StringFlo Integrates Live Music with Pilates, Yoga, and Meditation

Composed by Ellen Fishman, StringFlo is music—both in recorded form and played live during sessions—tailored specifically for Pilates, yoga, and meditation enthusiasts

By Cliff Hall | From the March-April 2024 issue of Strings

As I was sitting with a roomful of instrumentalists at Settlement Music School’s Adult Chamber Players Weekend in Philadelphia last summer, something happened that took my breath away. But, while doing a stretch in a chair along with the deep pulsations played by a live string quintet, my breath returned and a deep relaxation washed over me. I realized I was not just “in the flow,” I was in the “StringFlo.”

Composed by Ellen Fishman, StringFlo is music—both in recorded form and played live during sessions—tailored specifically for Pilates, yoga, and meditation enthusiasts. Not surprisingly, the impetus for this concept came on the floor. “I always placed my mat next to the speaker in my Pilates class. Even though the teacher played the same tracks every time, I had one class when it seemed that I was in perfect sync to the music. I felt like the class was effortless in this state, and it turned out that other participants felt the same way about that class,” says Fishman. “I knew right then that I would have to try to recreate that.”

But it would take a substantial period of transition to replicate this magic. 

“I wrote this piece in my first nine months of living in Brooklyn in 2022–23. I sold my house in Philadelphia and left a wonderful but taxing job as director of arts at a private school. I had many pieces waiting to be written, but this piece had to be first. It was a way to transition from writing music part time to full time,” says Fishman. “The process taught me to slow down, explore, and get to the core of what I experienced in that Pilates class. I like to think it has made me more in tune with my own practice.”

Fishman started with a chart of the sequencing of a yoga class in her studio to help determine tempos and the length of each section. To emulate this experience, she knew that as the energy level increases, the tempos needed to increase with the heartbeat. “I felt it was important to keep the music unencumbered. The vibe and pulse were central to my work. I wanted this to be music that I would actually use with my practice,” says Fishman. “Everything I threw away was not authentic to the goal of enhancing movement or meditation.”


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A relatively new addition, the Adult Chamber Players Weekend coordinator Beth Dzwil has noticed the effect of StringFlo. “A yoga session has been part of the program for many years,” wrote Dzwil in an email. “I knew bringing in this gorgeous live string music would engage the participants on another level, and feeling the vibrations as they moved to the music would take them to another realm.”

Dzwil went on to share that one attendee commented that “the sounds of the strings and the winding tempo made yoga feel like a dance… my breath was supported by the meter of the music, facilitating a deep connection to the sound/breath/movement braiding together as one effort.” As a result of such positive feedback, Dzwil will again offer the session during the 2024 event.

StringFlo indeed marks a a new step in the evolution of yoga, but it’s not the first time music has been incorporated into the practice. But to understand this change, a little history lesson is required.

The first significant exposure to yoga in the United States came through the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, an Indian Hindu monk. He introduced yoga at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, emphasizing the universality of religious ideals.


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While traditional yoga in its historical context did not involve live musical accompaniment, the merging of yoga and music gained momentum in the late 20th century and has become a prominent aspect of modern yoga experiences. This evolution is closely tied to the broader cultural shift in the West during the 1960s and 1970s, when an increasing interest in Eastern spirituality and alternative lifestyles led to experimentation with various elements within the yoga tradition. The Bhakti yoga tradition’s influence, emphasizing devotion and chanting, played a pivotal role in the introduction of live music, especially through practices like kirtan—call-and-response chanting often accompanied by traditional instruments.

In recent decades, the fusion of yoga and live music has further expanded with the rise of yoga festivals and events, creating immersive and vibrant environments where practitioners can engage with a diverse range of musical styles. From ambient and world music to sacred and contemporary genres, the choice of music in yoga classes has become a creative and intentional aspect of the overall experience. Live musical performances during yoga sessions, often featuring musicians with backgrounds in yoga and mindfulness, contribute to a holistic and sensory-rich practice, fostering a deeper connection between participants and their yoga journey. 

Dzwil also plays viola in the Fairmount String Quartet, which provides the music for Settlement’s StringFlo sessions. “As performers, we always seek to connect with our audiences. In StringFlo, there is a meditative quality to performing the music that connects us to the participants in a unique way,” she says. “To watch them move in synchrony as the music swells and fades is uplifting. It is as if we are moving with them too.”


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Ellen Fishman
Ellen Fishman. Photo: Julia Lehman

Fishman and Dzwil have worked as music educators for years, and they found another dimension to their relationship during the pandemic, when Fishman was reworking a piece for a dance for string quartet that was loosely based on Haydn’s “Lark” Quartet. After Fishman shared it with her, Dzwil’s group performed and recorded that quartet, “Lark Dances,” in 2021.

Fishman found this collaboration as essential to the creation of StringFlo. One notable change the Fairmount String Quartet made, however, was becoming a quintet for this piece. Fishman saw this adjustment as foundational. “I added the double bass because I wanted those lows to be felt through the floor,” says Fishman. It was accommodations like this that contributed to the harmony of the project.

“If I didn’t have the Fairmount String Quartet onboard with the vision, it probably wouldn’t have happened. They value building new audiences and are open to taking the risks required to do this,” says Fishman. “One dream we have is to present a free event in a large venue so we can invite advanced students to play with the quintet. We are music educators at heart and would love to introduce students to community outreach and alternatives to traditional concerts. In addition, we feel this is an effective way to introduce listeners to the sound of a string ensemble.”

To reach an even wider audience, Fishman released a recording of the music last December. “I’ve already heard that some people listen to relax and to study. These are new uses of the music! With the recording, I think it will be more of an individual experience although it could certainly be played at a yoga/Pilates studio or as background to meditation,” says Fishman. “StringFlo is not just an album; it’s an experience that elevates your practice, connecting you with the music in an interactive way.”