The Yoga Teacher Diaries: How I Make my Class Playlists and Why

When I was little, I always used to say I wanted to have a job that would have me make playlists. I was obsessed with the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, the ways the songs complemented each scene perfectly, how all of the music seemed to fit into a unique Grey’s niche. Whose job was it to do that? To this day I still don’t know what that position or career is called, but I seem to have solved my problem by becoming a yoga instructor! For my job, I make between 2-4 playlists per week. However, it’s not about picking the perfect indie song for Meredith and Christina to “dance it out” to — the process looks a little different!

Each class structure has a different “vibe” that calls for different levels of energy, power, and mood (you can find the different class structure descriptions and their difficulty levels in my previous article, How and Where Should You Start Your Yoga Practice?). For example, whereas I may bump Gallantis and Kanye West during a Hot Vinyasa class, in a Blend Vinyasa class I may choose a slightly slower-paced Odesza beat or even Maggie Rogers. I will admit that I personally make my Blend classes maybe a little more vigorous than some other instructors, but there’s still more of a build-up and slower heat building than in Hot Vinyasa where I’d probably have the music pounding almost right out of the gate. 

First and foremost, it’s important to address this “build-up” of energy and what kind of music this requires. Every single yoga class at Tiny Buddha (and at many studios) will start with a “sacred space.” This usually entails 3-5 minutes of mindfulness and meditation in which students will begin class in a restful pose such as child’s pose, seated meditation, supta baddha konasana (lying on the back with the soles of the feet touching and knees splayed out wide), or just spread-eagle on the back. When I set sacred space, I typically use this point in class to set a theme or intention, maybe starting with a personal anecdote to lead into a broader meaning or just reminding students to move with intention and come back to the breath when the practice becomes difficult. 

A general rule that I learned in training is that you never use a song for sacred space that has words/concrete lyrics in it — this point in class is a crucial time for students to ground themselves in the space and find stillness and mindfulness without the distraction of song lyrics. My favorite go-to sacred space song is LBL by Cospe, because the beat is soothing but not too slow to the point that students might fall asleep or drift off from my words. Another favorite is Light Blue by UTAH, because it also has a soothing beat but is slightly more energetic and creates almost a sunny aura in the room. 

That being said, the way I set sacred space also depends on the type of class. While in a 10am Hot Vinyasa class I may use an upbeat song like Wilder by Homsey or Daylight by Beauvois, while in a slower-starting 12pm Blend Vinyasa class I may use a more calming melody like Chihiro by Yoste or Orange Sky- Instrumental by Sol Rising to give students more of a chance to settle in. Though this may seem like a lot of thought put into only the first four minutes of class, I would argue that these first four minutes ultimately set the tone for the entire hour. The song choice in sacred space will signify if the next hour will be rigorous, edgy, and elated; or more comforting, slow, and peaceful. Sun As are the next piece to the heat buildup of Vinyasa classes. I like to call them our “yoga jumping jacks,” and tend to use songs that are upbeat and almost impossible not to move to. However, in keeping with that feel-good buildup, my song choices are still going to be mellower than those for Sun Bs and Cs. My favorites to use are Better Not- Acoustic by Louis the Child, The Little Things- Kasbo Remix by Big Gigantic, Anything For You by Chelsea Cutler, Starlight by Jai Wolf, and Easy Loving You (with Kamille) by SG Lewis  because they all have a beautiful melody, but the beat becomes stronger as the song goes on, so students can gradually build heat to it. I also love using Coexist by LEO ISLO because it has a similar beat buildup but is still pretty mellow. 

However, if I’m teaching a late afternoon Hot Vinyasa or any Friday class really, I’ll use the Sun As to wake everyone up and get them excited about moving. My favorite energetic Sun As are Good Nights (feat. Mascolo) by Whethan, IPlayYouListen by ODESZA, and Right Where You Should Be (feat. Ashe & Louis Futon) by Quinn XCll because they’re cheery and warm, making students want to move and get excited about what’s to come. Sun As can be a great way to set the tone, as some teachers may add in a mini power flow or extra chaturangas to jumpstart a more rigorous class. 

Sun Bs are when I typically start to up the ante. For a Blend class, the first round of a Sun B flow will be slower and poses will be held for longer. But even then, I still choose music that’s faster than Sun As and keeps students in the mindset to sweat. Some of my favorite Sun Bs for Blend (and Hot Vinyasa depending on the day) are Lovers in Japan - Osaka Sun Mix by Coldplay (please note that I freakin love Coldplay), Don't Move by Phantogram, Moon by Kid Francescoli,  and Anywhere u go by Tove Lo. All three of these songs are fun to move to and are a smooth buildup from the tone set during Sun As. 

In a Hot Vinyasa class, I would probably choose songs that are more fast-paced sooner during Sun Bs because the “one breath per movement” pace is usually set by the first round of the flow. My go-tos are Call on Me - Ryan Riback Remix by Starley, Places We Don't Know by Kasbo, Do You Mean (feat. Ty Dolla $ign & bülow) - Myon Remix by The Chainsmokers, Fire (Viceroy Remix) by VHS Collection, Mother's Daughter by Miley Cyrus, and Aftergold (feat. Tove Styrke) by Big Wild. Sidenote, ODESZA is one of my ultimate favorite artists and go-tos during class, and some other amazing songs by them are Across the Room (feat. Leon Bridges), Higher Ground (feat. Naomi Wild), Sun Models (feat. Madelyn Grant), A Moment Apart, and Always This Late. Lastly, just so everyone is aware, ODESZA is literally comprised of two heavily-bearded men surrounded by a drummer cult. Yeah, I thought they were female, as well.     

