Yoga and Music

At my core, I am a creature of ritual with a very well-defined sense of what constitutes ‘giving due respect and honor’ to certain types of activities.  In the past (yesterday), I have been guilty of quite forcefully and almost angrily projecting my ‘lines in the sand’ onto someone else.  Without boring you with all the details, the essence of the conversation which quickly turned into an angry-preacher monologue involved an unfortunate soul making a comment about meditation and his use of acid rock and heavy metal as background music.

Blown Gasket

I nearly blew a gasket.  In retrospect, I behaved like a sanctimonious !$#*&%$^, that is all there is to it.  In my nightly self-examination of the day’s events and my moments of mindfulness and mindlessness, I did learn something else though; I began to think about what constitutes fitting music for Yoga practice.  In this case, we are going to talk about the use of music both as background ‘white noise’ and as a primary attention focusing instrument.

Music is vibration

Music can be defined in a number of ways; but at its core, we are talking about vibration traveling through air as a medium and impacting a highly sensitive membrane in our ears, thus allowing us to ‘hear’ the vibrations.  More so with music than with speech, the vibrations also impact and pass into our bodies as well, creating sympathetic physical responses, triggering memories or emotional states, as well as directly affecting lucidity, focus, and levels of consciousness.

The confirmed romanticist in me likes to think of good music as reflections of the vibratory harmony that nature and even stars and galaxies produce as part of their daily existence.  It turns out that there are in fact quite a few statistically proven research papers which help to break down different genres and there known effects:

Classical Music

Classical music rarely has any vocal accompaniment and therefore relies on the harmonies between the various instruments to convey the message.  Regardless of taste for classical music, it has been proven to reduce stress, calm the body and help stimulate and focus the mind.  Specifically, time-space reasoning and verbal acuity are directly affected.  This is accomplished by the music creating an ideal environment for your mind to function efficiently.  Classical music has also been documented to slow down heart rate, relieve high blood pressure and lessen such chemical imbalances as anxiety.

Country Music

I can say that this did not surprise me the least, as I have no use for “my dog died, my wife left me, my truck broke down and I’m outta beer” music!  Country music has been clearly linked to both depression and suicide.  Although the newer artists tend to be more upbeat, older country music places those already at risk of suicide in harm’s way through depressive themes which foster suicidal thoughts.

Rock Music

Rock music is the one genre that can actually stimulate your adrenal glands into releasing adrenaline as if in a fight or flight situation.  If you do not like rock music by nature, its effects on you can include discomfort and rising anger.  At a physiological level, both blood pressure and heart rate are known to increase as much as twenty-five percent.  If you are a fan of rock music, it can relieve stress without any noticeable effect on blood pressure or heart rate.

Mice exposed to rock music for prolonged periods while running mazes grew steadily slower at finding their way out to the point where total disorientation eventually set in.  When dissected, the mouse brains revealed that there were significant increases in messenger RNA, and wild neuron growth without proper linking to existing pathways.  These reasons among others are why rock music listeners have higher suicide rates, and are more prone to use street drugs.

Hip Hop/Rap Music

Music in this category can program teens and young adults, especially in the music video industry.  Studies show that teens and young adults who avidly watch overtly sexual and violence-based videos regularly are more likely to exhibit similar behaviour in reality.  Hip Hop tends to trigger stronger emotional responses, both negative and positive.

Classical Indian Music

Classical Indian music is based on ragas and taals.  Ragas are a traditional melodic type in Hindu music, consisting of a theme that expresses an aspect of religious feeling and sets forth a tonal system on which variations are improvised within a prescribed framework of typical progressions, melodic formulas, and rhythmic patterns.  Certain patterns in Indian music are well known to activate all of the Chakras within the body, and when used as therapy can relieve migraines, hypertension, anxiety, and chronic headaches.  Indian music is also quite effective in improving sleep quality among people with symptoms of depression.

The Practice

So here we are, about to pick our first selection of music.  What do you pick?  There are days where I prefer only the sound of my breath, and others where Indian Yoga music or classical music has fit the bill.  Up until now, there wasn’t much chance I would consider any other music fitting enough to honor the practice and provide benefit, but I tried something last night I have never done before…I completed my evening practice while listening to a collection of favourite eighties songs.  The music brought back many good memories (love the eighties!) and I must admit, my practice flowed along just fine.  In some ways, my level of happiness while doing Yoga was augmented directly by the music not only through the memories it brought to the surface, but by the melodies themselves.

To sum it all up…

To sum it up, we have an idea of some of the effects of various genres, as well as the realization that as everything is in a state of vibration, we should give attention to those things which can alter our own vibrational states – for good or bad.  Being mindful of your intention and what ‘sympathetic vibrations’ you wish to foster during your Yoga routine is a sure way to help in making the right music decisions. Choosing to use music as either background noise or as a primary focal point to hold attention during your practice is one of personal taste….and volume.  Here are a few of my favourites for use during my Yoga routines:

Yoga One (Compilation CD) ASIN: B000MV8D7E

Music for Yoga & Other Joys ASIN: B0001HK09S

Sacred Hindu Chants & Mantras ASIN: B000BS6XYS

0 thoughts on “Yoga and Music”

  1. This is an excellent outline. I’d love to know the sources of the research if you still have them?

    As a yoga instructor, music choice is extremely important to me. Music has a powerful and different affect on each individual who hears it, and I have to be mindful to choose music for my classes that will be positive for everyone. Thanks for the reminder and information, and for sharing your favorite music!

  2. Hi Clare! The sources are too numerous to list, but Wikipedia is usually where I begin, then branch out following the cited source trails until I can read the original research. Most trails led to university or government level reports. If it is any help to you, my method for judging authenticity when it comes to the Internet relies on two factors: Is it a reliable source that I personally recognize? Are there enough concurring reliable sources to validate the opinion?

    Music and its choices are important, you are correct. Choosing music that will effect everyone in a room in the same manner is difficult, and I am very happy to see you have things well in hand – so many instructors I have met (I’m guilty of it too) tend to play their favorites instead of thoughtful experimenting with the music and either gauging the effects or inviting feedback directly from the students.

    The other important factor is whether the music is to be in the background and therefore to have a more subliminal effect, or is the music going to be loud enough for students to be able to maintain conscious awareness of it? I’ve been experimenting with myself as the ‘white rat’ and had some interesting results…

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