Ashtanga and a ‘legal performance-enhancing drug’

We’ve touched on this touchy Ashtanga subject before: Playing music while practicing. Bobbie even referred to it as a “taboo,” and it might be the post that produced the most remarkably nasty emails to us. Seriously.

Via wikipedia

We understand those who don’t practice to music. We know how music can focus or unfocus a practice. But for some of us, a deep, inwardly focused practice without some motivation isn’t always possible. I’d also argue that those who dismiss practicing to music don’t know for sure it is going to keep them from experiencing “yoga” in its sense of union with [fill in with your choice].

Recent studies, as summed up by Scientific American, may actually argue for the possibility of that union.

But first, in the way asana is our first limb, let’s think about music’s benefits on a physical level. From the Scientific American (SA) article:

In the last 10 years the body of research on workout music has swelled considerably, helping psychologists refine their ideas about why exercise and music are such an effective pairing for so many people as well as how music changes the body and mind during physical exertion. Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it. In a 2012 review of the research, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that one could think of music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”

Of greater note is that these studies are suggesting there’s more to matching music to your workout than just putting your iPod on random:

Selecting the most effective workout music is not as simple as queuing up a series of fast, high-energy songs. One should also consider the memories, emotions and associations that different songs evoke. For some people, the extent to which they identify with the singer’s emotional state and viewpoint determines how motivated they feel. And, in some cases, the rhythms of the underlying melody may not be as important as the cadence of the lyrics.

The studies also find, of course, that one of the reasons music helps with workouts is because it can act as a distraction. And that’s the center of the argument against playing music while practicing Ashtanga. But what if it could actually help? (A quick reminder of the Yoga of Music focus by Sangita Yoga. You can’t say music and yoga never mix or are intrinsically at odds.) More from SA:

Music also increases endurance by keeping people awash in strong emotions. Listening to music is often an incredibly pleasurable experience and certain songs open the mental floodgates with which people control their emotions in everyday situations. If one strongly identifies with the singer’s emotions or perspective, the song becomes all the more motivational.

I’d say that suggests that a carefully crafted playlist of songs could offer a new, and certainly different, experience of an Ashtanga practice, one that might inform and strength later asana practices done without any music. Maybe timing Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir to Kapotasana would bring out the emotional aspects to that deep backbend that otherwise aren’t accessible for a person. But once accessed, perhaps they could be explored.

Bottom-line: You don’t know until you try. Which isn’t to say you have to try. But this SA article made me curious to think more fully about a playlist timed to the practice. With Ashtanga, with the breath count, it certainly is possible to build a playlist around the asana sequence (kind of like Dark Side of the Moon syncing with The Wizard of Oz).

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

98 thoughts on “Ashtanga and a ‘legal performance-enhancing drug’”

  1. When I was in my heyday of skiing most of my friends like to smoke, listen to tunes and ski. Mood enhancing drugs and even music always threw me off my internal rhythm. I always preferred the song in my head and the sound of the skis bashing through the moguls. Some people need distraction to be focused which has never worked for me but it works for some. I tried music with my asana practice and it was too distracting for me again I like the internal rhythm of the practice, the sound of my breath and heartbeat. I do like to play bansuri ragas by my guru Ravi Shankar Mishra while i’m laying dead on the floor that’s when I like to travel with the music. “Whatever gets you through the night” as they say.

    1. Another thing that happens to me when doing my practice to music is that I sometimes catch myself in a pose 22 breaths later zoning out to the tune. The only music I can let sit in the background and not distract me is Baroque music. If I put on Zepplin i’d be groovin to John Bohams huge drum sound listening to all the cool fills and huge beat oh yeah jump through.

  2. You see, this is where the “union” of western science and yoga lead us horribly astray. This SA article, from what I’ve read above, is focused on the connection between “exercise” and music. Ashtanga is not exercise. Ashtanga is a spiritual practice. This is why there isn’t music.

    Now sure, if you want to employ music from time to time in your home practice, I can see this as an option to get through the rough days. I’m not a total hard-ass. But, come on, this SA article is stretch in application to Ashtanga, at least any understanding of Ashtanga that goes beyond the making of funny shapes with one’s body for the sheer pleasure of making said body “pretty.”

    And the kirtan argument is weak as well. Kirtan is its own form of sadhana. You don’t see Krishna das busting out headstand during his recitation of the Hanuman Chalisa. The reason…they are separate paths and while their goals may be the same and their practice may support one another, there is nothing but postmodernism (in the worst sense of that term) to be found in their blending.

    1. I think Ashtanga is still too young for us to be moving into postmodernism.

      There, that’s my provocative statement for the day, Thad.

      Again, I’m just positing a way to explore the practice. As I note below, it seems to me to be akin, perhaps, to making other adjustments to the practice for whatever reason is needed / maybe wanted. (Holding poses longer to deepen their effect is mainly what I have in mind.)

      For the most part, I don’t think Sangita Yoga is doing kirtan solely; I don’t want to cloud what they do improperly. Naren can lead kirtan, as he did at the Confluence, but I think he’s exploring how music helps us deepen our union with (again, fill in your choice).

