DJs at yoga classes are becoming more common – but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy gig for any DJ to play. In today’s article, Ean Golden shares some insights from playing yoga sets and collaborating with instructors. Read on for four simple ways DJs can improve how they DJ yoga classes.
Why DJ Yoga Classes?
After nearly 20 years of DJing in clubs, festivals, and parties, I’ve been looking for new venues that are more in line with my personal life. With a focus wellness and spirituality, staying up until 6am and traveling constantly hasn’t been appealing for a while, and I’m pretty much retired from that circuit.
An unlikely place that has been working quite well for me is in the land of yoga. In a yoga class, there’s a captive, conscious audience – and much more friendly working hours. After DJing a dozen yoga classes over the past few years, I would like to share my knowledge with you.
DJTT reached out to a few active DJs who play yoga gigs as well for this article – look for tips from Flashflooder and Lola Villa as well as my own experiences.
What Is This Yoga/DJ Combo Like?
The class I play regularly is a fairly standard energetic vinyasa flow that lasts for 75 minutes. The difference is that the yoga teacher and I are interacting with each other throughout the class and improvising on the sequence of moves depending on the energy we notice in people that day.
“It’s not about keeping people dancing, being a show man, playing the new hit songs, or keeping people entertained. It’s about creating the proper mood and head space for the people and instructor in the class by finding the right vibe and tempo for the varying intensity level of the class flow” – Flashflooder
She might react to the music that’s playing and bring people up, or I might react to a seated posture and settle the mood down. I maintain a rolling sequence of songs that keep things interesting, and provide breaks (just like a dance floor) while the teacher is connecting appropriate poses for a quality physical experience. If we get synced up, the class gets the best of both worlds: a great teacher and a musical lift.
DJing A Yoga Class is Harder Than You Might Think!
What’s surprising about this style of DJ set is how hard it is to do well. Anyone can play basic music behind a teacher, but the results will be mediocre. Done well, live DJing in a yoga context is more mentally taxing than a traditional set because a DJ should constantly have four things in mind:
- Is the teacher speaking right now? What is he/she saying? Do I need to make room?
- What is my next mix in/out point and song?
- What is the current energy level of the room, and is it appropriate for the current musical direction?
- When is the next section? High or low energy, and where in a progression of moves are we?
Beyond the basic mixing, picking the next song, and maintaining good levels; I am also constantly reacting to the teacher and providing space for their instructions. The DJ needs to be ready to shift directions on a dime. Transitioning from an uptempo pumping vibe back to a more spacious relaxed mood – hopefully while mixing it all flawlessly.
The end results, when they work, are beautiful. It’s a similar energy to a dance floor, but with the added improvisation of a teacher who will throw you curve balls. There’s not much money in yoga, and especially not for a yoga DJ, but the personal reward is huge. It provides me with the opportunity to practice mixing in a challenging way.
“The biggest different [when playing a yoga class] is the rhythm. When playing a regular set, I either begin very slow and build it up […] At yoga, there has to be room for harmony, more than bass lines and higher intensity. There’s more space for slower, deeper tracks, or even the weirdest ambient stuff you would never play in the club. I also play tracks of 123 bpm but at 80(!) which makes the experiencing the track incredibly interesting – it becomes a whole new track basically.” – Lola Villa
Four things that any DJ can do to vastly enhance their DJ sets in a yoga context:
#1: Create Room For The Teacher
This is the biggest, and also most challenging. I have taken classes where the teacher is forced to shout over an oblivious DJ who is searching through his computer looking for the next track. Students can’t hear the teacher’s cues and end up getting lost in the flow.
In a yoga class, it’s very important
for the students to clearly hear the teacher’s instructions.
At the same time you want to the music to be loud and exciting, or at least very present. Here’s two ways to balance these two desires:
- Actively create room for the yoga teacher when they are speaking by live ducking
- Pick music that does not have a lot of conflicting vocals, spoken words, or frequencies in 2 – 5kHz range. Here is one example that I use a lot by the creative Stimming:
Live ducking is quite simple. Not with all words, but when a teacher is saying something important, slightly duck the volume levels of that deck by 30% or so. You can use the volume faders or filters (my favorite) to create space.
In a yoga set it’s possible to play with dynamics in a big way, bringing the volume up and down significantly based on when there is space. I will often keep the levels lower during instruction and the first part of a sequence. Then, when there is a strong moment, I’ll bring it back up and push the levels a bit for energy. Listen to this example set and see how I create room for her voice throughout:
#2: Pay Attention + Break Up The Mix
Like a pair of dancers working off each other, this is a two person art. Rather than responding to a dance floor, you need to work off the yoga teacher and whatever sequence of poses are currently happening. Some teachers will simply respond to the music you’re playing, but ideally it is an active “conversation”.
