Thoughts on Music in a Yoga Class (2011 edition)

Music in the form of chanting, or kirtan, has been considered one of the many paths of yoga for millenia, but music as background accompaniment to yoga practice is a recent addition. Many modern yoga classes now come with a rockin' playlist of some kind or another. It serves many purposes, from masking sounds from neighboring businesses or the nearby weight room, to providing a boost of energy when the class gets intense, to helping the bodymind relax and open in relaxation.

When we first began teaching, we prided ourselves on choosing interesting but unobtrusive music.  You can view some of our favorites below.  But over the last few years, we've found our selves playing much less music - often none at all except for during relaxation to mask street noise.  We think one of yoga's greatest gifts is the chance to listen to yourself more closely, and that happens best when there isn't a lot external stimulation.  So... silence is our music.

Our Playlist

The "learn more" links below point to Wikipedia articles on the musicians, or artist websites when they're too obscure for Wikipedia. Click on the image to view album information on Amazon.com.

African

Ali Farka Toure
Cyclic, delicate, hypnotic Malian guitar and vocals. [learn more]
Habib Koite
Another Malian guitarist/singer. Upbeat, polyrhythmic, lovely. [learn more]
Ayub Ogada
Stunning vocals and strings from a Kenyan artist.learn more]

Indian / Middle Eastern

Eric Fraser
day-ragas-eric-fraserA dear friend of the Beems and a superb bansuri bamboo flute player.  He comes from a rare lineage that emphasizes a sensual, vocal quality rather than hyper-fast virtuosity.  Highly recommended
Ry Cooder and V.M. Bhatt
A guitar conversation between two masters. Mellow and rhythmic. [learn more about Ry Cooder, V.M. Bhatt]
Ravi Shankar
Not only a master of the sitar, but partly responsible for bringing America's attention to the great treasures of Indian culture. [learn more]
Hariprasad Chaurasia
We picked up a few discs in India and were very pleased with what we found. Lovely flute with tabla backing. [learn more]
Pandit Shivkumar Sharma
Another Indian disc, with a hammered-dulcimer type instrument and tabla backing.
[learn more]
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
The Ravi Shankar of qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis. Passionate, energetic singing with a clearly divine inspiration. [learn more]

Kirtan / Vocal Artists

Krishna Das
Just like many couples have a certain song that evokes their courtship, Krishna Das does that for me. I imagine this is true for many other Western yoga students. He's the godfather of American kirtan. I've been to a live performance, and it is a incredible, holy experience. A humble, funny guy. His guru is Neem Karoli Baba, who also taught Ram Das. I especially recommend "Pilgrim Heart". [learn more]
David Stringer
Part of the American kirtan movement, he brings an original, blues-inspired perspective to the ancient words. [learn more]
Jai Uttal
More of a world musician than strictly a kirtan singer, he does have a few great yoga tracks. Particularly, "Nataraja" - a staple of American yoga classes. [learn more]
Sheila Chandra
A British-Indian woman exploring the possibilities of sound, the meaning of words, the vocal traditions of India and a little bit of everything else. Especially good for yoga is her "ABoneCroneDrone" album, which is 6 tracks of layered voice and sound that move the body quickly into a deep savasana. [learn more]

New Age

Ranga
Cyclic melodies and rhythms combine in radiant soundscapes that provide just the right "kick" to sun salutations. [learn more]
Anugama
An ambient, tribal sound that builds and fades away, just in time for relaxation. [learn more]
Todd Norian
A yoga teacher, originally trained in Kripalu Yoga, who has produced a few alubms of mellow, ambient music. "Bija" is a perfect savasana album. [learn more]
Benjy Wertheimer
Multi-instrumental world musician and vocalist. "Night of Esraj" is haunting. [learn more]
Prem Joshua
Similar to Benjy Wertheimer. A fusion of Indian instrumentation and Western beats. "Sky Meets Earth" has one eponymous track that has been sampled frequently and just sounds so familiar... [learn more]
Klause Weise
His album "El Hadra" is one melodic theme repeated over and over, with subtle variations. Relaxing and trance inducing. [learn more]

Instrumental

Kevin Nathaniel
African thumb pianos play delicate, cyclic melodies. Good for sunny days. [learn more] [amazon link: Mbira Sanctuary]
Jon Dichter
Bowed and plucked guitar designed for a mellow, introspective yoga class. [learn more] [amazon link: Bowed Guitar for Yoga]
Liz Cifani
A Chicago-based harpist who plays British folk melodies and Irish tunes.
Benjamin Iobst
"Seven Metals" is an hour of exquisite tones from Tibetan singing bowls of various sizes and compositions. It will definitely get your prana vibrating. [learn more]
Nawang Khechog
A Tibetan flautist who evokes the austere beauty of the Himalayas. [learn more]
Riley Lee
Atmospheric flute music, very serene.
Yo Yo Ma, Mark O'Connor and Edgar Meyer
Their first album together, "Appalachia Waltz" is one of the great works of the 20th century. A few of the pieces are heart-breaking beautiful, others are virtuostically energetic. [learn more]
Anja Lechner And Vassilis Tsabropoulos
Haunting cello and piano pieces written by the enigmatic mystic Gurdjieff, as well as a few by one of the performers. Melancholy, hopeful, elegant.
[learn more about Gurdjieff]
R. Carlos Nakai
The godfather of Native American flute. Contemplative, spacious, evocative of deserts and mountains.
[learn more]