      But are you suggesting that we “silo” — to use a word from my work world I don’t like much — sadhanas? Kirtan has to finish before we do asana, which has to finish before we study or serve, etc.? Are they all really separate paths?

      Finally, to paraphrase back at ya, I think the argument that “Ashtanga is a spiritual practice … why there isn’t music” is a bit off target. There’s music throughout nearly every spiritual practice I can think of. You should have heard the music during the homa at Chidambaram. John Bonham would have been impressed!


      1. Explore away my friend. Just don’t use modern exercise science to justify and legitimate your explorations.

        “Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency.” It says it right there. Music distracts…what could possibly be more counterintuitive in one’s practice of yoga?

        And yes. I am suggesting that sadhana’s be “siloed.” I don’t see this as a bad thing. When you went for darshan, did you feel a desire to do a headstand in front of Shiva? No. Asana, kirtan, puja…all leading to the same place, but different paths and not intended to be blended. It’s only in the modern world that we’ve decided that if a little is good then a lot is better and if we can jam it all into one package, then shit, samadhi must be right around the corner.

        I don’t buy it. And if you look around at the “spiritualists” of today, I think, the proof is in the pudding.

      2. Well…

        There was music during our homa to Siva.

        There was the Siva temple right near the Chowpatty ISKON temple that was ALL music — drums, people participating, people in the end hugging the linga.

        You know I’m not for (as I just wrote below) putting together our own personal potpourri (with notable exceptions like that Wm. Blake fella). But perhaps today I’m wondering whether it is useful not to take advantage of avenues available to us.

        I’m thinking of Nancy’s comments at the last Confluence about Western/Eastern medicine. There are times when Western medicine is the way to go; there are times when Eastern medicine is best. I don’t want to outright dismiss things.

        Which doesn’t mean that, after some thought and discrimination and judgement, I won’t dismiss something. Maybe by the end of a debate here on music, I’ll decide it isn’t worth exploring as part of the ongoing learning process that is yoga.


      3. There is music with the practice. The opening chant is music, the breath is rhythmic, our heartbeats, the closing chant. Even in Judaism there are sections when the congregation sings together, prays out loud together but then their is half the time when everyone prays in silence. Ashtanga just has a low level of music but rhythm (what holds all music together) is the basis of the practice namely rhythm of the breath, with the heartbeat and our inner selves.

  3. Music and the lack of music while practicing is beneficial to most. The volume can have an effect. The memory of the song can have an effect. Silence doesn’t necessarily mean inner silence. A song can lead us into both inner silence and inner conflict if you detest the song or genre. I generally like to hear the same song in Savasana which brings me back to that teacher, it takes me deeper, but I also think that after a cue filled class it is beneficial to zone out to quiet. Ashtanga, however, is a raw practice, and just as we know when a count is off time can drag us down or otherwise prove to be an irritant of sorts so too could an out of sync musical selection. Mysore to music, maybe in a home practice, but I wouldn’t attend a class if I heard music playing. I want to hear the song of my breath and others…

    1. Hi Nick.

      We’ve been to Ashtanga classes with full song tracks (see Bobbie’s earlier post), and I won’t argue that it was as deep or traditional as a Led class at a shala. (Those classes with music always were Led classes.) But it was at a more general studio, and it got a lot of people to come back and many (we included) to go further. So in that sense… good, bad? While I’m usually the first to judge, I’m not in this case — probably because I have the experience I do.

      Which of course is a lead-in to a whole discussion on whether we are apt to judge something we don’t really know about. (I think there’s been something in the news this weak apropos to that.)


  4. Why wouldn’t music work with Ashtanga? Honestly, I can’t stand this whole “Oh it’s a sadhana, it’s deeply spiritual, it’s a raw and pure tradition”-speech, because thats what Ashtangis always say and this is why the “Ashtanga police” was created in the first place. It seems like Ashtangis never can reply just with “Oh well, music and Mysore doesn’t work for me”, but always come from a place of spiritual arrogance like “Oh music and other yoga styles – yeah, might be fun. But not Ashtanga. Ashtanga is spiritual and sadhana, you see? You have to decide to do Ipod Yoga or do Ashtanga, if you’re serious enough, great enough, focused enough, bla enough…” …
    I mean, I mostly don’t practice with music, because it would distract me too, but do I think people who do practice with music have a less spritual, less traditional sadhana like me? No and that’s because I’ll probably never adopt this typical Ashtanga attitude.

    1. Bravo, Kim. To each his own, right?

      Personally, music with practice distracts me. But, music with practice is how I (and most Western practitioners) started doing yoga years ago. Whatever helps a student to roll out a mat and do a practice is fine, especially if they are a newer practitioner who hasn’t developed the perseverance to practice regularly yet.

      I do suspect playing music is something that starts to fade away when the student become more seasoned – “serious” – as a practitioner. The need for it wanes.

      With that movement towards serious practice, we should also keep a sense of humor about what we’re doing, too. 🙂

      Here’s a link to a great two-part studio talk by Richard Freeman on “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.”

