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Advice from a Yoga Instructor: Selecting Music to Inspire Your Yoga

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As a yoga instructor, an important part of my job is creating the perfect playlist. A key component of establishing a yoga practice and enjoying it is finding the right music to relax, inspire, push, and support you.

Different points of a yoga class involve building heat and flexibility, and eventually taking rest and restorative poses; this guide illustrates how the soundtrack to your yoga practice must follow the rhythm and flow of your movements.

Each class structure has a unique vibe that calls for different levels of energy, power, and mood. I teach vinyasa yoga, which is a class involving multiple “flows,” or sequences of poses. In vinyasa yoga, each class focuses on building heat gradually and increasing strength and flexibility over an hour-long practice.

While some vinyasa classes may involve core-targeted sequences or more fast-paced queuing in order to increase your heart rate, others may be slower and focus more on holding postures to build strength. Thus, different styles of vinyasa may require different types of music.

For example, in a faster-paced, more core-focused Hot Vinyasa class, artists like Gallantis and Kanye West will be more inspiring and enjoyable. On the other hand, a slower, more strength-focused Blend Vinyasa class requires a centering, slower-paced ODESZA beat or even Maggie Rogers.

First and foremost, it’s important to address this “build-up” of energy and what kind of music this requires. Many studios will start most, if not all, of their classes with a “sacred space.” This usually entails 3-5 minutes of mindfulness and meditation, allowing students to begin class in a restful pose.

Many instructors use this point in class to set a theme or intention, maybe starting with a personal anecdote to lead into a broader meaning or just reminding students to move with intention and come back to the breath when the practice becomes difficult.

A general rule for sacred space is to never play songs that have words or concrete lyrics, as this point in class is a crucial time for students to ground themselves in the space and find stillness and mindfulness without the distraction of song lyrics.

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My favorite go-to sacred space song is “LBL” by Cospe because the beat is soothing but it isn’t too slow to the point that students would fall asleep or drift off from my words. Another favorite is “Light Blue” by UTAH because it is also a soothing beat, but it is slightly more energetic and creates almost a sunny aura in the room. The way I set sacred space depends on the type of class.

While in a morning Hot Vinyasa class, I may use an upbeat song like “Wilder” by Homsey or “Daylight” by Beauvois. In a slower, afternoon Blend Vinyasa class, I may use a more calming melody like “Chihiro” by Yoste or “Orange Sky – Instrumental” by Sol Rising to give students more of a chance to settle in.

Though this may seem like a lot of thought put into only the first four minutes of class, these first four minutes ultimately set the tone for the entire hour. The song choice in sacred space will signify if the next hour will be rigorous, edgy, and elated, or more comforting, slow, and peaceful.

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Sun Salutation A’s (or “Surya Namaskara A” in Sanskrit) are the next piece to the heat build-up of vinyasa classes. These are the first flow of a vinyasa class and are the same every time. I like to call them our “yoga jumping jacks,” and use songs that are upbeat and almost impossible not to move to.

My favorites to use are:

Better Not – Acoustic by Louis the Child

-The Little Things – Kasbo Remix by Big Gigantic

Anything For You by Chelsea Cutler

Starlight by Jai Wolf

Easy Loving You (with Kamille) by SG Lewis

In this way, students can gradually build heat to it. Sun A’s are also a great way to wake students up and get them excited about moving.

My favorite energetic Sun A’s are:

Good Nights (feat. Mascolo) by Whethan

IPlayYouListen by ODESZA

Right Where You Should Be (feat. Ashe & Louis Futon) by Quinn XCll

I love these songs because they are cheery and warm. Sun A’s can be a great way to set the tone; some teachers may add in a mini power flow or extra chaturangas to jumpstart a more rigorous class.

Music selection during Sun B’s should signify that students will start to up the ante in their practice. For a Blend class, the first round of a Sun B flow will be slower, and poses will be held for longer. Even then, I still choose music that’s faster than Sun A’s and keeps students in the mindset to sweat.

Some of my favorite Sun B’s for Blend (and sometimes Hot Vinyasa, depending on the day) are:

-Lovers in Japan – Osaka Sun Mix by Coldplay

-Don’t Move by Phantogram

-Moon by Kid Francescoli

-Anywhere u go by Tove Lo.

In a Hot Vinyasa class, some instructors may choose to play songs that are more fast-paced sooner during Sun B’s because the “one breath per movement” pace is usually set by the first round of the flow. 

