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Yoga Class Playlists Are the New MTV

in YD News

photo via: spiralwellness.com


How many times are you in yoga class, you hear a new song and think, whoa who is this? I love this! I must hear it again! The XX? We rest our case. As it turns out you’re not the only ones scoring on the new (or sometimes old) tuneful finds, music labels love it! And they’re finding out how much yoga teachers do too, which could open the gates to a whole wide world of soundtracking our lives, and our yoga. Meet the new MTV.

Since no one really listens to the radio anymore and MTV is a reality show graveyard, the music industry has been looking for alternative ways for you to contract the incurable earworm. TV shows, commercials and movies (under ‘how to play a song into the ground’ – ie. Florence and the Machine “Dog Days are Over” in Eat, Pray, Love or Lumineers “Ho Hey” in Silver Linings Playbook) have made some headway but where are they really reaching a captive audience? Yoga class! And Zumba of course, and cycling and any other group fitness class touting a hip and cool “rockin’ playlist” and locking you in a room where you’re forced to listen to it. (Note: Music in yoga class has been an ongoing debate. If you’re not a fan, you probably will not enjoy this new reported trend. Our advice: invest in earplugs or Om loudly, very, very loudly.)

The Wall Street Journal is all up in this business:

Fitness entrepreneurs say they are investing hours in training instructors to create compelling playlists that will help generate loyal student followings—and online buzz. Music labels are pitching their emerging talent to instructors and cutting deals with fitness chains. And exercise businesses are trying to cut licensing deals with music companies in order to package and sell workout songs in much the same way that film and television executives do with soundtracks.

So, sure, Zumba – the trendy fitness craze more or less reenacting our teenage Madonna dance parties – is focused all around music. Selling some one million downloads of their special remixes on iTunes is nothing to sniff at. Besides that they could very well be responsible for Vanilla Ice’s comeback comeback (the first one didn’t count) playing a Latin-flavored, upbeat version of “Ice Ice Baby” in class resulting in the sale of over 17,000 copies.

“Zumba reaches so many millions of people, it’s like MTV was back in the day,” Mr. VanWinkle says.

Mr. VanWinkle of course, being a very happy Mr. Vanilla Ice 2013.

So are yoga teachers the new music tastemakers, too? Surely we all know plenty of teachers who spend quality time crafting the perfect playlist for each class. We’ve already seen the power of music in yoga, whether it’s pop or kirtan or karaoke. We have yoga+music festivals like Wanderlust (who, honestly, kinda dropped the ball on this) and musicians who are yogis and vice versa, a la MC Yogi or DJ Drez. (Adam Levine, we’re just waiting for your duet with Krishna Das already, geez. Could you imagine?) Dear lord, yoga playlists are the new MTV. Or at least, VH1.

The article points out the growing concept of live-music yoga classes as part of the ‘yoga and’ wave, like yoga and wine, yoga and chocolate, yoga and skydiving…etc. Also getting popular are the in-class DJs “spinning records” right there next to your mat aka pressing buttons on a latpop aka probably updating their facebook status. Kidding. It’s an art, we get it.

Clearly yoga is different from regular gym and fitness classes, but the line is getting increasingly blurred. Yet, there is still some resistance:

Some yoga purists complain that the practice was never intended to have any soundtrack—however meditative—beyond one’s own measured breath.

(Side note, pet peeve: Yoga Purists. Can we even define what that means anymore?)

In any case, music is an integral part of many peoples’ lives. Sometimes it carries over onto the mat. And if music labels have their way, it will be carried off the mat home with you so you can buy it. Don’t get us wrong, we love music! Just don’t be surprised when those digital jukeboxes park themselves next to the filtered water fountain at your favorite yoga studio. Or better yet, with your mat and towel comes a pair of personal headphones and ‘purchase’ button courtesy of the RIAA. Hey, shouldn’t you get commission for this?



