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Nada Yoga - Meeting Point of Yoga, Music And Medicine

Dr. T.V. Sairam, PhD 

From NADA Music of the Divine; September 22, 2012; Royal Albert Hall

"Those who desire perfection in yoga, may go for Nada Meditation,

Having abandoned all thoughts and with a calm mind."

(Shankaracharya, "Yoga-Taravali") 

The Sanskrit word, nada, which is loosely translated into English as, 'sound or music' actually refer to a "flow". Its etymological meaning is a flow of consciousness. It represents those overtones and harmonics, we hear when a gong or bell is struck or a conch shell is blown. 


It is these sound vibrations in motion - rather than of matter and particles - which were thought to the 'building blocks' of the entire universe in and around us. This concept was practiced as a metaphysical system called ‘Nada Yoga', which was both a form of yoga and a medicine. It is an important method in Tantras. 


The system has also witnessed a ritualistic approach to sound vibrations with due reverence and awe they deserve. In other words, the material characteristics of sound, which is regarded just as, series of compression and rarefaction get transcended into a spiritual a sensuous experience that connotes love and compassion. They no longer remain as a source of sensuousness. They are regarded as divine manifestations, to be celebrated and worshipped! 


It is the first lesson to learn for a debutant nada yogi to realize- through focusing on sound vibrations - the universal harmony by bringing together one's outer and inner universe. In the past many yogis have employed the sound vibrations to raise the level of awareness of energy centres, located in human body (chakras). It is also beneficial for the practictioner since sound vibrations and resonances can be of immense use as a medicine too — especially in pursuing palliative impact on a host of problematic psychological, physiological and spiritual conditions. 


The Primordial Sound Experience


Nada is referred to as 'primordial because it has no beginning or an end. It is also indestructible. As a "great vital essence", it is the root for both cyclic life (samsara) and perfect peace (nirvana). India, which has been an abode for a plethora of spiritual practices, has also witnessed music remaining as a powerful tool in the quest towards achieving mind control and an enviable state of equanimity. Thus from very ancient times, music has been used as a time-tested, rather time-honoured exercise in healing emotional outbursts, caused by traumatic events and situations. Several spiritual masters like Guru Nanak, Kabir, Mirabai, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Namdeo Purandara Dasa, Thyagaraja and Tukaram have all used music as a powerful medium to heighten their spiritual experience. 


The harmony between the two universes- the outer universe around us and the inner universe within us are possible through intense focusing our awareness on the two forms of sound is distinguished by nada yogis: Ahata or the struck sound and Anahata or the unstruck sound respectively. The 'struck' sound, which is coarse, is conveyed to us via sensory organs (ears) where in mechanical energy gets transformed into electrochemical energy. On the other hand, the 'unstruck sound', which is subtle, is responsible for the reception of one's inner music without the involvement of sensory organs. 


The concept of Anahata refers to one's subjective experience and hence closely associated to one's inner core of self. However, nada yoga promises this unique sound experience through simple, but regular practices, which are within the reach of everybody — be it male or female, illiterate or educated, poor or rich, Hindu or non-Hindu. 


Focusing on Ahata, the Coarse Sound 


One can say that Indian music today, besides folk music and popular film music, includes devotional music (singing Kirtan and Bhajan); the classic concert music; but also an esoteric music, which is linked to Nada Yoga and which masters the aforementioned knowledge of the influence of sounds. These three may very easily overlap and there is no doubt that music as such, and Indian music in particular, affects us and therefore is often seen as being part of Nada Yoga. 


Focusing on Anahata, the Subtle Sound 


Focusing on Inner Sound is an interesting exercise, which is being popularized in the lecture sessions of the Nada Centre for Music Therapy. It is also a permanent part of the education at the retreats of the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School.


In earlier times, Indian musicians were trained in yoga as well as the inner (Anahata) nada yoga. They were also required to do breathing exercises which could help them strengthen their voice and develop their ear for subtler frequencies and their changes. 


Music was thus considered not only as a pleasant and inspiring spiritual practice in itself — but also as a spiritual path — as stipulated in Nada Yoga. Through music, the mind can easily be tuned to the finest vibrations. This nada experience in music has been referred to by none other than Saint Kabir in this beautiful verse: 


'Nada is well within 

A music sans strings that plays in the body 

Penetrating the inner and also the Outer 

Leading you away, away from every Illusion' 


Different States of Nada Consciousness 


In Tantra it is thought that nada occurs in four dimensions of our consciousness and hence can be classified into four categories, depending on the consciousness level induced by each of them. The normal, audible sound at physical level of consciousness or beta state (Vaikhari or active state) is common and easily perceivable by all of us. Next higher plane refers to the mental sound (Madhyama), which is at alpha or relaxing state. The third level is the visualized sound (Pashyanti) at theta level, which is close to Turiya (state of consciousness) achieved through yogic practices. The fourth and final level is made of transcended sound which is comparable somewhat to delta level of consciousness. It is also referred to as Para.



A Note on Laya Yoga 


All meditation practices and techniques are aimed at dissolving the mental inhibitions, besides minimizing the thought processes to achieve inner peace and harmony. Such dissolution processes and procedures are also referred to as Laya Yoga. Therefore the systems such as Nada Yoga and Hatha Yoga which also aim at such mental dissolution belong to Laya Yoga. The great master of Hatha Yoga, Gheranda rishi once claimed that Hatha Yoga is part of Laya Yoga; developing a breathing pattern conducive to achieve a mental state free of anxiety or tension forms the basis of these exercises. No doubt music with appropriate rhythms could help us in reaching such a state with alacrity. During singing or meditative exercise with music, one often encounters inner silence (antar mouna) which enables the mind to a state of complete rest. 

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