Living the Yoga of Sound

Combining all the elements of the Yoga of Sound into a regular practice requires treating the process like a garden. Prepare the soil with the elements of Sound Yoga, then plant your mantras. In this chapter, I will outline suggestions for creating a living, breathing practice of Sound Yoga.

When you first start out, a spiritual practice is fragile. You must tend to your fledgling practices regularly and ensure that they are given sufficient sunlight, water, and nourishment. The spotlight of your consciousness, the water of your breath, and the nourishment of devotion will care for this garden of your soul. Some saplings may need protection from overexposure, so practice moderation; that is the true spirit of yoga.

Becoming excessively preoccupied with the world and losing perspective in relation to our spiritual goals is normal. It’s a sort of temporary spiritual amnesia. During such periods, we may neglect our garden, allowing weeds to grow in our absence. Meister Eckhart once said: “It is not so much that God does not dwell within us; it is we who have gone out for a walk.” When you return home, tend to your garden again; through your loving attentiveness, revive the beauty and harmony you enjoyed before.

Attending workshops and retreats, reading new books, and listening to new music are all ways of visiting other gardens; we learn from these experiences and bring back new flowers to plant in our own garden. It is also helpful to study privately with experts. They show us how to landscape our garden, and they help us discover new vistas and paths, sometimes pointing out rare and exotic flowers we didn’t know existed in our own backyard.

The Value of an Integrated Sound Yoga
Our choices of specific mantras and exercises from among the various sound streams may vary according to our moods, character, and circumstances. Each stream can perform particular functions in our lives, responding to specific problems and challenges we face. An integrated practice that maintains all four streams is ideal. When I first came to the United States, I found life here to be full of stress, with financial burdens, legal responsibilities, and work competition. I found that Vedic mantras and the practice of Shabda Yoga offered me strength and protection through their articulate sounds, often preventing me from feeling vulnerable when preparing for my day’s tasks or when going through difficult negotiations in my life. These practices were particularly powerful during legal battles, dealing with insurance companies, and other similar situations. The Vedic mantras further enabled me to develop effective communication skills, building confidence and maturity into my speaking voice. As a bonus, they added great texture to my singing voice!

I was also deeply troubled, when I moved to the West, by our lack of connection with nature here. We wear mostly synthetic clothes, eat unwholesome foods, move about with extremely rapid methods of transportation, and rely too much on technology to artificially control our environments. All of this severs our connection with nature, often leading to poor health and even disease. In response, I have found that the use of Tantric mantras and the practices of Shakti Yoga help me maintain an intimate relationship with my physical body and my sensuality, removing blocks and constrictions that obstruct the optimal flow of energy in my nervous system. This ancient knowledge has been utilized for many thousands of years, and it costs us nothing. Why not put it to the test and give it a chance?

Even though the West is a culture that loves community effort and teamwork, it often lacks true and consistent emotional fulfillment. A pervasive loneliness and isolation invariably seeks to fulfill itself in superficial relationships or unhealthy sexual obsessions. In my daily practice, Bhava Yoga mantras help release love and devotion in my heart, providing me with a deep, expansive emotional fulfillment. Bhava Yoga also helps regulate my emotions, staving off manic highs and crushing lows. I am grateful to have an extraordinary companion in my wife Asha, but without the devotional mantras we both employ in our spiritual practice, our relationship would be very different; it would lack the luster and vibrancy we’ve become accustomed to.

Through Nada Yoga, we can fine-tune our bodies and our minds to resonate with the harmony in all of creation, from atoms and cells to flowers and planets. We are surrounded by music in our culture, but most of it does little to help us on the soul level of our being. Through Nada Yoga meditations, we develop insight into the true nature of music, effortlessly tapping the healing power of sound and becoming better equipped to attune ourselves to the varying circumstances in our lives. Listening keenly to others and to ourselves enables us to choose what is good and stay away from that which is harmful. As a result, we enjoy greater empathy in our relationships and enhanced satisfaction in our work, and we contribute a more pleasing vibration to the energy of our societies. This is the fruit of the Yoga of Sound.

The Yoga of Sound for Busy People
The wonderful thing about the Yoga of Sound is that you can start anywhere, then keep adding layers of depth and skill to even the simplest exercises. You can also practice Sound Yoga for relatively short periods, depending on what your schedule allows, and still enjoy many of its benefits. The charm of this tradition is that we are inspired to use sound to affect our consciousness and that of others almost all the time.

