Music and Movement
Dance and music have gone together for almost as log as there were people able to move their bodies or fashion musical instruments. The rhythms of music are matched by the rhythms of the human form: breathing, heart beat, nerve impulses, the slap of feet on the earth while running. Some day I would like to read a history of dance and music to learn more about the early expressions of this. But it seems natural that the same drive to discover and create that made instrumentation and played with the natural rhythms of nature would seek self expression in creating new patterns of physical movement of the body.
Dance has long had its place as religious ritual, as artistic performance, as social activity, as healthful physical activity. The creation of dance aerobics is relatively more modern. Most people trace it back to Judie Sheppard Missett who founded Jazzercise, in the late 1960s. The technology of the time was quite different, (among many other things, for example, today people are very conscious of the dangers of repetitive high impact, and the effect of different sort of flooring... at the beginning, of course there was not yet research, or experience, or new technology developed for the new needs and wants of the exercisers).
By the time I started teaching group exercise classes in the late 80s people used cassette tapes. Some people made their own, some bought premixed tapes made specifically for exercse. I still have a huge box of those tapes. There were several big companies, and some smaller ones, as well as some Djs that did more custom tapes. The two companies I bought most of my tapes from were Power Productions and Muscle Mixes. One ordered with mail order catalogs, or bought tapes at meetings and conventions. The advantage of the premixed tapes were, first, that your usage of the tapes conveyed the first layer of legal agreement for your use of them in a money making venue. There are complex rules governing the use of music in commercial settings, and the fees for that use . (If you are interested look at my “Questions Answered” section, as I think I answered at length on this topic). And second, the tapes were smoothly mixed to have even beats per minute through the songs, with the speed adjusted to the activity you were going to do. If you have ever tried to choreograph steps to a song with varied beats you can see how useful this was in an exercise class. (This is a link to an article published by ACE on research on the role of music on exercise performance. http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/805/)
Today both of those companies still exist (though Power Productions is called Power Music) and instructors still buy music from them. You cannot get cassette tapes anymore, but you can get CDs, though a lot of people just buy the downloads. You can even buy individual songs and mix your own selection to a desired speed, with some of the services. And, yes, if you are a non professional you can buy a tape for your own exercising. Just remember that these will not be original artists. You may find that just using your own ipod device with a favorite playlist will be more motivating for personal workouts.
Some trademarked forms of exercise control the selection of music used in their classes, and sell the music directly to the instructors. Although the range of options for class format in pre made tapes is enormous, with some specialty classes there are unique needs when music is used. There are pre made tapes for yoga made by the big companies, but with only a couple of exceptions I have not found any that I really like for my yoga classes.
Music for Yoga and Relaxation
Please note that these are just suggestions from music I have used and enjoyed. What I do not know and have not heard would cover this little pile of mine like an avalanche. But if you are just starting out and want some music for your yoga practice, or just to help you find peace during stressful times, these are meant to be a starting point.
There are definite categories of styles of music seen in yoga classes. One of the most common is Kirtan. In Kirtan hymns or mantras are chanted along with some instruments: usually various drums, or the harmonium, or cymbals. Kirtan is one of the great roads into bhakti yoga: the path of love of the divine. It is not exclusively Hindu either, for example there are Sikh Kirtan performers. It is a very old, very traditional form of music, but there are many vibrant, exceptional Kirtan artists making music today. Krishna Das is probably the most famous, but there are many others. My current two favorites are Wah! And Snatam Kaur, though Deva Premal is also wonderful. Tod Norian's CD “Bija” is excellent. I use that in class a lot, when I want to be more meditative. When I want to slow and focus, I like the “108 Sacred Names of the Mother Divine” with Ananda. But there are many beautiful examples of this style, and it will be no difficulty to find something that works whether you want something for your power practice, your meditative practice, or just getting to sleep.
Another type of music used in yoga is ambient. Ambient music is designed to be a background, not like elevator music, but really to help set a mood, clear the mind, and create focus. Sometimes there are sounds from nature mixed in. I still have a tape called “Dreamland” from something called Environmental Recordings which is one of the best I have found for creating a mood of deep relaxation. I just need to find a place to convert it to digital. New age music is very similar, and sometimes is used to good effect. There is one composer/performer from this category whom I have used in class almost since I began teaching, and from whom I continue to buy to this day: Steven Halpern. I actually still have a half a dozen or more tapes of his, and am slowly building a collection of his CDs. His “Comfort Zone” really is comforting at the end of a long day, and his “Om Zone” is brilliant for engaging pranayama during practice.
Another sort of music used in yoga (and this is my own organizational structure so if your background is in music, please recognize I am not being fully precise ) is what I would refer to as ethnic, or folk. There are a lot of different things in this box. The idea is that though yoga developed in India, and Kirtan develops out of that tradition, yoga has moved into the world and brings new forms into itself. That is one of the beauties of yoga: how it transforms and is transformed, how the principles stand, as different people make it their own. So music using Tibetan singing bowls may find their way even into an asana based class. And I have two CDs from Anugma (Shamanic Dream, and Shamanic Dream II) that use didgeridoo.
And for going to sleep there are two CDs that seem to have been created more for bodywork, but which I love: “Reiki; Hands of Light”, and “Spa Dreams”.
Where to Purchase?
I have purchased online both from Amazon and from Itunes. The reviews on Amazon are helpful; once you know something in a category you can usually get reviews on similar things that may lead you in new directions. Most yoga studios sell a few CDs, and sometimes those are from musicians they have seen live, or even know personally. Large yoga, or yoga spa, or spa centers will have extensive collections. I have bought quite a lot at Kripalu. If you are going to such a place anyway do check out the music.
Head, Heart, and Hands..... and a lovely practice, or sweet dreams to all my yoga friends....