      He covers the issues of sexuality, drugs (marijuana) and the playing of music in practice, too. I think music is covered the second part; it’s been a while since I listened to it to say definitively – but, it’s well worth the time to listen to ALL his studio talks. He’s wise and very funny.

      For those too impatient to listen to the talks, essentially, Richard says that playing music is fine (he’s a big fan of Bach) but in doing so, you run the risk of “borrowing” your emotions from the music – uplifting, melancholy, energized, etc. And thus, it’s an artificial enhancement or aid to your practice. In addition, if your intent is to quiet the mind in your practice, to smooth out the vrttis/thought waves, then perhaps music is best left off for that reason, too.

      1. Ha. That sounds like something Richard would say.

        I’d also, to piggie back here, point to Nancy Gilgoff’s observation that Ashtanga isn’t — in general — as much fun as it was when the senior Western students started. I’m sure they all played around with different approaches over the years, and maybe still do for all we know.

        I’ve been to shalas that play mantra chants fairly quietly in the background. I wonder how that works into the “borrowing” idea.


      2. I’ve goofed around a few times with playing natural sounds (i.e. birdsong, water/rivers/waves, temple bells) in my Mysore classes, as well as playing someone chanting Mantra. Even this can be obtrusive, especially if a student’s not into natural sounds or mantras.

        Eventually, I got over the need to have accompanying sound in the room, to fill or artificially create a more “yogic” experience for students or myself. The sound of the breath is the best soundtrack for practice, imho.

        I’d like to hear more about Nancy’s observations about Ashtanga not being as “fun” now as when she started. What did she mean? Please share!

      3. I’ll try to find what she said about it. I’m wondering if it comes up at all on any of the videos online from the panels. Maybe at the least I can figure out when she was saying it so you can get to the right video.


  5. it’s all nicely summarized in the post: music distracts, allows and invites you to ignore some of the effects of the practice. “farther, longer, faster than usual without realizing it”. and so, listening to music while practicing just goes against the principles of the ashtanga method. what i simply don’t get: why is it such an issue for people to say fine, you do ashtanga, i’m not doing ashtanga, thank you very much? why is it that they must take this practice, modify it to their taste, insist it’s the practice and insult those who think otherwise? to each their own. right.

    1. In answer to your last question, it may be a matter of then determining what is Ashtanga. How Tim Miller, Nancy Gilgoff, Eddie Stern, Richard Freeman, Sharath and Guruji all taught is different. There are some clear, core elements (again, I think) but I’m not sure where one decides to draw the line.

      On the music front, I’m certainly not saying that everyone should be practicing Ashtanga to music. But as a way to explore the practice, I’m not sure it is a bad thing to try, any more than exploring what a half-practice might provide, or a practice holding poses longer (for instance, the standing poses, as a senior teacher has suggested to me in the past).


    2. I think it’s quite the opposite. Most Ashtangis can’t accept the fact that you can modify the practice and still do Ashtanga. It’s always like this: one little thing is modified (wether it’s a modification of an asana or music playing or something else) and in that second a few Ashtangis hop on the high horse and judge all the other people for their non-traditional practice.
      And the most confusing thing is: if you’d really listen to the old-school teachers like Nancy or Richard or David you’d know that Ashtanga never was as strict as it is today. So all this talk about being traditional is just an illusion, because this strictness and the arrogance born out of it, is just a new development.

      1. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and risk the wrath of the “high horse” Ashtanga folks you refer to, Kim: If the culture of Ashtanga is becoming more dogmatic and arrogant – and I agree that it is – where is this attitude sprouting from? Is it something that comes from the recently authorized? From Mysore? From younger students? (vs. older students who are a bit older and more mellow – and creaky, LOL!)

        Where is this dogmatic attitude arising from, what is it’s epicenter, and, more importantly, why is it arising?

        Is this what Nancy meant about the practice being less “Fun” than it used to be?

      2. I think that was part of it, yes, Michelle. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I think she was suggesting that there has been a turn to the more serious as Ashtanga got “bigger.” There weren’t any Ashtanga police in the 1970s.


      3. I think somehow over the years this idea developed that there’s a certain… accomplishment if you follow the “rules” and be very strict. Like an accomplishment and you can sense it in these students (and some of the posts here) that there’s a certain kind of … gloating, when other students aren’t as strict/traditonal/… as these students. It’s kind of an ugly development, because people then act like they’re more spiritually developed and have deeper practices and are closer to God and they’re the BEST ashtangis and if you don’t do this or don’t do that you are doig yoga but not the sacred Ashtanga practice which only can be practiced if you follow 23950 rules…

        It’s so confusing to me how this happend. I suspect it happened when Ashtanga got really popular and there were too many students in Mysore to handle, so there had to be rules to manage the masses. Problem is they identified too much with the rules and kind of started a competition who’s more traditional.

        And now we have this new generation that would probably tell Guruji that he’s not teaching Ashtanga, when they’d witness him giving out modifications or slightly different sequences.

