When It's Time to Turn Off the Music

Sometimes music can give you the energy boost you need in your practice or your sport. But learning to tune in to silence is equally important.
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Holiday music is inescapable this time of year. It’s piped into every store, it’s playing on the radio, and it has been for months. You may have learned to tune it out completely, whether intentionally or unintentionally. (Notice it the next time you hear it—it’s a tool for mindful awareness of the moment!)

Dozens of studies have shown on music and exercise that music reduces your perception of effort and increases your ability to push yourself. This applies both to your sports training and to your asana practice. Music can be a vehicle for transformation, as it shifts your mood and your experience of your body. In class and in home practice, music can create a sonic barrier between the space on your mat and the distractions outside. And music can help you center, calm down, wake up, and relax completely.

But there’s a music in having no music, too. If you’re used to training and practicing with music, try including a session or more per week without the soundtrack for the rest of the month. Instead, pay attention to the noises present in each moment: birds singing overhead, leaves crunching underfoot, the sucking sound of your hands lifting off your mat, and, above all, the sound of your breath.

You may find music in these very sounds. A recent study at the Max Planck Institute in Germany (explained for the layperson in the New York Times) showed that “musical agency”—the ability to coordinate movement and user-generated sounds—didn’t divert participants’ attention, but rather focused their attention on what their bodies are doing. Practicing asana and meditation, as well as training without music, allows you to tune in to the sounds in your body and immediate surroundings. This tuning in fosters greater union of your awareness in exactly what’s happening in the moment.

Spending time tuning in not to any particular station but instead to your breath and body will give you skills for staying present when things get tough on the mat, on the court, or in your daily life.