The Sacred Practice of Nada Yoga
I remember giving my students from Tyler School of Art an in-class assignment. I am an adjunct photography professor (FYI). I sent them outside with their journals to listen. I wanted them to listen to every sound. To separate the sounds and to notice them. No judgments, just close your eyes and focus on the sounds. Use this sense of hearing to focus, to hone in. I asked them if they were truly listening to the sound of their music as they sported the best headphones that were now attached to them like a new appendage. Are you getting the best headphones so that every sound is distinguished from another? Do you understand what you are listening to and how it works? Of course, I heard an array of grumblings about what this had to do with the visual arts and photography as I heard them asking, "why do I have to listen to this noise?" (ha) I sent them outside to journal for five minutes. On the return, I got a few smiles and nods and then I sent them back out in the same space to listen again and this time to first close their eyes, take a breath or two and then listen...separate the sounds, then go a little further and listen to each one even more deeply writing down a tone, texture, color, line or any other accompanying image for each one. After that, I asked them to let the sound become one sound...see if they could hear all of the sounds together and then really try and remember that specific sound. Upon their return I had them write down what that final sound was like? Could they put it in words? Some did and some students had a harder time with it but for the majority, it had a profound shift in their ideas of listening and of sound. This wasn't the drowning out of all other noise with music but was serious listening that perpetuated idea and each sound created its own aesthetic. The fact is that sound and visuals have a profound overlap. Any visual, still, moving or otherwise has its own soundtrack. I spent more time with my students in the following week as we created an umbrella of ideas about the construction of photographs that are a symphony of line, color, texture, composition and so on...the photographic constructs were similar in description to the individual sounds written in their journals. Their assignment was then to photograph something that was analogous to that mental image. This assignment was my putting out to the world my own experience with Nada Yoga Mediation and its profound effect on my thinking about sound and vision.
Nada Yoga or Nada comes from the Sanskrit word Nad meaning to howl, growl, roar or even cry. The "a" on the end means tone or sound. Nada is also a word for stream or river and put all together it means to stream sound. In Nada Yoga, we come to the Yok or Union of oneself through sound. Well known to us through conventional science is that everything in the universe is vibrating and that vibration is sound. There is a vibration within us, an internal sound. We are vibrating from the subatomic level all the way to the cells, rhythms of our breath and the pulse of our heart. In Nada Yoga, we listen first to the external world and then eventually as we practice we can tune in to our internal vibration. This is not a complex process but "things" in our lives to get in our way of really hearing, really listening. The main interruption comes from ourselves as we experience jumbled thoughts that bounce around from one thing to the next. The very first step to Nada Yoga Mediation is to listen without interruption. I mean the interruption of children, spouses, and also of your own monkey mind. The most important thing is to practice and then practice some more. But first, we should understand that there are a few levels of sound.
In Nada Yoga, There are 4 levels of sound:
- Vaikhari: External sound (The external expression of sound)
- Madhyama: Sound of the mind. Any sound that you can recall in the mind. (Between thought and sound)
- Pashyanti: Sound that gives us a vivid picture. (Described above by my in-class assignment) Forming sound into an idea.
- Para: Beyond words, beyond sound, beyond voice. The inner listening of the sound of the universe. Sound without form. The notes in between the notes is Yoga.
In Nada Yoga, The practice becomes about doing certain meditations within each level of sound (described above) until we reach the bliss of Para. But in order to start any kind of Nada Yoga, it is a good idea to practice some very basic meditation and Yoga asana postures. Some good basic sun salutations or beginner to intermediate postures outside on a towel or inside on a good sticky mat are important to achieving seated meditation postures that can be attained for longer periods. If you are uncomfortable sitting for long periods figure out what your best-seated position is and if you find any issues you may want to consider some props to help you achieve a seated position longer. I love my meditation cushion and use my bolsters as well.
Here is a good beginning meditation to start your Nada Yoga Practice
Accept all of the sounds you hear, welcome them and observe:
- Sit in a comfortable seated posture
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths and relax | No need to follow the breath.
- Start to meditate on the sounds. It does not matter where you are. If indoors you may hear the heater or air, creaky floors or even water running. Perhaps there are people close, you may encounter a cough or sneeze. If you are outside it could be a world of noises depending on where you are. Birds, planes, cars, people, trains.
- Try to latch onto a sound and focus on it...hear it until it disappears without any judgment. Listen to its subtle nuances. Notice the tone of it, notice the pitch but do not label it or judge it. If thoughts and or labels arise let them, then let them go and refocus on the sound.
- If you are focused on a person's voice or a conversation try and let go of what they are saying and concentrate on the vocals of the voice.
- When starting out or if you are a journal writer, write down your thoughts on your experience!
Once you are finished with this mediation there is a world of Nada mediations to go through. Here are some great book resources:
- The Law of Attention: Nada Yoga and the Way of Inner Vigilance by Edward Salim Michael
- The Yoga of Sound: Tapping the Hidden Power of Music and Chant by Russill Paul
- Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound: Secret of Seed (Bija) Mantras by David Frawley
If you have a Gaia subscription there are a few very good short videos on the subject. I like these because they tap into the realness of listening and how it works.
- Ann Dyer: Nada Yoga - Transformation Through Sound | Yoga Conversations with Rodney Yee
- From Series: Yogic Paths, Sound & Technologies of Consciousness
The other way to experience and practice Nada Yoga is to listen to some online meditations:
- Apple Music: Inner Sound – Nada Yoga Meditation Music and Mindfulness Training Soundscapes by Om Zone
Inner Sound: 3 HOURS Nada Yoga Meditation Music and Mindfulness Training
The benefits of Nada Yoga are incredible and all it takes is practice. A little practice each day taking small steps is the way forward. When we are listening we are not involved with mind chatter. When we hear sound our brain waves are profoundly affected. Music, Chanting, Singing, and Mediations are all part of the Nada experience which regulates our breathing releases stress and improves our overall health including our immune system.
I love and enjoy Nada Yoga and to this day I still talk about and implement sound into my student work or my lectures. I use sound to find peace and inner calm through my day. The ancient to modern day writing on sound and how it manifests reality, how it heals and how it can truly help you in your day to day is vast.
I would love to hear your experiences with Nada Yoga. Write to us in the comments section!
To your good health!
Sat Nam ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ
Soorya Kirti Kaur