Om Sweet Om

Om Sweet Om

The music of breathing

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.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Herb Kaiser

    wonderful view on music in class and no music letting the breathe be the music. I find that it’s a constant battle of letting go the things that are considered distractions, sometimes it’s the music. No matter I know that it will eventually change. I have practiced both with music and without; I like music as an inspirational tool. Also as I’m teaching it gives me something that I can use for my students to relax and calm the mind. In either case the important thing is being able to let go of anything that doesn’t serve the higher self.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ganoba

    The ultimate goal of Yog is a state of samadhi. This becomes possible by “chitt vritti nirodh”, a cessation of the fluctuations of the mind as described by the present writer. In all the practices; Yam, niyam, asana, pranayam, pratyahar, dharana and dhyan, the attention is directed towards the inner physical phenomena which are progressively more subtle, for example physical sensations such as pain, itching, heat, cold and then ones own breath and its fluctuations, on to thoughts and emotions and their coming and going and finally silence. Even this attention gradually becomes effortless and spontaneous. there is nothing else with which to compare. This is what is meant by single pointed.

    The practice at the gross level is more popular and attracts a lot of followers. many practitioners, both teachers and followers get carried away by this popularity and get distracted from the ultimate goal and the path as suggested by sage Patanjali.

    each one of us has to decide for themselves where they want to go and where they are at, from time to time.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Hope

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with what I affectionately refer to as Urban Yoga. A few years ago, I encountered similar, yet opposite insights as I began taking classes at Yoga Tree in San Francisco. Beginning in the early ’80s, I began studying yoga and meditation with Swami Vignanananda at Prana Yoga Ashram in Berkeley. My days began at 4am, tuning into the symphony of celestial frequencies readily available as new dawns the day. Meditation and quiet contemplation, an antidote to modern times, even now. My life and practice at the Ashram was so important for my evolution. After my time with Swami-ji, I taught yoga and meditation and brought my work and my Self out into the world, embracing life full force. After a long career in restaurant management, in service to others, and after Swami-ji’s mahasamadhi, I decided to venture out and partake of this new, trendy yoga I’d been hearing about. Yoga Tree is great, offering many options compared to other studios. The first thing I noticed, after all the new mats, props, and form-fitting apparel, was the music playing in each class! During my first week of daily classes, I was in shock, dazed actually, thinking what the kind spirited and accomplished teachers, but constant music and instruction through every pose? It was all so alien and unexpected. The meditation portion of class was nirvana and I found myself looking forward to those moments, so much so, that I observed myself holding my breath in anticipation! After this amusing realization, I gave in to the process, allowing it all to unfold as it invariably would. I was back in the moment, Here Now, experiencing renewal and transformation in an urban setting, nourishing my mind, body, and spirit along with other city/planet dwellers on an hour long sabbatical for the Soul. That’s the beauty of this life, even when it doesn’t, or doesn’t seem to, it ALL works. The inner music is here for us to cultivate, the outer music supplies quite the harmony. For a real treat, there’s always Kirtan!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Phyllis

    I read with great interest the article (blog) and the three comments as well. I have never practiced this form of Yoga. Tried it, but, honestly, it never appealed to me. I greatly admire this form of Yoga; maybe in my next life?

    I do practice meditation, . Union with God consciousness, being my goal. To do that, I initially focus on the breath, ultimately dropping the body consciousness, quieting the senses, stilling the mind and entering the Silence. Ahhhh…Bliss.

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