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Audible Prana: the power of vibrating breath

by David Gordon

My first experience of the inner power of the voice was during a yoga session years ago. We concluded with a silent meditation, and ended the meditation with the usual "Om." But this time, the teacher suggested that we prolong the sound, entering more fully into the awareness of the vibrations of the tone. The group began toning, each of us breathing at our own natural pace, so the group sound was continuous. When the sound ended, it seemed like my entire being was still vibrating. TThis experience opened a new door of perception to me.

Soon after, another wise teacher invited me to release the very concept of "Om." We focused awareness on the breath, imagining what the tone would sound and feel like even before the sound began. We then initiated the audible tone with a low murmur, dark and breathy: the sound of "uh" as in the word "cup." Through this low, unformed, earthy sound I experienced more fully the reality that it is my breath itself that vibrates to produce this sound. I deepened my connection with prana, with "spirit," as if "respiration" gave me "inspiration."

Only later I realized that we were practicing an aspect of Nada Yoga - the use of self-generated sound vibration to draw awareness inward in order to experience the deeper layers of the self. Ever since those early experiences, I have been fascinated with the connections of breath, sound and spirit. I even found connections in the language itself. Our English word "spirit" comes from the Latin word "spiritus" which connotes both "breath" and "Spirit." Many other languages use related word forms to denote breath and spirit.

Breathing itself is a basic human need. We can exist only minutes without breath. And so the arts of Pranayama, chanting, toning, and singing all derive their power from a basic and elemental human function. I love this connection of sound and spirit: by uniting sound and breath, we release physiological tension in specific areas, induce relaxation, energize, and promote deep breathing with prolonged exhalations. We balances the body's subtle energies and powerfully draw our awareness deep within, while expressing ourselves outward through the sounds we generate. This simultaneous inward and outward movement integrates who we are inwardly with how and what we are externally. It develops a willingness to be heard, unlocks creativity, and enhances self-acceptance.

The self-generated sounds of toning are a natural breathing exercise. To make a prolonged sound, you must breathe fully and exhale in a steady, slow stream. Try this simple exercise:

Stand in tadasana (feet shoulder width apart, firmly on the floor; arms at your sides). Inhale, raising the arms high above your head, gently reaching your hands toward the ceiling. Exhaling, lower the arms while toning AH. Find the pitch that feels best. Time the movement so that the tone is complete when the movement is complete. Do this five times, then stand in stillness and take in the effect.

The power of sound is that it makes us mindful of inner, more subtle levels of vibration. Tension and relaxation, joy and depression, clarity and confusion have different vibrations. What we experience at the physical, mental, or emotional 1evels is the result of what is occurring at the energy level of vibration.

When you tone, introversion is deepened. At first, the vibration deep within the physical body becomes a focus while toning aloud. When the external sound is extinguished, the vibration continues, and the awareness of this subtle sensation continues to draw the practitioner into meditative stillness. Through "respiration" we are lead to a deeper connection with Spirit.

If you have comments or would like to share your experiences, I would enjoy hearing from you.