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Early ballots for the 2016 Grammy Awards included nearly two dozen albums inspired by bhakti yoga. We listened to them all to choose our favorite yoga music for the year. Practice to the playlist.
Need some new tunes for your practice playlist? Listening to music can boost your chances of sticking to an exercise program by 70 percent, so why not try some bona fide yoga music while you’re at it? Nearly two dozen albums inspired by bhakti yoga (the path of devotion) made it on to the 58th Grammys First Ballot list last October.
Unless you’re in the music industry, you probably don’t know exactly what that means. Here’s how the voting process works: albums that meet the eligibility requirements are included on the first ballot, which goes out to the Recording Academy’s 13,000 voting members in October. By early November, members vote for one album per category that they believe should be nominated for a Grammy. During a second round of voting, which ends in mid-January, members choose one nominee per category that they believe deserves a Grammy Award.
The kirtan-centric Bhakti Without Borders, by Madi Das, nabbed a nomination for Best New Age album, marking only the third time a kirtan album has received that honor. Will it win the Grammy? We hope so! But either way we have a great new practice playlist for you. We listened to ALL of the yoga-inspired selections on the ballot to come up with this list of our top picks in yoga music for the year. These albums interweave the melodies and mantras of India with some yoga-inspired lyrics and a melting pot of musical genres guaranteed to inspire you. All of the artists practice yoga, and many of them teach it, too. Learn more about our favorites, then practice to the playlist!
Bhakti Without Borders by Madi Das, Kulimela
For Fans of: Jack Johnson, Dave Stringer, Ragani
Bhakti Without Borders, the Grammy-nominated album by former Hollywood entertainment exec Madi Das, features gorgeous melodies from the East Indian bhakti tradition and arrangements that are colored with Celtic, folk, bluegrass, and country strokes. All vocalists are second-generation Krishna devotees who grew up singing these bhajans (devotional songs in Sanskrit and Bengali) in the temples of India and around the world. Each song is a masculine-meets-feminine duet between the Jack Johnson-esque Madi Das and a female whose steely vocals bend your ear with love and longing. All profits from Bhakti Without Borders benefit the Sandipani Muni School for underprivileged girls in Vrindavan, India, so this album comes with good karma, too.
Fun Fact:Bhakti Without Borders was produced by renowned kirtan artist Dave Stringer.
Favorite Song: “Shri Radhe”
Songs for the Sangha by Deva Premal & Miten with Manose, White Swan Records
For Fans Of: Enya, Peter Gabriel, Ben Leinbach
Deva Premal & Miten’s latest album is imbued with jazz notes, swampy reggae grooves, and spacious melodies that just might make you want to sing (or dance!) along. The devotional duo joined forces with Grammy-nominated producer and multi-instrumentalist Joby Baker (Cowboy Junkies, Toni Childs), bansuri maestro Manose, and jazz keyboardist Spencer Cozens teamed up to create Songs for the Sangha, a recording that blends Deva Premal’s soothing, surround-sound mantras with Miten’s soulful English lyrics and epic, genre-bending soundscapes. And it paid off. Songs for the Sangha debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes world music charts in the US, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, and Denmark.
Fun Fact: Deva Premal & Miten’s fans include Cher, Eckhart Tolle, and Tony Robbins. Cher sang Deva Premal’s famous rendition of the “Gayatri Mantra” during her Farewell Concert tour in 2003.
Favorite Song: “Strong My Roots / Ganapati”
From The Ancient Storm by Simrit, Simrit Kaur Music
For Fans of: Mazzy Star, Tori Amos, Snatam Kaur
If Mazzy Star fell in love with Kundalini Yoga and started making mantra music, well, the alt rock band might sound like Simrit. When the self-described “soul rebel” released her fourth album, From The Ancient Storm, last June, it spent two weeks at #1 on the iTunes World Music charts and hit #3 on Billboard. Simrit’s seven haunting, hypnotic songs contemplate weighty topics such as life and death, devotion, and the true self. Three mantras, a poem by the late Yogi Bhajan, and three stunning English songs are buoyed by a slew of electronics and stringed instruments (think: mando, cello, pedal steel guitar, slide guitar.) And, of course, Simrit’s alt rock-star vocals.
Fun fact: Simrit’s supporters include pop superstar and Gogo frontwoman Belinda Carlisle, Beyonce’s lead guitarist Bibi McGill, and Sikh sensation Snatam Kaur.
Favorite Song: “Pure”
The Great Mystery by Desert Dwellers, Black Swan Sounds
For Fans Of: Shpongle, Midival Punditz, Kalya Scintilla
Ohhhhh, this album is epic. The Great Mystery sounds like Schpongle, Dead Can Dance, and A.R. Rahman got high and dove into a psychedelic pool of tribal techno, trance, and ambient music. Then they stirred in some Indian melodies and yoga-friendly lyrics (spoken by, um, robots?) and started spinning. The world-renowned downtempo duo Desert Dwellers, who created this all-original album, describe it as “sonic incense for the mind and body.” Crank The Great Mystery on the dance floor or move to the groove on your mat. You won’t regret it.
Fun Fact: Shiva Rea would love these guys. And hey, maybe she already does! Can’t you see her rocking out in the desert to their music now?
