Nada Yoga – outer and inner
Nada Yoga is about sounds. It is the knowledge of the quality of sounds and the way they affect people. There are coarse sounds and fine sounds . The very finest sounds we hear within.
In this article, we will explore the ancient science of Nada Yoga and present a detailed practical introduction to a powerful form of meditation.
In 1969, Swami Satyananda and I visited an ashram at Bhagalpur in Bihar, India. A yogi had settled there who specialised in Nada Yoga. I remember the big paintings there, of meditating figures with rainbow auras around them. The different colours illustrated different levels of consciousness and their corresponding inner Nada (sound).
The reason why this yogi (who had the same teacher as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation) had established an ashram exactly there was because of the special nature of the place. The area had earlier belonged to the military. The soldiers had dug subterranean corridors and tunnels which reached all the way to the nearby town. There were caves or rooms connected to these corridors deep under the ground, and it was those caves which attracted the yogi. There, you could sit and meditate without hearing a sound from noisy India, and so you could concentrate on the inner sounds.
In the total silence down there, I experienced how the sounds really stood out.
Such ideal conditions can be difficult to reproduce. But we can compensate for them with certain exercises and poses. These, we will describe in this article.
The Outer Nada Yoga – under the Influence of Music
Some years ago, when I made the CD Experience Yoga Nidra, I asked the musician and composer, Roop Verma, to make the background music to the longer of the two deep relaxations on the CD. I knew that he possessed a knowledge that was about to be forgotten, of how outer sounds, such as tones and composition of tones influence us. He learned this, partly with his first teacher, Swami Shyam, and partly through studies of old texts about Nada Yoga in Indian music.
In connection with the production of Experience Yoga Nidra, he recorded, as the first musician of our generation to do so, themes and harmonies which are in tune with and touch our different chakras or psychic centres.
Roop Verma shall tell us a little about the development of Indian music and its splitting away from its original wholeness and power.
Some time ago, when Roop Verma came to play on our Three Month Sadhana Retreat, I asked him whether or not there were different ways to perform Indian music. It had puzzled me that certain celebrated musicians of India today, at least to me, did not seem to communicate any feeling of meditation. I seem to experience a difference between those who ‘put on a show’ or ‘perform’ their music – and such people as the flute player Pannalal Ghosh or the singer Kumar Gandharva, who radiate such a degree of devotion in their music that it places the listener in a deeper state. Roop gave me the answer in the introduction to the music that he was going to play for us:
“Until about a thousand years ago, there was no such thing as ‘concerts’ in the Indian tradition. There was no ‘performance’ of music or dance or singing.
Music was confined to the temples for sacred ceremonies and rituals. They were not entertainment forms of music, but what I call very potent sound formulas. Such formulas are like different elements; you put them together and you get a certain effect. They were used in ancient times to bring tranquillity and peace to agitated minds and tired bodies, as well as to change and transform the listener.
On the one hand, it had a therapeutic effect; to heal disease, to heal sickness. On the other hand, its aim was to focus the attention of people who came to the temple – towards one-pointedness. When we are centred and one-pointed, our lives take on a different meaning. When, on the other hand, our minds are scattered, the way we experience things is also influenced. So in order to achieve that focus, music was instrumental.
From the beginning of the eleventh century, we see a turn in the history of India. Many foreign invaders came and established their empires there: the Persians, the Moguls, and so on. They liked the music and art so much that they invited the musicians to their courts, to appreciate and honour them.
Therefore, something very significant happened at that time. The musicians and the music, which so far had only been played at the temple, were now made available to everyone from the king to the common people. People who did not belong to the temples could now enjoy the music.
However, this had one disadvantage. Previously, the artist or the musician did not have to prove anything. In the temple, you play as part of a ceremony. There is a deity, there is a God sitting there and you don’t have to prove anything, because supposedly God knows everything – all the music, and all the variations, all the rhythms.
But the king doesn’t know. You have to prove it to the king. So the ego comes along. Now the egos began to build up as the art was developing. They became very intellectual. A lot of music started to come from the left brain, and as a result the music took another shape.