      4. Music or no music is about the principle, not the rules. If I ask for extra canadian bacon on my veggie deluxe pizza, I can hardly expect to pass as a vegetarian – and not because the vegetarians or their police (if they have one) have grown a bit rigid of late. And even if they point their intolerant little green fingers at me and call me a carnivore: so what?

      5. I second what Boodiba said. You can’t possibly know what an effect music has on a person other than yourself. Maybe music distracts yourself, you listen just to the music, forget the breathing, have rapid eye movements and start little dance movements in between the asanas.
        But that doesn’t mean another person can’t use music to deepen the focus, because music can also carry your practice and enhance it. That’s different for every person. And the spectrum of music is so large, you can’t just assume that music automatically distracts you.

      6. This reminds me of a lecture I sat through when I was taking teacher training at Om Studio. Cyndi Lee’s husband David Nichtern was talking. I found him pompous and annoying to begin with, and I wasn’t at all interested in Buddhism but I had to tolerate the lectures as part of my training. The studio was located really close to one of the old Crunches I used to work out. David made some snide remark about the people on the treadmills, those lesser beings, running to nowhere. It was all about how what we were doing was oh so much loftier. I yelled my rebuttal in my head. “How do YOU know those runners aren’t in deep meditative states you fat fuck? Your fat ass could certainly use some treadmill time too, because clearly your yoga isn’t cutting it!”

        Sorry for the swearing but yes, different things affect people differently. My father once discovered me sacked out on the sofa with the music so loud you could feel it in your chest. I was napping!

        In my own case, whatever helps keep me on the mat is good. Music can be a good substitute for group energy. Like I said earlier, if you want to play the judgmental “my regime is harder than yours” game, the group energy and support of a teacher are way more of a “crutch” or support than a soundtrack. Of course I say this just to make a point. I’m just a person who used to have quite a good practice, trying to heal my body all by myself.


    3. Every religion has been modified. Every style of writing, music and visual art school has been modified. I guess that’s human nature, ego, take what is there and make it “BETTER!” When someone other than Guruji teaches (never taken a class by him) I will go out on a limb here and make an assumption the method is going to be different rated on a continuum.

  6. I think Michelle is right. Our early conditioning can play a part in whether we like music or not… my early yoga (not ashtanga) classes never had music playing. And I mean ever. I don’t know why this is, but it set me up to prefer the sounds of breathing over Bach. Interestingly, I can’t design with music on either (I’m a book designer). When I’m deep into a creative process, music is an annoying distraction that tugs me away from the wellspring of creativity. The work suffers. When I’m doing grunt work however (making endless corrections) then I actually need music because the work is too boring otherwise and my mind wanders. Same thing with yoga. I can’t get ‘in’ if there is music. It ruins my focus. Even on the days when I fail at that focus, at least I had a fighting chance. But running? or any other type of exercise? Deadly without a playlist.

    That said, if music makes it better, use it! But I really hope that they never start playing music in Mysore rooms, because I believe there is genuine value to the silence.

    1. Hi Laura.

      I guess in response I’d ask about those shalas I’ve practiced Mysore in that have fairly quiet mantra chanting going on. Does that seem to cross a line? Do we end up having to define what we mean by “music,” which isn’t something I’m prepared to do at 6:30 in the morning. 🙂


      1. “cross the line”! not something this renegade ashtangi would say 😉 (if you’ve been reading the blog you know I am anything but traditional) If everyone is cool with it then everybody is cool with it, you know? But I ask: what if the quiet chanting was a problem for someone in the room? Would they have to leave? Find a new shala? What if that someone never experienced practicing without it? You’re suggesting we don’t knock it until we’ve tried it and I agree. But I would also say that we are bombarded with sensory stimulants all day and having a space where silence is OK is pretty important. To me at least. Lots of people are afraid of silence. When you turn inward things can get pretty hairy. Or interesting. How can you hear your own breath when you’re listening to something from outside you? Doesn’t music, for all the reasons in your post, draw you out of yourself and into whatever emotions it triggers? I am a sappy sort who is particularly susceptible to the emotions in music but it’s important to realize that those emotions may not be genuine. I can make myself happy or sad depending on my playlist. If you practice in silence then you have a better chance of the emotions that arise actually being from you.

        I think using music has proliferated. In my 20? (heaven help me, almost 30!) years since I started doing yoga, music was NEVER played in those early classes. But I think it is almost always played now.

        For me it’s like TV. It’s everywhere now. Even gas stations. Silence is rare and precious and so I guess I would prefer it to stay out of the Mysore room, even soft chanting. We do not always have to be entertained like infants.

        Maybe it’s like perfume! Everyone seems to be OK with banning that. Sound can be just as insidious and annoying to some.

      2. Well, maybe not “cross your line.”

        You raise an issue I wanted to ask about next: How did music get so intertwined with yoga. Despite the fact that Thad seems to be calling me out as a “hey, everyone do your thing” yogi — which he knows I’m not! — I tend to react against the conflating (as opposed to confluencing?) of different traditions into one’s own personal mix.

