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Toning and Yoga
Applying self-generated sound to the practice of Yoga

by Marcia Goldberg (Shantipriya)

"Toning develops willingness to be heard, empowerment in bringing forth
who we are into the outside world, and self-acceptance.

I first began studying yoga with a group that met in a circular room lit by starlight and candles. One evening, seven of us stayed after class. We sat in a circle and with each exhalation made a sound, the sound of om. When we finished, I discovered that an hour had passed, although it seemed to me to have been only five minutes. Through sound, I had entered a world of timelessness, harmony, and peace that has called to me ever since.

What I didn't know then was that we were practicing an aspect of Nada Yoga - the use of self-generated sound vibration to draw our awareness inward in order to experience the deeper layers of the self. In recent years I have continued to explore the power of sound through toning (the practice of sounding elongated vowels) and began integrating sound with my formal practice of postures.

I have found that joining toning with the practice of Yoga has many benefits. At the physiological level, toning releases tension in specific areas, induces relaxation, energizes, and promotes deep breathing with prolonged exhalations. Energetically, it balances the body's subtle energies and powerfully draws the awareness deep within. When we tone out loud, we increase our level of introversion and, at the same time, offer ourselves outward through the sounds we generate. This capacity to move inward and outward simultaneously promotes integration of who we are with how we are externally. Toning develops willingness to be heard, empowerment in bringing forth who we are into the outside world, and self-acceptance. Groups that tone together find there is a natural bonding that occurs as their individual sounds join together in a group experience.

Toning is easy to learn. I use seven vowels sounds, each one corresponding to a chakra. Working up the chakras, the sounds are uh (as in up), oo (as in who), oh (as in boat), ah (as in far), eh (as in get) ee (as in free), mm (a hum with the mouth closed). Each sound is vocalized on a long exhalation at whatever pitch (high or low) is comfortable.

Toning can be combined with Yoga in many ways. Sound linked with movement can be included in warm-ups to energize and oxygenate the body; to integrate breath, mind, and body; to connect to hara; and to relax a group into receiving themselves and each other. Toning can be used as a seated meditation practice or a meditation-in-motion practice, and is of great benefit to special groups of yoga students who may find movement difficult.

Try this experiment to explore how self-generated sound releases unnecessary tension:

Sit in the Hero Pose. Bend the left arm and place the left hand on the spine, palm out. Keep the left shoulder down and back. Stretch the fingers up. Extend the right arm straight up along the ear. Maintain the right arms stretch as you bend it at the elbow and grasp the left hand with the right. Notice the sensations in the shoulders and your arms of comfortable movement. Release the posture.

From a seated position, with arms relaxed, begin to tone the sound ah. This is done as an elongated sound in the same way that you would chant a continuous om. Tone at a pitch where you feel the vibration. As you tone ah, notice the vibrations in your body from the sound. Search for the vibrations in and around the area that was most tight when you performed the posture. Then become silent and continue to send the sound ah to that same area. When you feel ready, perform the posture again and note again your comfortable range of movement.

During a holding of a posture, when you tone toward the end of holding, introversion is deepened. 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 the meditative stillness of asana supporting the flow into spontaneous movement.

Try this:

The next time you are holding yoga mudra, tone the vowel ee for 10 breaths. Notice where you experience sensation during the toning and the quality of stillness that follows.

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. It becomes natural for students to remember to breathe when they are sounding a vowel. I like to begin with this simple exercise:

Stand in tadasana, arms at your sides. Inhale, raising the arms above your head. 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.

Toning is an excellent practice for seated meditation as well. In this practice one vowel is sounded for 10-20 minutes. This is followed by silence with a focus on listening internally. Particularly effective when done in a group, toning leads some practitioners to awareness of deep internal places.

The power of sound is that it directly affects vibration. Everything is vibration. As you sit and read this you are vibrating at physical and subtle levels, as well as experiencing the vibration of the universe. 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. The practice of yoga can be described as the science of vibration.

This article is from
"Yoga Bulletin"
The journal of the Kripalu Yoga Teachers' Association
Published by Kripalu International Network
Spring 1997 Vol 6 Nr 1
Copyright © Kripalu Center, Lenox Massachusetts USA
Published on this website with permission of the author

About the author:

Marcia Goldberg (Shantipriya) has led workshops and trainings on yoga, meditation spiritual attunement and self-discipline throughout North America for more than 20 years. She is a personal and professional coach and co-founder of LifeWorks east/West. She was Executive and Spiritual Director of the Kripalu Yoga Community and Program Center in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania and is currently adjunct faculty at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. The unique combination of sound and postures that she has developed combines her many years of personal experience and study in the field of yoga with the science of the power of sound.