I have no memory of a time before my first mantra. It was two words my mom told my sister and me, a mantra from the lineage of yoga my parents practiced at the time. I forget exactly how she explained it to us, but it was clear the words were magical, and sacred. They were alive, and a way to call upon what we needed. I repeated them to myself every night as I fell asleep. I repeated them when I was anxious or worried, when I couldn’t sleep, when I wanted to be with myself in a certain sort of way, still and calm and separated from regular life. Coupled with this mantra was my mom’s instruction each night as she turned the lights off in our room and said, “Good night. Look for the light inside you.” I began to conflate these two actions, the repetition of my secret words, and the light inside me. I thought those words, repeated with devotion, called upon the light, dormant somewhere behind the darkness of my closed eyes. Then I thought I found it, of course, pressing on my eyelids until purple flares burst there. I was aware that perhaps this was cheating but I didn’t care. I contained these colors and lights, these sounds, and I had sensory proof. I echoed with all of it, repeated for years and years. In some ways I’ve never really stopped this mantra practice. My being echoes with the sounds of a lifetime spent whispering the words given to me by my mom.
Nada Yoga is the yoga of sound. It translates to “union through sound.” Like all yoga practice, this particular type of yoga contains everything, its own contradictions included. OM is the universal sound, containing all sounds. It is comprised of three syllables, but the fourth syllable is silence. And Nada Yoga works similarly. Nada Yoga is not exactly mantra. It is the inner sound, the silence. I have heard it described as the vibratory hum you hear right inside your ear when you are quiet. That sound you hear inside yourself is similar to breath, in that it can be a focal point of meditation, and a reminder of the fact that nothing is ever beginning nor ending. This sound is another manifestation of energy that was around long before us and will be around long after us. It is another layer of reminder. It is a place to return our attention. I find this tremendously comforting. I find it as comforting as the mantra my mother gave me all those years ago. The comfort comes from the reminder that we can call out, and when we do, we call out to all existence, and to ourselves.
There is so rarely silence in our lives. The moments we take to actively seek it, or the times when it finds us anyway, are true gifts. The moment in a yoga class after you chant OM, allow yourself to feel the vibration in the air as the room falls silent. That is Nada Yoga. It is often so palpable it seems to have a texture, as if everyone’s voice is sinking back down and re-entering us via some other form. You are feeling the fourth syllable of silence. For me, when I am in Child’s Pose or a forward fold, those are moments that call on Nada Yoga. At these moments of turning a bit more inward, we hear our own existence, the beat of our heart, and the sound of our breath, even the energy we have created through our practice moving silently (but not silent!) inside us.
That being said, I think the opposite of silence is part of our Nada Yoga practice as well. I have a Spotify playlist that is my home practice soundtrack. It is full of hundreds of songs, some quite yogic, and others quite not. I find myself often putting loud, dark songs on this playlist. Songs that are dissonant or jarring in some way. Songs I would never include on a playlist as a teacher because they might be disruptive or not quite right for the mood I am trying to create. But I love practicing to them by myself. When these songs come on I find myself more reminded of the visceral truths of myself and this body that I use to practice yoga. It is a wild, unlikely, and temporary place, this physical self. Sometimes I want to close my eyes and move and feel the sounds swirling and growing louder and louder all around me. This sensory experience is both profoundly physical and also not. Again it all returns to this idea of union, of oneness. There is no distinction. There are times in our practice when we more fully feel the truth of that, when it moves beyond words into an experience. For me, my music blasting, I often am able to enter that space.
My most recent mantra practice is with a long, healing mantra. It is a chant to Rama, who reminds us of our great power to heal ourselves. My new Rama mantra reminds me of my childhood mantra, the power it gave me to calm myself, to be present, to feel that I could call forth the light inside me. I am chanting this Rama mantra because of health issues I am having, in particular on my right side. And I love the symbolism of the sounds Ra and Ma. Ra is associated with the solar current that runs down the right side of our bodies and Ma with the lunar current that runs down the left. By repeating Rama we balance these two energy channels. I have chosen a particularly long mantra, which took me awhile to remember. I say it in formalized ways during meditation, but I also find myself whispering it on my bike, it is simply starting to be everywhere inside me: Om Apa-damapa Hataram Dataram Sarva Sampadam Loka Bhi Ramam Sri Ramam Bhuyo Bhuyo Namam-yaham. I sit, interlace my fingers, place them over my right side and chant this, sometimes aloud and sometimes silently. Bring your healing energy to the Earth, to the Earth, the mantra requests. I love the repetition of it. I feel the light inside me. I don’t have to press on my eyelids anymore to see it there. In the silence after my mantra is over, I breathe in and breathe out, and I listen to those final syllables.
