Music in Yoga Class

In this Q&A, Sharon answered on the importance, effects, and strategies for best use of music in Yoga classes.

Q: How do you ensure that music adds to your students’ experiences without distracting them from their internal state?


A: The music should never be just background but should add to the experience. The music chosen must speak to the particular focus of the class. Lyrical content is very important to be an decides what songs I will choose for a particular class session.  I also use lots of spoken word in addition to music, because hearing the same or a similar idea expressed by someone else will lend validation to what I’m trying to convey through my teaching. I often use spoken word sound bites by my own beloved teachers: Shri K Pattabhi Jois, Swami Nirmalanada and Shri Brahmananda Saraswati as well as Julia Butterfly, Ingrid Newkirk, John Robbins, Alan Watts and Ram Das.


Q: Please give me 10 songs and in order that you would use them in a yoga class.



A: Here’s the list: 

  • Yes I Will by Michael Franti from Everyone Deserves Music–Surya Namaskar
  • Any Road by George Harrison, from Brainwashed– Standing Poses
  • Ma Durga by Krishna Das from Breath of the Heart–Balancing and Twists
  • Something on Your Mind by Karen Dalton from In My Own Time –Forward Bending
  • Native Sun by Miten from Blown Away—Forward Bending
  • Durga by Kristina Pao Cheng from Sounds of She —–Backbending
  • Is this a Bridge Exactly? by Audio Letter from Neti Neti–Shoulderstand/plough/fish
  • Sarabande by Nicole Renaud from Neo Classical Moods Headstand
  • Stronger Hand by Paul McMahon from Gentle Man—–Shavasana
  • WaterBass by Bill Laswell with Laraaji from Divination—Shavasana/Meditation

Q: Why did you choose the songs on your list? Where does the inspiration come from?


A:  I always have a theme to the classes I teach. The way that Jivamukti Classes are structured there is always  a focus from which the class emerges. Every Month I write an essay which becomes the focus of the month for every Jivamukti teacher to teach from. For instance a few months back the focus of the month was this Sutra from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: krama nyatvam parinama nyatve hetuh– PYS III.15


It means: The cause will determine how the sequence unfolds. This sutra address karma. So in the class I would talk specifically about how our own bodies are the storehouse for our karmas and how the asana practice can purify our bodies by purifying our karmas.


Many of the songs I chose have a lyrical content which would directly support the theme of karma as well as taking responsibly for the direction your own life takes, for instance: Michael Franti sings: “I believe that what you sing to the clouds will rain upon you when the sun has gone away…” and George Harrison then sings, “ If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there..” The Durga songs by Krishna Das and Kristina Pao Cheng bring us back to the purpose of the asana practice which is to resolve past negative karmas coming from relationships with others and the earth herself. Native Sun by Miten is another song with speaks to this directly with lyrics like, “Go lightly on this Sacred Earth…” Karen Dalton’s haunting track, Something on your mind, placed while the practitioner is involved in forward bending allows for a deep reflection into the past and begs the question what’s “on your mind?”. Yoga teaches us that whatever is on our minds while we are practicing asanas will affect the direction the practice goes as well as the outcome. While engaged in the  Shoulderstand Sequence it is a good time to remain still and listen closely to words, so this is why I placed the song: Is this a Bridge exactly, at that time in the sequence because it contains spoken word samples by Animal Rights Activist, John Robbins, “If we want to reduce the amount of fear in our own bodies in our own lives than we have to start with what we do what we eat how we live..” mixed with upbeat music by beastie Boy Mike D! The Shoulderstand sequence is followed by headstand and the soothing voice of the French soprano, Nicole Renaud which allows the practitioner to feel relaxed, calm and expansive while turned upside down, accessing their own pharmaceutical laboratory in the brain.


Paul McMahon provides a very soothing shavasana with lyrics that  suggest to the practitioner to let go and allow their own higher self to guide them. Bill Laswell’s instrumental track, “Waterbass” is a dreaming, ambient, etheric and perfect soundscape to float effortlessly into the inner landscapes of the heart and soul.


Q: How do you choose what order the songs should come in?


A: The songs must appear in the appropriate place to support what the teacher is teaching. In a similar way that a band or an orchestra provides support and backup for a soloist, the music in a yoga class should provide backing for the teacher and the teachings, which he/she is giving.


Usually in a class that I am teaching the sequence is surya namaskar, standing poses, twists, balancing, forward bending, back bending, inversions, shavasana, meditation.


Q: In your opinion, is any type of music OK for yoga class, or are there only particular genres that set the correct tone?


A: Krishna Das is always a winner! The name of God is a sure way to purify the atmosphere internally and externally. Also you can’t go wrong with anything by Bill Laswell. But generally it all depends on whether or not the music is supporting the teachings which are be given, contemplated or worked on during the class. A lot of Rap music would not work because of the curse words. Usually heavy metal or hard rock and roll ‘bar- music’ doesn’t work for me, because it is quite abrasive although on occasion I have played some Led Zeppelin for the lyrical content. Example: Dazed and Confused can provide a doorway into a deeper exploration of avidya if that is what the class was exploring. But this would be a stretch and only a very sensitive teacher who was also a skillful DJ would be able to utilize certain abrasive types of music. As the great Swami Satchidananda said in his opening welcoming talk at the 1969 Woodstock Festival : “Through music we can work wonders. With sound we can make, but at the same time break. So let all our actions and all our arts express Yoga. With the sacred art of music let us find peace that will pervade all over the globe.”


Q: Where do you go to find new music when you’d like to switch things up?


A: to my friends, many of who are great musicians and or producers and record label people and they are always supplying me with great music. A lot of the music I play is self-produced by the musicians themselves on their own independent labels, like Michael Franti,  Paul Mc Mahon,  David Newman: Wynn Paris, Nicole Renaud Sean Dinsmore and the Dum Dum Project

There are still some incredible record labels out there, which maintain themselves with the utmost integrity, producing and distributing incredible, uplifting, and spiritually engaging music. Here is my top 10 list of labels as well as a featured artist from each of the labels you can trust, one hundred percent in my opinion, to provide you with the kind of music, which will work in a yoga class.


Meta Records (Bill Laswell)


White Swan Records (Deva Premal and Miten)


Triloka Records (Krishna Das)


Narada World Music (Jai Uttal)


Rasa Music (Donna De Cruz)


Raven Records (Gabrielle Roth)


Sounds True (Julia Butterfly and other spoken word)


Q: Have you ever been in the midst of a class, when you realized that the music choice is all wrong? How do you recover from that?


A:  No, I have never been in a class when the music did not work. I choose the music I play very carefully. It is as important as choreographing the sequence of asanas.


Q: How do you handle students’ music requests?


A: I love that fact that students have particular music that they like to listen to during a yoga class. Musican/composer Bill Laswell has commented that when Music is played in a yoga class it has a chance to actually be heard because the students are in a very open listening space. Most students feel the music very deeply when they are practicing so their input to the teacher, I feel is valid and important.


Music is one of the five Tenents of the Jivamukti Yoga Method so it is incorporated into the yoga sessions with as much thought as the sequence of asanas being presented.


Students who practice Jivamukti Yoga come to know that the purpose of the music being played is to support or accentuate the particular focus of the month teachings, so many times students will come to me or other Jivamukti teachers the day after taking a class, with music to give to us because they were inspired by the focus and felt that they had found some music, which would add some insight to the teachings. It’s great when this happens. I have many compilation CDs made by students who were inspired by a particular theme or focus of the month and put together a play-list themselves and gave to me.


Interview with Sharon Gannon by Erica Rodefer for Yoga Journal Magazine,Vol. 202