Music for the people — via their yoga mats

Gaiam audio yoga mat

It's a mat. It's a speaker. Too bad it can't give you a massage too.

I was at Best Buy yesterday looking for a birthday present and walked past a short aisle full of yoga and Pilates equipment. A boxed mat by Gaiam caught my eye because it was billed as a audio mat.


My first thought was that maybe this mat spoke to you every now and then. “Breathe.” “Send your shoulder blades away from your ears.” “Inhale, reach tall. Exhale, fold forward.”

I stepped closer to the box — not too close, though, because this whole talking yoga mat thing seemed a little creepy to me — and had reason for relief. Turned out this mat doesn’t actually talk to you, because that would be pretty creepy. What makes it an audio mat is that  you can connect an mp3 player to a little speaker that’s built in.


Find bliss at home or on the road with this first-of-its-kind Audio Yoga Mat. Designed with a small built-in speaker so you can work out or meditate while listening to your MP3 player or iPod® player. Or download our free instructional yoga program featuring world-renowned yoga expert Rodney Yee as he takes you through an at-home private yoga session. It is like having your own personal yoga instructor in the privacy of your home or when on the road.

What do you think?

My reactionary response to this mat was, “Seriously? Is this how commercialized yoga has become? Does anyone need a built-in speaker in their yoga mat?” But the practice of yoga is supposed us to teach us to be less reactionary, so that’s what this blog post is attempting to do. Am I missing something about the usefulness of this mat? Are there people whose practice would be helped by being able to pipe in music or an audio yoga class? I am open to hearing arguments in favor of this mat.

Seeing this mat made me think about the yoga of music or the music of yoga, depending on how you think about it. I’ll be the first to tell you that I love music. The sounds that come from a Radiohead song, for example, massage my brain and spirit in a way that nothing else in this world can (not even yoga).

Yoga and music is a murkier issue for me. I usually enjoy vinyasa (flow-style) yoga classes where music is played — even if it’s not necessarily music that I like. (I specifically say vinyasa classes because I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to Ashtanga classes, and prefer to not have music.) I feel as if I get some energy from the beat and the passion coming through the speakers. When the music that’s played is music I like, the energy boost can be helpful to the practice. Music can turn a heavy class into a light-heartened one.

Yet as a teacher, I’ve opted to not use music in my classes. For one thing, I don’t want to assume that my music tastes would work for everyone. If I were to play music, it would probably be albums by artists like Krishna Das and Annie Pace because I’d want to avoid songs in English where a student’s attention might be taken away by the lyrics.

Basically, I am in the school of thought that the music and rhythm found in a yoga class comes from the breath of those who are practicing. And from the Sanskrit counts of a led Ashtanga class: “Ekam, inhale. Dwi, exhale. Trini, inhale.” (“One, inhale. Two, exhale.”)

Yeah, those Sanskrit counts are something else. They massage my brain in a way that nothing else in this world could. Not even Radiohead.

(Photo credit:

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Horsing around (London edition)

Horse-face posture

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to travel to London last week. It was my first visit there, and I hope it won’t be my only. Let’s get the obvious question out of the way – what’s going on in the photo?

This was the result of sheer playfulness. We stumbled on this perplexing statue of a horse’s face, and I couldn’t resist getting into vatayanasana. The Sanskirt translates into horse-face posture, so this was meant to be a visual pun of sorts for the geeky ashtangi. Vatayanasana — which involves having one leg in half lotus while the opposite leg’s foot is firmly planted on the floor — appears near the end of the second series sequence. According to Gregor Maehle, this posture begins the energetic wind-down of the series.

For this trip, though, this posture marked the energetic wind-up. As with any city of this size, and this much history, there was only time to taste the sights and sounds, from checking out the actual Rosetta Stone displayed in the British Museum to having Champagne afternoon tea (yes, this is a thing! You can have a glass of Champagne before the tea comes – fantastic).

If time weren’t an issue, I would have gone to a different yoga studio every day. I managed to make it to two traditional shalas – Ashtanga Yoga London in Central London, and The Shala in South London. Both were wonderful studios — extremely welcoming and very traditional.

In the yoga classes I teach, I will sometimes say that learning Ashtanga is like learning a language – one that allows you to communicate with a deeper part of yourself, and also one that allows you to roll out your mat anywhere in the world and be able to participate in a shared experience with a group you’ve never met before. That’s absolutely what happened for me in London. At Ashtanga Yoga London, a Mysore-style shala that is so traditional you practice your finishing postures in another room, I immediately felt the familiarity of the ujjayi breathing and the walls gently sweating from the collective heat built up that morning. At The Shala, I took a led primary series class, and on the first ekam (“one” in Sanskrit) of surya namaskara A (sun salutation A), I knew I was where I should be.

To be sure, there were some minor differences in sequences. I think of them as accents of a sequence, if that makes sense. These minor differences, such as whether you enter include a rounded-back baddha konasana (bound-angle pose) or only do a flat-back baddha konasana, probably most reflects when the instructor studied in Mysore with Pattabhi Jois. Although we say Ashtanga is the same sequence, it’s not exactly the same.

The most salient feeling I came away from my visits to the studios was how grounded I felt. Thousands of miles away from home, in studios I had never been in before, I felt at home because my practice was with me.


Padmasana in Trafalgar Square