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Sound Advice

Avoid audio fiascoes with these tips from a yoga teacher/sound engineer.

By Baba Singh

One day, after encouraging his students into a well-deserved Savasana (Corpse Pose), a yogi who loved wireless clip-on microphones tiptoed out of his studio and down the hall to the bathroom—all without turning off his mic.

Fortunately, this yogi's wife made sense of the sounds blaring at the resting students through the studio's loudspeakers. Jumping from her mat to turn down the volume, she saved her husband a great deal of embarrassment—which could have been avoided completely had he only paid more attention to his audio equipment.

As a yoga teacher, I enjoy treating my students to music and audio that enhances their experience. As a sound engineer, I know this can only be done with some basic knowledge of audio equipment.

The Benefits of Audio

Sarla Nichols, proprietor of Midtown Yoga in Memphis, Tennessee, trained in the rigorous and silent Iyengar tradition. Since discovering Vinyasa, she embraces the practice of adding music to classes.

"I think the music becomes a reflection of the teacher," Nichols claims. She says the teachers handling Midtown Yoga's 50 weekly classes distinguish themselves by the music they play.

Karen Russell, Anusara teacher and owner of North Hollywood's Yoga Groove studio, also credits music with attracting students who wouldn't normally come to yoga classes. In one of her more popular classes, students may hear anything from the Cure to the Beatles to New Wave. "And it seems to work," she says. "People resonate with it."

What to Know

Following a few simple rules can help you use audio with grace and confidence in your yoga classes.

  • Show up early and prepared. Show up before class to get acquainted with a studio's audio equipment. "If music is really important to you, check it out before you go," says Nichols.
  • Bring extra equipment, just in case. If you're using an MP3 player, be sure to bring an extra 1/8-inch to stereo RCA cable, just in case the studio's cord is missing. Remember to bring your MP3 player charger, as well as an extension cord, in case your player runs out of battery life.
  • Ask students to turn off cell phones and personal email devices. Some students may simply place the devices on vibrate. But if the student's personal belongings are placed close enough to the sound system, the signal of an incoming call or email will create an unwelcome and jarring "galloping" noise that will disrupt the flow of your class.
  • Prepare MP3 playlists or burn mix CDs. This will prevent the potentially disruptive or distracting task of scrolling through songs or changing CDs during class.
  • Consider purchasing an MP3 player. Both Nichols and Russell agree that portable MP3 players facilitate class flow better than CDs, because they allow teachers to select songs without fumbling with noisy CD players during poses. MP3 players range between $80 and $200 and are well worth the investment.
  • Let it flow. Match the flow of music to the flow of your class—starting as early as when students begin to arrive at your studio. Be careful when mixing musical styles.
  • Avoid distraction during Savasana. If you plan to use audio during Savasana, opt for instrumental music or simple, repetitive mantras. And be sure to plan in advance. "If you're getting ready for Savasana and you're flailing and don't know what music to play," says Russell, "it can really interrupt the flow of a class."
Selective Audio

Used at its best, audio know-how simply complements your individual approach to teaching yoga. For new teachers, this means not letting music or microphones get between you and your students.

Nichols treats her students to all kinds of music, from meditative to alternative. However, she urges her teacher trainees to forego music in their classes altogether if it keeps them from being present for their students. She plays no music during Headstands, meditation, and other exercises that rely on a student's ability to go deep within.

"Silence is luminous," says Los Angeles yoga teacher and former monk Bindu Dan Dexter. He regards sound as a means to increase awareness and lead students to inner silence. "Sound is a delicate thing," he explains, "and a very powerful thing that, if used correctly, can have really powerful results—it might be one of the most powerful elements in terms of stimulating the meditative experience."

Baba Singh is a certified Kundalini yoga teacher in Los Angeles and works as a sound engineer at international yoga festivals.



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Reader Comments

Sylvia Uhl

I have been recently introduced to the world of music therapy. One University in my state of Colorado offers a B.S. Degree in music therapy. As a yoga teacher I use various types of music recognized by the artist that connect with the brain to produce a relaxing mood. I encourage others to enlist in the same experience; you might be surprised what you feel. It improves the meditative processes vital to yoga.

Rose Cimino

Love to hear other teachers using alternative music- my members love it....I do too... How about a monthly article that features a playlist of different songs suitable for use in yoga classes or for personal practice> You could have yoga teachers send this in each month and feature their bio maybe! I will be the first one if you like! I have a playlist of songs with Enya, Coldplay, Sarah McLachlin, Josh Groban, and it is wonderful.....

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