Maybe this is an argument for music as you rest after Ashtanga?

First off: Savasana vs. “take rest.” I’m not sure the distinction is very important, but I know one is out there. Anyway, the time of practice I’m about to talk about is when you lie down to take rest after finishing your Ashtanga asana practice; call it what you will.

Whatever you call it, it may be a good time for music.

We’ll skip over the whole music during practice issue, about which it is fair to say there are some strong opinions. Maybe there is more accord on music post-practice.

The argument for adding in some music comes from an article in the April Trends in Cognitive Sciences , which takes a look at the scientific evidence that music can have therapeutic effects. You can download the whole thing right here. The researchers find that what evidence-based studies there have been hone in on four ways that music influences health:

  1. Reward, motivation and pleasure
  2. Stress and arousal
  3. Immunity
  4. Social affiliation

That first one hits right at the heart of the music-during-Ashtanga debate. Are we providing ourselves outside motivation and even pleasure to get through a difficult practice? Of course we are. I doubt anyone is arguing that, they are just arguing the benefits and negatives of that. (But, wait, I said I’d skip this.) The researchers, Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin (I’ll admit her name made me do an April Fool’s double take), link the four above areas to the following, respective, neuro-chemical systems:

  1. Dopamine and opiods
  2. Cortisol and related hormones
  3. Serotonin and related hormones
  4. Oxytocin

Here are a few more highlights (from a study with 155 footnotes), ones that seem to relate more directly to our yoga/Ashtanga-focused world:

  • A host of studies have shown that listening to “relaxing music” — slow tempo, low pitch, no lyrics — has a calming effect on healthy subjects, those undergoing surgery and patients with heart troubles. Specifically, the levels of cortisol dropped after listening to music.
  • Another study simulated the typical stresses of daily life and found that cortisol levels dropped more quickly after subjects listened to music than those who sat in silence. (That one really seems interesting.)
  • Harkening back to a recent side debate in our comments about yoga and drugs, another study found that patients who listened to music coordinated by a licensed music therapist had lower cortisol levels than ones who were given drugs. “Baseline anxiety was reduced significantly more by the music than by the drug.”
  • As part of their findings around the stress-reducing section of their study, the researchers write: “Music is among those lifestyle choices that may reduce stress, protect against disease, and manage pain.”
  • A study found that participating in a drum circle could lift immunity among older people. Another study found that “group drumming counteracted age-related declines in immune functioning.”
  • Group singing has more positive effects than listening on immunity. So I guess I have to participate more in those occasional kirtans.
  • Singing also can play a role in increased and improving our social interaction — i.e. increasing trust and social bonding. And it has a greater effect in this regard than just listening. (So see my second sentence directly above.)
  • Open-heart surgery patients who listened to music also had increased levels of oxytocin, which regulates social behavior. So maybe there is the possibility of improved attitude post-surgery when it comes to recuperation?

The researchers suggest three areas are ripe for further exploration: more controlled experiments of subjects who listen to music versus those who don’t; investigations into the “neurochemical basis of musical pleasure and reward”; and more on the social effects of music (on oxytocin).

So what does any of this mean for us when it comes to resting after Ashtanga? It suggest, I think, that music at that point may be especially beneficial. It sounds like a lot of what people say they are seeking via their Ashtanga practices — health, calmness, a sense of togetherness/connection to the world — can be influenced positively by the right kind of music. Again, I’d note the finding that listening to music is better as a stress reliever than being in silence.

It may also be an interesting subject for a study: Are people who practice yoga (including Ashtanga) more likely to see benefits from music in these realms? (I.e. does the yoga practice establish something that makes us more open to music’s effects?)

Most generally, I’d say the lesson is that is worth applying music to other parts of daily Sadhana.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

18 thoughts on “Maybe this is an argument for music as you rest after Ashtanga?”

