I've been a sound healer for a few years now. Mainly using Tibetan bowls and Gongs, I have been helping people through 1-on-1 sound healing treatments and sound baths. The science behind the Magic (as I call it) is rooted in our understanding of Quantum physics (see how Sound Healing works here). Basically: everything is energy and therefore everything vibrates (has a frequency): be it the table I'm writing from right now, planets, plants, animals, inanimated objects, you, me. By playing different frequencies (in the right way...) we have a chance to harmonise our whole being.
Recently, and because I'm also an ayurvedic practitioner and a yoga teacher, I decided to go back to India to learn the Yoga of Sound, or Nada Yoga, also known as Shabda Yoga: that is to say, learning the vedic millenary science and knowledge of using Sound as a means to liberation.
A Note on Yoga
To understand what is the Yoga of Sound, one needs to remind oneself of what is Yoga. There are many form of yogas (Hatha, Raja, Jnana, Bakhti, Karma, Nada and more). All are different ways or techniques meant for the same goal: Liberation from the illusion that we are separated from each other and from God (that's the simplest way I can put it...:). With the help of Yoga, one has a chance to realise one's godly nature. So Yoga, in essence, is certainly not about being very flexible, or very strong...
The Yoga we practice in the west is mostly physical exercise, or "Yoga asanas". This practice comes from the 17th century and is therefore very recent in the context of the Vedic science which dates at least 6000 years... Patanjali and his yoga sutras (around 200BCE), which form the basis of the yoga we know, doesn't mention any physical asanas, but instead gives us the keys to a life which leads to liberation. "Physical yoga" was only invented to provide relaxation to the nervous system and the body to enhance our meditation practice, because meditation brings us a step closer to enlightenment (and because it's only in a body that isnt ill that we can pretend to gain htis insight). Try if for yourself: if you practice physical yoga before meditating, meditation becomes much easier.
The objective for the yogi is meditation for the purpose of enlightment, not achieving the perfect head stand...
The Yoga of Manifestation
In this context, Nada Yoga is one of the first forms of Yogas that uses Sound to help us practice concentration and meditation.
"NA" means silence or emptiness, while "DA" means disturbance, vibration, flux. Nada is the disruption of silence. This is in reference to Shiva & Shakti, not as deities, but as what they represent. One is the void, the seed from which all could be born, the other manisfestion itself, the creative energy that gives life to the seed. When the silence is disturbed, something is born. The main insight is that reality consists of vibrations (frequencies) which in essence is Sound. This tradition goes back to the Vedas where the universe is said to rest on a single imperishable Sound: OM, source of all creation. Nada Yoga is seen as the most efficacious way of experiencing our connection to God (or The Sacred, or the mystery of all creation, whatever you may call "it"). "By going back to the reality of Primal Sound, we can reach the Absolute beyond time and space from which all creation arises".
Shiva is said to have "invented" Nada Yoga (Shiva Sutra): when asked by two children, how to reach Liberation, Shiva plays his drum and the 50 Sanskrit letters (or sounds) are born. This is the Matrika or prime power of creation (which incidently has the same number of letters that there are petals on the first 6 chakras).
The Mother, or sanskrit alphabet, is refered to as "She who binds, and She who sets free".
The Power of the Word
The 50 letters are also called Bij mantra (or Seed Mantra). "Man" means "Mind" and "Tra" is "a tool" or "Free from". A Mantra is a tool that helps us free ourselves from the Mind and its illusion...
All over the world, different traditions include magical words, secret codes and special words of power. The difference is that India has developped this as a sophisticated science through Mantras.
In the Judeo Christian tradition, God creates the world by saying "Let it be Light", the new testament states: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God"; in the Jewish Kabbalah, letters have meaning and values and syllables are inbued with mystical powers. The Sufi rely on the repetition of sung prayers and in Taoism, sound heals. I think one needs to understand "the Word" as the divine construction of our minds: putting letters together create a word, which creates a sound or a thought. Because the Word doesn't have to be said. It can remain a thought. And actually the mantras that we repeat silently in our mind have a 100 more power that those we verbalise. The fact that us, human beings, are able to manifest what is in our consciousness is godly. The Word is therefore divine.