If you are busy — as most of us are — I recommend that you distribute your practice among four segments of the day: morning, noon, evening, and night. Choose one of the following options:
   MINIMUM: 5 minutes per segment = 20 minutes per day
   MODERATE: 15 minutes per segment = 1 hour per day
   IDEAL: 21 minutes per segment = 1 hour and 24 minutes per day

We can also combine the various Yoga of Sound streams into a daily practice. I recommend Shabda Yoga in the morning, shortly after you wake up; Shakti Yoga around noon, just before lunch; Bhava Yoga in the evening, after you return from work; and Nada Yoga at night, preferably just before you go to sleep. This strategy allows the key principles of each of these streams of sacred sound to work when people most need them during the day. You may also use any of the practices from any of the streams, combining them during any time of the day or night, depending on what you need and how you need it.

Daily Practice

Morning: Shabda Yoga
I suggest Shabda Yoga in the morning because it helps prepare you for the day ahead; it fortifies your soul against the challenges you have to face. This stream of Sound Yoga is best practiced twenty minutes after you wake up, allowing enough time for you to be fully alert during your practice. Regular spiritual practice and an enhanced vocabulary of mantras can help you deal effectively with issues so that they don’t become problems. I recommend, therefore, that you use a combination of Vedic mantras (appendix one) and positive affirmations at the start of your day. The great yogic breath, along with sectional breathing (see chapter thirteen for both techniques), is also helpful in the morning.

Noon: Shakti Yoga
Shakti Yoga practices are fantastic for dealing with energy bleeds that can take place at work. Around noon, or just before you eat your lunch, take stock of the most powerful experiences you’ve had that morning. Pay close attention to the effect those situations have had on your energy centers. Notice whether any of your chakras are blocked.
Use shakti mantras and the alternate-nostril breathing nadi sodhana (appendix four) to clear these blockages. As you build up your vocabulary in this stream of Sound Yoga, you may introduce other practices as well.

Evening: Bhava Yoga
Bhava Yoga is best saved for evening. After we finish our day’s work, we can look forward to a wonderful experience of union when we return home. For those who work at home, this is the ideal resolution at the end of the day. Light a lamp, burn a stick of incense, and chant devotionally for five to seven minutes; often, that’s all it takes to bring a sense of completion to your day. Chant to Jesus, to Ram, to Krishna, or to the Buddha. Pour out your heart to the Divine, and offer everything — the positive and the not-so-positive. Trust that it will all be better tomorrow. After this, you can give yourself fully to your lover, yourself, your friends, or your community, depending on what you have planned for that evening.

Night: Nada Yoga
At night, before you go to bed, sit quietly and attune yourself to everything that has transpired during the day. Let it all pass through you and out of you. Practice yoga nidra (see chapter sixteen) and attune your body to the Divine presence so that you can sleep peacefully in the Divine embrace. Pay attention to your breathing, and try to remain conscious as you enter into sleep. You will find yourself well-rested in the morning.

Fortifying Your Practice Year-Round

DAILY: Keep a Yoga of Sound journal to make brief notes on the insights or challenges that present themselves to you on your journey. Value the process; it is your best teacher.

WEEKLY: Once a week, spend an hour learning new mantras and musical intervals. Introduce them in your practice during the rest of the week. Use about fifteen minutes of this hour to prolong your meditative awareness and center deeply in the experience. Review your journal notes and mark important entries.

MONTHLY: Once a month, take a two- or three-hour mini-workshop, or schedule a private session with an expert to improve your skills in Sound Yoga. Otherwise, design your own private mini-retreat by concentrating on a specific breathing practice, mantra, or movement; seek to enter more fully into the tradition. Review the marked entries in your journal and summarize your progress in a brief comment.

QUARTERLY: Once every quarter, take a one-day (five-to-eight-hour) retreat. You can do this in your own home, at a retreat center, or in an isolated cabin by the sea. Ensure that you will not be disturbed, and that it is okay for you to use vocal sound in the place where you are on retreat. Immerse yourself in the experience; review all the practices you know and evaluate them. Reflect on key journal entries you’ve made related to this discipline. Review your monthly comments and write a brief, single-paragraph description of your progress.

