Over the past twenty years, yoga and music – two powerful approaches to optimal health – have garnered enormous credibility in the western world. Health, we are fast realizing, is not simply the absence of disease: it is a condition of our soul that invigorates our being and enables us to derive the most from life. The yoga of sound is a highly specialized yogic system and methodology that brings together universal healing principles found in yoga and music into a single, unified approach. Requiring neither the extreme flexibility of yoga postures, nor the complexities of music, the yoga of sound combines the best of both these worlds.
Largely unknown in the West, yet developing alongside the popular form of hatha yoga that has swept the world, the yoga of sound is a broad term for a 3500-year old spiritual system that we can effectively use today to reduce stress, develop our health, and realize spiritual awakenings leading to enlightenment. It is no longer possible to ignore or downplay the role of spiritual practice upon our health and well-being. The goals of this well-tested spiritual system address healing, as well as enlightenment, since one is not possible without the other: they are the two faces of the genuine happiness coin.
As unified system, the yoga of sound addresses the challenges of modern living, particularly in the west, drawing meaningful practices and insights from four powerful streams of sacred sound that developed within the Hindu tradition– shabda yoga, shakti yoga, bhava yoga, and nada yoga. The first three streams deal with mantras, which are sonic formulae that contain healing and transformative power. The fourth stream, nada yoga, which means “sound yoga”, is actually the most common technical term for sonic yoga in Hinduism. But nada yoga does not deal with multifarious applications of mantras, which is why it is treated as a stream all by itself in the yoga of sound system.
For thousands of years, Hindu spirituality, which has given the world Yoga, as well Ayurveda – the world’s oldest medical system, has understood the profound effect that sound has on our well-being. Western medicine is rapidly rediscovering this today in the successful treatment of Alzheimer’s, cancer, pre and post-surgical trauma, insomnia and even the dissolving of kidney stones. Overwhelming clinical studies verify that the application of sound therapies helps lower heart rate, reduce blood pressure, produce endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers), nourish DNA, and generate important proteins in body such as interleukin-1. Vocal chanting is particularly effective because the palate and the human ear (much like the hand and foot in reflexology) function as blueprints for the body’s energy system. This is why, the use of our voice through increased dynamics in speech and chanting can stimulate a wide spectrum of energy releases in our body, contributing effectively to increased health and vitality.
Long ago, the western world was also acutely aware of the curative powers of sound. In ancient Greece, for instance, medicine was used to keep the body in tune — in harmonic alignment with nature and the universe. All forms of sickness, both physical and mental, were considered musical inconsistencies. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, often took his patients to the healing temple of Asclepius. There, music was used to reestablish the natural harmony of the body. Present day molecular biologist Candice Pert corroborates this ancient worldview in her groundbreaking thesis Molecules of Emotions. She explains that hormones and neurotransmitters throughout the human organism communicate with each other through distinctive vibrational sympathies. In other words, when there is harmony in the body, our cells are humming along with an empathic music that minimizes dissonance. To fall out of tune is to break down communication among our cells and to literally loose the music.
The yoga of sound offers us potent sources of energy in the form of its sonic formulae called mantras. Mantras are spiritual pharmaceuticals that can be used to dissolve obstructions in the flow of our energy, boost the charge of our nervous system and connect our being to vast reservoirs of energy within ourselves. A tremendous amount of research and development has gone into the construction of mantras. Sanskrit, the language in which mantras are composed, literally means: “well put together”. Recent discoveries in quantum physics reveal that the manifest universe is composed of vibrating frequencies of energy – sound, in other words. Mantras are constructed upon exactly the same notion – the individual letters of the Sanskrit alphabet being derived from the basic strands of energy vibrating at the core of our existence. This astounding parallel lends immense credibility to the crucial role that sonic technology – and particularly mantras – can play in determining a comprehensive approach to our health and well-being.
As stated earlier, discovering the benefits of sound yoga doesn’t necessarily require learning difficult postures or developing extreme levels of flexibility; neither does it require you to be musically talented or have a great voice. The simple joy in using one’s voice to pronounce certain sounds in rhythmic combinations and vary a few tones is enough to generate powerful chemicals in the body. Along with mantras, the yoga of sound’s holistic approach to health and enlightenment makes use of a few simple postures, some special types of breathing and certain body motions. Sound is closely associated with the soul — the part of us that reflects something deep and eternal. This is why most illnesses indicate soul issues, and why therefore both sound and music — the language of our soul — can help restore our health.