  1. There is no doubt that music can do many things to the listener. I guess it depends on how pure a practice you want. Even in Savasana the point of the posture is to melt into yourself and feel how the practice has effected you, where the points of pain are etc. If you are listening to music and drifting out of yourself not even noticing your body in my opinion it is the wrong time for that. Even while sitting in meditation if you have music playing you will be focusing on music and the idea is to control your mind not let it run free into something else. It might help or give the practitioner an out of body experience but are you developing your mind control by doing this or being influenced by an external source? Once the source is removed you will be at stage one again. Kind of like people that have to self medicate to make it through the day. IF you can’t self medicate you can’t make it through the day. You begin to rely on an exterior stimulant to be “normal.” I think it should all be placed on the self with as little external input during asana and meditation. It is different if you yourself are using mantra or prayer aloud to meditate than listening to someone else because you are in control and again when you need it can call upon it.

    1. I should state i’m not against medicating some people truly need this kind of help in serious cases. I’m just talking about people that come to rely on external sources to be able to cope instead of finding a practice they could use to cope.

      1. A few things as I wrap up my work day:

        1. I think most of us — although clearly not all, from comments on the last music-Ashtanga post — would separate out music from our Ashtanga practices. I’m wondering if what these studies (as well as other traditions about music, so I’m not just relying on Western conclusions) are suggesting is something about Ashtanga’s asana practice that — dare I say it — could be improved. Is there a benefit to the right kind of music as part of the practice, ala almost every other yoga asana practice out there? I’m not talking Nirvana (wait, am I? Bad band example), but the type of music Naren (below) is exploring.

        2. To be a bit of a pest: Is there a fundamental difference between relying “on external sources” and “finding a practice”? Are we certain our practices are something internal, something that isn’t taken from the outside as “self-coping.” Maybe I’m just caught up in all the back-and-forth in the comments lately! Could be a stupid question. But I certainly didn’t find Ashtanga on my own, and I keep going back to an external source: the guru.


      2. From the Yoga Makaranda

        2.4 Important Observations
        From ancient times, while doing veda adhyayanam, the svaras (the notes udatta (elevated), anudatta (grave) and svarita (middle/articulated)) in the aksharas (syllables) of the vedas are observed and mastered without fail; in music, the rules of sruti (division of octave), layam (metre or time), thrtam and anuthrtam are followed; in pathyatmaha (verses of 4 lines each) poems the rules for chandas, yati, and parasam have been established and are carefully followed; in mantra upasana, the anganyasa, karanyasa, sariranyasa, kalaanyasa, matrukanyasa, jivanyasa, tattvanyasa are experienced and understood. Similarly in yogasana, pranayama and the mudras, the vinyasas handed down from ancient times shouldbe followed.
        But nowadays, in many places, these great practitioners of yogabhyasa ignore vinyasa krama and just move and bend and shake their arms and legs and claim that they are practising asana abhyasa. This is being done not only in yogabhyasa but also in veda adhyayanam and in mantra upasanas where the rules are being ignored and people shamefully practise this as though it were part of their worldly affairs. If this behaviour continues for some time, even the vedas will be ruined.
        Everybody knows that anything that is done without following the prescribed
        rules will not give any benefits. When we know that this is true, is there any
        need to reiterate this for the great traditions of yogabhyasa, veda adhyayanam and mantra upasana which provide the best benefits? Some people, who are involved in sahavasa dosha and interested only in worldly benefits, say that they do not see any point in following sanatana dharma or karma yoga.

      3. So “practicing as though they were part of worldly affairs” caught my eye. Is the practice supposed to take us as far away as possible from worldly affairs or should worldly affairs like relaxing to music be added into our practice? This is your question. If Guruji is our guru and we are to follow his teachings and therefore his Guru (i’m not sure of the protocol here) then based on my very short amount of research I would say no music should not be used in ones asana practice.

  2. If my memory serves, the distinction was made between savasana and take rest because P Jois said that Savasana was the rather advanced practice of temporarily stopping breathing and that we were just taking rest, relaxing.

    I think music is a wonderful thing and it’s therapeutic effects are wonderful. I am listening to some right now.