As the inner feelings change so does the art. Expression changes.
From that point onwards, there are two branches in music. One became the entertainment branch or what I call deshi. The other is called margi ( marga means a path) when we use the music as a path to evolve ourselves.
I had the honour of studying in both schools…”
One can say that Indian music today, besides folk music and popular film music, includes devotional music (singing like 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.
To that may be added the fact that Indian musicians, at least in earlier times, had to learn yoga, as well as the inner Nada yoga and various breathing exercises to strengthen and develop their ear for music. Here, we present one such exercise: Bhramari – the Bumble Bee.
The Ragas and Nada Yoga
In different conscious states, the mind is attracted to different vibrations of Nada. In Indian music, these forms of Nada are known as Ragas; tonal frameworks that are appropriate to certain times of the day or certain seasons. It seems as if some compositions of sounds are unpleasant at one time of the day and pleasant at another.
Swami Satyananda says that he is especially fond of India’s midnight music, the Malkos, the Durga or Jogia Ragas. The evening raga, such as Bhimpalasi, is also popular with many. India’s morning music (Bhairawee or Bhairawa Raga) appeals to some, but not to all. For the most part, girls and boys at the sensitive age prefer Bhairawee.
“The deer is entrapped by sweet sound.
The cobra is enchanted by sweet music.
Raga Punnagavarrali charms the cobra.
Nada entraps the mind.
The mind gets Laya in sweet nada.
Therefore you can easily control the mind
through the practice of Nada Yoga”
Music can be a pleasant, interesting and inspiring spiritual practice in itself – but as we have heard from Roop Verma, it can also be a part of Nada Yoga. Through music, the mind can be tuned to the finest vibrations and thereby be prepared for the transcendent Nada.
“Nada is found within.
It is a music without strings which plays in the body.
It penetrates the inner and the outer
and leads you away from illusion.”
The inner Nada Yoga – dissolves the inhibitions of the mind
“By one who is desirous of attaining perfection in Yoga, Nada alone has got to be closely heard (meditated upon), having abandoned all thoughts and with a calm mind.”
This article is mainly based on what I learned in the late 1960s, during my time in India with Swami Satyananda, on his teaching and lectures, and on lectures and expositions he gave when he visited the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School in Copenhagen in the 1970s.
In 1974, I participated in a conference in Denmark where doctors, psychologists, authors and others, as well as myself representing yoga, were invited by the Ministry of Education to exchange ideas on psychosomatics (the relationship between body and mind). I then happened to tell a young scientist that there are methods in yoga where you do not have to suffer to liberate yourself from old influences or tensions, where you do not always have to confront your traumas, but can dissolve them. I was thinking about Laya Yoga, and especially about Nada Yoga, which is a discipline of the former.
The young scientist was certainly interested, but perhaps rather shocked. Despite the ostensible independence of science in relation to religion, the basic belief prevails that things must hurt before they do us any good.
Music helps us relax and creates an atmosphere, but the Nada Yoga meditation on the inner sounds reaches deeper and more precisely into our states, and has a strong liberating effect in dissolving the very deepest blocks and inhibitions of the mind. Every meditation practice or technique which dissolves the inhibitions of the mind and minimises its activity is called Laya Yoga. Therefore, Nada Yoga belongs to Laya Yoga.
The ancient great masters of Hatha Yoga, such as Gheranda Rishi (author of The Gheranda Samhita) claimed that Hatha Yoga could also be a part of Laya Yoga. For instance, breathing exercises can be used to achieve a mental state totally free from tensions. Even during the meditation Antar Mauna (Inner Silence) you are able to bring your mind to a state of complete rest.
Nada Yoga is an important method in Tantra, and the inner Nada Yoga is a permanent part of the education at the retreats of the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School.
Nada – a Definition
The word Nada comes from the Sanskrit root, Nad. Nad means to
flow. The etymological meaning of Nada is a process or a stream of consciousness. Generally, the word Nada means sound.
Different States of Nada
In Tantra, it is thought that sound occurs in four dimensions – four levels of sound relating to frequency, degree of fineness and strength.