Core is a section of class that can be tricky. You want a song that will motivate people and make them want to work harder, but you also want to keep the mood light and fun. For example, my cheeky little sarcastic joke that I make to loosen people up is noting that holding navasana (high boat) or high plank is easier if you smile! I usually will joke around as I teach core, like by holding people for extra breaths to tease them, or doing core with the class and complaining about how hard my self-inflicted exercise is. Some songs I typically use are Run It Up by DDG, Kiss It Better - R3hab Remix by Rihanna, Go Off by M.I.A, and Love$ick (feat. A$ap Rocky) by Mura Masa. Sometimes I will also use the beat of the song to do repeated movements on timed breath queues, like while doing forearm plank step-outs and hip dips to the beat of “Go Off” by M.I.A. Core can be a chore for a lot of people, so I like to remind students that going to yoga and working out doesn’t have to be painful and cause you to scrunch up your face in agony. It really is easier if you smile!  

Next up are either Sun Cs or Logs. In Hot Vinyasa, Sun Cs will be the fastest-paced and most rigorous flows of class. They involve big, difficult pose transitions including balancing poses and core strengtheners, so they require some dance-party-esque music to help empower students through their practice. I usually use Say My Name (feat. Zyra) - RAC Mix by ODESZA,  I Got U by Duke Dumont, Nights With You - Cheat Codes Remix by MØ, Water Me by Lizzo, and Midnight City by M83. Any song by Galantis, like True Feeling or Firebird, is also great for re-energizing the room after core. 

In Hot Vinyasa, Sun Cs are followed by Logs, or longer holding poses, or mobility work. However, in Blend Vinyasa, there are no Sun Cs and from core or inversion work students will go straight into Logs or mobility work. For both Hot and Blend Vinyasa I’ll start Logs off with upbeat music that is slower-paced but keeps the tone optimistic, such as songs like Glad He's Gone by Tove Lo, Safe by Bay Ledges, Bottom Bitch by Doja Cat, Closer by POWERS, Glitter by BENEE, and Explosions by The Mary Onettes — mark my words: I will get married to “Explosions” one day. 

As students get deeper into these longer-holding poses, I’ll then transition into still-upbeat songs, but with a more inspirational tone to help push them through. For example, songs like Falls (feat. Sasha Sloan), Fallingwater by Maggie Rogers  (Maggie Rogers is my favorite artist hands down), GIRL by Maren Morris, and Good Things Fall Apart (with Jon Bellion) by ILLENIUM have an empowering melody and lyrics. When I queue the option for students to close their eyes to help them accept and settle into a pose that they’re holding for a long time, songs like these help students ground themselves and recommit to their breath. 

A lot of times, in the last few minutes of Logs, I’ll bleed the final pose into some yin (restorative) poses, such as having students slowly drag their knee down their calf to come from  floating curtsey into marichyasana (a seated twist) or bending into the knee from triangle to come into a hip-opening lizard. For this point, I want music on that will start to wind the room down and smoothly bring students into some more restorative poses. I typically like to use Wake Up by Chelsea Cutler, oh, mexico by Jeremy Zucker, Undertow - Alternate Version by Panama, Notion by Tash Sultana, The Feeling Is All Gone by Solar Sun, and Superstition - Reprise by Young the Giant (which is one of the most beautiful songs in my opinion). 

The yin portion of class is also imperative in determining how students will feel walking out of the studio. Again, tone is super important in setting the mood. Students may settle into their final place of rest either feeling warm-hearted and invigorated, or sentimental and vulnerable (note that this is meant to be positive: the yoga room is meant for vulnerability and you want your students to feel comfortable enough that they can let their emotions go during class). This is all determined by ending song choice. Luckily, as you know, I am a Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack fanatic and many of my most cherished acoustic songs are from the show, such as Freight Train by Sara Jackson-Holoman, Ghosts by On An On,  and The City Limits by Umbrellas. I am also one of those people who concertedly listens to melancholy music because sometimes I like feeling sad (yes, there is a lot to unpack there), so I also have some precious acoustic music of my own that I like to use like Scott Street by Phoebe Bridges, Everyday Life by Coldplay, Fade Into You by Mazzy Star, First Winter by Wrabel, and Big Black Car by Gregory Alan Isakov. Hit up my playlist "the most beautiful songs i know" if you’re really having one of those days.

Finally, we come to our savasana, or final rest. This part of class is probably one of the hardest, as we as humans have an impossible time finding a happy medium of not sleeping, but staying still, being mindful, and keeping our eyes closed. Before I started teaching yoga, I had never meditated and absolutely despised music without lyrics. However, now, I’ve found a new appreciation for melodies that can stand alone and still be beautiful. Songs like Cloud Speed by Sad Souls, Faith's Hymn by Beautiful Chorus, Chasing Cloud Nine by LUCHS, and Lunar Rainbow by Eskimotion will put you into an almost a hypnotic trance because they’re so soothing and gorgeous. I think over time learning in my own practice to balance the yin and the yang and just accepting rest has shown me how essential it is to provide that safe and relaxing space for others. It may seem counterintuitive to engage students with more music even when they’re in a meditative rest, but it is an element of that rest that can provide comfort and something to ground you on your mat. 

Music has been my life since before Spotify was created when I was in eighth grade, and I am the luckiest girl in the world that I get to make a playlist for every class I teach. It may seem like a small accompaniment to the physical and emotional infrastructures that go into building a class, but music creates a certain atmosphere that lets students know what type of environment they’re going to be moving in. I always said I wanted my classes to be like yoga dance parties, and my playlists reflect that. Who would have thought my obsession with the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack would pay off?   

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