Eric recently graduated from our 2014 Yoga Teacher Training. Throughout the program he has been interested in how music can enhance yoga (both home practice and teaching with music in the background). In this post he shares some ideas for creating a stellar yoga practice mix, and shares one of his own mix tapes.
Like so many things in yoga, opinions vary about the wisdom of sequencing a practice to music. I find certain kinds of music to be unbeatable ingredients for laying down a solid foundational layer in many practice spaces and themes. Well-curated songs can support strong, steady and rhythmic breath, plus provide non-verbal cues to keep a yogi’s mind intent through particular poses or tough portions of a sequence. For practicality’s sake, songs are also great organizing devices for what to teach when and for how long.
At the same time, I agree that music can present a distraction. I’ve been using a few basic filtering rules to choose songs that feel capable of overcoming this legit concern:
1. Avoid songs with lyrics – they can ignite inner dialogue and/or other faraway life experiences that can unexpectedly take anyone out of the practice room.
2. Don’t ever accept vanilla new age music or pick something just because it’s Indian.
3. Seek out sound artists who strive to make cryptic, shape-shiftingsongs or atmospheric ear-scapes that resonate with deep, hard-to-describe emotions.
I like the idea of creating a roster of practice sequences that correspond to specific music mixes, each curated to match a distinct pace and purpose. My first crack at a practice mix is more of a multi-purpose experiment that has fit fairly well with a handful of bedroom sequences so far – 10 songs spread over slightly less than 59 minutes, knit together by some semi-recurring musical threads. Below I’ve made relatively random notes about particular qualities or utilities of these songs (with hints at each’s appeal for me), and included an mp3 for anyone who feels inclined to let their own ears, minds and bodies be guided by some of my favourite ambient yoga jams.
Home Practice Mix — Visit Eric’s blog to listen to this mix tape!
“The Six Million Dollar Sandwich”
The Dead Texan – The Dead Texan (2004)
A strong feeling of disembarking from day-to-day reality. Drawn-out oscillations bring to mind movement through mist across a body of water, the first ripples of an invisible route. My go-to song for a short centring inChild’s pose or Savasana; equally good for casual, freeform movement in standing or tabletop position to loosen up.
Apparat – The Devil’s Walk (2011)
I discovered this slow-burner as the soundtrack to an epic moment on the TV series Breaking Bad, which is likely why it makes me sense a sort of marching toward inevitability, perhaps to face a demon or difficult challenge, as the layers of the song slowly converge. A good mind-primer for the demands of any practice.
Eluvium – Nightmare Ending (2013)
Swells of synthesizer and soft, murky horns signal a rejuvenation, a careful revealing of greater depths. With each wave I can imagine my skin becoming gradually invigorated by a breathtaking cold lake. Overlapping parts of the song mimic the lean, unified movement of muscle fibres or limbs – rowing back and forth between flexed and outstretched, each opposite motion energizing the other.
Loops of Your Heart – And Never Ending Nights (2012)
Especially when this song’s drones begin to resemble the buzz of crickets, it almost literally makes me feel the enveloping warmth of a gorgeous summer day. Huge, juicy sips of air become automatic and my eyes glaze under the gleam of nature. I absorb the energy around me, blurring the edges of my skin and practice space. A strong place from which to spend 10 minutes kicking a practice into higher gear, perhaps by layering a handful of standing and/or balancing poses.
“Look Into Your Own Mind”
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe (2013)
The balance of soaring, intermingled vocals and low-end reverberation reflect the dynamic balance required by many poses – simultaneous strengthening and softening, for example, or expansive action in opposite directions from the same root point in the body.
Garth Stevenson – Flying (2011)
The meandering ambient phrases and more upbeat percussive parts keep the dynamic balance tone flowing, perhaps to amass energy for a pinnacle pose – or at least to push through the last legs of upright challenges and into the slow arc of surrender into the mat. (Bonus point: One of QSY’s teachers played one of Stevenson’s songs in one of my first classes at the studio – the first time I’d heard his piercing cello. So I felt compelled to include it as a nostalgia-flavoured easter egg into my local yoga experience.)
“A Low and Distant Sound Gradually Swelling and Increasing”
Shane Carruth – Upstream Color OST (2013)
Although its mood and makeup are a little different, this song (with a hilariously straight-up name) forms a sort of bookend to Eluvium’s somewhat similar “Warm” (track three). The sprinklings of dreamy piano and forlorn droning give smooth, unspoken cues to move towards quieter, subtler finishing poses (we’re at nearly 42 minutes by this song’s end), and they stretch out the echo of steadiness and balance between opposing dynamic forces.
“I am Sky”
Laraaji – Celestial Music 1978 – 2011 (2013)
A light and languid mid-tempo soul-soother that doubles as a nice wind down into more introspective restorative poses. The different rhythmic textures of the last minute and a half of the song are also great for jogging the mind back to the breath and body as it naturally begins to try to reengage with reality…
Gobble Gobble – Neon Graveyard 12” (2009)
It’s perhaps a little sombre, although certainly not emotionally one-dimensional, but the cutting simplicity and fuzz overdubs that fuel this lovely little piano ballad circle me back to the flotation imagery that started this mix – right in time with last couple of active poses.
Alice Damon – I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age in America, 1950-1990(2013)
This may be the most relaxing song I know. No sweet sounds do a better job of letting me sink into whatever is beneath me and absorb the benefits of the last hour of practice.
Eric Rumble loves music that drones and slow-mo yoga practices. When he’s not ujjaya breathing, he creates pop-up programming and marketing campaigns for the City of Kitchener, and he’s the founder and festival director of Night\Shift – downtown’s annual one-night-only walkable festival of art, culture and communal nocturnal adventure. If you do hear ujjaya breath at QSY, there’s a good chance it’s Eric making all that racket.