Om Sweet Om

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve taken yoga classes at a handful of different studios taught by countless different instructors.  Naturally, each one has her own style of teaching, and with that style comes a particular type of music.  Krishna Das and MC Yogi CDs have made countless appearances in classes.  I’ve also yoga-ed to Jack Johnson, Norah Jones, and Lenny Kravitz.  Each genre of music, and even each individual song, evoked a different feeling within me and, as my practice has deepened, I’ve become aware that that emotion is subtly manifested in my practice.

When a song plays that I enjoy, my surya namaskar seems to flow that much easier.  And if I know the song, even better – I sing along in my head as I go through the asanas.  But the moment the  song ends, I’m actually a bit saddened, and chaturanga is suddenly challenging. Simultaneously, my mind is already in anticipation of the next song.  Is it going to be another good one? Am I going to cringe? And when that truly unfortunate song fills the room, I expend my mental energy on wishing it away, and I irrationally tell myself that if I speed up my next surya namaskar, the song will speed up and finish faster.  It took me a long time to actually realize these not-so-subtle effects.

Still, I never even considered the idea of a yoga class sans music.  I even played my “yoga mix” when I practiced at home.  Music and yoga always went hand in hand.  That is until I attend a music-free class a few months ago at Ashtanga Yoga NY.  The studio also serves as a temple (or perhaps better put, the temple also serves as a yoga studio) so it’s a relaxed, calming, and quiet atmosphere complete with a Ganesh murti up front and beautiful photographs of Pattabhi Jois in various asanas lining the walls.   My initial class felt strange.  The method of teaching was different from any class I had taken, but more than that was the deafening silence.

Where was the music?!?!  The room was far from packed that evening, but the sound of my neighbor’s breath was definitely audible.  It was actually a little annoying.  So, in an effort to tune that out, I began listening to my own breath.  By my fifth surya namasakar, I no longer heard my neighbor and found that I was instead, listening to my own breathing.

By my fourth or fifth class, the silence was no longer stark.   Instead of wondering which musician’s words will fill my ears, I am able to concentrate on my breath – coordinating my movements with my breath, deepening my breath, focusing on making my inhalations and exhalations similar in length.  Without music, there is one less external stimuli vying for my attention, making it slightly easier to concentrate, turn inward, and work toward Patanjali’s stated goal of yoga, “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Still, there exist countless distractions to keep me light years away from that perfect mental state described in the Yoga Sutras and the sacred Hindu text, Bhagavad Gita.  Is my nail polish chipping?  Did the guy in front of me just pass gas?Why is it so hot in here?  My senses are constantly at work and do their job well, rarely allowing me to ignore them.   I now realize why the Pattabhi Jois’s of the world taught without music.  When so many external stimuli are readily available, why purposefully add another?  The breath is music enough.

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