1. The coarse (ordinary audible, material) sound,
2. the mental sound,
3. the visualised sound and
4. the transcendent sound.
Other Tantric Meditations
We can compare the different states of Nada with other tantric meditations where we begin in the senses, in order to satisfy the mind and create a state of security as a basis for going deeper.
(See also: Harmony between the Experiencer and the Experienced)
We can also begin in the physical: From having experienced the body and its muscles and organs we turn to the breath, which is experienced without any interference. In this way, a deeper relaxed state is gradually triggered.
With a mantra, a sound syllable which we repeat mentally, we transcend the mind and reach the inner sounds and symbols; pictures which we see within and which, depending on their nature, represent various levels of consciousness.
Through the use of an inner or psychic symbol, we remain aware in normally unconscious states and get closer to the core of our being and the state of pure being.
Ordinary sounds are the coarsest manifestation of Nada. We are aware of the coarse sounds and we hear them every day. They are vibrations which hit our ear drums from the space around us, from our surroundings.
After having left the coarse and tangible sounds that we experience through the senses, we can become conscious of the mental sounds. They are sounds which we hear in the mind. Their frequency and strength is dependent on both our mental and physical state. In a relaxed state, they are easy to perceive. The sounds also become clearer when we are exhausted, agitated or after intense and prolonged physical activity.
When we go deeper still, we reach the astral sound, the sound which is found in the inner space and which appears in visual form. Certain forms answer to certain sounds and certain states. Sounds or forms which we, for instance, experience in our dreams, belong to this plane, as well as sounds which are linked to certain meditation symbols.
See also About Sound and Form
Behind the visual sounds, the transcendent or supra-conscious sound is found. The transcendent sound and the transcendent consciousness are the same. In Nada Yoga, universal consciousness is perceived in the form of sound.
The tangible or coarse universe, that which we experience through our senses, and in the mind, can in this way, be led back to the source, to the sound, to Nada.
For the Nada yogi, it is important to make contact with the sounds that are found in the other dimensions: the mental and psychic. In this way, the capabilities of the mind are expanded.
Let us look at each of the four states in more detail. In Sanskrit, they are called: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari. We start with the highest:
The transcendent sound, which has the highest frequency, is called Para Nada. Para means highest or farthest, and in this connection: transcendent. Para Nada is beyond the reach of the sense organs. It is heard in other dimensions, on other levels of consciousness.
In music, each tone has a certain number of vibrations per second, which we call frequency. The character of the tones can vary in length, strength, height and harmonics (overtone structure). Exact knowledge of this can be obtained by using a frequency analyser, which can split a tone in vibrations per second, show its amplitude (strength) and its overtone structure.
In Indian music, the vibrations are called Andolana.
We are familiar with high frequency sounds from daily life, such as dog whistles and the sounds which bats emit, as well as electronically produced tones.
The ear cannot grasp sounds which vibrate beyond a certain speed. When a certain frequency is reached, the sounds become inaudible and can only be perceived subjectively – as an inner sound. Still, we are not conscious of all vibrations in the cosmos.
Also below a certain level, we are limited by our sense of hearing. The waves, which the electroencephalograph (EEG) registers in order to measure the brain’s bioelectric impulses, are limited to a quite small number of sine waves, between one and 60 Hz. These ‘waves’ actually belong to the musical scale. But the human ear cannot perceive sounds below about 16 Hz – although the structure of such tones is in harmony with the rest of the scale.
The very low bass tones, for example, can be felt as vibrations directly on the body even though they are not audible.
The Nada Yogis reveal that Para or transcendent sound has the highest frequency. Para’s intense vibration makes it inaudible. Various texts mention that the Para sound has no vibrations. It is a sound without movement or frequency – a still sound. We cannot grasp a sound which has no vibration. When a sound reaches its maximum height, then it reaches stillness –and that is Para Nada. It is completely uniform. A state of consciousness corresponds with this stillness. The Nada Yogi reaches this state by becoming one with Para Nada.
