If one thing in life is universally loved, it’s music. But that doesn’t mean everyone agrees on how it should be used or which type is best. That’s true in yoga circles as much as anywhere else.
For some, music during yoga can provide the epiphany they need to meet a life challenge or move deeper into their practice. That said, many yoga lineages eschew music altogether, including Bikram and Ashtanga. And the lineages that do allow music often nod exclusively to certain types—harmonium tunes with soft chanting, for example. Pop music, heavy metal and classic rock? Not a single long-standing yoga lineage encourages what we often hear in Western yoga classes, though some newer yoga styles consider it elemental.
Indeed, the debate over whether to use music at all during yoga is ongoing.
“What I’ve noticed, after being in this community for a while, is that you can roughly divide the yogis into two groups: Some love to practice with music. Some say that music has nothing to do with yoga,” says Mans Ek, a professional pianist, songwriter and producer based in Stockholm, Sweden, whose artist name is Songs of Eden. “I respect both standpoints. In fact, I usually don’t listen to music myself when practicing. The main reason for me is that my life is so full of sounds and music on a daily basis. I enjoy the silence.”
Many of yoga’s formative lineages tend toward quiet (or allow only chanting) in order to settle the mind so that it can move toward meditation. But the silent process can prove difficult precisely because it’s so quiet.
“Music helps you focus,” says Ek. “You stop thinking about what to make for dinner, what to wear tomorrow.”
Ek has been a professional musician for nearly two decades, but started composing music specifically for yoga two years ago. “I noticed that the so-called ‘traditional’ yoga music artists weren’t always the top choice in yoga classes. In fact, almost any kind of music was used. I felt there was a gap to fill, to make modern-sounding yoga music but still with the traditional elements, such as singing bowls.”
Ek’s yoga recordings are almost always at 432 Hz, “a frequency referred to as the heartbeat of our planet,” he says.
Deva Premal & Miten, Jai Uttal and Krishna Das are among the biggest names in yoga music, specifically kirtan, and often incorporate yoga chants and Sanskrit. Their music is rich in meaning and connected to the essence of traditional yoga. Deva Premal’s voice is ethereal, while Jai Uttal and Krishna Das, who’ve each been nominated for Grammy awards, carry richer, deeper sounds.
The best way to figure out what works best for you is to practice yoga with and without music, and sample various types of music. You’ll find plenty of free music online: Songs of Eden shares some, many artists offer free listening on SoundCloud, and YouTube is ripe with collections. Still, it’s worth paying for what you really like—and a universally kind and yogic thing to do, even if you can get the music for free.
Samples from the yoga world to help you find your musical path:
- Desert Dwellers: Like getting loopy on Tycho, but with a yoga twist
- Deva Premal & Miten: Like angels stroking your mind
- DJ Taz Rashid: Like you’re at a yoga festival—dancing a lot, and then cooling down
- Jai Uttal and Ben Leinbach: Like you found yourself after years of being lost
- Krishna Das: Like you’ve hunkered down in a yoga ashram
- Songs of Eden: Like you’re on a journey in a far-off land
Mitra Malek is a Yoga Journal contributing editor. She never listens to music during her personal practice but almost always plays it when she teaches, including songs from every artist named here—including Tycho.