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.
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).
Posted by Steve