In the Upanishads, the mantra OM is said to be the manifestation of Para. But not the audible OM, which we chant. That is not Para because it is the object of our hearing, our understanding and our logic. Therefore, it cannot be called transcendent. Para is at the same time silent and eternal. It has form and its nature is Jyoti (light). It is different to the sounds one usually understands or hears.
The Upanishads state clearly about the Para Sound: “This is OM, this sound is OM.”
“Nada is sound.
OM is Nada Brahman.
Veda is Nada Brahman.
Sound is vibration.
Name is inseparable from form.
The form may vanish,
but the name or sound remains.
OM is the first vibration of sound.
The world has come out of Nada or OM.
In Pralaya all sounds merge in OM.
Sound vibrations are gross and subtle.
The quality of Akasha [space or ether] is sound.
Akasha is infinite.
So you can fill the ear with the infinite sound.”
The second level of sound has fewer vibrations and is coarser than Para. It is called Pashyanti.
Pashyanti in Sanskrit means: “that which can be seen or visualised”. The old scripts maintain that sound can also be seen. How can one see sound? Have you ever heard music in a dream? This particular dimension of sound that occurs in dreams is called Pashyanti. It can be called a mental sound. It is neither conscious nor half conscious. It is a subconscious sound which is linked to the characteristic of your mind and not to your vocal organs; tongue, throat or mouth. It is not heard with the physical ear, but with the inner ear.
When I loudly say “Ram, Ram, Ram, Ram”, it is called Vaikhari, but when I close my eyes and mouth and go in and mentally repeat the sound, “Ram, Ram, Ram, Ram”, while visualizing its colour and form, it is called Pashyanti. When the word or the sound is heard in a sphere where one is not conscious of the outer surroundings, it is called Pashyanti. When every outer sound has disappeared and you hear a completely new sound, unlike the ordinary sounds, then it is Pashyanti Nada.
A sound, which has fewer vibrations than Para and Pashyanti, but which is finer than Vaikhari, is called Madhyama.
Madhyama is a sound that can hardly be heard. Ordinarily, when two objects hit each other they produce a coarse sound; like when we clap. But in the case of Madhyama no two things physically hit each other to produce an audible sound. Vibrations, such as when one whispers, are Madhyama. It is an intermediate sound. The word Madhyama means “in between” or “in the middle”. So this middle sound can be called whispering or is like the sound of whispering.
The fourth and coarsest plane of Nada is Vaikhari. The Vaikhari sounds are audible and can be physically produced. Vaikhari is the spoken sound. It is produced, for example, by rubbing or hitting two things against each other. Its vibrations are limited to a certain range.
Para has the quality of soul, Pashyanti has a mental quality. Madhyama has the finer quality of the vocal organs, and Vaikhari has the coarse quality of the same physical organs.
The Universe and Nada
According to Nada Yogis and scriptures dealing with Nada Yoga, the original and transcendent sound is the seed from which the whole of creation has grown.
The Nada Yogi experiences the macro cosmic universe as a projection of sound vibrations; the whole world as having developed from sound alone.
The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. This word is called Nada or Shabda in Sanskrit.
Sufis in India call it Surat. Surat Shabda Yoga is another name for Nada Yoga practice. Certain Muslim mystics are also of the opinion that the world has developed from sound and form.
Australia’s original inhabitants, the Aborigines, who supposedly have the oldest continuous culture on Earth, tell how the ancestors made the world come into being through song.
The Nada Yogis claim that the five elements, the five physical senses, the five subtle senses, the fourfold mind and the three gunas have developed from an eternal sound. That means that the material, the mental, the psychic and the intellectual universe have all originated from Nada-Brahma, the sound universe. It is the way the Nada Yogi experiences his/her reality. It manifests itself in the form of vibrations, of which the highest either does not vibrate at all or vibrates at such a high frequency that it lies outside the reach of human senses.
The eternal or original Nada vibration is the highest. When any object vibrates with an enormous and incredible speed, it then becomes silent. That means that the highest point of speed and vibration is silence. This eternal vibration seems to be the creative principle behind all matter.