Shabda yoga is literally “word yoga” that derives from India’s Vedic tradition. Shabda refers to the spoken, “sounded,” or uttered word, and the principles of shabda yoga can be applied to the written word as well, since a word is “sounded” in our minds as we read or write it. The extraordinary discovery of Japanese quantum physicist Masuro Emoto’s in the last decade provides us with irrefutable evidence that human energy – in the form of thoughts, words, ideas, and music – has a vibrational quality that affects the molecular structure of water. Positive sounds have a transformative effect, beautifying and clarifying water crystals; negative sounds actually distort the shape and color of the molecular structure. When we reflect on the fact that our physical bodies consist of about 70 percent water, and that an equal percentage of the earth’s surface is water, we begin to gain a sense of the tremendous ability we each have at our disposal to consciously use our words and sounds to affect our health and well-being in positive ways.
Shakti yoga, the second stream of Sound Yoga, which derives from the Tantric tradition, uses raw, potent sounds known as bija mantras that have immediate physiological effects. These sounds, comparable to spiritual pharmaceuticals, can be used to awaken, unblock, transform and distribute energy in and through the body. Yoga has come as a great gift from the East to the West because it heals the fragmentation created by a mechanistic worldview at the fundamental physical-sexual level. After hundreds of years of denigrating the body in Christian theology and prayer, Yoga has enabled the Western world to rediscover the body with fresh eyes — as an instrument to be “tuned,” rather than subjugated. Although yoga postures, stretches and breathing techniques enhance our physical prowess and vitality, the knowledgeable application of mantras helps to refine our consciousness and accelerate our spiritual realizations to amazing levels of depth. Ideally, it is best to combine hatha yoga with mantras to ensure that both body and soul are well nourished. The two complement each other perfectly. In fact, the use of sound, in the form of mantras, has accompanied the practice of hatha yoga postures since Hinduism’s earliest beginnings.
The third stream, bhava yoga, is the devotional call-and-response chanting of Divine names and attributes that has gained widespread popularity in yoga studios across America. However, kirtan is only one avenue to the depths of sound yoga, albeit an important one, since it reaches into the heart. But excessively focusing on the heart leaves us poorly equipped to deal with the challenging dynamics of our present-day world. Hence, three streams of mantra – shabda, shakti and bhava, are combined in the Yoga of Sound as an integrated system. In other words, the knowledge of shakti (sound that is healing and evolutionary in its energy), shabda (sounds as words that can manifest our desires), and bhava (sounds that create the state of bhakti, or devotion), together form a powerful triangle representing power, wisdom and beauty. These are three essential qualities that the sound yogi seeks to develop in his or own voice, because the human voice never fails to accurately reflect the underlying conditions of the human spirit. Conversely, to develop the voice is to develop the spirit – a profound insight offered us by the legendary Sufi teacher Hazarat Inayat Khan. Kirtan is no doubt an important step toward recovering the soul of Yoga in the West, but much more is possible when all the streams of sonic mysticism are taken into account. You might wonder if you need to be musical to embark on this journey. You don’t, but you will find yourself becoming more musical as your sonic yoga practice develops.
Nada yoga brings together the psychophysical techniques of hatha yoga, the cosmology of Tantra and deep forms of meditation based on attunement to sound frequencies. Together, these four streams of sacred sound can and should be unified into a single, integrated approach: Shabda yoga providing strength and the capability to manifest our desires through the articulate power of the uttered word; shakti yoga connecting us intimately to the flow of energy in our body and in the natural world; bhava Yoga awakening joy, love and beauty in the our heart through devotion; and nada yoga bringing together the most sacred in music, yoga and meditation practice.
As mentioned, the objectives of the yoga of sound are healing and enlightenment, two sides of the same coin that represents true happiness in life. The sacred practice of mantra is not absolutely essential toward the realization of spiritual consciousness any more than a physically fit body is capable of facilitating spiritual enlightenment – they are both a means of refining our awareness and streamlining our energy toward the ultimate goal of samadhi. Samadhi, the true goal of yoga, and of all spiritual practice, is authentic spiritual awakening that is accompanied by the joy of being healed on all levels: one is not possible without the other. The yoga of sound system, which offers us a knowledgeable vocabulary of mantras and their applications, helps us effectively deal with stress and depression in innumerable ways, provides us with powerful sources of spiritual energy, and keeps us attuned to the high vibration of samadhi. The secrets of sound yoga lie in knowing when, how and why we can use certain mantras, the various dynamics one can employ in their wide range applications, and direct intimacy with the extraordinary fields of spiritual energy that these powerful sounds embody. Mantras are ultimately mystical vehicles programmed with energy and intelligence that can guide and assist us in our journey toward greater healing and enlightenment.
Based on 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, www.newworldlibrary.com