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Great Playlisters Spin Their Tunes

You’re moving through your vinyasa practice, buoyed up by the seamless rhythms of your teacher’s playlist, all the way to the end.

The question is: How do you make a great playlist that does this?

Alystyre Julian asked some experts:

Elizabeth Neuse Flint (YogaWorks):

I usually go with the arc of the class, in terms of the rhythm and the tempo, so I like to start out with instrumental and a steady rhythm for sun salutations, like “Chakra Songs” from Vive, and something more upbeat like “Because I Love You," by The Master's Apprentices during the standing sequences, building to a peak sequence.

For floor postures, I’ll throw in a ballad by Ray LaMontagne, or “Amazing Grace” by Catpower. Sometimes I’ll use the Rolling Stones, and then turn it down or off when it gets a little crazy.

If I do play at the end, it’s usually meditative or no words, something really soft.

I remember once when I first started yoga, my teacher played “Om Namah Sivaya” by WAH!, in savasana. That was a really intense experience for me, like Samadhi.

I went up and asked, what was that? And then I played it a million times. It’s all about the experience you have, when you’re listening to music and doing your practice. I find music to be very transformative, and it helps me get my mind into that place that meditation seems to be a lot more challenging to do.

Elizabeth showed me her playlist from her Sacral Chakra Healing workshop, and points out that most of the songs are geared towards her 2nd chakra themes: “Svadisthana Chakra,” “So Close the Current,” “The Divine Mother,” “The Moon,” “OM Narayana.”

Tamar Samir (Jivamukti/YogaWorks):

“I teach vinyasa in the Jivamukti Yoga lineage. In our method, using sound (recorded or live music, spoken word, audio recordings) as well as silence is an integral part of the experience. Natalie Ullmann, my first Jivamukti teacher, spoke about the idea of the music in class creating a “force field” around the students, which has deeply inspired and shaped the way I create playlists.

I hope to create an atmospheric, hypnotic feeling, that takes you inside, that can ultimately bring about a meditative state, devoid of thinking. The music has to be at a certain volume (not too soft, not too loud) to create that dimensional, immersive experience. It’s as if the music is wrapping around the practitioners and protecting them. Sanskrit mantras, by Ravi Shankar, or Manorama, have a powerful resonance that builds that “force field” in the mind.

Longer ambient tracks work best to maintain a trance-like state, such as Pete Kuzma’s “The Introspecting,” and Klause Wiese’s “El Hadra.” When I make a playlist, I sometimes think of it as the expression of the crackling of energy through the nadis (the subtle body’s channels), the energy moving up through the chakras. That energy has arcs, spirals, highs, lows, and finally a still point. I use diverse music from different sources and styles in a variety of languages, and from different sacred traditions, to create an atmosphere that unites the class: electronic music by Loscil, and House of Waters; ambient music by Deuter, and Stars of the Lid; and world music by Sound Ambassador, and Bhakta. The main source of music is my wife, Nora Heilmann, (artist, Jivamukti yoga teacher, and avid music researcher), who sometimes plays the Didgeridoo and harmonium in my classes.”

Aarona Ganesan (Kula Yoga Project/Park Slope Yoga):

“The playlist I choose to use for a class depends on the sequence I'm working with, class level/vibe, and mood of the day. Basically, the arc I create starts off with a smooth ambient flavor, such as Jane Winther, or Pete Kuzma, then builds into a steady rhythmic climb or apex, and steadily tapers down to a melodic ambiance, and finally into more grounding or meditative sounds, like classical Indian ragas. I work with a range of music, from dynamic orchestral music by Ólafur Arnalds, or the "In the Mood for Love" song, to the more worldly/jazzy instrumental sounds of Alice Coltrane, Glen Velez and Tinariwen, to the texture of electronic music from Four Tet and Hannah Thiem, to Thriftworks and Dr. Toast.

Aarona created the music module for both Kula Yoga and Wanderlust's teacher training. “I like when teachers give thought to their playlists, when the vibe matches their teaching style, when songs seamlessly weave in and out of one another in a way that feels curated, and when there is an element of surprise that somehow works perfectly with their sequence. The more we become skilled at using music, sound, AND silence, the more empathic of a teacher we become, while creating a powerful setting for a yoga practice."

Lisa Yi Supple (YogaWorks): “All music should flow together. I start with something catchy to set the pace, like Eddie Veder’s “The Long Road” or Mike Doughty’s “Sunshine,” and end with something inspirational, like the traditional “Offering Chant” with Lama Gyurme and Jean-Philippe Rykiel, or even contemporary music, like Audra Mae’s “The Unclouded Day,” or Yo La Tengo’s “Green Arrow.” My playlists include Steve Earle, The Cave Singers, The National, The Milk Carton Kids, The Shins, Keane….” Lisa says her playlists become relaxing background music, and that she and her students often exchange music.

All these suggestions resonated, helping me to discover the grooves of making a great playlist. I start to sample music frequently and to select tracks that would move more fluidly with my class plans. Aarona and I sync over Alice Coltrane, which confirms a staple for standing poses, and Lisa and I overlap with “Offering Chant”. I enjoy the global feel of Tamar’s playlists, and include her Vibrasphere’s “Tierra Azul-Omnimotion Feat. Krister Linder remix” in my Yin class. From Elizabeth’s playlists, I like “I Want You to Come Together” by DJ Drez, (which led me to “Wildly Calm”) for hip-opening poses, and for savasana, “Root Chakra: Tibetan Singing Bowls for Relaxation.” My newest discoveries include Tycho’s “Dive” for vinyasa, and “Relaxing Sounds of the Jungle,” for yin/restorative.

-- Alystyre Julian, Alystyre teaches at YogaWorks

To see Tamar Samir and Alystyre Julian's public playlists, go to Spotify and type in their names.

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