The Gift of Silence and Simplicity

To play, or not to play music in yoga class. That is the question.

I used to always play music when I practiced and taught class, and I loved it. And my students loved it. These days, however, I never practice with music, not even in an hour long restorative practice. And over the past few years, I have really moved away from bringing music in during the instruction portion of class, but I usually include music at the end of class for savasana. For restorative yoga, I only play a little in the first pose, then I create the opportunity for the students to get comfortable and accustomed to silence because I feel that this is an important part of the practice.

Now don't misunderstand, I LOVE music. I do. I have always loved music, but I have really grown and come to love and crave silence and simplicity in my practice over the years. It's taken me a long time to appreciate and get comfortable with just being with myself, my body and my breath in my practice. And I cannot even begin to express the joy and rejuvenation that doing a quiet focused practice gives me. A quiet practice has helped me to heal from chronic stress and fatigue.

Recently some students who've been in my classes for a long time have mentioned they miss the music I used to play. When I share with them that I do not play music during instruction time because I feel it can be distracting and I want students to just focus on their breath and their practice. invariably I hear that the music is not a distraction but a delight. This is great feedback, and I appreciate it and am taking it in.

And this is also a conundrum for me as a teacher. Why? The reason I feel torn on this is because I am someone who wants to learn, and I want to listen to and hear what my students have to say. I also am someone who really believes in the middle way of doing things. I am not a this or that, black or white person. I really believe that there is a balance between those two places. That said, I also have to trust myself as a teacher and student of yoga. I have to trust that I what I have found valuable and important in my own practice is worthy of sharing with others. And here is where it gets tricky. Do I do what makes my students happy and pleases them and fulfills their expectation of what they are used to or like, or do I share what I have learned and what I think is important and useful and valuable right now? Maybe it's a bit of both?

As I have said, I believe there is a place in the middle where we can meet, but not at the expense of what I deem is a truly valuable part of the practice, and what I am noticing is missing in practice these days. And I certainly don't want to play music just because I want to be liked and/or because I want to please my students. I want to listen. I want to learn. I want to be willing to find middle ground. You see? It's tricky. So in order to untangle and clarify this a bit, let me share why I made the decision to move away from playing music in class.

The reason that I have moved away from music during class is because I felt that people needed a break from too much. We are used to noise all day long, and we are used to doing multiple things at once (e.g. perusing our phones or computers while eating breakfast, talking on the phone while driving, texting while waiting in line, et cetera). I know this is the norm and something we have all become accustomed to, but I feel we need a break from that. It doesn't appear that most of us make time for silence or rest in our days except for when we lie down in bed to go to sleep. We are on the go and doing all day long. And we are exhausted at the end of our days because we are doing so much all the time. To stop, to pause for a moment, to breathe, to get quiet and feel where we are is so foreign that it's uncomfortable.

What I've come to learn is that my yoga practice offers me a much needed break from all of that. And perhaps this is the gift of our yoga practice? Our practice reminds us to slow down, to listen in, to take a moment to absorb our experiences instead of rushing through them. Our practice is not meant to be another thing we hurry up and do so that we can say we exercised today. The point of practice is to create time and space for us to go inward, to move from the external to the internal.
Listen, my life is busy and noisy, too. Perhaps that's why I've taken up a more quiet and simple practice. I need that kind of practice because my days are full of doing multiple things, and hearing multiple voices, and life singing in chorus and in rounds at me. Maybe because my days are full of caring for my children and being out in the world, I have come to understand that I need sacred breaks. I need time to be with just myself, my body, and my breath on my mat. And the simplicity of that is everything.

Maybe I really have learned what it means to take care of myself in my life through my practice, and that every time I have stepped onto my mat over the last 17 years has yielded great insights and a craving for depth. Maybe I have learned the art of drawing my senses inward, a state in yoga called pratyahara, in which I truly revel in the sweetness of silence, of listening in and just being with myself. And maybe this is one of the gifts I have to share.

And maybe this is what I want to share with the people who come to my class. This is what I have to get clear on. I have to remember that I have always been taught to teach what I know, to teach from a place of integrity and heart. And this is where I have to make my teaching choices from.

I do think learning how to be still and quiet is an important part of the practice, but it's not necessarily easy or comfortable at first. So maybe we are all learning something new, and it will just take time to get acquainted with the space that is created when music is not played. We all need moments when we just turn the volume of the world down and just simply hear and feel our breath while we practice. Maybe the sound and song of the breath is enough. Maybe just doing one thing at a time and having time to be still and quiet is the greatest gift and teaching I can offer students at this time.

Blessings, Marcia


  1. I love this post and your thoughts, Marcia. I actually really enjoy the music you play before class...I feel like it helps me transition from the chaos to the quiet. And I appreciate the silence during class. A perfect balance in my mind!


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