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For the LoVe of mUsIc

This is an article I wrote for the Lululemon Blog on how to make a yoga playlist…

Music is the soundtrack of our lives. What we listen to affects how we interpret our experience. That’s why a really good Dj is important. Whether you’re Djing in a club, at your house, or in a yoga class, you have the power to create any kind of mood you like.

My love affair with music started in the womb. My parents played Gregorian chants on headphones for my listening pleasure as I floated in my mum’s tummy. Music was always playing in our house growing up. My father was known for his mixtapes in the community. He’s made over 200 mixes in his day.

When I took my first class at Jivamukti Yoga, I fell in love. I could tell the teacher had thought out how her playlist set the tone for the class. Two things made vinyasa my yoga style of choice: breathing-based movement and music are integral parts of the practice. A good playlist is one that takes you on a journey.

I thought I’d share my creative process on how I make yoga playlists. It usually starts because either I hear a song that inspires me to move, there’s a theme I would like to work with, or there’s a bhav (mood) I’d like to create. From there I go through my music files and find other songs in the same genre or that have the same bhav (mood). You can also find like-minded songs through ‘Genius’ on iTunes. Depending upon the BPMs of the song, it goes into one of four categories of the playlist. From there, you create the rest.

The opening is usually one to two slower songs to set the stage while you’re doing your Surya namaskars. The next three songs start upping the energy. The third part is the peak/meat of the playlist. These songs will have the highest energy of the playlist, 30-50 minutes. Peak pose is usually around the 55 min mark of a 90 min class. After the peak pose, we move to the floor series: backbends, hip openers, twists and forward folds. During the floor series, I begin I bring down the energy by slowing the tempo. The first two songs of the fourth part are bit slower than the peak, and by the end of this part, they are super mellow, readying for the Shavasana song. What’s great about doing it this way is I rarely need to look at a clock while I teach as I can tell what time it is by where I am in the playlist. My playlists are usually 75 min long as I factor in 5 min for intro at the beginning and 5-8 min at the end for meditation and closing prayer. I also have a Shavasana playlist just in case I need a bit more music at the end, and my current playlist is over.

The Break Down

0-10 Min (Sun As)Slow music to ease into the flow, usually acoustic, one person singing if any.  Folk and classical pieces work great here. (Bon Iver, Arvo Part, Susheela Raman, Iron & Wine, Jamie Woon, Krishna Das, Bill Withers)
10-30 Min (Sun Bs, standing series)Downtempo, lounge music, R&B (Thievery Corp., Erykah Badu, Radiohead, Bonobo, Bill Withers, Shaman’s Dream, Dj Shadow, Underworld)
30-55 Min (Standing series, moving towards peak pose)A bit more upbeat or stay with lounge depending on your peak pose. I usually have a house song as my peak song if the peak is a very energizing pose, inversions/arm balances. (Junior Boys, Amma, Antibalas, Beat Pharmacy, Girish, Gazal, Cheb I Sabbah, Gotan Project, Spy from Cairo)
55-65 Min (Backbends, floor series)Back to downtempo, lounge, instrumental (Finley Quaye, Fat Freddy Drop, Portishead, Cat Power, Nightmares on Wax, Alif Tree, Tony Allen, Massod Ali Kahn)
65-75 Min (Shavasana)Chillest song of the playlist. Jai Uttal, Sade, Brian Eno, Amrita, Ben Leinbach, Shanti Shivani, silence is also great)

Many people ask me where I get my music. I am blessed to have a couple of friends back in NYC and San Fran that share what they’re excited about every so often. They’ve also come to know my tastes and send me things randomly when they think I’d dig it. Compilations are a great way to find out about new music (i.e. buddha bar, Asian travels, Punjabi lounge, Shiva Rea’s compilations are great). Genius in the iTunes store is also good. I’m from the electronic era, so I love world beats mixed with electronica. Too many words in a song can make you feel like you’re competing while teaching. There are times when I love hip hop and other genres with a lot of lyrics if I’m teaching an intermediate/advanced class as I don’t have to talk as much. However, in open-level classes, I prefer playlists with less lyrics in the peak part of the class, as I usually cue a lot.

