NADA YOGA

“Nada Yoga” is the classical term for the Yoga of Sound in the Hindu tradition. It is a stream of sacred sound that embraces Hatha Yoga, the occult linguistics of Tantra, and the spirituality of classical Indian music. By including the nonlinguistic element of music, Nada Brahman augments the Shabda Brahman of the Vedic tradition, as well as the differentiation of energy in the chakras discovered by the Tantrics. While Bhava Yoga chooses only those frequencies that we classify as music in our earthly appreciation of sound, Nada yogis incorporate the full spectrum of frequencies — both those that are audible to the human ear and those that are inaudible — within the field of their yoga practice. This means that all forms of earthly music, the sounds of space, and even the entire electromagnetic spectrum of frequencies are included within this range of perception.

Human hearing lies in the range of between sixteen and twenty thousand hertz. “Frequency” refers to the number of wave cycles that occur in one second, giving rise to the experience of high and low tones. Wavelength gets longer as the frequency (or pitch) decreases. Although we may not “hear” all the frequencies that exist in our universe, we are affected by these waves at every moment, and we in turn affect these frequencies by our own sounds and activities. What are the sounds of space? Throughout space, we find sounds emitted by such phenomena as the hum of planets, the gaseous states of the sun, and pulsating rhythms from the stars. Often, these sounds are similar to our earthly music. Phil Uttley and Ian McHardy of the University of Southampton, who have been studying the music of black holes in space, state: “If you were to transcribe the X-ray output of these black holes as a series of musical notes, it would not sound quite like any [particular] sort of music. . . but the ‘tune’ [would] still have a musical quality about it. The general pattern of note changes — the relative size of the changes in pitch from one note to the next, or from one bar to the next — are the same as one hears in all kinds of music.” Uttley also claims that the music of a black hole could be called improvisational. The study further revealed that, at any given moment, various black holes are playing different styles of music — and every few weeks, a stellar black hole switches musical styles, undergoing a distinct transition from one pattern of variability to another.*

As mentioned earlier, the tradition of Nada Yoga does not specialize in the mantra shastras of the other streams. For instance, it doesn’t deal with rituals governing mantras or their pronunciation, mystical meanings, or embodiment of energy. However, Nada Yoga does bring together all the key elements and cosmogonies of sacred sound that are explored in those streams, including the devotional element of Bhava, represented in Nada Yoga by the tradition of Indian classical music. In the first millennium B.C., Nada yogis focused extensively on the mantra Om, which Patanjali’s classic Yoga Sutras teach is the “sound that expresses the Divine Absolute,” which should be “repeatedly intoned while absorbing its meaning

Since the Middle Ages, Nada yogis proficient in music have combined India’s rapidly evolving musical system with the sonic cosmology and philosophy of Tantra and the Vedas. But it is only in the past few centuries that the strongest connections between music and Nada Yoga have been established. Interestingly, despite the fact that “Nada Yoga” is the classical term for the Yoga of Sound, and despite many contemporary Indian musicians using the term “Nada Yoga” to describe the profound spiritual significance of their musical disciplines, Nada Yoga as a well-defined practice is perhaps the least documented of all the streams of sacred sound. There are references to Nada Yoga practices in a number of scriptures, which I address soon, but the approach is not as organized or synthesized as that of Hatha Yoga. Many musicians and yogis in the West casually refer to sacred sound in yoga as “Nada Yoga” without realizing that the term does not deal effectively with the phonetic subtleties of mantra. It is precisely for this reason that I prefer to use the term “Yoga of Sound” to refer to the full scope of sacred sound and its evolution in yoga. What is specific to Nada Yoga, and where we will find its unique benefits, is its understanding of the process of meditation using sound as its essential medium.

THE SCIENCE OF SOUND

The cosmology of Nada Yoga embraces the notion that the primary stuff of the universe is vibratory, and therefore sonic in nature. Modern physics supports this understanding, especially via the new field of string theory, which claims that the entire universe may be made up of infinitesimally small subatomic strands of energy vibrating at different frequencies. These cosmologies all recognize that the shapes we see in nature are constructed of vibrating entities, each with a different frequency and wavelength. The speed at which an object vibrates (as well as its size, however infinitesimal) contributes to its particular sound. I mentioned earlier that solid objects vibrate relatively slowly, while gaseous substances vibrate more rapidly. Thus, the tones and frequencies that comprise the known universe become the subject of meditation in Nada Yoga. This science of Nada Yoga, which also takes into consideration the musical intervals used in music and in the musical recitation of mantras, is brought together with meditation techniques and certain Hatha Yoga practices that are conducive to sonic exploration.

Nada Yoga involves a deep listening to the body, to its inner sounds and acoustics. Nada Yoga also includes listening deeply to the music of the natural world. We can perceive a lot of sound-based creative activity in nature, such as the mating calls of birds and the amazingly complex and sonorous whale song. Such listening reveals the vast spectrum of consciousness, which manifests in a wide range of distinct frequencies during meditation. Our musical systems across the globe — the varied senses of harmony, melody, and rhythm — are all selections from this vast range of frequencies. But to choose only a portion of these frequencies narrows us to restricted cultural boundaries.

Jean Houston explains, “Every person has a different tonality and is made up of different sonar frequencies. That is why we prefer different things and are so radically different from and to each other.We must not impose, as let’s say a Wagnerian derived music, a limitation of mind through a sonar imprisonment of people. This politicizing of brain function through various kinds of sounds and forms is not only what happened in Germany, but also occurs whenever and wherever totalitarian states and dictators prevail.” **

The practice of Nada Yoga can therefore help broaden the consciousness of an audience. Western music, since the time of Bach, moved to a tempered set of intervals that divided the octave into twelve equal subdivisions. Prior to this, European musicians used an uneven set of intervals, as did other cultures around the world, which have their own irregular, organic divisions of the octave. The Western ear, trained and conditioned by tempered intervals, came to perceive other music as inferior or out of tune. Only in recent years, with the rapid surge of world music, have ethnic sounds, non-Western musical intervals, variable instrument tunings, and diverse musical scales “enlarged” the Western ear. The power of cultivating a larger ear has never been more necessary than it is now; it will result in a proportionately larger heart, facilitating an authentic acceptance of other cultures and their vibrations.

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