For example, in a vigorous vinyasa class, there are times when having a very energetic beat helps people maintain a high level of energy – but they’re likely to get exhausted. The teacher will probably switch to some seated poses for a while to let people cool down, and you should be ready to drop to a lower level pretty quickly. If possible, I like to really demarcate these sections with BPM changes, but sometimes just a shift in key or musical energy is enough.
These sections can sometimes be communicated in advance, but like a DJ, they are usually improvised on the fly. You have to be ready to shift gears quickly. I manage this by keeping my yoga music well tagged with energy levels and proper labels for moments like “opening” or “ending”.
There’s almost always a gentle intro and usually a relaxed shavasana (or corpse/lying pose) where people are in a serious resting state. Plan for these moments and come prepared with a few pre-selected ambient tracks that fit those moments.
#3. Plan 60% Of Your Set In Advance
Let’s be realistic. Ducking for the teacher all the time and reacting to the energy of the room is a full-time job. Add in searching for the next track and it becomes impossible.
As a result, I like to plan out many of my mixes, but not the full set. I’ll have a series of sequences planned (read more on this concept here) and can improvise on their order. This allows me to focus on the room, which is vitally important (as noted in the previous section).
Occasionally, I will go hunting for the next track, but almost always I get out of sync with the teacher and the current flow. The best ways around this are:
- Having a single playlist with 30-50 songs pre-selected for that day
- Having many of those pre-selected for mix “vignettes”
#4. Take Classes Yourself
Most of these techniques I learned by listening to other DJs while on the yoga mat myself. It’s really important to have context and understand the class you are playing. This isn’t a club, and treating it like one won’t work out well. I seriously recommend every DJ planning to play a class consider:
- Become personally familiar with the practice (especially guided classes)
- Go to several yoga classes with DJs to learn what works and what doesn’t
Attending other DJ-accompanied classes is best way to notice what style of songs really worked in a yoga context.
Some of these insights are often counter-intuitive to what a DJ might think. For example, I found I enjoyed older pop music with words that were fun and made me smile – but as a DJ that’s the last thing that might make it into a set.
“Go do yoga first and get acquainted with the sequence. Also, don’t be afraid of playing at 80 bpm, a lot of DJs out there are petrified by the idea of playing slow, people tend to believe that the vibes will go away or that people will not be wanting to move, that it will become chill-out music, which is bollocks.” – Lola Villa
There also are many different styles of yoga, each with their own flow and perspective. Any DJ who is considering playing a yoga class should first develop their own taste and unique composition.
More DJ Yoga Mixes
Here’s a few more mixes from the DJs who also contributed to this article beyond my own (embedded above):
Sorry to say this, I can read here a lot of bullshit… My opinion is a bit different, as I see here everybody (most of the people) play some commercial lounge music at a yoga class.. what the hell??? really? To increase energy I am very sure, that experimental (space dreams) or some ambient music would fit better, what have no beats, just kind of background noise, synth sounds, etc to help the crowd enjoy depth, help them focus for breathing, etc. What a shame, I see now everybody would like to be a dj in a yoga class, play some slow house music crap, commercial lounge, or commercial chillout, and act like a star… seriously, if you want a pro yoga class, I think you would better don’t play music, or play something very, very deep! I show you here 2 radio channels, trust me, forget the lounge and chillout tracks, and make your yoga class a TOP yoga class: http://www.di.fm/spacemusic and http://www.di.fm/ambient
[…] Being a DJ in a Yoga class isn’t an easy feat, especially when you are used to festivals and clubs. Mixing songs while the practice is going on means focusing not only on your music but also on the teacher and the energy level in class. The most important thing is to know the right music the class needs and when to reduce, lower the volume or pause. If you are hoping to be a great DJ at a Yoga class, here are some tips. […]
fucking times im my timeline
now i propably use an funny tool, to send 8 or 10 year old mix, for relaxing
8 or 10 year old mixes
sorry about the non digtal technic behind
[…] Learn how to dj a yoga class, properly. This is very important. You don’t want to play music that doesn’t flow with the teacher. […]
cheers Ean, great article
Interesting article. I’ve been DJing yoga classes for 6 years now so it’s nice to see it get some positive attention as i’ve seen so many club DJs come through trying to DJ yoga classes that end up as a disaster. Yoga is about the last pose…shavasana…resting pose. You have to take the practitioners on a journey using music but one that is not distracting to their practice. IT ISN’T ABOUT YOU, ITS ABOUT THEM. Think of most classes like a bell curve…starting out slow at 80-90 BPM or ambient…and then progressing to something at 125BPM. I’ve worn a heart monitor during many flow classes and can tell you that at peak the heart is beating at that rate so music at the half hour mark should match the yogis heart rates…Also remember that they are breathing…usually the breath is a count of 4…so playing songs with a 4/4 disposition will help them count as they practice…a solid kick in songs at the peak of the curve will help as they count to 4 with their breath…I call this breath matching the beat. I agree that preparing about 60% of the set is key because for that hour you must be all hands on deck at all times. One thing I will add however is that while its nice to throw in a song everyone knows that has some lyrics, its best to stay away from those types of songs as the words often take away from the instructor as well as may take the practitioners minds to a mentally anchored place that only serves as a distraction. If you play a song about love lost or chasing love then people might forget about the yoga and start to drift mentally…then your music is only serving as a disservice to those in your audience. Elektra is a great artist and glad to see her getting a bit of love here as well. soundcloud.com/h3lla
H3LLA, you’ve been on my mind lately. Happy new year! Best wishes in 2017. <3
https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/94c6f491840f5022dda4356f978232626474c2cdc670793305c4c5f60138b245.jpg You mean like this….? 😛
That’s dope man! coollll
I love this idea. I’ve been playing a lot of chill out & electronica lately and have been looking for alternative venues to play that sound at. How does one find gigs in unusual places?
