My yoga playlist kung fu

tiger salamander under log

Sneaky Salamander, in Utthan Pristhasana

Apple got sneaky, almost as sneaky as this salamander, and removed one of my favorite features, in the iTunes 11 update. Gone are the days when, upon request, I could email a URL for the playlist to a student. This move seems particularly untimely, given this current trend: fitness and yoga classes are driving music interest and purchases. To wit – this recent story, “Yoga Class Playlists Are the New MTV” and the WSJ story mentioned therein, “The New DJs: Fitness Gurus“.

Perhaps this event will encourage students to explore music on their own, to find new beats and rhythms. One great side effect of teaching yoga for me? I’ve fallen in love with music again. And, despite Apple’s best efforts to disrupt the flow of information between me and my students, I can still copy & paste the artists & songs to an email message.

One of my biggest yoga teaching supporters is my husband, who is also part-time architect of our music collection. He’s the one who has been bold enough to ask how I craft a playlist for a class, but perhaps more of my students and other people are curious. I’d like to share my process, here.

Here’s a little background, or perhaps more of a springboard: I’ve come a long way from from my preference of Enya and the Twin Peaks soundtrack, for my own practice. While that music is still good for yoga, I don’t have it in digital format (shocker- that’s how long ago I started practicing yoga) and I do have a lot of other great stuff.

In fact, the latter reason leads me to the start of my process.

1. I find music.

As in, I buy it. Or Steve does.

What genre?

It was briefly tempting to restrict myself to purely instrumental music, or to music with vocals in a language I don’t understand. In the past, I was easily distracted by meaningful lyrics and felt that distraction to be a detriment to my practice. The wisdom of age, practice, and a new philosophy have shown me that instrumental music can be just as distracting, and even so, such distractions can provide opportunity for practicing awareness and concentration. When is life totally quiet and still, really?

zumba class

Next up: a Zumba playlist?

So. I already had a pretty good collection of alternative and pop world music, as well as a number of classical and jazz CDs. Steve’s north african pop and hip-hop from anywhere, along with my Chet Baker and Imogen Heap, seemed promising. I also have a few mellower folk CDs and ambient music from my earlier practice that could work for the start and end of classes.

I usually do some pre-vetting of my list by considering the lyrics of songs that are in English. Angry or boisterous music that’s great for a running workout or for cleaning the house is likely music that won’t work for yoga, even in more vigorous flows. Listening to Alanis Morissette rant about a break-up or Aimee Mann go on about the problems of being a charmer just might tense up a trapezius that had finally released, or take a blissfully present mind into tempestuous story or past.

I already know these work

I enjoy going to a BodyFlow class now and then at the nearest YMCA, and there’s often one or two tracks that I want to hunt down. BF instructors are usually fairly enthusiastic about each “release,” so I remember the release number, then use Google or YouTube to find the track names, then go buy the desired track on iTunes. Similarly, if there’s a song in yoga class I attend anywhere, if in my post-savasana fog I can remember to ask the instructor, he or she may be willing to tell me about the track. Lastly, I have a few yoga DVDs, and the credits usually indicate the musical sources.

Find similar stuff

Pandora: I’ll make a station for a musician/band I know I already like for yoga practice, i.e. Dead Can Dance. Or maybe I’ll tune into the Indian Classical channel for a walk or a home practice session. While listening to such stations, I’ll bookmark the good songs to consider buying later. The recommendation engines on iTunes and can be useful in the same way.

2. Make a master yoga music playlist

I get it all loaded up into iTunes on my computer, if I didn’t buy it there in the first place. I create a general “yoga music” playlist, then I drag & drop anything I think might work for yoga, and a few maybes (Beastie Boys? G Love’s recent stuff? Mavis Staples? Sure. But I leave out the Dwight Yoakam, Christmas with Elvis and similar).

3. Mix it up

I take one of two paths, when making a yoga class playlist.

Path A: Test out the music in practice

This is generally better to do if I’m just practicing alone, maybe developing a sequence for my next class. I put the whole master playlist on on iPod, and set the iPod to shuffle, then start my practice.

This is a great way to find out if certain songs or artists are appropriate for yoga, if I’m not sure. Of course, what works on one day may not work on another day: mood is powerful. More often than not, the songs work so well for yoga that I just make a playlist of the songs that came up, in the order they arrived in my shuffle, maybe skipping one or two. Right after such a session, I have to remember to thumb through the tracks that played, by hitting the back-arrow on the iPod, and to write each one down. Then, I can later make a new playlist in iTunes. This part isn’t hurried-yoga-teacher -proof! It’s pretty easy to thumb around in the iPod & never find that song order, ever, again. If you’ve found a better way to do this, let me know in the page comments.

This method can also work if I think 4-7 particular albums are suitable or if I just want to listen to them during my practice. I load them into a new playlist, get it onto an iPod, set it to shuffle, and get onto the mat. I end up doing this for classes I teach, maybe once every two months or so. It tends to happen right after I buy some new music.

3. Path B: Sample the music

If I’m in a hurry, or right after I’ve bought a new track that I want to use in a class, this is how I build a playlist. I sit at my computer, with the master playlist on shuffle and just hit play, or forward, sampling a few seconds of whatever song comes up. If the music feels right, I’ll add it to a new class playlist, keeping in mind that for the first 5 minutes and the last 15 minutes of an hourlong vinyasa class, I’ll need mellower, slower music.

My class playlists are usually just over an hour – I try to include some upbeat pre-class music for the 5 or 10 minutes I get with the group, before we start. And if we run out of music in savasana, that’s fine. I’ve never had a complaint about my ending music, but letting silence happen has inspired some enthusiastic comments from my students.

4. Save the playlist!

This one’s fairly obvious, as I need to save it to get it onto the iPod to use it in class, but it’s the part that’s also helpful when someone wants to know about a track in a class. I tend to name the playlist with the date I made it, for easy reference later. Back when I was able to publish a mix on iTunes, I’d come up with something a little more clever, usually a play on words with one of the song names, or I’d associate it with the season or a holiday.

5. Presto!

That’s about it, for how I create a playlist for my classes. Latest additions, which I’m just starting to use in classes, include Sawako’s Bitter Sweet, Meshell Ndegeocello’s Pour une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone, and Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach Cello Suites Nos. 1, 5, and 6


4 thoughts on “My yoga playlist kung fu

  1. I was quite upset that you can’t copy urls in itunes anymore. But you can in Spotify! You can even create spotify play windows to post in blogs or email to people through Spotify play button. (I am not an advertiser for Spotify! I just love the feature and have used it on my own blog!)
    Also I love your process. Sounds a lot like mine!

    • Jennifer – Thanks for the tip! Last time I checked, Spotify didn’t have a lot of the music I use, but I know they’ve been adding stuff. I’ll check it out. Thanks for the compliment on my process! Glad to hear that something similar works for other people. It’s a fun way to explore how music can inspire.

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