My go-tos are:

-Call on Me – Ryan Riback Remix by Starley

-Places We Don’t Know by Kasbo

-Do You Mean (feat. Ty Dolla $ign & bülow) – Myon Remix by The Chainsmokers

-Fire (Viceroy Remix) by VHS Collection

-Mother’s Daughter by Miley Cyrus

-Aftergold (feat. Tove Styrke) by Big Wild

The artist ODESZA is one of my ultimate favorite artists and go-tos to play during class. Some amazing songs by them include:

-Across the Room (feat. Leon Bridges)

-Higher Ground (feat. Naomi Wild)

-Sun Models (feat. Madelyn Grant)

-A Moment Apart

-Always This Late

Core is a section of class that can be tricky. You want a song that will motivate you and make you want to work harder, but you also want to keep the mood light and fun. Some songs I typically use are:

-Run It Up by DDG

-Kiss It Better – R3hab Remix by Rihanna

-Go Off by M.I.A

-Love$ick (feat. A$ap Rocky)” by Mura Masa

Sometimes instructors use the beat of the song to do repeated movements on timed breath queues, as this makes the core work feel more like dancing than forced exercise. In many cases, a fast-paced beat or high-intensity melody will inspire you to give it your all.

Next up are either Sun C’s or longer holding poses. In Hot Vinyasa, Sun C’s will be the fastest-paced and most rigorous flows of class. They involve big, difficult pose transitions including balancing poses and core strengtheners, so they require some dance-party-esque music to help empower students through their practice.

I usually use:

– Say My Name (feat. Zyra) – RAC Mix by ODESZA

-I Got U by Duke Dumont

-Nights With You – Cheat Codes Remix by

-Water Me by Lizzo

-Midnight City by M83.

Any song by Galantis, like “True Feeling” or “Firebird,” is also great for re-energizing yourself after core. In Hot Vinyasa, Sun C’s are followed by Logs, longer holding poses, or mobility work. 

However, in Blend Vinyasa, there are no Sun C’s; after core or inversion work, students will go straight into longer holding poses or mobility work. For both Hot and Blend Vinyasa, I’ll start Logs off with upbeat music that is slower-paced but keeps the tone optimistic, such as songs like:

-Glad He’s Gone by Tove Lo

-Safe by Bay Ledges

-Closer by POWERS

-Glitter by BENEE

-Explosions by The Mary Onettes

As students get deeper into these longer-held poses, I’ll then transition into songs that are still upbeat but have a more inspirational tone to help push them through. For example, songs like:

-Falls (feat. Sasha Sloan) by ODESZA

-Fallingwater by Maggie Rogers

-GIRL by Maren Morris

-Good Things Fall Apart (with Jon Bellion) by ILLENIUM

All these songs have empowering melodies and lyrics.

When I queue the option for students to close their eyes in order to help them accept and settle into a pose that they’re holding for a long time, songs like these help students ground themselves and recommit to their breath.

The yin portion of the class is imperative in determining how students will feel walking out of the studio. Intentional tone is super important in setting this restful mood. Students may settle into their final place of rest either feeling warm-hearted and invigorated or sentimental and open. This is all determined by the end-of-class song choice.

For a more soothing ending, I like to use:

-Freight Train by Sara Jackson-Holoman

-Ghosts by On An On

-The City Limit by Umbrellas.

For a more sentimental or emotional experience, I’ll use:

– Scott Street by Phoebe Bridges

– Everyday Life by Coldplay

-Fade Into You by Mazzy Star

– First Winter by Wrabel

– Big Black Car by Gregory Alan Isakov. 

Finally, most yogis will end their practice in Savasana, or “final rest.” This part of class is probably one of the hardest, as we as humans have an impossible time finding a happy medium of not sleeping but staying still, being mindful, and keeping our eyes closed. Before I started teaching yoga, I had never meditated and didn’t understand the appeal of music without lyrics. 

Now, I’ve found a new appreciation for melodies that can stand alone and still be beautiful. Songs like:

Cloud Speed by Sad Souls

-Inside by East Forest

-Faith’s Hymn by Beautiful Chorus

Chasing Cloud Nine by LUCHS

-Lunar Rainbow by Eskimotion

These songs will put you into almost a hypnotic trance because they’re so soothing and gorgeous.

Over time, learning in my own practice to balance the yin and the yang and just accept rest has shown me how essential it is to provide that safe and relaxing space for others. It may seem counterintuitive to engage students with music when they’re in a meditative rest, but music is an element of that rest that can provide you with comfort and something to ground you on your mat.

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