The Yoga of Sound – NADA YOGA
To the yogi, the world is a quivering, vibrating ball of energy. This energy or vibration is sound. The very first sound is the sound of OM, known as “anahata nadam” or the unstruck sound–it occurred without two things striking together. The first sound of OM in yogic philosophy is the sound that started creation, similar in science to the big bang theory. Both scientists and yogis believe this very sound is still reverberating throughout the universe today. Yoga teaches us when our mind is silent, we will hear this sound of OM. This is the Yoga of sound, nada yoga.
To hear this sound requires that we be good listeners. Listening begins with hearing, hearing begins with being quiet. To listen is to be receptive; the fruit of a meditation practice is the ability to listen to be receptive enough to perceive, to comprehend. In yoga we have a word for this—shravana, which means comprehending what you are hearing.
To begin meditation, we need to withdraw our senses. It is easy to close our eyes, but how do we close our ears? Instead of closing our ears we listen to the sounds around us, and we pay attention. We must also not judge these sounds as good or bad; if we judge the sounds we are creating more chatter in our heads. This work of quieting the mind to listen without judgment begins our path on the yoga of sound.
Just a note on an interesting fact I stumbled across while researching this–we all know the expression optical illusion, there are dozens of such illusions, but have you ever heard of acoustical illusion? That is because it does not exist, our ear informs us more correctly about reality. The ear hears sound from all directions with exceptional detail, such as small differences in tone and harmonics.
Our mind easily becomes absorbed in sound, this is why we all-even infants and animals-find music soothing. When the mind is fully concentrated on anything there arises a feeling of inner bliss. In Nada Yoga, we learn the source of the sound may be external or internal. It may be “struck” out loud (Sanskrit: “ahat”), as from a voice or musical instrument; or “unstruck” and outwardly silent (Sanskrit: “anahat”), arising inwardly as from the subtle currents of energy or prana moving throughout the body.
With practice, concentration on selected outer or “struck” sounds will enable the mind to be calm and move inward to listening for the inner “unstruck” sound of OM. This is the practice of Nadam Yoga. Some traditions tell us the inner sound originates in the “heart chakra of the subtle body,” considered the center of unstruck sound. Listening to the beating of your own heart is a way to move from outward listening to inward listening, then beyond even the sound of our beating heart to the unstruck sound of OM.
With practice at Nada Yoga, your listening skills will improve, and you will become more sensitive not only to music and sound, but to the subtle emotions and energies within yourself and in others. You will “listen” to others more completely and directly, and you’ll find you are able to hear what others are really saying, no matter how loudly they speak…
Try sitting quietly for a moment, turn your attention to listening to the “silence”. After a few moments turn your attention to listening for your beating heart . . . but how can you hear your heart without instrument (stethoscope)? Try feeling your beating heart first, become sensitive to it, then to hearing it. When you listen to music in class, do not just hear it, but feel it, feel the vibrations, be sensitive. I am currently taking voice lessons with the harmonium, and as I work to stretch my voice I feel the vibrations of my own voice singing/chanting in my body originating from the root chakra and moving upward. This is a very powerful feeling. Feeling music rather than trying to analyze it is one way to bypass the thinking mind and move closer to your heart.
When we chant our body resonates with vibrations, just as there are electromagnetic fields surrounding us, such as TV and radio waves-there is also spiritual energy around us. Instead of using radio or a TV to tune in the energy, we use our body–more specifically our chakras to tune into the spiritual energy—especially when we chant. The vibrations from chanting help to pull in this spiritual energy.
(This may all sound strange and far out there-but there have been recent clinical trials that suggest sound may boost the immune system, trigger productions of the body’s natural pain killers, lower heart rate and respiration, and relieve stress. Doctors agree that with sound we can enter a calmer more meditative state.)
Vibrations are what chanting and mantras are about, the root sounds of mantra are not loaded with conventional meaning; they contain vibratory meaning. Jai Uttal says, “Kirtan is a yoga practice that reveals the heart, when we chant we are tearing open our chests to reveal what is within. We are going on a journey together when we chant. The more each person reaches into his heart, the easier it is for the next person to do it. Because so many people have sung these chants for so many centuries, when we sing them, we plug into that energy field and are nourished by it”.
When we chant OM at the end of class we are connecting with the initial anahata nadam or unstruck sound of OM that started creation, thus connecting to the energy that no matter how different we are, how different we may try to be, we are all connected–dealing with similar issues, in our journeys toward self liberation.