ANNUALLY: If you have the time and resources, take a weeklong workshop or retreat on the Yoga of Sound once every year. This will give you new insights into the tradition. Review your quarterly descriptions and write a half-page summary of what you have assimilated during the past year. Title your summary, including the year it refers to. Use the second half of the page to project what you would like to assimilate during the coming year. Title and date this section, too.

EVERY THREE TO SEVEN YEARS: Go on a pilgrimage. This could be to a sacred spot within your own country or overseas. Pilgrimage is a form of deep soul cleansing, enabling us to start anew with a fresh perspective. My wife and I go on a group pilgrimage every year to holy temples in South India. This is the Hindu way, which sees life itself as a pilgrimage, a passage through this plane toward ultimate fulfillment. You are always welcome to join us, or you may plan your own experience.

Simple Ways to Keep the Experience Alive
THE SHOWER: When you start your day, devote at least a few minutes to chanting reverently in the shower. Place your palms together and chant some mantras as you attune yourself to the sound of the flowing water. This will help cleanse your mind while your body is being cleansed.
WALKING: When you walk down the street, chant rhythmically to the sound of your breathing. Find a mantra that complements your pace and energy at that time. This will put joy into your step and generate beneficial chemicals in your brain.
EXERCISE WORKOUT: Chant before and after your exercise or yoga workout. You can do this internally if you’re in a public place. It will connect you more intimately with your body and help you stay more present to the physiological changes that are occurring.
THE COMPUTER: At work, sit quietly in front of your computer before you start the workday. Mentally recite a mantra or a series of mantras for one minute; this will clear your mind and help you function more efficiently. Do the same thing before you leave your workstation. Even half a minute will help configure your computer with positive energy and encourage you to enjoy returning to it.
BATHROOM BREAK: When you take a bathroom break, use mantras to occupy your mind for a full minute before, after, or even during your time on the toilet. If you have the whole bathroom to yourself, lock the door, stand with your feet and palms together (with clean hands), face the door, and chant for a full minute. Harmonize the flow of your breathing, then step out peacefully and confidently.
TRAFFIC SIGNALS: At a traffic signal, chant quietly and breathe evenly; visualize the road to your destination as a smooth flow of energy toward its source. Fill the interior of your vehicle with positive sound vibrations. If you are in gridlock, chant aloud and listen to the sound of your mantras filling your car; you might want to close the windows to keep the energy contained.
BUSINESS MEETINGS: Chant internally as you enter the room. Make eye contact and smile while continuing to chant mentally; this will help you awaken the best in people and in yourself. If you find knots developing against your spine during the discussions, regulate your breathing with the sectional breathing or the complete breath (see chapter thirteen). This will enable you to listen more attentively and communicate more effectively.
LOVEMAKING: Chant internally or, even better, chant with your lover for a full minute. You will engage each other in an authentic way afterward, as the chanting will disperse any negative energy or expectations. Regulate your breathing while engaged in the act; it will smoothen and enhance the process. Play a CD of chanting in the background to channel your energy differently. I’ve gotten very affirming reports about my own recordings, by the way — particularly P.M. Yoga Chants.
OPENING YOUR MAIL: Place your palms on your mail bundle and chant a mantra three times before you start opening your mail. This will help you stay detached from outcomes and embrace whatever is being placed before you in life.
TRANSIT AND TRAVEL: Lounges, trains, airports, airplanes, and even sitting rooms are great places to attune your energy to the Divine presence. Chant your mantra internally; even half a minute will help you center deeply and cause your energy to flow optimally through your nervous system.

Combinations and Sequences
Treat the Yoga of Sound as an organic process that will keep unfolding as you get into it more deeply. The secret is to learn each principle, mantra, and technique so well that you can combine them in energetic sequences that are just right for you in a given moment, or for a particular phase in your life. Such combinations must be seamless. As a reference, I’ve provided you with some simple examples. You can substitute your own choice of mantra if you don’t feel inspired by the one recommended. I know this sounds a bit like a menu, but a menu is a good analogy, since mantras are food for the soul.

