Four popular DJs sound off on the creative process of syncing beats to asana and on their emerging roles in the yoga community.
Once a month in the mountain town of Aspen, Colorado, locals gather, mat alongside mat, for Full Moon Yoga at the Shakti Shala studio. The class is a monthly ritual, a celebration of the full moon and a way to come together and practice to music. DJ Bhakti Styler (whose given name is Tyler Lambuth) supplies the soundtrack, which varies from soft ambient sounds to electronic dance music (EDM) to pop rock like Stevie Nicks.
Unlike a typical party DJ who is there solely to entertain, Bhakti Styler—also a vinyasa teacher at the studio—aims to become a seamless part of the class. He sits cross-legged on the floor, makes sure his audio equipment won’t crowd students or interfere with their drishti (focal point), and carefully crafts his playlists so the songs sync with the pacing of the teacher, the energy of the students, and even the weather outside—he might play sentimental songs on rainy days, or reggae or reggaeton for an upbeat vibe on sunny days. And while Bhakti Styler has a rough playlist planned ahead of time, he also tries to respond on the fly to what’s happening in the room. “Lately, I’ve been working on the bass drops of certain songs with the timing of postures,” he says. “When students windmill their hands or go back to Chaturanga, I’ll drop the beat at the same time.”
Five years ago, having a live DJ like Bhakti Styler in your local studio was a rarity. You might have done yoga to DJ Drez’s recorded playlists or gone to a concert to hear MC Yogi, but for the most part, you probably practiced in silence. Today, there’s an entire roster of DJs on yoga-festival lineups, and up-and-comers like Bhakti Styler are booking regular gigs in studios and event spaces across the country.
While some yoga teachers dismiss the live-music trend as a mere distraction from yoga’s most powerful exercises, such as listening to your breath or observing your thoughts to bring calm and focus, others see it as a tool for going inward, for timing the breath to the beat, or for simply feeling joy during the practice. “There is a time and place for a quieter, more introspective practice, and you shouldn’t dismiss that,” says Stephanie Snyder, a San Francisco–based vinyasa teacher who travels across the United States and Europe and teaches some classes with a live DJ. “But there are many aspects you can choose to incorporate into a traditional class—dharma, chanting, Sanskrit. So, I don’t think having live music is a complete departure. I see it as a special event.”
Snyder points out that a seasoned DJ can complement the class in real time, backing out of one track and into another effortlessly so that both music and movement align. “The vibration of sound helps students dive into the challenging moments and move more freely in the joyful moments,” she says. “Students in the West can be wound up pretty tightly, and music helps them let go and drop some sweat and stress on the mat.”
And just like there’s a yoga style for everyone, DJ styles run the gamut from modern techno pop to deep house to ethereal ambient sprinkled with the occasional classic-rock tune. So, if you show up for class and you’re surprised by some musical accompaniment, see if you can let the music guide you into places you may not normally go.
“Music is so powerful because it changes your brainwaves and puts you into another state of consciousness,” says NYC-based DJ Tasha Blank, who has partnered with Snyder at events and collaborates regularly with longtime yoga teacher and book author Elena Brower. “My hope is that people really use it to go on a journey to return to a deeper place of connection with themselves.”
Here, Bhakti Styler, Tasha Blank, and two other rising stars in the yoga-DJ scene share their artistic process and inspiration, and what they hope to offer students on the mat.