If you have a pa system, you can get started right away. Connect with some yoga teachers who like to get down dog and you’re well on your way.
Very nice djs should be used for everything, it brings a certain control and vibe that can sell, promote, and improve when done well.
I think there should be at least one in every mall.
At car dealership events.
For chill or energetic areas of Theme parks.
Really just about any place can use a dj sometimes.
But I do have to say I would probably be a bit distracted djing a yoga class.
Hahahahaaaa, Pick music that does not have a lot of frequencies in 2 – 5kHz.
very interesting and unusual topic. Few uears earlier I would thougth that idea of joga djing is totally lame, but now I think it could cool. It’s brighter side of djing in some sense, because in clubs is alcohol, drugs, etc, and here we have health, mindfullnes and peace, so totally opposite.
Idea is inspiring and practical, but for this moment I think I’m not mature enough to play ambient, chill, deep climates and I’m still more into future house, but maybe it’s some solution worth trying.
Thanks for inspiring post Ean, You’re still rocking it
btw: sorry for spamming, I have fresh dj blog and I’m trying to market it a little bit.
I thought you just need to play goa trance and occasional mongolian throat singing.
I just drop 2 back to back 30 minute didgeridoo solos.
Thanks for crediting the image. Great article! I started promoting and djing yoga events because I wanted to get out of playing at night clubs but I wanted to keep on djing. I love djing for yoga classes. I mostly play deep house sets but I mix in ambient, downtempo, and other genres too. Generally, I play for vinyasa flow classes so I play between 110 – 120 bpms. I try to pick tracks that have positive lyrics and a catchy melody or feel good groove. For savasana I try to pick ambient tracks or I’ll play crystal bowls or a gong. You can check out my mixes on soundcloud.com/elektratek. I’m always looking to connect with other djs and yoga teachers out there. Right now, I’m enrolled in a 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training course. I graduate June 2017 and plan to hit up some yoga festivals this summer. 🙂
Great post 🙂 Also – if anyone is interested in some great yoga music, my friend and I co produced this project, designed to accompany yoga and other “mindfulness” activites: http://www.zoenmind.com/product/autumnbells/
Hey Ean, where can I catch you DJ your next yoga class? Sounds awesome!! Great post
My ex-wife and I toured the east coast with a duo called OmSync as a teacher (her) and a musician (me.) I wrote music specifically for the dj sets and then transitioned to live ambient guitar for Savasana. It can be really intense actually during the quieter parts of the class. A big mess up will jar everyone out of their own little trance. It’s a fun thing to do.
Those dynamics are amazing – the first soundcloud track,from minute 33:00 to 37:00 that precipitous loss of energy was one masterfully controlled descent. There are many tutorials about increasing energy but precious few on shedding it. Fine work, great article.
If you can find them. Attend: Dub Kirtan Allstars or The Yoga of Bass. Claire and Darin or the OGs.
Ean with the classic “Look Ma! No Cables!” photo, lol
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I’m both a yoga teacher and a dj – many complimentary skills to draw from including moving a group of people through an experience together. Although I’m not sure I would want a clubby neon vibe in my yoga, the same way I don’t want too much chill in my dj sets – but its definitely cool to see the worlds coming together. Thanks for sharing your your growth over these years. BTW – I just dusted off my VCI100SE arcade and re-appreciating the growth of this community, you and the (fast!) evolution of the digital dj realm. Keep it up in 2017.