        Did music get added in just because of its (positive) role in exercise? How did reading poetry at the end of classes get started? And on and on.

        I do want to counter one of your points, though: I do need to be entertained like an infant almost constantly. 🙂


    2. I used to teach with music in my led classes at a studio when I was a new teacher – but it felt so ridiculous, after a while: the amount of time (and money) I was spending on making a playlist for my classes every week was foolish! It was time that I should have been spending doing something that would make me a better teacher – like practicing or studying Sutras, etc.

      This was the studio where I first learned Ashtanga, and they played music in their classes, so that’s all I knew, at first. There weren’t daily Ashtanga classes there, nor a Mysore program there, so it wasn’t a “traditional” Ashtanga studio. But, a few years of self practice had revealed that Ashtanga sans music was a deeper, richer experience, at least, it felt deeper.

      So, I stopped playing music when I taught – and made people listen to the breath instead. It was a growth point for me as a teacher – I no longer used the music as an aid to teaching my classes or hold the space for the students. But, I really pissed off one or two folks who were there to get a “workout” and who missed my “awesome” playlists, LOL. Boy, did they complain when I shut off the music! You can’t please everyone 🙂

  7. In general, I feel like I should say: When I suggest perhaps exploring music and Ashtanga (or yoga, maybe, more generally), I’m not suggesting it is going to replace the regular practice or that I’ve discovered the Best. Yoga. Ever. I think my asana practice is grounded and informed by Ashtanga, but I certainly wouldn’t claim that such a music-inspired practice was Ashtanga (TM). It would be Ashtanga based, in ways different but perhaps no less significant than a shortened practice or one that just involved sun salutes and the three final poses. And I don’t know what I would learn that I could bring to my next “Ashtanga practice.”

    Maybe. Maybe adding any sound is a disqualifier. But then I would start pointing to the shalas that do play some sort of sound/music during Mysore practices…


  8. I use music too! To each their own, but if you want, you can always look down upon those needy wimps who feel compelled to go to a shala for the group energy. I’d say a teacher and a group are FAR more of a crutch than a solo soundtrack.

  9. As a teacher of Ashtanga I have music playing pre and post session. Find that this helps to break the general unease that exists before and and after practice especially for those who are coming to the group for the first time. It also creates a great contrast between listening externally to turning your focus inwards as the music fades away and practice begins.

  10. I think all this chatter comes down to the reason you are practicing. Many, I imagine, are practicing asana because it is a good excercise. Very few, I also image, are practicing to see God. Those who are practicing to see God, won’t require any distractions but are practicing to remove those external distractions. The sensualists can do as they please, as the depth is not there and the blinders are still on.

      1. Judge for yourself how you are driven by your senses. We like to say yoga is the cessation f the fluctuations of the mind, so why would you introduce music into a practice that is about stilling your mind and the movements thereof? It’s a fundamental question. Why are you really practicing “yoga”? It must be asked. The answer will determine your path.

      2. Don’t put words into my mouth! There is no “we” here.

        I practice yoga to connect with my spirit. Since I am a spiritual being housed in a physical body, absolutely anything that gets me out of my head and more in my body helps me connect with my innate spirituality. This is one reason I practice. To be honest I’d just quit and go to the gym if I could, because I can be focused anywhere. It doesn’t have to be on a mat. But when I don’t practice my body hurts, which distracts and dismays. That’s another reason why I practice.

        There’s nothing try hard or precious about it.

        Attempts to define experiences for others just smacks of the evangelism that one would think such a pure yogi as yourself would be trying to avoid no? Besides that, how would YOU know whether music would help someone else’s mind calm or not? Perhaps music slows down the whirring a bit and the soundtrack practitioner is more one pointed than yourself. Unless you can climb into the heads of others, you cannot know.

      3. I suppose my answer to that is more about the lens I’m looking at my practice through; is it just the asana practice that is the yoga? If so, maybe every single practice has to be some transcendent experience. But I know I’m no where near that; some practices are “better” than others that way, most are a lot worse. (Perhaps it is worth noting that I never practice with music.)

        My yoga, to try to be clearer, isn’t just the single practice. (Maybe it should be.) It’s more the whole series of practices and where they are going. And I certainly don’t find that to be a straight path to (samadhi?).

        In keeping with the thoughts this SA article produced, I might introduce music one time in order to have something by which to compare a practice without music, for instance. Or maybe I think something holding back my asana practice involves emotions and adding music will help me get through it; from there, the music can slide away and maybe I’ll be closer to the reason for practicing.

        Finally, to your first point, I’d agree that most people who do yoga do it for exercise and the health benefits. I think more of the people who are doing it for something “more” are likely to be commenting here (i.e. spending time debating these points). So this probably isn’t a high sensualist gathering.


      4. Boodiba and S, please do know I took the bait here but do not wish to put words in your mouth or criticise–not my intent. My point here (if I am making a point) is that Ashtanga is an ethical eight fold path to be practiced in complete surrender to God. It’s a lot to attempt to take up. I am not calling myself spiritual or holy but I am practicing yoga to be nearer to God than to my senses. You may not be. No harm no foul. I am not judging any one. Ashtanga is a difficult practice and asana is but a part of the practice–the 1% of the theory is so vast as to be overwhelming and I can’t even read Sanskrit… I desist. Best to all.