The Upanishads (especially the Nada-Bindu-Upanishad and the Hansa-Upanishad) and the Vedas describe that in the beginning there was nothing. There was absolutely nothing, there was non-existence in the universe – there was only sound. The sound was unending; the sound was the only existing reality. From that sound, the universe evolved, and therefore, the fundamental structure of the universe is based on Nada or sound vibrations.
Music is a result of Nada.
Mantra, in its purest form, is a manifestation of Nada.
The movement of Energy (Prana) in the body is an expression of Nada.
Nada Yoga Meditation
All real forms of meditation share certain common effects.
Some forms are stronger, others lighter; some focus on one thing, others focus on another.
The method in Nada Yoga Sadhana is to reach the original, the finest inner sound, Shabda or the inner word.
You could characterise Nada Yoga as a sort of vibrating vacuum cleaner, which dissolves tensions and blocks, even at the finer levels of consciousness.
To reach the superconscious or transcendent and non-empiric sound, the process must start with the experience of the coarser sounds.
The Nada Centre
In which centre is the transcendent Nada experienced? There are different traditions: Bhaktas (those who liberate themselves through devotion, Bhakti Yoga) place their Ishta, their personal symbol, in Anahata Chakra by the heart. Yogis use the centre of intuition in Ajna Chakra in the middle of the head. The Vedantics seek it in Hiranya Garbha, the luminous or golden egg in Sahasrara Chakra at the upper part of the head.
In the Nada Yoga tradition, the yogis have located the sound centre in Bindu. The Brahmins in India have a tuft of hair where Bindu is situated, at the top of the back of the head. It is the centre in the brain where an on-going sound vibration takes place. To be able to experience the Nada sound, Bindu has to be located.
But rather than exploring the theory of this science at the outset, it is better initially to investigate it in a practical way and localize or discover the mental, astral and psychic nature of the Nada sound.
Within Nada Yoga, there are different techniques and aids that can be used to help the aspirant go through the different psychic or non-physical sounds, so that consciousness can be brought into harmony with the real Nada.
Japa Yoga – Nada Yoga in Bhakti Yoga
When a Bhakti Yogi uses a Mantra, it is first repeated (Japa) aloud (Vaikhari). Here he or she focuses on the sound of the Mantra produced by the vocal cords.
When the Bhakti Yogi has warmed up with this practice, or when he or she has attained a deeper and clearer awareness of the sound of the Mantra, then the Bhakta intensifies the experience of the Mantra by whispering it or by saying it with the lips without producing an audible sound. The Bhakta aims at becoming one with the whispered Mantra.
When this is achieved, and the Bhakta realises that the mantra has become mental, the movements of the lips will stop.
The same mantra is now chanted in the head or rather in the heart. And the mind begins to merge with the rhythm and vibration of the mantra. The Bhakti Yogi experiences it as if the mind actually sings it, so that everyone can hear it. But it happens only within.
Then it occurs to the Bhakti Yogi, that he or she is not producing the mantra, but hearing the mental and fine tones, as if they are there by themselves (Ajapa Japa).
When the Mantra begins to have the desired effect, it causes the awareness to let go of all outer things (Pratyahara) and turn to the deeper levels of consciousness. Then the Mantra changes to Nada, a constant sound which occurs by itself. The aspirant will, on this level of consciousness, think it is audible, but it will not be noticed or heard by others. It is Mantra-Nada-Yoga for Bhakti Yogis.
Practical Introduction to Nada Yoga
There are certain precautions one must take as an intense Nada Yoga practice may give rise to a disturbing presence of certain sounds in daily life.
Through the practice of Nada Yoga, the inner sounds are gradually developed, but you do not have to listen to them at other times of the day. Let us presume that Nada Yoga has been practised in the night and you have discovered different sounds. The next morning, you go to the office or the classroom and begin to hear the sound of bells. You want to avoid it, you try, but you still hear the sound. You may also experience it as if bees are humming in your ears.
If these symptoms appear, you have to consider what to do. Is your diet okay? If not, you have to change it. Do you want to continue, but get irritated or disturbed by the sounds? Then you have to either change your attitude or (if you do not succeed and want the sounds to stop) give up the Nada Yoga path.
