Creating Yoga Playlists for Classes
I always tell people that my first yoga class was in 2014, but in reality, I had gone to a class here and there with friends or family. Before that, yoga was boring to me — a self proclaimed cardio enthusiast. I enjoyed running 3-8 miles a few times per week with fun playlists to keep my energy up and the thought of going to a yoga class that involved light stretching, soft-dimmed lights, and a teacher that spoke like a fairy did not appeal to me. At all.
So when I stepped into Yoga Heights for a hot flow yoga class one evening, I had a rude awakening about what could really happen in yoga classes. And it wasn’t dimmed lights, soft music and gentle stretching. Not only was I a hot sweaty mess, but I woke up the next morning with soreness in places I didn’t realize could be sore. It was all I needed though, and I was hooked and started going to classes. It wasn’t just the workout and physicality of the practice that stuck out to me though, I remember the music and how it was actually stuff I liked: Tycho, Album Leaf, John Talabot, Bonobo. Trust me when I say I know that music isn’t the most important thing in classes but it can really change the energy of the class and help create that ‘bell curve’ or ‘peak’ that you want during harder or difficult parts of your sequence (if you’re teaching let’s say a power flow or vinyasa class).
Music has always played an integral part in my life. Growing up, I loved listening to music and in college loved going to concerts. For three years, my friends and I built a fun (popular) music blog centered around dance/techno/disco music and could be found spending many late nights at U Street Music Hall, 9:30 Club or some warehouse in NE DC on any given weekend. I have even seen one band 60+ times (am I crazy, maybe??!) Getting back to yoga, though, I think in yoga, music can have a really lasting impact or make the experience for students that much better if done correctly.
Fast forward four years later and I’m a yoga instructor now and get to play DJ (fun fact: my alter ego was DJ Bakemau5 long ago cause I used to love listening to music and baking things) for all the yoga classes that I teach. At first, it was super exciting, I wanted to create really fun, dance-y playlists every week for classes. I distinctly remember getting feedback at some point as a newbie yoga instructor that maybe my music was a bit…much. Too loud. Too beat-y. Less clubb-y perhaps? It was recommended that maybe I try teaching some classes without music and see how it went. At first, I was annoyed, but swallowed my pride and took the feedback as a lesson learned.
To be honest, I still teach 95% of my classes with music but I’ve changed how I structure my playlists and always try to match the mood to the actual class I’m teaching (more on that below). When I’m in classes, if I like the music, I try to find them on Spotify and take a few songs to also keep in my own rotation. To start to create that energy, I’ll also play music BEFORE class so when students come in they already have that vibe going.
So, here are some takeaways for yoga instructors or yogis who like to make playlists. And a full disclosure: I am by no means an expert in yoga playlists but I do spend time creating them, listening to them and making sure they work and are appropriate!
Keep it simple. Don’t feel like spending 5 hours a week making yoga playlists because you have a life? Then don’t! Most students don’t really care about the music — it can be the icing on the cake though. True life: I used to do this. Now I rotate playlists maybe once every 6 weeks and I definitely recycle playlists now.
Think about the type of class that you are actually teaching. For example, if I’m teaching a Yin or Restorative class, I wouldn’t play music that gets the HR going. You don’t want that rap song or house song dropping when everyone is in pigeon pose, do you?
Listen to the playlist in its entirety to make sure it flows well. Trust me, if there’s a weird part or the beat drops or picks up at the wrong time in between songs, you will notice and your students will to during class. Have you ever tried to get students into a Sun A or Sun B rhythm but the music is too fast or slow? That is the type of stuff that adds to the experience for students!
Create playlists that are universal — I don’t play too much ‘pop’ music in my classes unless it’s a fun class like a Beats yoga or happy hour class. Playing familiar songs can be fun but can divert attention from breath/pose. I like to go off the beaten track but know other yoga teachers have used it and also been in classes where I’ve heard it so I know it works. Sorry not sorry to my yogis who have listened to a ton of vibe-y out there music, especially in my rocket classes. I am really really into that now.
Verdict is still out, but I’ve been trying to steer clear of music that has a ton of lyrics. Sometimes it can be really distracting for both teacher (trying to talk over it) and students. I’ve definitely played Mambo # 5 in one of my beats classes before. I have no shame in possibly joining the chorus when I was teaching.
Ask someone if you like their playlist or scour the Spotify lists for yoga music! I love it when I can share my playlists or vise versa with others. I definitely look at Mimi Rieger, Jaimis Huff Flynn, Patrick McCleaf and David Kyle for inspiration.
Who are some of your favorite teachers’ playlists? Comment below with a link so we can all take part in yoga <3 music for all.
And for those who have stayed long enough, here's my newest playlist that will be in rotation for most of my 60 minute classes over the next 4-6 weeks! I hope to see you in class soon.
With love & gratitude,