By Shameem Akhtar
Those interested in nada yoga should first strengthen their bodies and mind through a sustained practice of asana-pranayam before attempting nada yoga because its impact can be explosive
Among all yogas, nada yoga is the fastest route to meditation. It can relax even the most high-strung mind, leading one gently into the path. Because of its association with bhakti yoga (though each can be practised individually), it provides the most-tried short-cut towards divinisation. The best part about nada yoga is that the effects last longer too, like the ripples last on the water surface long after the original wave has receded.
Nada or sound yoga is almost a separate branch of yoga since its practice is highly stylised, calling for long and intense period of preparation and absorption. My most vivid, enthralling experiences of this exquisite branch of yoga have all been through workshops conducted by the Bihar School of Yoga teachers who have fine-tuned a methodology that makes the sadhana practical even long after we leave the workshop.
Those of you familiar with quantum physics may be aware that the world as we see it does not exist (This explains the obsession of western physicists like Fritjof Capra with eastern spirituality). It is a constant dance of energy. If you shear the modern terminology from quantum physics, you could well be talking Vedic philosophy!
According to both, then, the world of matter is merely an illusion (Maya of Newtonian physics). When you deconstruct the matter, the table you see in front of you, for instance, you arrive at the atoms. Earlier, atoms were seen as the last frontier of matter. No longer. Today more sub-atomic particles are increasingly being discovered, while quantum physics establishes that when the atom is continually unraveled like this we come to a curious stage of no-matter, where particle stops being a particle, dancing constantly between two vastly different existences of both matter and energy. It is at once both matter and energy, the Purusha and Prakriti, the Shiva and Shakti, the Yin and Yang of our beliefs.
Therefore, the same matter has two existences, diametrically opposite, but within which astonishingly it lives as one, creating this entire illusion of maya or solidity. In a way, all solid matter is actually a conglomeration of energy that is vibrating so fast as to give the illusion of solidity. Somewhat akin experience of viewing the moving images on television. What you see as one flowing story is actually individual images that move so fast, as to give the illusion of continuity.
Nada yoga reaches through these layers of solid matter, our conditionings, linking us directly with the energy that is divine, pure, unsullied. While asanas use matter (of our body), pranayama or breathing uses both energy of our prana or breath and our body, it is nada yoga which pierces through all layers to reach directly to the soul. It is a powerful practice. In fact, I would advise those interested in nada yoga to first strengthen their bodies and mind through a sustained practice of asana and pranayama before they attempt nada yoga because its impact can be explosive. You have to be prepared for it.
Nada yoga also brings us closer to laya yoga, of absorption, which is the crux of all yogic practices. In effect, laya yoga practised throughout the day is what will leapfrog our concentration and achievements immensely. In that sense nada yoga prepares you for this.
This, then, is the effect of nada yoga meditation. But for those who want to savour it, there is also the nada yoga of therapy. Several therapists are putting out nada yoga cassettes based on Indian classical music which recommend special ragas as a cure for specific ailments. Nada yoga again combines with chakra meditation, to use the seven sounds of the musical scale to ascend and descend the seven rungs of spinal passage. Western exponents like India-born Russil Paul and Krishna Das (though the latter is more of the bhakti yoga genre) have created nada and bhakti yoga music which is an intensely satisfying experience.
Scientifically, nada yoga exploits the stochastic sounds that our inner ear catches but of which we are unaware. This is a deliberate trick created by nature to filter unwanted sounds so that we only focus on sounds essential to our lives. But the meditative processes of nada yoga unravel each sound, going deeper and deeper. It is absolute absorption. In effect, you actually end up hearing sounds that your mind had deliberately erased. It can be unnerving if you are not prepared for it. It draws you right into your being where aloneness is made absolute by the silence-sound of nada yoga. You hear the fourth matra (syllable) of Om, the silence that follows the first three matras. The actual Omkar.
I deliberately use the word silence-sound since I doubt there is a word to describe this non-sound that you can hear. It is the sound of silence. Perhaps physically, the closest you could come to it is in places like the Rann of Kutch where sometimes there is no rustle even of a breeze and the silence can be explosive, engulfing you entirely. It can be eerie if you are not prepared for it. But it is absolute, timeless. It is also a wordless space, where the mind stops its chatter. It is absolute stillness, yet a vortex. It is the space in yoga where you can intuit. Nada yoga creates that space where you can have all your answers even before you have identified the questions!
Bhramari or humming bee breath
Sit in a meditative pose, spine erect but shoulders relaxed, eyes shut. Place the index finger on the flap of the ear at the ear-hole or just push it down. Either way, the intention is to shut out noise. Now breathe normally a few times. Next, inhale deeply. As you exhale, hum the sound ‘mmmm’ continuously. Do this as long as you can comfortably. Though it sounds simple it calls for tremendous lung capacity. As you hum the sound you have to hear the vibration of the sound softly in your entire head, skull region. The soothing sound must seep through your entire being. After finishing one hum, rest to catch your breath as well as soak in the silence. After a deep inhalation start the next hum. Do this three to six times. It is a great precursor to meditation.
Calming in angry personalities, it is also therapeutic in several lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive disorders and stress-related ailments. Though those with a cold may find it difficult, it improves respiratory efficiency while clearing up the sinuses since the vibration rattles and cleans the cavernous sinuses in the skull while increasing the oxygen ingestion rate of the cells, right from the nostrils itself. Particularly beneficial in post-operative recuperation, it speeds up the healing from within.
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