The trouble with mixing yoga and music: Part II

A few days after I drafted my prior post on musical accompaniment to asana, I read a fascinating New York Times article, “How to Push Past the Pain, as the Champions Do” (October 18, 2010). In assessing how elite athletes edge out their competitors, despite equivalent “pain,” experts made two points. First, it helps to be familiar with the conditions (such as the race course), for optimal pacing. Second, it helps to “associate,” to concentrate on your sport and the task at hand.

Regarding the second point, John S. Raglin, a sports psychologist at Indiana University, says that less accomplished athletes tend to dissociate, to distract themselves:

“Sometimes dissociation allows runners to speed up, because they are not attending to their pain and effort,” he said. “But what often happens is they hit a sort of physiological wall that forces them to slow down, so they end up racing inefficiently in a sort of oscillating pace.” But association, Dr. Raglin says, is difficult, which may be why most don’t do it.

Association, not dissociation, works

Maybe I see yoga connections everywhere, but I found this point applicable to the music question. Asana is not an athletic competition, but yoga practitioners all face physical and mental strain in challenging poses (see “Holding the plank” for one example). Do you use music (or other forms of dissociation) to push through? Or do you focus on your muscles and bones, your form and alignment, your breath and mind?

Image:, Mimi daydreaming of cloud carrots


  1. Thanks YogaSpy for this post. Your point about dissociation nails it.

    The times when it’s hardest to come to the mat are when I most need to. I don’t want to slow down & stay with the discomfort.

    As a culture we’re addicted to pleasant sensations.

    A lot of the yoga studios capitalise on our desire for yoga candy (candles, music, praise, soothing atmosphere), without the struggle part. Who doesn’t like candy?

    Sometimes I come out of a challenging yoga class & feel cheated. “Where’s my yoga high?! I didn’t pay $15 for this!! I want my Bliss goddammit!!”

    But the struggle is where it’s at. All living things struggle to grow, otherwise they’re dead. Plants work really hard to push up through the earth, against gravity, only to be stepped on, and peed on, and munched on.

    But plants don’t get to eat M&M’s either.


  2. I just practiced today with my focus on associating. I worked with bow pose (one that I loathe) for 15 minutes.

    When I got the urge to give up or my mind wanted to run away, I had to find a way to stick with it mindfully. So I let myself take the pose as softly as I wanted (ie. not pushing myself). But I had to stick with it for 30 mindful breaths no matter what.

    This is a technique that I want to use from now on when I’m dissociating. To let myself have lots of leeway as long as I’m present.

    Thank you!


  3. Hmmm, this is a fascinating subject, and one many people argue about. I love “yoga music”. I’ve been going to kirtan circles recently and Snatam Kaur is playing in my home constantly, it makes me shine. In regards to teaching while playing music, this is a strict no, no for us Iyengar instructors. Who says my taste in music is the same as everyone else in the room? What if my musical choice brings up painful memories for a student? Is it too much to ask for 90 minutes of quiet in a day?
    At home I alternate practicing with and without music. When I am teaching, never.


  4. My yoga class has music but in especially challenging poses, I do try to keep the focus inward and not let the music pull me away from what I’m doing.


  5. When I run, I always have music. If I’m running a particularly difficult incline, it really helps to focus on the music instead of the effort/strain/pain or making it up. *But* I notice that music will often distract me and make me speed up my pace (naturally to keep up with the beat). This can be disastrous for the overall run. I think, then, that you really just have to be conscious of the effect music has on you and do what you need to do so that music doesn’t work against you.


  6. I believe that if you put your heart and mind into yoga and believe that in a way it can heal you, I guess, one can still focus even if there’s music while also relaxing the muscles. It’s all in the power of mind and how willing you are to do yoga.


  7. I’ve only been practicing yoga for about 2 1/2 months, but my yoga studio definitely needs to reign in the music. Many of the songs have implicit, or even explicit, Christian themes (as a non-believer, there’s nothing more distracting than going into a pose while the music insists you “follow the lord’s light,” or whatever). Several of the teachers have also decided that The Beatle’s Let it Be is a great yoga song, but for me (much like the writer of this blog) the song reckons back to high school, angsty hormones and failed attempts to make contact with girls!

    I don’t mind a little new-agey background hum, maybe even nature sounds, but these people need to scale it back.


    1. Thanks for commenting! (Always glad when a long-ago post spurs a comment.) I agree that songs have different associations to each of us. Also, we probably shouldn’t be harking to those associations and meandering down memory lane during yoga practice! As for overtly religious music: no.

      Thanks again for sharing.


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