The most important thing to remember when making a playlist is that it should be music that inspires you! If the music inspires you, it will come across in your teaching. There’s nothing worst than being in a class with elevator music (that’s what I call music playing softly in the background). Either play music and have it enhance the class, or don’t play it all. Music has the ability to take us deeper into our experience, and it has the ability to take us out. So be conscious of how the music is shaping the experience.

Here are some examples of playlists:

Holocene    5:41    Bon Iver    Bon Iver    
That Home    1:53    The Cinematic Orchestra    

First two songs above are mellow.
To Be Alone With You    2:48    Sufjan Stevens       
Close to Me    5:16    Elk City    
Brothers On A Hotel Bed    4:31    Death Cab for Cutie    
The Dress Looks Nice On You    2:32    Sufjan Stevens    
See-Line Woman    2:38    Nina Simone    
Gabriel    4:19    Lamb    
For Emma    3:41    Bon Iver    
His Master’s Voice    4:50    Monsters Of Folk    
Time And Space    8:31    The Cinematic Orchestra    
‘Round Midnight    5:23    Thelonious Monk    
Oh, Lonesome Me (Ft. Lucinda Williams)    6:06    M. Ward    
Don’t Explain    4:22    Nina Simone    
A Thousand Tiny Pieces    3:46    The Be Good Tanyas    

I created it during the winter here in Vancouver when we were in a particularly long spell of rain. The gift the rain gives us the opportunity to go deep inside. This playlist was to do exactly that. The peak song was Nina Simone’s, ‘See-Line Woman’. Besides that song, all the others are slower, setting a more earthy practice.

Something About Us    3:51    Daft Punk    
manvantara    9:28    bliss    
The Messenger    3:48    New Funky Generation    
This Is The Time    4:48    Dubtribe Sound System    
Free (Deep house remix)    6:21    Jill Scott    
After Hours    4:00    Various Artists    Bedouin Cafe
2 Please U (Losoul Surreal Visits Dub)    2:59    Freaks    
Someday    5:23    Beard    
On My Own    6:00    Amma   
The Rhythm In Your Mind    7:28    Dubtribe Sound System    
DJ Kicks    6:19    DJ Kicks    DJ Kicks    
bangla soul    4:24    baul dimension   
Silent Stations Pt 1    7:27    Project JPO  
I like to play this one when I’m working on inversions and arm balances as it’s very high energy.  

Let Your Be Known Remix    7:10    Steve Gold  
Ganapati    6:44    Susheela Raman    
By Your Side (Neptunes remix)    4:00    Sade    
Sometimes    4:07    Raphael Saadiq    
Diferente    5:22    Gotan Project    
Stay For Awhile (feat. Angie Stone)    4:02    Anthony Hamilton    
100 Yard Dash    2:19    Raphael Saadiq    
Until The Morning (Rewound By Thievery Corporation)    3:39    Thievery Corporation    
Ernie    7:17    Fat Freddy’s Drop    
Fire And Rain    3:26    James Taylor    
Sea of Love    2:18    Cat Power/Myra Lee    
Into Dust    5:37    Mazzy Star   

‘Yuppers’ was inspired by the first song on the list by Steve Gold. I heard it in Seattle when he gave it to my teacher, Shiva Rea. It brings back such beautiful memories for me and I find it so powerful. I play this one when it’s a heart opening/backbending themed class. Every song on this playlist is a homage to one of my teachers. This is only a 55 min playlist. I usually stop it for a bit after the final backbends so students can really sit in their experience of the heart openers. I put it back on when we get into hip openers.  

Clara is hosting her 300-Hour Yoga Teacher Training virtually in 2022 to accommodate yoga students and teachers worldwide who want to develop their vinyasa yoga practice and understanding of yoga philosophy.


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