I love music, & teach without it. Here’s why:
I invite you to pause before reading, settle evenly on your feet or sitz bones, and enjoy three deep breaths. Check in with how you are feeling and offer yourself permission to meet any immediate needs that come up. When you are ready, fee free to dive back into the blog post:)
Recently, several folks have asked me if I am going to offer a more flowly class with music. Here I share my approach to teaching and hope it
offers you understanding and connection with what drives me. What I have learned about sharing any information I hold sacred, is that I am at my best when I teach what I know. And what I know about yoga, is that in my body and in the offerings from my teachers, this sacred practice is about becoming situated in one self. It is about connecting deeply and vulnerably with my anxiety, or physical pain, joy, sorrow, grief, or excitement. For many folks, feeling into the emotions and sensations of the present moment is extremely foreign or uncomfortable. There are instances in which coming to a halt is inaccessible due to trauma or simply that it is unpracticed. I invite you to notice that if you have resistance to slowing down, which of these may be influencing that resistance. I am not a therapist, and if your resistance is coming from a traumatic experience, I encourage you to find someone who can professionally support you on this path, perhaps in addition to your yoga practice. When those who practice with me ask if I will be offering a class with music and faster paced flows, I imagine that they might be experiencing one of the following:
a desire to workout & sweat
exhaustion from physical stillness and mental overactivity
a disconnection from or resistance to experiencing their physical or emotional sensations in the present moment for a variety of reasons
the awareness of unencumbered joy that comes from moving with music (me, too!)
a lack of awareness about the origins of yoga, its sacred lineage and the way it has been manipulated and appropriated in the west.
I share these guesses with care and with the personal experience of knowing each of them well in my own body. As a child my days were hustle and bustle with up to 30 hours of fitness activity through my first year in college. When I injured my back and had to take a step back, I felt deeply lost in the abyss of potential before me. My life had evolved around sports and I could not imagine what it would look like without that staple to determine my schedule. My first experience with yoga was in a sweaty, smelly room with 30 other practitioners and a micro-phoned instructor. Next, I started practicing in an unheated studio doing fast-paced flows that I struggled to keep up with while maintaining my breath and body moving together. One thing I did know was that no matter how I practiced, I always felt better. AND, I felt the best when I surrendered to my body's needs and allowed an instructor to guide me, but not override those needs. As my stress level increased at work and I developed hemorrhoids and acne and gained unnecessary weight, I was drawn to studying yoga more deeply; I was drawn to contemplating how to slow down. Through my study of yoga, and subsequently, Ayurveda, I learned to do just that, slow down. I learned tools to not only feel better for the 20 minutes after an hour flow, but for most of an entire day or week if I was consistent with my practices. The more I studied, the more reverence I felt for honoring the teachers and lineages from which I was taught, and the more creative I felt in my own practice. Understanding, through the wisdoms of Ayurveda and Yoga, the connection between seasonal, physical, and emotional changes and how I move my body has come to be the most significant influencer on how I teach. In my home practice, I shift between a sequence of asanas I learned from my teacher, tried and true postures that support me feeling most grounded, and turning on some of my favorite mantras and blending dance with asana. When I teach, I feel committed to sticking with what I know best, what I have practiced longest, and what I feel most certain will balance practitioners' experience of feeling safe and feeling free to explore what works best in their bodies. Teaching with music I can feel rushed and distracted. As a space holder, being present to the needs of the group is the key! While there are occasions when I play some quiet background music or invite the class to pick up the pace, I reserve these occasions for groups of practitioners I have worked with more consistently, have a deeper connection to their own bodies and practice, or when I have more time to connect with and support them, like on an in person retreat.
A strategy I offer my online students is to cue up a beloved playlist and have it going while we practice. They are muted, so it's just for them. I have noticed that with teaching online it is much more difficult to gage how the class is receiving my guidance. I tend to offer more cuing in hopes to catch the possible alignment, safety and comfort issues folks may be facing. If you are listening to your own music, you can always turn that up and me down. I won't even know it. Here is a yoga class playlist I put together that you might enjoy:) When we practice in person, the absence of music allows our collective breath to become the music, to practice embracing silence, to tune within.
When someone asks me, "what kind of yoga do you teach?," I share that my number one goal is to offer a practice that keeps people safe. We move slow with intention. I also share that I will invite folks to be playful, creative and learn to trust their bodies. What I often don't say, though what drives why I approach teaching this way, is that I intend to offer what I know, what I have been taught and entrusted with, to offer a platform on which folks can build a practice that best works for them. I am becoming more and more aware of my gratitude for this approach as I continue to better understand the ways in which much of what is called yoga in our country does not include acknowledgment of its origins, and has strayed far from a spiritual and lifestyle practice that was created to be interconnected with off the mat devotions to self-care, service, mindful eating, etc. You may read this and feel disappointed, that I won't be offering a fast paced vinyasa class with pop music anytime soon, and maybe not ever. It is not my style, it is not what I know best. It does not honor the lineages in which I have studied, and it does not consistently feel good in my body. Practicing that way often leaves me feeling amped, rushed, and overwhelmed, which are feelings very much akin to anxiety for me. For me, practicing and sharing yoga is about reconnecting with my inner wisdom, slowing down, and opening up to the unknown. It is a break from my rushing mind and the hiking, free-weight lifting, computer sitting, gardening, cooking, and other tasks I do most days.
Outside of my yoga practice, however, my free time includes learning the baritone ukulele, attending (and dancing to) as much live music as possible, and singsonging my way through parts of my day. I absolutely LOVE music and moving with it! Offering this from my mat to paying students, is not in my current scope of practice. Perhaps one day it will be, and you will be the first to know! In the meantime, let's dance, jam, and continue to share off and on mat practices that make us feel most alive! My hope is that this leaves with both understanding of my approach AND the freedom to choose your next step of practicing that meets you where you are, that challenges and affirms you, and that offers you inspiration for a beautiful life on and off your mat. Peace to you, Andrea