    I think there is also something to be said for silence, particularly in a world where there is so much stimulation. For me my practice is many things, one of which includes the silence and observe everything as it is without influencing it with music. After practice that silence and letting go is such a precious space for me. Each to their own though….

    1. Yes, I think that’s it. But it is a bit of a hodgepodge of those who now try to avoid saying “Savasana” and those who still use it as the way to described the last thing we do. I do like the sound of “take rest,” but it isn’t something that bugs me one way or the other.

      And I certainly appreciate the “each to their own” thinking. And so I ask: Have you tried taking rest with what, according to these studies, would be the “right kind” of music?


  3. 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.

    I need to finish my book!

    1. ” In the West, the trend is to use yoga as therapy rather than to use it as sadhana. ”

      Yes, Naren, this is so true – it gets to the heart of the matter. Most practitioners approach yoga practice as a means of therapy, or solace, even, to make their lives more productive, more healthy, more whole…not as sadhana practice or a path to samadhi.

      While I really prefer a silent practice, because music distracts me too much, it’s harsh to knock someone’s need for and/or enjoyment of music in their personal yoga therapy. To each his own. One intent/outcome of practice is to remove these judgments. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I’ll offer something that’s helped me with removing snap judgments – Sutra 1.33, which helps those who sometimes find faults in the behavior of others.

      #1, Maitri karuna – loving acceptance of others leads to peace of mind.

      There’s a tendency in Ashtanga culture towards “right method” that smacks of dogmatic thinking. This tendency to proselytize the dogma can arise in the new, enthusiastic practitioner, I think. I had it, too, at one time! At first, when you find Ashtanga, and see that the practice gives you so much, you want everyone to do it, too – but “correctly,” as you do it, as your teacher taught you. But, I think this attitude fades as you age and gain a bit of wisdom – and as you do more practice. It’s a natural outcome. Compassion arises. 🙂

  4. So i’ve done a little research. Savasana Corpse pose. Do corpses listen to music? Couldn’t find anything on music and Savasana but here are some different interpretations of Savasana.

    1. Hatha Yoga Pradipika
    Lying on the back on the ground like a corpse is Shavasana. It removes fatigue and gives rest toe the mind.
    2. Light On Yoga~ BKS Iyengar
    Savasana (Also called Mrtasana)
    Sava or Mrta means a corpse. In this asana the object is to imitate a corpse. Once life has departed, the body remains still and no movements are possible. By remaining motionless for some time and keeping the mind still while you are fully conscious, you learn to relax. This is conscious relaxation invigorates and refreshes both body and mind. But it is much harder to keep the mind than the body still. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master.
    Verse 32 of the First Chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika states: ‘Lying on the ground at full length like a corpse is called Savasana. This removes the fatigue caused by the other asanas and induces calmness of mind.’
    Mrtasana is thus described in verse 11 of the Second Chapter of the Gheranda Samhita: ‘Lying flat on the ground (on one’s back) like a corpse is called Mrtasana. This posture destroys fatigue, and quites the agitation of the mind.
    ‘The mind is the lord of the Indriyas (the organs of senses): the Prana (the breath of life)is the lord of the mind.’ ‘When the mind is absorbed it is called Moksa (final emancipation, Liberation of the soul): when Prana and Manas (the mind) have been absorbed, an undefinable joy ensues.’ Verses 29 and 30 chapter IV, Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
    To tame the Prana depends upon the nerves. Steady, smooth, fine and deep breathing without an jerky movements of the body soothes the nerves and calms the mind. The stresses of modern civilization are a strain on the nerves for which Savasana is the best antidote.” ~ BKS Iyengar From Light On Yoga.

    3. The Complete Illustrated Book Of Yoga ~ Swami Vishnudevananda
    3 pages on Savasan not writing it all out. It talks about total relaxation and how emotions can take a toll on our energy. It breaks down total relaxation into 3 categories 1) Physical Relaxation = thoughts take form in action and body reacts to that. Starts from toes upwards until it reaches the eyes and ears then slowly sends messages to the kidneys, liver and so on internally 2) Mental Relaxation = removing mind chatter and tension and 3) Spiritual Relaxation = withdrawing from the body and mind.
    Shavasana is perhaps the most important part of yoga practice.

