Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Yoga of Sounds : Nada Yoga


Yoga is any path that brings forth a union of body, mind and spirit. Many paths have been prescribed for achieving this state of unity.  Some follow the path of prayerful devotion (Bhakti Yoga), others attain unity through selfless service (Karma Yoga), few pursue intellectual inquiry (Jnana Yoga), many work towards unity consciousness by controlling mind and body (ring a bell?). The paths are many and they all lead to the same goal. No path greater or lesser than the other. Success depends purely on the discipline of the aspirant. 

Of the many paths there is a melodious lesser known path; namely the Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound.

Nada Yoga is form of Yoga that is based on the ability of sounds to purify, heal and help attain unity consciousness. The basic premise Nada Yoga works on, is that the entire cosmos (including human beings) is made up of vibrations. The texts go on to say that, the cosmos is built on vibrations and these vibrations in turn create matter. (Primeval discourse on quantum physics??? ) The Upanishads recognize this original vibration that lead to creation as the sound of OM. Many mystics and religious scriptures seem to imply the importance of Nada in their own terms.. “Search for the Sound in the body, and thou shalt be saved!” remarked Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion. “The universe was manifested out of the Divine Sound; From It came into being the Light.", claims Shamas-i-Tabriz. Or the more popular “ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Yes the word is a sound.


Sounds and music are the simplest forms of vibrations that we understand. We all are aware of the effect music on our moods. All most all of us have at some point felt exhilarated by listening to music. Some of us have even shed copious tears listening to soulful music. Music has the power to move our emotions. Nada Yoga utilizes the power of sounds and music to achieve unity consciousness. The roots of Nada Yoga can be traced back to the Vedas. In Nada Yoga , sounds become more than its sensory properties; it becomes the vehicle to take the aspirant to a deeper state of awareness. The music and sounds in Nada Yoga are considered to be divine vibrations revealed to yogis and mystics.

The traditional forms of Nada Yoga involves practices based on Mantra, Bhajan (simple hymns) and Kirtan (Vedic hymns). The aim of all three is to minimize the wanderings of the mind and eventually help to tune into the subtle vibrations within.

The Nada Yoga system classifies the music and sounds in two – external and internal. The external sounds and music is called Ahata. Ahata means “struck sounds”, suggesting that it takes two objects striking each other to create the sound. Clapping is two palms striking each other, singing is air hitting our vocal chords.  Ahata is at the gross level, in the sense it is interpreted by the sensory organs. From this gross level it acts on the subtle level of consciousness. Mantra, Bhajans and Kirtan are Ahata.

The internal music or sounds within the aspirant is Anahata “the unstruck sounds”. They do not have a source of origin and are mystical in nature. These sounds are heard while in a meditative state. The “unstruck sounds” are said to be signs of purification of the astral body. It is said that these inner sounds are heard only when the aspirant has progressed along the spiritual pathway to the level of the Heart Chakra. This could be the reason why the heart chakra is called the Anahata. Nada Yoga mentions ten distinct Anahata sounds that are experienced. The sounds are ‘Chini’ (like the pronunciation of the word); ‘Chini-chini’; sound of a bell, a conch, lute, cymbals, flute, drum (bheri), double drum (mridangham) and the clap of a thunder.  The Anahata sounds aid the mind to delve deeper and deeper till the veil of illusion is said to be removed.

While many books have been written detailing Nada yoga, the truth is that it is not an intellectual pursuit. Rather it is an experiential one. The only way to dive into this melodious yoga is by singling and listening – initially to the ahata and eventually the music will lead the aspirant to the Anahata. A simple exercise recommended by Swami Sivananda is to sit in your favorite asana in a quiet space. Observe the sounds around you. Eventually tune them out and try to listen the Anahata. Often these sounds are heard in the right ear. Bring your attention to these sounds. If the mind shifts focus, move from the subtle sounds to the gross, or the gross sounds to the subtle. The attempt is to stick to the sound in one ear. It is said that the mind would get captured by this, since it is enchanted by the sweet sounds of Anahata. Now go on sit in your lotus, or perch up in your crane, or upside down if you please and try it.

Wishing you a musical day ahead.

Nuthan Manohar
An ounce of practice is worth tons of theory. Swami Sivananda

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