      5. J.

        No need to desist. Apologies if the discussion is losing the proper decorum. This tends to be one of those topics that people feel strongly about.

        I’m specifically thinking of asana practice here. Are there times when perhaps surrendering to music to help deepen the spiritual path is ok? Is maybe another way to ask this question.

        I’m certainly not suggesting Ashtanga asana always should have music. Or even ever. But the article made me ponder the possibilities.

      6. I’m pulling your leg a little J, but again you’re attempting to define what Ashtanga “should be” as in how it should be practiced “as a surrender to God”.


      7. Boodiba, you keep pulling me back in… 🙂 Does this make it any clearer where I’m coming from:

        What is your parting advice for those who have a desire to pursue yoga?

        K Pattabhi Jois: Yoga is possible for anybody who really wants it. Yoga is universal. Yoga is not mine.

        But don’t approach yoga with a business mind-looking for worldly gain.

        If you want to be near God, turn your mind toward God, and practice Yoga. As the scriptures say: “without yoga practice, how can knowledge give you moksha? [liberation]”

        What is your parting advice for those who have a desire to pursue yoga?

        K Pattabhi Jois: Yoga is possible for anybody who really wants it. Yoga is universal. Yoga is not mine.

        But don’t approach yoga with a business mind-looking for worldly gain.

        If you want to be near God, turn your mind toward God, and practice Yoga. As the scriptures say: “without yoga practice, how can knowledge give you moksha?

      8. I’m sorry 🙂 I love discussing yoga!

        “But don’t approach yoga with a business mind-looking for worldly gain.” This would suggest to me that those naughty teachers who only teach short term, very expensive workshops and do NOT run a regular morning Mysore room (less profitable) are further away from “God” than others who do. Yet the big name people draw hoards of the faithful. Hmmmm….

        Forgive me. It just seems that if you examine closely enough, there’s a fly in every seemingly pristine jar of ointment.


      9. Agree with you on the fly in the ointment, which is why I don’t attend a shala and only seldomly attend asana workshops to learn from senior practitoners. I practice at home and do a lot of reading. I’m into Samkhya philosophy. BTW, I googled you and didn’t realize who you were on here. Your practice is impressive. Promise not to write anymore.

      10. Thank you! My practice WAS impressive. It’s not anymore…, but hey, at least I still have the video clips.


      11. All points here are very interesting and valid. What I see lacking here is a clear understanding of “music” and what that means. In a yogic sense, there is a vast difference between music for pleasure and relaxation, and music for yoga sadhana. Many great yogis in India enter various levels of samadhi (the goal of ashtanga yoga) while chanting in kirtan or listening to another devotee sing a bhajan.

        I would love to sit with all of you and have this discussion.


      12. Music for me is whatever comes up in my iTunes shuffle. I will not attempt to define what music is or “should” be for others.

        I’ve also never heard an Ashtangi talk about reaching Samadhi – even someone who, for example, has been living in India 35 years and finished 4th with Guruji. I’ve never head a teacher in the US talk about reaching Samadhi either. I’m assuming the state of being doesn’t have geographical biases, but if no one ever gets there, I’m not sure it’s a real, tangible goal. I mean the Pradapika says I can have a body made of pure light but I’m not taking that literally.

        But please DO tell if you’re confident you have achieved Sahadhi! I’d love to hear someone actually say it.

        My goals are not so lofty. I try to make it through each day…


      13. I have no intention to be holier than thou. Just stating the facts. I believe in upholding the ultimate goals but at the same time accepting where I am. Yoga is so beautiful because it has something for us at every step from our humble and often feeble beginnings to the glorious end.

      14. Facts can be slippery, but ok sure. Have you ever achieved samadhi? Do you know anyone else who’d answer, “Yes, definitely” to that question?

        Sent from my iPhone

      15. Well at least there’s someone! Judging by your succint response the conversation is over so I won’t bother trying to get the name (unless you’d like to volunteer more details for all those seekers out there).

        The only person I can think of who’s written about it is, I’m pretty sure, Parahamsa Yogananda. I’m not going to bother to google so I’m not sure I spelled correctly but I think you’ll know who I mean.

        I don’t believe Samadhi is the goal of Ashtanga yoga as it has been spread by Jois. Is there a meditation room at Command Central in Gokulam? Nope. People do their asana and get the hell out to make room for the next one. Didn’t Guruji call meditation “mad attention”? I’ve heard that story. There were plenty who’d have eaten nothing but eggshells if he told them to do it. If Samadhi were a goal then I’d think more Ashtanga studios would have dedicated meditation rooms. (I’ve never seen a single one.) I’ve also never heard of a single Ashtangi confirming reaching that point. This is not to say it hasn’t happened of course! But I’d been in the world awhile and… nothing.

