How to Incorporate Music into Your Class Without Overpowering It

It’s no secret that music can make or break any kind of wellness class. From the upbeat tunes in a favorite spin class to the soothing sounds of mantras in a yoga practice, the soundscape of a class sets the mood, tone and pace for its duration. As a yoga teacher, your music needs are a little different than an aerobics instructor. You don’t necessarily need music with a strong or regular beat, since yoga students practice to the flow of breath. And, you don’t want music to disturb the students’ focus, so it can’t be too in your face. But, just because you can’t crank Top 40 at full volume all the time doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your music, or even slip the occasional guilty pop pleasure into your soundtrack!

Your playlists can be as unique as your teaching style and your students. Some teachers favor much more pop- and Western-music oriented ones, while others use chant and mantras. It’s up to you as to exactly what works and when. There is no one rigidly “right” way to do a yoga playlist. Just like your sequencing, you can choose your own preferences. That said, here are some tips for making your tunes a seamless part of your practice.


Pace it

Just like a class moves from a gentle warm-up or seated meditation through more active Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) or standing work before returning to seated work and a rest in Corpse Pose (Savasana), your playlist should mirror that energy. Put the slowest songs at the beginning and the end when students need to relax. In the middle, you might want to steer toward more energizing, upbeat songs. Some slow hip-hop music also works well for many kinds of yoga practice. Check out Yoga Journal for some well-known teachers’ favorite picks.

Connect it to movement

A great song can help students focus, especially in challenging sequences or poses. Finding songs with inspiring lyrics can help motivate them to give Crow Pose (Bakasana) a go or stick with a tricky balance.  Songs about being strong make good choices, as do any that offer a positive message (but be respectful of your students and their beliefs). Think of the songs that make you want to break through the “wall” in your own practice. Here are some of my favorites:


Gold on the Ceiling

Autre Temps

Think outside the box

Not all music for yoga has to be yoga music. Almost any genre of music has a place in a yoga class, from rock (think softer bands like Muse) to rap and hip hop to country. As long as it’s not too raucous or too dull, anything can go. Many popular artists have songs that work surprisingly well for yoga. One good way to help figure that out is to find the number of beats per minute in your playlist. Yoga songs should be on the slower side. Workout playlists often run around 125 BPM, so your picks should be slower.

Reach out to local artists

Almost every community has a a stable of talented musicians whose work would be great for yoga. Don’t be afraid to reach out. If there is a local kirtan (chant) scene, check out some artists’ Facebook or Bandcamp pages. It’s also always worth asking if they’d be willing to compose something for your class. If so, you can work with them to create a specialized playlist that suits your sequencing and your students perfectly. It’s also worth checking in with local music colleges, as students are often eager to expand their skill sets.

These are just a few suggestions to build your perfect yoga playlist. Experiment with some different types of songs and see what your students do and don’t respond well to. It all depends on you and them. For example, some of the students I teach love to practice to more mainstream music, so I’ll toss in a Daft Punk or Mumford & Sons track. For a gentler practice, I might lean more toward typical yoga choices like Jai Uttal, instrumentals or world music.

And, don’t forget about live music. If you’re lucky enough to be in contact with a yoga musician, having them come and play live is a great special event.

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