Laura Schadler is a San Francisco based yoga teacher and fiction writer.
by Nikki Borodi
Music frees my spirit and calms my mind. It is my sanctuary that I crawl into, an energizing cocoon. When I sing there is a vibration that expands from my heart, vibrating to the tips of my fingers and toes.
Sound is my meditation. When the thoughts run past the place I can rein them in, it is my guaranteed way to still the ramblings of my mind. I find peace through a simple Om, a mantra, or a song that catches my attention on the radio. Through the sounds I focus on externally or the ones that I call from within, both allow me the opportunity to find my inner bliss. This form of meditation is instinctual. It can be a pacifier for a baby and an oasis for an adult.
For as long as I can remember I have run to music, as a listener and as a creator to settle or stir my heart. As a listener I can remember early heartbreak as I swayed to Bob Marley’s “Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” The sadness would dissolve as I danced to the sounds and sang along as a sweet healing. I find that listening to music will always be my refuge and place I re-energize. In the morning I use music that makes my spirit sing when trying to make my breakfast and get ready to kick off the rest of the day. Music wakes me up when I ask it to and brings me down a notch when that’s what I need.
As a maker of music, it is where I find the answers to things when I can’t quite formulate the question. It is where the swirling of uncertainty finds a voice and a safe container that I can make sense of it all. Just as some use journaling to work out their woes I use song writing. The beauty of this expression is that it comes at any emotional spectrum; it could be that I am sad, angry, enamored or empowered this medium has always served me more than any other. Entering into a space of song writing is a place I go to where I can channel the messages that are asking to be realized by me or by my audience. I am entranced in this connection to the divine that offers me the safety of a meditative zone.
Like yoga, music connects our spirit, mind, and body as it clears space and offers us the ability to be reborn moment by moment. Nada Yoga or union through sound offers a spiritual and mental cleanse that gives us an opportunity for transformation. How incredible it is that sadness can dissolve and inner strength can prevail through the experience of sound. For as long as beings have existed on this earth so has our connection to the sounds of nature and music that bring us closer to our own hearts and to mother earth.
Let it be a sanskrit mantra or Beyonce, dance and sing to your hearts content! Find your peace, find your play, and find your sanctuary.
by Valerie Starr
One of my favorite by-products of being a yoga teacher is that for a duration of time we get to become DJ’s. I love digging through music sites, making playlists, and finding new songs to inspire. Music can be a great tool to drive your practice deeper and we are vibrational beings that respond to vibration. There is a beautiful connection that can occur between our body and soul when we resonate to sounds during a heart-opening experience such as yoga.
This practice of connection is called Nada Yoga.
When we consciously move our bodies in harmony with our breath we are attuning the internal vibration (anahata); when we dance to music, we move through the external vibration (ahata). The external and internal worlds have a hypnotizing, spiritual partnership that is evident in our bodies, our world and throughout the cosmos. We connect to this when we chant the sounds of Om.
This leads me into one of my favorite theories, entrainment, which is an aspect of sound that is closely related to the way rhythm affects us. Entrainment happens when one powerful rhythmic vibration of an object causes a less powerful vibration of another object to oscillate at the first objects rate.
We feel this when listening to a song and we start to tap our feet to the rhythm. Or, when a pendulum is swinging and syncs with another that was originally at a different pace.
In our body we are always in a state of entrainment as our heart rate, respiration and brain waves entrain each other. When we are flowing in the middle of a vinyasa and the music is playing, often times we feel like we are moving and synced with the music, tuning deeper into our breath. At the end of a class, when we are sitting in meditation and slowing our breath, our heartbeat starts to decrease as well. The same concept happens with music. When we listen to fast pace music our heart rate rises and when the sound is softer, our heart rate slows. A research paper by Doctors Janet and Hobart Landreth called “Effects of Music on Physiological Response” reported that heart rate changes were directly related to changes in tempo.”
Recently, I have been more aware of how important sound is now that I have been pregnant for nearly six months. To think that this little one inside of me is listening to not only my heart beat, but also my tummy growling, my respiration, and the outside sounds around me! (How crazy is that?!?) I find myself becoming more aware of what I say, the music I am listening to, the people I surround myself with, the conversations I have, the movies I watch, and even the thoughts that I have.
I am a lover of electronic music and it is often remarked by class-goers that my playlists makes people feel as if they are on the Burning Man playa in Black Rock City. However, I am not sure that my little one in utero is quite ready for that just yet. I have been finding softer versions of songs, and trading out dubstep for chillstep, Nine Inch Nails for the Rockabye Baby Lullaby version of Nine Inch Nails songs.
In his paper “On the Effects of Lullabies” Johannes Kneutgen reported on the soothing effects of lullabies played for infants and noted that breathing rhythms became synchronized with the rhythm of the music. Using the idea of Nada yoga connecting the outside vibration to the internal vibration I find it a beautiful way to not only find a deeper connection within myself, but also to this little Starr inside.
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