Morning Combinations
1. Stand in the posture of prayer, prathanaasana (see chapter twelve), and loudly recite the mantra Asa-to Ma Sad-ga-ma-ya; Ta-ma-so Ma Jyo-tir-ga-ma-ya; Mrit-yor Ma A-mri-tam-ga-ma-ya. Draw from the articulate power of shabda to manifest the best outcomes in your life. You may then perform Zikr (body turning; see chapter fifteen) in silence, and later lie down in the corpse pose (see chapter twelve) to use the mantra So-Ham.
2. Sit in vajrasana (between your heels). If you notice blockage in your system, perform the sectional breathing practices, then conclude by chanting the mantra Om while doing the great yogic breath (chapter thirteen).
3. Sit in your meditation position and chant the mantra Kra-to Sma-ra Kru-tam Sma-ra. Follow this with the alternate nostril breathing (nadi sodhana; see appendix four), and end with cranial buzzing (brahmari mudra; see appendix four), performed with the six-way seal (see appendix four).

Midday Combinations
1. Sit in your meditation position and go through all the chakra bijas (see appendix two). Perform each bija three times and visualize energy opening each chakra as you chant the appropriate mantra. After the chanting, stay attuned to the physical experience of each chakra region in your body.
2. Go through all the vowels and their movements, as des-cribed in “Dancing the Vowels” (chapter fifteen). Repeat the exercise by riding the sounds on your breath. Conclude with sounding them internally.
3. Find a quiet, isolated spot, preferably outdoors. Chant one of the deity bijas (appendix two) for one full minute. Sit quietly and pay attention to your breathing, then perform nadi sodhana, the alternate nostril breathing (see appendix four).

Evening Combinations
1. Perform the bhava yoga ritual (see chapter nine), then sit quietly in meditation for a minute. You may put together the ingredients for the ritual by buying flowers on the way home from work, or you may perform the ritual mentally, as described in manasika puja (see chapter nine).
2. Stand in the prayer posture (see chapter twelve) for a minute, then launch into the Zikr (see chapter nine), using the mantra Om–Eeshaa–Vaasyam–Idham. Sink into savasana, the corpse pose (see chapter twelve), and place your attention on the delicate sensation of breath passing through your nostrils.
3. Do a meditation walk (see chapter fifteen) while mindfully, rhythmically chanting the mantra Hare Raama, Hare Raama – Raama Raama, Hare Hare – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna – Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Then find a quiet spot under a tree and perform the great yogic breath (chapter thirteen).

Night Combinations
1. Lie in the corpse position (see chapter twelve) and chant the mantra Shree Ram – Jai Ram – Jai Jai Ram for a few minutes. Touch parts of your body, reciting mantras to consecrate your body before going to bed.
2. Perform the yoga nidra exercise (chapter sixteen), but don’t run your awareness up and down your body rapidly, as it would keep you awake. Mentally chant long Om mantras that continue internally over many breaths. Your consciousness will expand dramatically while you sleep.
3. Sit in vajrasana, between your heels. Perform the six-way seal (shanmukhi mudra, or yoni mudra; see appendix four), but without the buzzing. Then rest your awareness on the motion of your abdomen. Later, lie facing the ground turning your head to the right, pressing your left ear against your left arm using your arm as a headrest. Keep your right ear wide open and listen intently to the sounds of the night.

Create your own sequences, and don’t judge them harshly. No one else can ever come close to the music that you yourself are hearing and creating. You must put the notes together, hold the baton in your hand, and conduct the orchestra of your own personality.

There is no guarantee that a fixed sequence will always bring you the same result because everything about you is constantly changing: the food you ate, an argument, a problem at work, and the position of your body as you slept — all affect you in this moment. You will change after your next meal, or as soon as you and your lover kiss and make up. As you continue to expand your mantra vocabulary, enter deeply into the elements of Sound Yoga and develop an integrated practice using the various streams of sacred sound. Over time, your sequences will become more and more like a well-made film, with superb cinematography, seamless segues, and an excellent sound track. Good luck, and have fun along the way.

Russill Paul is a world-renowned musician, and author blending Indian and contemporary music in his recordings and performances. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and performs and conducts workshops and retreats throughout the world. Russill Paul’s website is: http://www.russillpaul.com

Excerpted from the book “THE YOGA OF SOUND: Healing & Enlightenment Through the Sacred Practice of Mantra” by Russill Paul, $23.95 hardcover book & CD Published by New World Library, http://www.newworldlibrary.com

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