        So I hadn’t trying to get anyone to “put words into Tim’s mouth” when I asked if he’d confirmed it. I mean…. Steve, I think it was, said Tim talked about it as the ultimate goal. Ok so if anyone would acheive it I’d think it’d be Tim (#1). He’s been practicing and teaching devotedly for years. Plus he’s been to India a bunch of times, where one has the time to sit for hours upon hours. He hasn’t been a lifelong lawyer with a practice plus a 50 hour or more per week job in other words (#2). And he’s said to talk about Samadhi! (#3).

        Do didn’t ANYone think to ask him any direct questions? Did you get there? What was it like? How far down the road is it?

        Apparently not! If it’s a goal then it doesn’t seem like anyone’s that serious about it. “Oooh we’re heading off into battle? Should we ask where it is?” “Naaaah.”


      16. We must run in very different Ashtanga circles. I can’t think of a single teacher I’ve studied with that hasn’t talked about Samadhi. “What is coming, Guruji,” I know I’ve heard them say they asked. “Samadhi” was the answer.


      17. You misread. I said I’ve never heard a teacher talk about ACHIEVING samadhi, and the practical details thereof. That’s a much different thing from discussing some far off ideal.

        Sent from my iPhone

      18. You have to read my response to Mr Music, when I ask if he’s gotten there or knows anyone who has. Also when I corrected your interpretation of my question about Tim. I didn’t want you to place any spin on anything he’s ever said. I just wanted to know if he’d ever directly confirmed samadhi. But even after I explained this I didn’t get a direct answer from you. ????

        Sent from my iPhone

      19. I guess I don’t understand who the “who” is you’re referring to. I assume you mean Guruji. The early Western students peppered him with such questions, is my understanding.

        And all else I can add is that, from what I’ve heard from teachers, Samadhi is the goal. I don’t know that any of them have said they’ve been there.


      20. My main point, that I’ve stressed over and over in response to the samadhi question, is that no one talks about GETTING THERE.

        The inferred point is that if no one gets there, if it’s an unlikely goal, if ashtanga studios don’t actively promote meditation, then talking about it is just “lip service”.

        That’s all I’ve got to say on it. If it’s your personal goal I do hope you get there AND talk about it.

        Sent from my iPhone

      21. I’ll try to step in here for Naren, although I’m sure I’ll do a poor job. Naren’s not an Asthangi, although I know he’s heard an Ashtangi talk about Samadhi — Tim Miller does all the time, citing it as the goal / 8th limb of Ashtanga yoga. I think Naren sees Ashtanga though the “Ashtanga yoga is Patanjali yoga” lens. It is where — again, I’m forcefully putting words in his mouth (wasn’t that an issue earlier in this discussion??) — he and Tim have a meeting point in their respective yogas: at the goal.

        And what Naren is exploring is a different path to get to those higher states of being. He’s doing it through the traditions of sacred music in India, so he would (I suspect) have certain definitions of what musics enable us to travel that path. He is on a very interesting, and compelling, path. It’s different from the body-cranking Ashtanga one, though.


      22. Aha! Gotcha. I’ve heard of transe states induced with music and/or dancing. I’m still interested in hearing about whether or not he’s been to Samadhi Land.

        Has Tim?

        Christopher (Hildebrandt) has told me he used to meditate in his cave (in northern India naturally) for 3 hours at a stretch, “because that’s what you need for Samadhi,” but he didn’t say he felt he’d ever achieved it. I should ask him about that some time.


      23. Oh, man. You want me to put words in Tim’s mouth? There may be a law against that…

        Tim often describes his experience after his very first Ashtanga class, under Brad’s guidance, before he met Guruji. The experience and sense of being “home”, I’ve heard him say, is one he has sought to have again.

        Not sure if that’s Samadhi or not. I think Tim does describe Samadhi as something that sounds pretty good, in his Tim way of doing so.


      24. Of course not! I HATE it when people do that to me. I wanted to know if you’d ever heard Tim talk about anything he definitely called samadhi. Answering someone’s question, for example. “Yes I first achieved the wonder bubble during xyz and it was schebanga langa bing bong!”

        It seems like it’d kind of be like an orgasm. If you’re not sure, it didn’t happen. People are even certain of haunted houses in done cases! But no one seems to be about this!

        Sent from my iPhone

      1. 🙂 Bring it on! A lot of the old timers used to get high before practice, I hear. But then again the Vedas were supposedly channeled in a drugged out, soma haze.


      2. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the old timers still get high before practice, LOL! (Actually, RF talks about this fact in his “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll” talk, too. My sense is he doesn’t look favorably on the habit.)

      3. I used to all the time! It took some of the edge off the hated 5am rise… sort of diffused my predictable mental anguish. It was actually really nice and a REALLY effective way to silence the mental chatter and just be in the moment, though for an advanced practice that bumps up close to 2.5 hours, the endurance at the end can be a little strained. Eventually I got to a place where I didn’t enjoy the mental fog so much and it just melted away.


      4. I have to say I’ve never gotten high before practice…it’s just never occurred to me to try it out. (I’m such a square!)