"You are in the place where your thoughts are. Make sure that your thoughts are in the place you want to be"
Rav Nachman Of Braslav
What it all means is that the thoughts you have and the words you pronounce are made of these primordial sounds. They will form your reality and shape up your life. Someone who only has positive things to say, who praises, is grateful and compassionate will have a different life to the guy who yells, insults, judges and criticises. In yogic thought, the Word is not simply "God", it is the power of the Goddess, that is , the power of Manifestation (Shakti). Speech is the original form of the Goddess who has the creative power of manifesting the world we see. Hence, the Word creates our reality and through Nada Yoga and its use of mantra, we tap into a science that aims at redirecting the forces of nature and the movement of our mind and heart, to work on the subtle body.
Mantra & Yoga
Mantra is quite litterally extra-ordinary, in that it is both the Teaching and the Practice. It's not about understanding intellectually (we all ask what a mantra means when we first hear it), but instead it's the experience of it that teaches us. There are more than 10,000 mantras (hymns) in the Rig Veda alone (the most ancient foundation text). Rishi Shaunaka gives the application of a select number of them in the Rig Vedhana: what to use them for, how to use them and so forth. Tantra, later in history, makes a abundant use of Mantra (shakti mantra). Pantajali (the father of Yoga as we know him) doesn't make the use of mantra one of the limbs of Yoga because Mantras are present in each of those limbs: Ahimsa (Non violence) and Satya (Truthfulness) are mantras in their own rigtht. Asanas perfomed while chanting a mantra increase awareness and energy into the bones, the muscles, joint, nerves and help transcend our body consciousness. Pranayamas (breath work) becomes alive. Dharana (concentration) is significantly increased and Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) becomes easier. Finally, Meditation, the step just before enlightment, stops being so harduous for us, common souls... Connecting to the Universal Vibration is the basis of the yogic pursuit of mantras.
"Without depending on Mantra ... Buddhahood cannot be attained"
The Dalai Lama, "KalaChakra Sutra"
If you join my Nada Yoga class, expect the use of mantras because it carries the essence of Yoga and the yogic consciousness. It makes us learn to sense the resonance behind the actual senses. It's the link between the human mind and the cosmic consciousness and is said to be the most efficacious spiritual practice in this disturbed era of human evolution (Kali Yuga).
In Yoga philosophy, there are only three ways to link to the "Supreme": the heart, the prana (or breath, vital energy) and the Word (or mantra).
As Asana practice is the flexibility and strength of the body, Mantra is that of the Mind.
Saraswati, the Godess of Knowledge and Sound, music and speech.
Practicing Nada Yoga
The practice of Nada includes many disciplines: singing or chanting, dancing and playing music as well as the use of Mantra applied to these different forms.
The point is to first concentrate on outside sounds, to then ultimately be able to listen within. You must have seen a musician, or an artist, so fully absorbed in their art, they seem to be possessed by some supernatural power. This is possibly this state that music or sound plunges us into, where space and time disappear.
My Nada Yoga class starts with a warm up on music or breathing exercise supported by the use of a mantra, that's been chosen according to the theme of the class. We then practice yoga asanas in full conscience of the body, meditate in music with the support of the mantra, to finally end on a sound bath Savasana (resting time after physical yoga).
Nada Yoga is a truly beautiful and approachable practice which will add a layer of life to your current meditation and yoga or will introduce you to Yoga if you are a beginner.
I'm aware there was an easier way to explain Nada Yoga, by just saying that it's a Yoga that uses Sound to attain bliss. Yet, my own mind is fascinated by the knowledge of the ancients and I felt I had to attempt explaining those concepts as simply as I could... if you've read that far, I've succeeded :)