by Brima Jah
I sit down to write this blog.
A fly with big, loud wings collides into my left hear. People yelling and Muni buses jetting down the street downstairs from my apartment echo into my bedroom. A wall in my bedroom shakes to the beat of the latest Drake album that my neighbor blasts on repeat.
In between all of these sounds I hear my breath and quick glimpses of silence.
Listening to all of these different sounds and the accompanying silence in between them are part of the experience of nada yoga. The Sanskrit word “nada” means sound and is related to another Sanskrit term “nadi,” which means stream or flow. “Nada yoga” is therefore a union through sound or the flow of sound. Sounds of all different forms including music and our voices are part of nada yoga.
These sounds can be placed in two categories:
there are “ahata” sounds that are created by striking objects together such as drums, clapping hands, or maybe less obvious, wind blowing through trees and air colliding with our vocal chords when we speak or sing; and,
there are “anahata,” or inner sounds that are created without striking objects together and are heard from within.
It’s been said that our mind can become entrained or during meditation become absorbed in inner sounds, to the extent that we no longer listen to it but rather become one with it. However, the idea getting “absorbed” in inner sounds can take years and may seem inaccessible.
Still, research studies done at the Bihar School of Yoga have demonstrated that we do have access to connecting, or perhaps to RE-CONNECTING, with our inner sounds. This reconnection can happen through chanting mantra and participating in kirtan that can unite our breath, body and mind.
In essence, chanting mantra and kirtan helps us use of our voice to become a medium for communicating both with others and with our selves. There is rarely any instance in which we use our voice without feeling it vibrate in our body, repeat in our mind, or move us in some way emotionally.
As newborns, we create the same sounds. Within the first few months of life, the sounds we create are universal across all races, ethnicities, culture or nationality. Acquiring language and speech as children, unfortunately, starts to create demands on us that sacrifice our vocal freedom and spontaneity.
Exploring our voices, whether in chanting mantra, kirtan or by speaking, invites us to return to a sense of freedom and spontaneity that is more universal. This exploration is grounded in our body. As our voice resonates, we learn what we sound like alone and in community as one.
While we may chant mantra or sing when we are happy, singing can also support our coping with sadness, pain, and suffering. Chanting mantra and kirtan, as practices of nada yoga, give us each a means for freedom of expression when we feel happy, sad, or a mix of both. As in the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan, “the shortest way to attain to spiritual heights is by singing.”