By Jaclyn Bauer
You arrive at the studio, set down your mat, and wait for the class to begin. Suddenly, the space is filled with the rhythmic beating of spinning music, and you are transported to an emotionally charged state of awareness where you feel ready to dive into your practice with determination and verve.
Having a DJ in a yoga class provides the opportunity for spontaneity and introspection through the use of melded music that is compiled on the spot. Because of these factors, DJ’d yoga classes are gaining in popularity, and there are now entire festivals, such as Wanderlust, that center on bringing yogis together in the spirit of collectivity and music.
But the creativity of these in-the-moment sessions requires planning and practice, and there’s a lot to consider as a yoga teacher, a DJ, and a student. Yoga teacher Amber Cook, DJ Taz Rashid and DJ Bhakti Styler share their opinions, intentions and methodologies for collaboration.
“There are millions of songs out there,” Taz Rashid notes, so choosing the right soundtrack for a class is a tough job, but also an exciting one. As Rashid points out, “A CD can’t match the breath or the movement of the class as it’s happening,” but a DJ can. This process takes trust, intuition, and sometimes, a bit of planning. Some DJs put together playlists ahead of time, while others, like Styler, choose each song on the spot. Either way, the teacher must be able to let go and trust the DJ to do his or her job, while the DJ must remain in-tune with the teacher and notice when a shift is coming, even if it’s not planned.
Mixing music live allows the DJ to evoke a particular emotional response in practitioners that is unique to the moment. In fact, Rashid’s main initiative in spinning beats for yoga classes is to spur emotion in students, to give them a “heart opening experience…and to allow them to awaken to a higher expression of themselves.” He wants every person to come out of the class brighter, more aware and feeling better about life in general.
Styler finds that the power of memory, which is intimately associated with music, plays a key role in the transformative power of playing music while practicing yoga. Styler notes that “[stuff] comes up when you come to the mat, [and] even without music, you put out love into the universe [by] feeling emotion.” While some might argue that igniting such emotion during a yoga class could take a person out of her practice in a distracting way, Styler asserts that feeling emotion is not a bad thing; in fact, it’s an integral part of a yoga practice. The impetus to play music, then, is to evoke emotion (positive or negative) and allow practitioners to embrace and embody that emotion in their movement.
Similarly, yoga teacher Amber Cook notes that the most beneficial aspect of teaching a class with a DJ is to create an atmosphere where her students can be happy and uplifted. She doesn’t always play music during her classes, and she admits that she can often get stuck in the more rigid and “shadow side” of yoga. This more psychological side prompts practitioners to look inward, dig into emotionality, and recognize and break deep-set patterns.
“[Yoga] is not all [about] digging into the shadow part of yourself,” Cook says, even though this is a vital component in practice. It’s equally important to step back sometimes and take the cerebral heaviness down a notch, she says. “You get stuck trying to understand the internal dialogues… Sometimes the work is to recognize and move on from that.” And that’s where a DJ can help.
There is a simplicity and bliss in yoga that can be forgotten amid the gravity of introspection. However, incorporating live mixed music in class can help students transcend that heaviness for a moment, so that if/when they return to it, whether on the mat or in their lives, they are more equipped to handle the darkness with a joyful and optimistic perspective. As Styler points out, “Music acts as both a focal point and a catalyst to the push through difficult times.” Watching a student have an emotional or physical breakthrough is what Styler finds to be one of the most rewarding aspects of spinning during a yoga class.
DJ’d yoga classes are becoming more prevalent. Some studios, like Kindness Yoga in Denver and Shakti Shala in Aspen, Colo., and some locations of Chicago Athletic Clubs hold weekly yoga classes with a DJ, while Taz spins at Club Divine in Chicago on a monthly basis. Wherever you are, there’s a DJ’d class in your area, and it’s worth trying. A DJ’d yoga class can be an emotional experience if you are willing to open yourself to the possibility of transformation and to the self-expressive power of inspired movement and sound.
Jaclyn Bauer is a freelance writer, editor and kids yoga teacher whose work has been published at centeredonbooks.com.