Nada in Sanskrit means ‘sound’ or ‘flow’. Yoga means ‘union’. The practices of Nada Yoga therefore can be understood as the union or flowing into sound. Nada Yoga incorporates all forms of sound or music. It is said that this path of yoga is the one to which all forms of yoga eventually lead. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, after describing all the practices for yogic development – asanas, breathing, shatkarmas and bandhas, devotes much of its final section (entitled Samadhi) to the practice of Nada Yoga (referred to as laya yoga):
This rarely known branch of yoga uses vibration in its most refined aspect. Most scriptures agree that all that exist comes from one source which is God or the Absolute manifesting first in the form of Vibration. “In the beginning was the word” recounts the Bible and in the Vedas, the puranas from the Indian tradition, it is said that creation started from sound vibration, called Nada Brahman. This vibration is referred to as “OM”.
Nada yoga is the ancient spiritual art and science of inner transformation through sound and tone. Meditation on sound is one universal path to Self Realization, accessible to anyone, and appropriate for people of any religion or spiritual aspiration.
The term “Yoga” means to combine, coordinate, harmonize, integrate. Actually, there are many varieties of yoga, generally grouped into five categories:
1. Jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge and self-inquiry
2. Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion
3. Karma Yoga, the yoga of service
4. Kriya Yoga, the yoga of technique
5. Raja Yoga, a yoga integrating all the other four forms
Hatha Yoga, a basic form of Kriya Yoga, is the yoga of physicality, postures, and movement. It’s probably the most well-known form of yoga in the West; however, the main classical text on yoga – the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – discusses physical postures (Hatha Yoga) in only three of its two hundred verses.
Within the heading of Kriya Yoga, or yoga of technique, there are several subtly different forms of yoga which teach meditation on sound as a path to spiritual growth and awareness. The three principal forms of this variety of yoga are Nada, Laya, and Surat Shabda yoga.
Nowadays we know that everything is vibration. From the tiniest atom to the galaxies, everything vibrates at a certain rhythm and in harmony. The Mystics and Yogis have used this principle of vibration in the realm of music to harmonize their gross physical body and subtle body in order to reconnect to the primordial source.
Nada Yoga represents the technical, vibratory aspect of the sacred chants (Mantras, Bhajans, Kirtans) which, through its positive vibrations, harmonises our physical and “astral”” bodies (energy, emotions, intellect), and in so doing gives us a glimpse of our “causal” body, the deepest part of ourselves whose nature is peace. This harmonisation eliminates many physical and mental tensions.
Nada Yoga ultimately leads back to the source of creation by using sound vibration. There are different steps to this process:
Listening to and chanting Mantras, Bhajans, Kirtans whose vibrations are pure because they have been composed and are interpreted by yogis, saints etc. This practice cleanses the mind and impregnates positive impressions, as opposed to some contemporary music or sound tracks of certain advertisements.. Try it and compare!
This pure music stabilises the attention, calms the mind and renders the adept sensitive to more subtle frequencies, enabling him to hear “Anahata”. This internal sound comes from the vibration of prana, contrary to ordinary sounds that come from the shock or friction between two things.The mind, absorbed in this “Anahata” is in a transcendental state. It experiences the Absolute, or God as “Nadam”, pure vibration.
Music has a direct impact on the mind. It can make it sad, happy, aggressive etc. All cultures have exploited the power of sound and music, in religion, in the military, in publicity etc. What our ears pick up is but a small part of what is emitted. However, even what we cannot hear has an affect on our subtle body, obviously against our will! It is therefore important, in order to avoid being emotionally manipulated, to chose the music one listens to!
Most commonly Nada Yoga refers to the practice of mantras and chanting, but on a technical level it deals with abstracts sounds, called “Taans”, that create specific vibrations within the body. These vibration can be used for healing as well as for destructive purposes. In ancient times this science of sounds and vibrations had attained a high level of development in the same way as today’s physical sciences have been developped . Certain Masters had acquired a very precise knowledge of this science.
This science of sound involves becoming aware not only of audible frequencies but also of frequencies that are inaudible to our ears. It is important to differentiate here between the two different kinds of sound. All the sounds which we hear through our ears are the result of two objects striking each other. This is obvious when we think of clapping or drumming and other such percussive sounds, but more subtle when the interaction between the two surfaces is not so obvious – the sound of the wind in the grass, the wide range of sounds we are capable of producing with our voices for instance (the effect of air hitting our vocal cords.) These sounds are called ahata sounds or ‘struck sounds’.
Then we have the ‘unstruck sounds’ – the anahata sounds. These sounds have no discernable source and are heard from within. The more subtle nada yoga practices are focused on these inner sounds.
“When the mind becomes so absorbed in that sound that one is no longer listening to it, but is vibrating in unison with it, then the final state of Laya Yoga (Nada Brahman, or Oneness with God/Sound) is achieved.”
Whilst it is true that it can take many years – even lifetimes – of spiritual practice to achieve this ultimate ‘Union’ with the Divine, I do believe that we all can and do catch glimpses of it all the time in our daily yoga practice and living. And when we sing!