49 comments… add one
  • As a self-proclaimed yoga dj and yoga instructor, I know music is a soothing and connective element to a practice in our ever evolving yoga. When I spin live for classes, it brings a connective force of fun and enjoyment, the ability to let go or go deeper into one’s moving meditation. I am passionate about spinning for yoga classes as I appreciate the journey and know the right playlist can only accentuate the flow. True I do spend a lot , A LOT of time and thought into finding new music, crafting my playlists, but it all uniquely my own interpretation, so when someone comes up to me after and says ,wow that song was awesome, and they are energized, my little heart soars and we find snych in the music that also touches me. I am so thankful to be a yoga DJ, introducing unusual sounds or a mashup of genres, and remixes of hits to bring someone back to a familiar time of enjoying it or allowing them to jam out to some new cool vibe. And yes I think my playlists make a better teacher because music inspires the shit outta me 😉

    • skyler

      Your shameless self promotion is tacky and lame!

      • Skyler, thank you for your opinion. It was all genuine and true. but I dont expect you to understand. I have no problem speaking my mind and being okay with anyone’s feedback. have a great day!

  • Sparky

    I think Ian (DJHyfi) is supercute…

    • Joan

      Can someone please tell me how to find yoga music? I’m new and struggling to learn Sun Salutations and could use some beautiful music.

      Love and Light…Joan

  • This is SO true! I’ve made a special page on my website just to share my yoga class playlists, as I was getting so many requests to send them to students that this just makes life easier.

    Before I was a yoga teacher I never downloaded music from iTunes or made playlists, but now it’s a big part of my life. Great observation!

  • Ahhh, so true. I made a special page on my website for playlists as well. Students have been asking for them!

  • Leeanne Porta

    can you all please share these websites and playlists? I’m a new yoga instructor and am always searching for new stuff!
    Thank you!

  • Lets also put a legal note in there.

    Music, played in public venues, needs to be licensed for playing in that venue. This includes yoga classes, by the way, since we are taking money for the classes.

    There was a huge issue in Australia recently where gyms were fined per student per class for music license violations! No doubt, yoga studios might be next to be considered for a closer look.

    Just be mindful.

    • Aud

      This is interesting about what is happening in Australia.

      It’s my appreciation that the US Copyright Act would require a studio to license the music if it was really large (like over 2,000 sq feet).

      But I’m wondering if any studio owners have gotten letters from ASCAP/BMI?

  • Paulette

    A point well taken, Jenifer.

    This is a pet peeve of mine. I often encounter venues and teachers in clear violation. This deprives any musicians who are entitled to royalties of their right livelihood.

  • Honomann

    Thanks guys! Now yoga is on the same tier as Zumba. It’s nice that a killer playlist has now replaced decent teaching.

  • I can attest to the power of the Yoga teacher playlist. I have a CD out called Savasanas I – IV, Inner Time Music by Gabriele Morgan. Vinnie Marino, of Yoga Works in Santa Monica, is one of the teachers who “commissioned” it and he plays it in class often and sometimes posts his playlists online. I get a sales boost whenever he does so!

  • Seane Tomato

    Why would anyone want to be the new MTV? The 90s called…they want their rave back.

  • I wonder: how much would an artist get if a yoga teacher paid royalties for playing a song, vs. if the teacher shared a playlist via itunes and it resulted in a sale?

    Really, how much should we pay in licensing fees for playing a song while teaching a class of ten people? Is there a schedule somewhere that explains that? I probably owe more than I can count for playing Here Comes the Sun or My Sweet Lord in almost every class I teach. If the music industry had its way, we wouldn’t play songs in class because we wouldn’t be able to afford their fees. How does that help their business? Have you ever bought music you have never listened to?

    I also share playlists on my site. Here’s to music discovery!

    • E. Fudd

      Yeah, and why should students in your classes pay for your lessons when there’s only ten of them there?

      • Hi E. Fudd,

        I actually don’t get paid at all. I teach for free. 🙂

  • Call me a “yoga purist” (yikes, what a terrible moniker), but I’m reluctant to get on board with music in yoga – especially pop music. My practice doesn’t flow well when I have to constantly look up to see what the next pose is or if we’ve moved on to the next pose b/c I can’t hear the teacher over the boomin’ bass. Sure, those of us that don’t want to hear music can use it as an opportunity to practice focusing internally in spite of external distractions, but again, see my first point. Music absolutely distracts from an internal focus – it’s hard to not sing along in your mind when you know the song. Most of my friends that like music in yoga see yoga as a workout (i.e. I listen to music when I run, so why not during yoga?). I guess I’m in the increasing minority that wants to exercise my body, my mind and my meditative abilities. Isn’t that what yoga is about? Or is yoga simply a workout these days?