        I’ll admit to having a mild curiosity about what it would be like. But, I don’t think I’ll get the chance any time soon: it would be hard to light up at home, and somewhat hypocritical, too, as I often tell my teenagers to “Just say, “No”” ! 🙂

      5. They’d think you’d lost your mind! It was 1-2 puffs max for me, I should point out. I’d get a little high but not stoned out of my mind 🙂

        Sent from my iPhone

      6. It’d be fine as long as it wasn’y hpercritical. When I was a teen in NH, after my best friend turned 18 (I beat her by 4 months) her parents celebrated with us over the summer on a lake in Maine by getting us stoned. Previously we’d all just snuck off into separate age groups pretending we didn’t know what the other was doing.


  11. Music in itself is a practice. Imagine night after night standing on stage playing a saxophone and people paying you for it. It’s far out man that’s all I can say about that. The reality is being paid to teach yoga or being a paid musician still needs one thing an audience. The audience participates in the spiritual action. The professional is the guru teaching either verbally or non verbally. What i’m getting at is that going to a good live concert can move you, help you loose yourself in the moment not just looking at the musician playing but experience the sound of what they play. This being said there is a certain way of acting at a concert as a listener to get the most out of the experience for both the listener and the musician and as a group listening. So what i’m saying is that listening is active, it takes a lot of sensory space. Can we multi task, yes. Is multi tasking at anything the way to take it to the next level? When professional athletes, musicians, and other artists get into it can they do it? Some can. Some can dope themselves senseless and still create amazing art but those are the few. For me personally I can too drawn into what and how the musician is doing to create what I find interesting. Even a car horn honking and loud pedestrians outside can draw my attention away. I think to be completely focused on what you are doing you can’t multi task. I’m not saying you can’t do it if you enjoy it but from my experience to do a great job and not cut my fingers or toes off while using my weed eater and lawn mower or worse running my children over I don’t listening to music while using equipment. My two cents.

      1. I have only been to one shala here in Victoria and both teachers are certified by Guruji level 2. There is no music happening there and they teach the method they were taught. I can’t say that that is not what’s being taught across the board. You’ve been to far more teachers than I have so you would have a better handle on that.

  12. As stated above, music can be a facilitator or a distractor. I think either way, misses the point. As one very senior instructor stated the work (the yoga) happens where you can’t get the pose. In this context, experiencing the lack of “a deep, inwardly focused practice without some motivation” is perhaps where the work (the yoga) is. Without allowing yourself to be in that place, you cannot learn to work with it.

  13. As a home practitioner I will occassionally find myself cutting into a short 5 or 10 second dance number between the standing poses 🙂 Samasthiti…..pause…..get down. I like silence for all the Surys, then I will often put on the CBC depending on the time of the day. The contrast between the set sequence and free form is fun. And you know the dance movement is only a short interlude, like an extra vinyasa that scatters the energy before you pull it all back in again. Why not? Life is too short.

  14. It’s a great discussion. Being Director of Sangita Yoga, I have lots to say. But for now I’ll keep it short. In the West, the trend is to use yoga as therapy rather than to use it as sadhana. The former has a goal of health and healing; the latter has the goal of samadhi or moksha. Music is treated in a similar way. Some music is for therapy, for mental relaxation, for emotional release. The goal is pleasure, peace, calmness. But it stops there. Sacred music, or yogic music, which is at the core of Sangita Yoga, is a form of music or chanting that has the same goal as traditional yoga: samadhi, moksha.

    Many great yogis, mystics, and seers in India have attained samadhi while singing kirtan, bhajan, or listening to another devotee singing. This fact has to be maintained during this discussion. In general, as others here have commented, yoga meditation and asana practice are done in silence with concentration on the asana, mantra, pranayama, etc.. But if one’s mind is wandering, sacred music can inspire deeper concentration and better practice. Music is the most powerful form of vibration to effect the mind. But the goal should be to reach a state where the mind can practice intensely regardless of outer sounds.

    Devotion (bhakti) is another factor. A yoga master once said: “Yoga can take you to the Door. Devotion is what takes you through.” Sacred music rouses devotion more than any other sadhana; especially when used to supplement pranayama meditation.

    I need to finish my book!

  15. Steve, I may have missed someone saying this already, but if you are practicing with utmost concentration, and are immersing your attention in your practice, you won’t hear any music anyway. Even if they are mantras, if they are used effectively, they become a technique for an inward movement of awareness (YS 1.29). So it’s a moot point. Or, as Joey Tribbiani said, a moo point.

    In regards to music therapy, music is quite good for the brain because it is the one of the few things that affects and stimulates the whole brain: tone, pattern, rhythm, meaning and memory are all stimulated by music. So music along with yoga can be very good for stimulating embodied, whole brain function.

    A lot of it depends on what you are looking for. Devotional music, as rightly said above in a few places, is a practice in and of itself. Personally… Led Zeppelin live at the BBC and Urban Hymns by the Verve were old favorites… but I haven’t practiced to music in some years. Maybe I should try again 🙂


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