Maybe you’ve been there: Moving and breathing through a yoga class when suddenly a song comes on that touches you—perhaps you feel inspired, find yourself enjoying a much-needed chuckle, or remembering a poignant moment. It makes perfect sense; sound is a powerful healing too. And yes, sometimes, a teacher’s overall musical selection just feels really…good. Moments like this can help you find more depth, motivation, and connection within your practice.
Some instructors have a knack for creating yoga music playlists that resonate with their students. You can develop this skill, too, either for your own personal sessions, or for classes or private lessons you offer others. Try looking at it as a practice, much like yoga and meditation. And use any or all of these tips to get you started:
1. Think of the Playlist as Its Own Character
“Quentin Tarantino once said that a soundtrack to a movie is as important as any of the actors and is its own character. That’s how I think about my playlists,” says New York City-based yoga teacher Kiley Holliday. “I strive to offer a musical selection that’s a little out of the ordinary while matching the energetic tempo of the accompanying sequence. A yoga music playlist should never sound like you turned the radio on and walked away. It should be thoughtful and captivating without distracting from the yoga itself. ”
2. Know Your Audience, Class Time, and Format
An inspiring Power Yoga playlist would be jarring in a slower-paced practice. Tunes that uplift in the morning could prove too energizing (even agitating!) for a night session.
A consideration for teachers: what is the age range of your students? Try to offer tunes from different eras that various students might appreciate.
3. The Arc Is Everything
Consider the type of poses and practice that you are offering, and choose music to enhance your sequence at different points in class.
“Try creating a playlist from a ‘bell curve’ perspective,” says Heather Ardis, a Boulder, Colorado-based yoga teacher. Do this “the same way you might create an intelligent sequence: integration, peak and surrender.”
For a vinyasa flow session, you can try the following formula:
- Start out with gentle, mellow, relaxing yoga music to help people settle into the class and start easing into movement and conscious breath.
- Build up into more dynamic, uplifting tunes as you are moving through Sun Salutations or other more rigorous warm-up moves.
- Drop into more earthy, grounding songs (instrumental, percussion focused songs often work well) as you focus on standing pose sequences.
- Consider playing moderately energizing tunes for back bends and/or inversions.
- Slow things back down for hip openers, forward folds, and supine closing poses.
- Offer super gentle, soothing sounds for Savasana. Consider traditional chants or music that embodies yogic philosophy or Sanskrit. Or silence, which can be beautiful in its own way.
For Restorative or Yin classes, relaxing yoga music rules. Consider healing Solfeggio tracks, or other ambient music (spa music is a great place to search for relaxing tunes. Classical music seems like it would work here, but be careful; it’s often quite dynamic!)
4. Work With a Theme to Set a Tone
A specific focus can offer you clarity and guidance as you curate a song list. Some tunes sound particularly fabulous in the summer. Holiday-themed playlists can be tons of fun. Or perhaps there’s an overall vibe or state of mind you’re looking to bolster in yourself and/or others, for example, slow and a bit sexy, jaunty and bright, or reflective and mellow. Find a theme, and align your song picks accordingly. If you’re working with a peak pose, you could find a track or two that feel emblematic of that asana to you, and work the rest of your soundtrack around the peak pose and peak pose tunes accordingly.
5. Or Nix the Thematics
Sometimes a more general yoga practice with no particular peak pose class feels great. The same goes for playlists. A good grab bag that hits a few different notes can be just as compelling as a meticulously curated mood music.
6. Quiz the (Yoga) Pros
Now that you have a sense of the bigger picture, let’s talk more about the nitty gritty of song selection. Start by following your favorite teachers online (you can often follow them on services like Spotify). Use their posted playlists for inspiration on song order, artists, style of music, etc. If you do rock all or a large chunk of another teacher’s song selection, it’s nice to give a shout out to them. You could simply say something like, “I’m using my friend Tamika’s playlist today that I found on Spotify.”
If you know a teacher whose taste in yoga music you particularly adore, ask them if they have any pointers for creating your own playlists, or who some of their favorite artists are.
7. Save Time as You Search for Inspiration
“When I’m pressed for time, I’ll use yoga playlists I find on Apple Music by searching things like ‘chill,’ or ‘yoga playlists,’” says Cassandra Cunningham, a New York City-based yoga teacher.
Such pre-curated lists can prove perfect in a pinch and can provide a great jumping off point to help you in designing your own song selections when you have a bit more time.
8. Jam to a Genre Station
Sometimes letting a yoga-centric station play while you go about your day can be a fabulous way to note down songs, artists, and even song order that you can use. For example, Pandora and Spotify feature some cool yoga music stations.
9. There’s an App for That
Song identification apps ensure you can identify songs on the fly. Work with downloadable apps like Shazam or Soundhound or other options to never “lose” that cool track you heard in the coffee shop again.
10. Try the Grab Bag Approach
It happens. You found this sweet song but it really doesn’t flow well in a particular playlist. Or you know you’d like to use a specific tune in the future, but aren’t sure when or how. Create a playlist to house those gems. I have one of these on my own Spotify account. I call it “For Next Time,” it’s at 81 tracks and counting, and I dip into it often when creating new soundtracks.
11. Embrace Your Inner Music Nerd
Look up artists whose taste in tunes you admire and consider using their music recommendations. Love David Byrne, QuestLove, Florence and the Machine, or Cardi B? See what tunes they’re into that might fit your class vibe and go from there. Some artists offer their own playlists and/or DJ sets online, which is a fun way to discover what songs rock their worlds.
Dig for lesser known songs aka deep cuts from well known artists. Their super fans who attend your class will adore you for it. Finally, find out who inspired your favorite artists, because there are more fabulous tunes down that road as well.
12. Consider the Classics
Incorporating music from past generations can be a fabulous way to connect with a variety of people. Bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin have some cool instrumental tracks. One of my favorite artists that multiple generations seems to enjoy is Nina Simone. People who know her work from back in the day appreciate the throwback. Younger students often approach me after class and want to know “who was that singing that one song?”
13. Ponder the Power of the Throwback
There’s nothing quite like flowing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” during a Halloween-themed class or Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” around Valentine’s Day. Even a random throwback tune tossed into an otherwise modern playlist can mix things up-in a good way.
14. Mind Those Lyrics
Some people are super attuned to the words of a song. Others are more tuned into the beats or melody of a song. Either way, tread carefully with profanity and/or lyrics that might be offensive or triggering in any way. If in doubt, prioritize instrumental tracks or those with minimal vocals.
15. Love Your Tunes and Normalize Using the “Next” Button When Necessary
Playing music you don’t like will throw off the vibe of your class. So just don’t do it. It’s really not worth it. Sometimes a perfectly cool song kicks on, and we realize it really doesn’t fit the current energy of the class. Repeat after me: There’s no shame in hitting the next button. None!
16. Spring for the Ad-Free Option on Streaming Services
There’s nothing quite like an insurance ad blasting through the speakers during Savasana to ruin a yogic mood. Subscriptions to streaming services prevent this harshness from happening, plus, teachers, you can likely write the cost off on your taxes.
17. Have Fun!
Playlists are like yoga sequences: Some work, some don’t, and some work better under specific circumstances. Keep playing, experimenting, and have a blast finding that harmonious flow that inspires you and your students!