Favorite song for a class?

The moment the teacher’s voice stops is when a yoga asana really begins. In most yoga classes, however, you are not just left with your own thoughts; you have music.

I am sure there are purists out there who lament the place of music in modern yoga classes out there, but this strikes me as silly. It can be an invaluable tool. Music can reinforce what the teacher is saying, make students not take themselves as seriously, and get them to treat practice more like dancing and less like punishment. There is a time and place for silence, but that place doesn’t have to be down dog, and that time needn’t stretch for an hour and 20 minutes.

Music is also an opportunity for the instructor, a way to show some of yourself to the other people in the room. And if there is a part of myself that I most like to show when teaching, it is “Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison. Written in 1971 and released on an album of the same name, it is one of my favorite songs period, and it is my choice as all-time best for use in a yoga class.

The song begins with a flute refrain, and guitar licks whose light-touch fingering reminds me of stones skipping across a lake.  Morrison’s lyrics invoke his traditional, antiquarian imagery — “All the tea in china,” “Sail right round seven oceans” — and he goes on to rhyme “insight” with “granite.” (Makes more sense with a Belfast accent.) It quickly becomes clear that this is a love song, and that it is about someone special, someone worthy of the comparison involved in these ancient images. But by the time we get to the chorus, it’s clear that he’s not talking to his lover; he’s talking about her, to someone else. The gradual build has led the listener to a gospel chorus proclaiming, “She’s an angel.” At this point, you can’t really imagine yourself disagreeing: the song is mixed in such a way that the percussion in this moment sounds like stomping feet.

In terms of sequencing, the song is ideal for pairing with a peak pose. It’s almost seven minutes long, and so can accommodate the extra time involved in, say, dragging mats to the wall. The song is high energy enough to encourage people to push themselves, but it is a slow build. Especially with the altering between Morrison’s pitched pleas and the simplicity of the “She’s an angel” refrain, the song’s energy is more ecstatic than frantic. Indeed, its arc may well put students in mind of the journey they have taken on their mats so far.

Bob Dylan once said that “Tupelo Honey” had always existed, and that Morrison was merely the “vessel and the earthly vehicle” for it. I can conceive of few higher compliments for a song. In comments or repostings, share your favorite song to use or hear in class. What makes you feel like an earthly vehicle?

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