Does Snoop Dogg Belong With Downward Dog?

It’s as heated a debate as anything seen in the upcoming election: does music belong in yoga?

Some instructors are incorporating tunes into the practice, and we’re not just talking Enya or Sitar music. Barbara Streisand, John Mayer, and even Kanye West have found a place in the yoga studio. Advocates of using music to accompany the asanas argue that the songs help “type A” personalities release a little deeper into their practice, clearing their minds as they focus on the music. And a good soundtrack might encourage people to try yoga that would otherwise be scared off by its silent, meditative reputation.

However, purists feel that music detracts from the very purpose of yoga.  “Music does not coincide with traditional methods of hatha yoga,” says writer Dani Katz in an article for LA Yoga Ayurveda & Health Magazine. “As the breath is of the utmost importance in an asana practice, it is crucial that the student be able to hear the inhale and the exhale, to monitor and to regulate the breath along with the movement.”

Edward Cranmer-Brown of Boulder, Colorado, offers a happy medium. He teaches Tabla Yoga, which is basically a traditional Hatha Yoga practice accompanied by Indian table drumming. On his website, Cranmer-Brown, a former soccer player who discovered yoga after sustaining an ankle injury, explains:

“The idea behind combining tabla drumming and hatha yoga is simple: the drumming takes up the space of the monkey mind, allowing the practitioner to more easily drop into the body. The science of this practice is designed to open the energetic pathways in the body, illuminating unconscious and physically blocked areas. Tabla ‘language’ is based on Dev Nagri script- the same script which Sanskrit is based on, so tabla is particularly suited to Yogic practices.”

One reporter for the Boulder Daily Camera attended a Table Yoga class, and raved that “the live drums add a really interesting dimension to yoga practice. You feel more of a rhythm to your poses, and as your mind focuses on the beat your body becomes more free to inhabit the movement.”

Since tabla drums have been an integral part of Indian music since the Vedic period, it doesn’t seem that anachronistic to combine the instrument with yoga practice. But is it a stretch to have the latest rap hit going while you take a precarious tree pose?

In the end, it comes down to your own preferences and abilities. For yoga beginners, it’s important to be clear and focused while learning how to breathe and move into the asanas. Loud, lyrical music might be confusing as you try and listen to your instructor and the rhythm of your own breath.

Once you’re at a more intermediate level, you have a bit more freedom. At this point, you need to ask yourself: will music inspire me? Get me moving? Or will it detract from the peace and inward nature of my practice?

In our Western culture, exercise is often paired with music, and for good reason. Music can inspire and uplift us – if you’ve ever run on a treadmill, you’ll know how important a good iPod playlist is to your workout. But yoga is not just a physical endeavor; it involves the mind and spirit as well. If your instructor’s musical tastes differ from yours, the soundtrack he or she chooses can seriously affect your practice. I recall one prenatal yoga class I attended where the teacher blasted some new-age CD that made my toes curl – and not in a good way. It was exceedingly difficult for me to concentrate on my poses while that music droned on in the background.

Finding a studio and instructor who is aligned with your yoga preferences is one of the best ways to ensure a lifelong, happy relationship with yoga. As long as you have established a strong practice, it’s fun to try new things – whether that be Tabla Yoga, or Vinyasa to Madonna. Just remember to breathe, respect your body, and free your mind.

Come to think of it, isn’t that pretty much what Madonna says in “Express Yourself”? Maybe pop music is more attuned to yoga than I thought…

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