  5. I don’t generally play music when students are resting at the end of practice.

    And, I’m in the camp that tells students to “take rest.”

    I do, however, sometimes chant to the class to bring them back from rest – what I chant/sing depends upon my mood or sense of what’s best at the time. I might chant the Sutras, or the Gayatri Mantra, or the chant from the Upanishads that begins Saha Na Vavatu, etc., which promotes harmony between student and teacher. If we haven’t sung the Ashtanga closing chant as a group, I’ll chant it to bring them back, too.

    But, I’ve also sung, a cappella, the appropriate parts of Western songs, too, i.e. the first few lines of “Here Comes the Sun” after classes on or around the Winter and Spring Solstice, for example 🙂

    Music can be a field for joyfulness, awakening and greater clarity, most definitely. It’s not something to be pushed aside completely and dogmatically, I feel.

    I’ve heard that Manju Jois chants bhajans and mantras as he teaches – never having taken a class with him, I can’t say personally if this is true. But, I think that’s actually kind of cool. (Although it would still distract me, I think! I know I’d want to try to learn what he’s chanting!)

    1. Despite all these posts to the contrary, I’ll admit I’m usually much happier with silence. And perhaps my biggest gripe is when the teacher reads poetry to me. (Because I’m a snob when it comes to such things and they almost invariably read it [Rumi 99% of the time] terribly. So that’s distracting.)

      But I’d be curious to attend a class that I know, ahead of time, was going to be a Sacred Fire igniting Tim Miller Led followed by music that Naren, for instance, had mapped out. I can see the possible benefits to that.


    2. I’ve been reading a lot about Vinyasa Krama lately the lineage that Krishnamacharya taught. Pranayama, mantra, puja etc are part of the practice. Since Patthabi Jois and Iyengar came from that lineage it’s not suprising that Manju chants as this is how he would have been taught. This is almost all but wiped out in western ashtanga yoga practice now and not just the mysore ashtanga of patthabi jois but raja yoga in the west.

  6. I’m no Vedic Scholar or Yogi master. I only researched through all the books and publications I have. There is no mention of music with asana in any of the books I have. It seems to be a Western additive to the practice. Music is abundant in India during all times in all Milena. I’m sure if it was supposed to be part of Asana Practice it would have been instituted and written down but I couldn’t find anything anywhere and it seems to me everything is documented even sex and bowel movements. I looked in different schools and couldn’t find it so it’s not an ashtanga thing. Chanting while doing Surya Namaskar can be found in many schools. I think this is an attachment to worldly things and our asana and meditation practice (according to what I have been reading from many sources) is a practice that is to take us away from all that. This applies to all the major and oldest schools of yoga not the new western schools. I’m not advocating either way just reporting that I couldn’t find anything.

  7. “People today split their attention in many ways. Background music while we eat, study, or work prevents us from being fully aware of what we are eating, studying, or working at.

    “Eating or drinking while watching a movie curtails our capacity to appreciate the movie. In all these activities the mind is two-pointed.

    “Everything we do should be worthy of our fullest attention. This is making the mind one-pointed, which means utilizing all its resources.”

    -Eknath Easwaran, from the Spring 2013 edition of his Blue Mountain Journal

    1. I don’t know why, but this quote really makes me wonder why “one pointed” is automatically assumed to be better, or the goal. Who says it prevents us from fully enjoying something? (I’m not trying to start another long argument, really.) Perhaps it’s just the quote out of context. Why can’t I be fully aware of everything around me, instead of just one thing? Having your attention on just one narrow thing seems like a sign of a poorly developed mind. (Maybe? Again, I’m not trying to stir up trouble.)


      1. I think we are talking differences in culture. Someone once told me, “Learn it, know it, live it.” In the west here we want to learn it, know it and change it, make it our own. Simplification or complication? I guess the rules are there are no rules? We are following an ancient path of wisdom that is supposed to lead one to realization..

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