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Programming Music For Yoga
Justin K,Think Healthy,Tips & Tricks,Yoga

Creating a playlist for a yoga session

I am so stoked to have DJ Justin Kanoya as a contributor on Eat. Drink & be Skinny! The entire reason I was inspired to bring on more writers was to bring on a variety of perspectives. Justin is a recreational athlete, professional DJ with an education in journalism. This might sound like an odd fit, with the exception that he’s not a club-thumping DJ, he’s quickly becoming an influential Fitness DJ, working with large brands such as Lululemon and FitBit and creating play lists and sound flows that inspire hundreds of people to move, play, exercise and sweat together. He’ll be here to share insights on music and how it can help you get the best workout and he’ll even toss in a few tech reviews and Spotify playlists. Enjoy!

Programming Music For Yoga

Music awakens our senses. Naturally our hearing sense is what is most awakened, but it also engages other areas in our minds. In the way soft lighting or the smell of freshly baked cookies can creative positive vibes, music can reminds us of both joyous and not so joyous occasions. It can make us smile. It can make us cry.

Creating a playlist for a yoga session

It’s important to note how the element of sound will complement the physical activity. When a person enters a yoga studio, the hope is that they leave everything else behind for that 45-60 minutes of yoga they are about to experience.

  • Will the music remind them of something else?
  • Will those reminders be negative or positive?
  • Will the beats and the pace of the music be too repetitive and mundane?
  • Is the sound merely ambient or does it have appropriate lyrical content?

creating a yoga playlist

Here are a few tips to consider when creating a playlist for a yoga session:

Take it Slow

Yoga, at least at the beginning to intermediate level is taught at a soothing, slow pace. Naturally the music that goes along with it should have similar characteristics. But that doesn’t mean playing tracks that average at a paltry 60 beats per minute. It means listening to your music and recalling certain tracks that have harmonic breakdowns. When listening, imagine doing yoga poses to the beat. Are the sounds, beats and vocals soothing or annoying? If it’s the latter, then it’s probably not right for your playlist.

What Genre Works Best

The practice of yoga prides itself on being open to all and so, naturally, the genre of music one might hear during a flow should be open too. It’s easy to get caught up in the cliche sounds of Enigma, Enya or downtempo lounge. But realize, if you fall into these cliches, the music will sound like all the other yoga playlists people have heard.

When researching music I start by looking through genres labeled as “Downtempo,” “Chill” or “Lounge.” I’ve also found the “Trap” genre to have many sound characteristics suitable for yoga. House music also has tracks that work. Artists like, Kygo, Purity Ring and Roger Shah have all found their way into my yoga playlists.

To Sing Or Not to Sing

You may think 45 minutes of instrumental tracks are the way to go. And it makes sense, especially realizing it can sound a bit muddy when a yoga instructor is trying to speak over vocals. While this can be true, there is a way to mix in vocal tracks appropriately. I generally start the first 7-10 minutes of a yoga set with non-vocal tracks. I then like to insert a vocal track, usually something Indie or unfamiliar to most.

Remember the music, in this case, is supposed to create an atmosphere of calm. I don’t want someone to hear a song and think about the last party they were at and how they were jamming to it. I also try to avoid playing anything too familiar or current, because it might make someone roll their eyes thinking “I just heard this song on the way to the studio.”

The reason for mixing in a vocal track is to change things up a bit. If the entire 45 minute yoga session was ambient, non-vocal music, it would just sound like white noise after a while. Following up an “unfamiliar” vocal track, this is when I like to put in another instrumental or play a more familiar vocal track. Again, challenge yourself to finding a cover or a remix of a song so it’s not the same version people are accustomed to hearing.

I do like to play at least one recognizable track, generally at the peak of the flow when things are moving a bit faster. This could be anything, but I tend to play hip-hop or R&B, reggae would probably also work well. In this instance, I want those ears to perk up but I want people to also feel that they’ve come to the space to practice yoga and have some fun too.

Sweet Savasana

The final pose in every yoga flow is savasana, also called corpse pose, when all of the students take their bodies to complete relaxation. Ironically, it’s been billed as the most difficult pose in yoga because many find it difficult to relax their body and free their mind of all thoughts.

The right song for this portion can be a great help in ensuring the students relax.

It’s best to have a piece that is without a distinctive beat and sans singing. Beats, vocals and instruments can cause someone to focus on those sounds and they will have a difficult time relaxing. The best way to discover these tracks is to find a quiet space and listen to different pieces. Close your eyes and see if you can get lost in the sounds and venture into relaxation.

Programming Music For Yoga

Creating your own yoga play list

In summary, my recipe and sample playlist for a musically appealing, 45-minute yoga flow is this:

  • 0-10 minutes: Non-vocal, non-descript ambient sounds; no dominating instruments or beats
  • 11-20: Start to introduce light beats, less familiar vocal songs
  • 21-35: A mix of familiar vocals, but not often heard remixes (think Trap or downtempo house versions of popular songs); introduce one or two, straight from the radio tracks; mellow hip-hop like a Tribe Called Quest or Tupac, even reggae sounds work well here.
  • 36-45: Begin to bring the tempo down, reverting back to the mix of sounds and non-vocals in the first 10 minutes of the flow, preparing the students for savasana
  • Savasana: Mellow sounds without any vocals, slowly fading the music to complete silence after about five minutes or at the discretion of the instructor.

Programming Music For Yoga

Download your yoga playlist

For the instructors and DIY Yogis out there, who are some of your favorite artists or genres to teach to or practice with?

Justin Kanoya, Influential Fitness DJ
Justin Kanoya, who has a lifelong passion for music, began DJing in 1990. While his business has traditionally been weddings, he has recently made a mark in the fitness scene. Working collaboratively with brands such as Lululemmon and FitBit, DJ Kanoya is becoming an influential fitness DJ by creating sound flows and playlists that inspire, engage and motivates crowds of hundreds of fitness enthusiasts at a time.  Justin has also earned a BS in Journalism from Truman State University.

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