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NADA YOGA - The Yoga of Sound

Two articles by David Gordon

Part One - Meditation with Music        Follow this link to Part Two

Nada Yoga means "union through sound." It is the ancient spiritual art and science of inner transformation through sound and tone. Meditation on sound is one universal path to Self Realization, accessible to anyone, and appropriate for people of any religion or spiritual aspiration.

The term "Yoga" means to combine, coordinate, harmonize, integrate. Actually, there are many varieties of yoga, generally grouped into five categories:

    1. Jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge and self-inquiry
    2. Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion
    3. Karma Yoga, the yoga of service
    4. Kriya Yoga, the yoga of technique
    5. Raja Yoga, a yoga integrating all the other four forms

Hatha Yoga, a basic form of Kriya Yoga, is the yoga of physicality, postures, and movement. It's probably the most well-known form of yoga in the West; however, the main classical text on yoga - the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - discusses physical postures (Hatha Yoga) in only three of its two hundred verses.

Within the heading of Kriya Yoga, or yoga of technique, there are several subtly different forms of yoga which teach meditation on sound as a path to spiritual growth and awareness. The three principal forms of this variety of yoga are Nada, Laya, and Surat Shabda yoga. The subtle differences between these three are beyond the scope of this article, and for the purpose of this discussion I group them all under the heading of "Nada Yoga." In the following paragraphs I use this term to mean, basically, "meditation on sound."

Absorption in Sound

Our mind easily becomes absorbed in sound. This is why we all - even infants and animals - enjoy listening to music. When the mind is fully concentrated on anything there arises a feeling of inner bliss. In Nada Yoga, we learn that the source of the sound may be external or internal. The sound may be "gross" or "subtle." That is, 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 carefully selected outer or "struck" sounds will enable the mind to become calm and transparent. At this point you may begin to become aware of the subtle inner "unstruck" sounds. You might perceive inner sounds that seem like bells, or flutes, or even a hum like an electrical transformer. Some of these sounds are actually just the sounds of your own body: blood pumping, or the electrical energy of nerves and inner ear. Other, deeper, sounds are the "sounds behind the audible sound." It is into this deeper realm that Nada yoga can take you.

Some traditions tell us that this subtle, inner sound originates in the "heart chakra of the subtle body," considered the center of unstruck sound. Yogic tradition connects this inner sound with Kundalini itself.

In Nada yoga you concentrate on these finer and deeper sounds, moving from outer to inner realm, moving awareness from outer to inner sounds (Sanskrit: "nadam"), while all the time gently easing your mind into relaxed concentration and focus. This is a highly enjoyable form of meditation and it's relatively effortless: as you meditate, your entire being, every cell and atom and part of you, is being purified and balanced by the sounds that you are focusing on. Remember, whatever you pay attention to, you become. "Where you put your treasure, there you shall also find your heart." Therefore it is very important that you choose positive and enlightening music and sounds for this meditation.

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How to Begin

One easy way to begin a practice of Nada Yoga is to start with beautiful music. You must choose music which sustains a level mood: calming, quiet, maintaining an even loudness and emotion. This is one fine use of "New Age" music - Brian Eno "Thursday Afternoon" or music by Stephen Halpern or Don Campbell, for example. Eastern music is also a valuable tool - North Indian sitar; Japanese shakuhachi. Native American flute music can also be an excellent choice. Choose Western classical music with care; often the dynamic and emotional range is too great for this meditative use. Whatever you choose, it must be instrumental music - no voices. Voices and words are too "specific" and distracting.

At first, simply sit quietly and focus all your attention on the music for 10-15 minutes once or twice a day. Continue this practice with regularity, listening to the same type of music, always with your fullest concentration. Gradually you may be able to hear subtle sounds that come from within, rather than the audible sounds from outside. As you begin to be aware of the inner sounds, listen to them and focus on them. Then you can gradually change your meditation from listening to music to listening to the subtle sounds.

Go at your own speed with this. Each experience is unique. Awareness of inner sound may happen sooner - or later - but it will happen. Finally, you will no longer need music for meditation at all, and may choose use it or not, as you wish. Then continue listening to the inner sounds for your meditation practice every day. Your perception of the sounds may change as your body and mind become purified and elevated. Just continue to focus on the inner sound or "nadam" daily.

This form of Nada Yoga is actually much easier than it sounds. The wonderful bonus of this practice - meditating with music - is that the process, the journey itself, is highly pleasant. Every step of the way you are bathing yourself in uplifting sounds and music, balancing and healing your heart, mind and spirit. Thus no matter what the specific "meditative" outcome, you can receive only benefits from this pursuit. Your listening skills will also 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...