Favorite Song: “Bird Over Sand Dunes”
Bridge to Vallabha by Tina Malia, Amida Records
For Fans Of: Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell, Loreena McKennitt
“Playful, acoustic, heart-opening music.” That’s how CD Baby describes West Coast songstress Tina Malia’s latest album, Bridge to Vallabha. Her airy, angelic vocals (think: Celtic goddess) float above sweet melodies imbued with folk, dream pop, and sacred chants from the Jewish, Hindu, and Sikh traditions. These are songs of great beauty, including a few standards you’d hear in a Kundalini Yoga class. Bridge to Vallabha is sure to induce sweet surrender on your mat.
Fun Fact: Tina Malia has recorded and/or performed with India.Arie, Bonnie Raitt, Bassnectar, and Kenny Loggins.
Favorite Song: “Om Sarve”
Sufi Kirtan by HuDost, White Swan Records
For Fans Of: Lorenna McKennitt, Niyaz, and Lhasa De Sela
The neo-folk world rock duo HuDost made big waves in the yoga music world last year with Sufi Kirtan, attracting media attention on three continents. Chronogram Magazine once described HuDost’s music as “cross-cultural hybrid transcendental chillout music with an edge,” and that’s about right. In an era of religious intolerance, the longtime yoga and Sufi practitioners have created an interfaith chant album featuring mantras for oneness, friendship, and forgiveness. The album gives homage to over seven spiritual traditions and a melting pot of musical genres, including Arabic, Indian classical, Turkish, and Pakistani music. Sufi Kirtan is a melodious journey into a world where all peoples, and all religions, are one.
Fun Fact: HuDost has opened for Ani DiFranco and Philip Glass, collaborated with Jon Anderson of YES and Steve Kilbey of The Church. The duo’s fans include Alex and Allyson Grey, Coleman Barks, and Steve Kilbey.
Favorite Song: “La Ilaha Il Allah”
See also My 5 Favorite Kirtan Chants
Dreaming In Sanskrit by Marti Nikko and DJ Drez, Black Swan Sounds
For Fans Of: MC Yogi, Cheb i Sabbah, EarthRise SoundSystem
If you like funky mantra music, this album is your dream. In Sanskrit. Hollywood hip-hop producer and master mixmaster DJ Drez joined forces with his soul diva wife, Marti Nikko, to record fresh renditions of mantras from the Buddhist, Hindu, and yoga traditions. On Dreaming in Sanskrit, Balkan beats, dub roots, and found sounds boogie with Indian ragas and Drez’s turntablist effects. Nikko’s seductive, bluesy voice pulls you in to a cool but devotional world where peace and prayer reign supreme.
Fun Fact: One of the leading DJs of LA’s underground music scene, DJ Drez spins at Yoga Journal LIVE! and conscious music festivals around the world.
Favorite Song: “Hanumanji”
Dayaal by Sirgun Kaur, Spirit Voyage Records
For Fans Of: Carole King, Snatam Kaur, Mirabai Ceiba
If you like Kundalini Yoga, put this album on your playlist. Chant artist and Kundalini Yoga teacher Sirgun Kaur lends her pure, crystalline voice to six Sikh devotional songs and one English tune. The songs on Dayaal are buoyed by mellow, mostly acoustic soundscapes arranged by producer Thomas Barquee (Seal, Snatam Kaur). His orchestral instrumentation makes this music more divine.
Fun Fact: As an up-and-coming artist, Sirgun Kaur has shared the stage with kirtan artists such as C.C. White, Simrit, and Joey Lugassy.
Favorite Song: “Satigur Hoi Dayaal”
My Heart Bows Down To You by Brenda McMorrow, White Swan Records
For Fans Of: Donna De Lory, Snatam Kaur, Felicia Rose
Canadian kirtan artist Brenda McMorrow has a knack for expressing the deepest realizations in the sparsest lyrics—and making every chant sound like a sultry love song. Her latest release, My Heart Bows Down To You, marries world beats, folksy minor-key melodies, and Sanskrit mantras with conscious lyrics that showcase McMorrow’s evolving understanding of bhakti yoga. It’s great for a heart-opening practice or a thoughtful road trip.
Fun Fact: Brenda McMorrow has performed with Grammy-winning cellist David Darling and yoga music superstars Jai Uttal, Wah!, and Dave Stringer.
Favorite Song: “Way Down Low/Om Namo Bhagavate”
Call Within by Manose, Garuda Records
For Fans Of: Deva Premal & Miten, Zakir Hussain, R. Carlos Nakai
Call Within = great Savasana music. Deva Premal & Miten’s longtime collaborator, Nepalese flutist Manose, set these 10 nature meditations to music during his 15 years of around-the-world travel as a touring musician. Birdsong, babbling brooks, and crickets flirt with the bansuri, ukulele, singing bowls, and hang drum, creating an acoustic masterpiece and a great soundtrack for an outdoor yoga practice.
Fun Fact: Manose’s fans include The Doors’ John Densmore and mantra music superstars Deva Premal & Miten.
Favorite Song: “Land of the Medicine Buddha ”
See also Sync Yoga with Music
Roll out your mat and practice to our top yoga music picks of the year