it so skillfully.

Stephanie talks thoughtfully about why she includes music in class: Chanting and playing music help facilitate rhythmic breathing. Music can be a great bridge for folks who aren’t ready yet for complete silence. And it can evoke emotion that can draw people into themselves and into a more inquisitive, receptive state.

You can hear her talk about all this more articulately than I on the podcast. But what drew me to stay up late on a Monday night writing this for all of you was the following little revelation that I can’t shake.

Drop the Technique and Just Dance
I studied ballet through my whole childhood. By the time I was 12, I was dancing seven days a week and spending all day Saturday and Sunday training and rehearsing. When you take a ballet class, you begin with the technique at the barre. You meticulously warm up your feet, ankles, legs. Eventually, you move to the center of the room and continue honing your technique – pirouettes, arabesques, more tendus. You drill and repeat, drill and repeat.

Then, at a certain point, you learn a piece of choreography and you DANCE. You let go of the inner critic that hounds you about your knock-knees or your pronated feet and you put all of the steps together and you express yourself through your body. It’s FUN and the music is beautiful and there’s a levity in the room that fuels everyone simultaneously.

Clearly, there’s a place for that single-pointed focus on technique just as there’s a place for letting go and dancing. The closest I’ve come to that feeling of letting go of my inner taskmaster during yoga is in classes with music. I love technique-oriented yoga classes. They hone my focus and affirm to my ego that says, ‘You’re trying really hard therefore you are doing something right in your life!’

I also love classes with a good playlist because they allow me to drop my technique and just be in my body moving, breathing, and doing the yoga poses that I’ve drilled and repeated for the past 20 years. During certain times in my life or even certain times of day (like after a long day of work and commuting), I want to drop the technique and just dance. I want to forget about my fussy wrists and my crappy backbends and I want to move and breathe and express – even if, especially if nobody’s watching.

Like Jason, I know there’s a place for both quiet and music-filled yoga classes. And if you only practice to music, I implore you to consider adding a few minutes of pranayama or meditation in silence to the beginning or end of your day or your practice session.

But if you’ve never tried a yoga class to music? Or if you had a bad experience 10 years ago? It might be worth trying again. You might just unlock some moving, breathing, emotive part of you that’s not of the mind, but of the moment.

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Episode 32: Stephanie Snyder — How Chanting & Playlists Create Connection

I know, I KNOW, my husband wrote an extremely popular blog post recently on why he has never played music in his nearly 20 years of teaching yoga. And yes, it’s been one of our most popular posts to date with more than 3,000 shares.

So, I guess this makes me the family contrarian: I like going to classes with music. And not all classes with music are loud or distracting or counterproductive to introspection. On this episode I decided to talk to Stephanie Snyder, someone I think of as the queen of the playlist. She offers her intention behind including music in class, her thoughts on the tradition of sound in yoga, plus she was kind enough to share some of the mistakes she’s made over the years.

BONUS: One of Steph’s favorite bands, Young Moon, create the soundtrack for this episode.


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RECOMMENDED & RELATED LINKS
Lovestory Yoga
Kevin Paris Music

MUSIC
Young MoonLove is a Light, Fell on My Face

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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!

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