Asanas and Ragas: Yoga's connection with music

Yoga once used to be an ancient Indian art practised by some, but now, it has become a form of exercise, therapy, a fad and a multi-million industry all over the world. And yoga’s relationship with music is only inescapable.

Yoga-teachers and Music

Many yoga-trainers are trying to add a hint of music in their otherwise calm, silent sessions. Both music and yoga are forces that are known to calm people down, heal a few and can have good psychological benefits. The meditative properties of music can further be emphasized by a ‘flow state’.

Chad Dennis with his students. The yoga instructor's high profile clients include Adam Levine and Harry Styles. (Image Credits-The Chalkboard Mag)

Apparently, listening to the soothing music of our choice can lead us to the flow state, a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is an optimal state of consciousness where we can feel our best and even perform our best.

‘The similarities between Yoga and flow are extremely strong; in fact, it makes sense to think of Yoga as a very thoroughly planned flow activity. Both try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration,’ writes Mihaly in his book, Flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on his concept of flow, with a musical allegory. (Image Credits- AZ Quotes)

This achieving of flow is similar to the state of trance one can go when fully immersed in listening to music. More research needs to be done in this field but it seems probable that good hormones are released and self-confidence is boosted in this process.

But leading yoga trainers have different opinions on whether blending music and yoga together is a good option or not. Yoga’s forms in India and abroad have been codified and even governed under certain organizations since recent times.

Technically, Kundalini Yoga teachers are supposed to only play music approved by an organization called 3HO. Going with the stereotype of yoga being an ‘exotic Indian art’, some yoga teachers only play spiritual music and chants of Krishna Das!

Karl Erb, an Iyengar yoga instructor also feels that it’s not the Indianness that prompts teachers to play such music. ‘The classical raga system, the seed syllables associated with the parts of the body, the sounds and melodies associated with specific moods and time of day—those are very well suited for yoga.’ He says, referring to sacred and classical Indian music.

Erb also feels playing music of your choice while doing yoga is fine as long as it helps you focus, and doesn’t divert your attention.

Yoga Instructors for Musicians

While soothing music and chanting seem to be the preferred choice in your fitness studio or yoga centre, there are clients of yoga instructors who are involved in performing at loud venues for a living. From Justin Timberlake to Lady Gaga, all artists seem to be into yoga these days.

Along with a road manager, sound engineer and rest of the crew, performing artists carry along with their yoga instructors too to attain some peace of mind backstage.

Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine’s private yoga trainer Chad Dennis has toured with him and the band for over ten years. Dennis’s clientele also includes other big names in showbiz like One Direction and Ryan Seacrest.

'At any Maroon 5 concert, you'll see a room backstage marked "Yoga"', says Adam Levine. (Image Credits- Yogi Approved)

And yoga instructors are indeed sought after these days for performers who need to spend a lot of time in concerts and tours. As Levine himself explained in an interview, ‘Right before I go onstage. It's my prep, absolutely. Performing is an unnatural thing to do for a living. You get up on stage with bright lights. It's loud and people are screaming. It's not a peaceful environment, you know? So, if you can create that for yourself and have a bit of silence before going out there, it's a good thing.’

Lady Gaga is known to perform yoga even in heels! (Image Credits- Yogi Approved))

Many musicians are also resorting to yoga for improving their posture. Most musicians who play an instrument adopt a posture that is usually somewhat asymmetrical, and sometimes dramatically so. This is obvious with guitarists and violinists, as examples, where one arm is doing one thing and the other something else.

The yoga asana practice could help to balance out these functional changes that arise gradually over time for most musicians. And because the arms are almost always below the level of the shoulders for musicians, doing yoga poses that get the arms to reclaim their full range of motion is essential.

Now, it’s clear that as yoga’s popularity is only set to rise, the prospects of being a yoga instructor for musicians also seem to be rising.

Shaurya Singh Thapa