    There are an increasing number of studies showing the benefits of yoga. I wonder what the studies will say when they study those that do yoga to a soundtrack compared to those that do yoga in silence. It will be interesting to see if there is a difference. In the meantime, I will continue to reluctantly hop from studio to studio leaving my favorite classes and teachers behind as they are swallowed up by the beat of the bass.

    • Honomann

      You go Recycle!

      Don’t fund the new yoga machine. The real music is inside you 🙂

    • I agree to an extent. Many people do look at yoga as a workout, which in my opinion is ok, if that is how you get on your mat. Everyone has a different perspective, and however they choose to do yoga, is up to them. It is a great workout when you do it for a physical practice. Usually you come into it for the workout, but eventually gain a spiritual part that you didn’t expect. So I don’t judge anyone who goes for the workout. That being said, I agree that yoga should not have popular music played because, like you said, it’s hard not to sing along when you know the song. I have found that in my own personal experience, and it took away from my groove. You are supposed to find yourself in your breath, not have a sing along in your head while trying to move from asana to asana. It defeats the purpose of yoga. I do however, think it’s ok if you just use the music portion without the words. I am a teacher, and I always use music in my class. I don’t like awkward silence, and I feel like that exists in certain classes. I try to play songs with no lyrics, but sometimes will use some if they are chanting/kirtan lyrics. Those I find soothing and beneficial to the flow of the breath and body.

      I agree that it would be interesting to see a study how you said.


      • Honomann

        Hi Tracy!

        It saddens me that you feel silence is awkward. Silence is the truest form of music. Our senses are so bombarded with daily life, any sliver of silence is golden. I encourage you to try not playing music in your classes and let your voice and teaching be the “music” for the subtle senses of your students. It may not be easy, but in the end you’ll be a better yoga teacher and maybe a not as good dj.

        • I guess that came off a little wrong. I don’t always feel like silence is awkward, just sometimes. At the studio I teach in, there are other classes (pilates, TRX, spin) going on while my class is going on, so music is a necessity many times because otherwise all my students can hear is people talking, laughing, etc. And very loudly sometimes. =( I just personally find that music helps me. When I am doing a strong vinyasa practice, having drums and powerful music help push me through and give that “pumped up” feeling to release my energy in different ways. When it’s a slow and gentle practice, I find the calming music helps relax me. Sometimes I feel we need the music to distract the thoughts in our own minds. When it’s silent, we have nothing to do but listen to our minds. And sometimes the thoughts are not always good (at least in that particular moment). We can then forget about the abundance of “everyday life” thoughts that are circulating, and instead think about our breath/body connection.

    • jen

      I’m a chatty-cathy….. so it’s nice to learn how to quiet the monkey mind by a quiet-meditative practice.

      I’ve done a “Beatles” practice, which was quite nice, but day to day, I need that 45 minutes of quiet with occasional instruction.

      I don’t consider it purity of yoga…. I consider it listening to what your soul needs and respecting that.

  • bwyoga

    i’ve used music in my classes and have tried teaching without, just to do my own individual ‘research’. i’ve asked my regular students what they prefer and the interesting response is that they ‘forget’ about the music and focus on their breath and their asanas. it doesn’t seem to enhance or noticeably distract from their yoga practice. i don’t play pop/indie music and i teach a hatha style (not much vinyasa or other jumping) so i don’ think anyone is singing along to the yoga tunes in their head…unless they have subliminally learned the gayatri mantra from hearing it repeatedly. which mightn’t be such a bad side effect.

  • I swim regularly so use ear plugs all the time. My most effective pair were custom molded from a kit, they are far better than standard ear plugs and don’t seem to wear out. It’s much cheaper than having your ears molded by an audiologist; I would definitely suggest them to anyone who uses them a lot.

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