But this happens very rarely, if at all. On the contrary, a number of students have experienced relief from tinnitus after combining Nada Yoga with the breathing exercise Bhramari and the Yoga Nidra relaxation. Still, we are obliged to write these precautions.
The Nada Yogi can hear a voice in a wakeful state if he is at an advanced level. To him, it sounds as if someone is whispering in his ears. This is a kind of ‘siddhi’, a psychic or extraordinary ability, to hear an unknown voice.
This, however, should not be confused with a group of people in India called Karnapischachee, which means “the ghost in the ears”. The Karnapischachees are used as oracles, often consulted by people in difficulties. They hold a kind of bell in their hands and ring it close to their ears for some time, until they hear a voice. Whatever is heard or whispered in their ears is communicated to the person who asks. A Yoga practitioner should never use such a method to achieve this ability as it often leads to deafness. As a consequence, the Karnapischachees in India have hearing problems.
These days, many people have impaired hearing, for reasons comparable to the case of the Karnapischachee. Rock musicians, for example, or people who work in a noisy environment. These injuries, of course, have nothing to do with Nada Yoga. Also, there are people who spontaneously hear sounds like a ringing in their ears. Some of these sounds may be caused by ear injuries, while others can be related to sounds, such as the ones heard in Nada Yoga. The Yogi cannot monopolize these phenomena; the yogi has only discovered them and knows how to benefit from them, but the sounds are there anyhow.
The Attitude will often make a difference
If a person seeks help from a doctor because he or she is suffering from disturbing sounds and does not know the positive sides of this phenomenon, and if the doctor cannot help, maybe it could be useful for the person to change his/her attitude towards the sounds and begin to practice Nada Yoga under the guidance of an expert.
It often happens that things we want to get rid of do not disappear when we fight them. It applies, for example, to pain. If we, on the other hand, meet the pain and allow ourselves to experience it, then we can let go of it. In the tradition of tantric yoga, this method is called Pratyahara.
This way of applying Pratyahara is in accordance with a conclusion that science has reached concerning noise in the environment: If you view the sounds as harmful and become irritated, you are more likely to be harmed by them than if you, to a certain extent, accept them.
With regard to Nada Yoga, it is possible to turn what you once considered disturbing sounds to your own advantage; see On a Wavelength with Oneself.
Teresa of Ávila (Teresa de Jesus) did not find guidance about the inner sounds in the European culture in which she grew up, so she didn’t realise how she could use them in her spiritual life. She describes them as clearly as any Nada Yogi in her book, “The Interior Castle”:
“It roars like many big rivers with waterfalls, there are flutes, and a host of little birds seems to be whistling, not in the ears, but in the upper part of the head, where the soul is said to have its special seat.”
A Nada Yogi’s Diet
A Nada Yogi’s diet ought to be easily digested. Food which brings a quick energy rush to the brain is not suitable. Food and drink which cause hypertension or high blood pressure should be avoided. You have to ensure that you get the necessary nutrients to maintain the body’s normal functions.
Preliminary Practice of Nada Sadhana
The Nada Yogi makes use of certain Mudras (attitudes) and Bandhas (locks) and a few Pranayamas (breathing exercises).
Here follows a short description of Mula Bandha, which is known by most people who practise Hatha Yoga; then, of a Mudra which is useful to awaken the Nada sound: Vajroli Mudra. Vajroli Mudra is also known by many Hatha Yoga practitioners but here it may be explained in another way.
In many books on Hatha Yoga, we are told that, in Mula Bandha, we should concentrate on the anus, on the anal sphincter muscle. That is in itself correct, but according to Tantra, and the more advanced yoga, Mula Bandha is actually a contraction of the perineum. This must be understood fully. The contraction of the anus or the anal sphincter muscle is Mula Bandha as understood by Hatha Yoga novices. In Tantra Yoga, however, Mula Bandha is the contraction of the perineum, the ‘seat’ of kundalini, also known as Muladhara Chakra. It is the area between the anus and the sexual organs which should be contracted.
Vajroli Mudra also comes under Hatha Yoga. Many different forms of Vajroli are found, which we shall not go into detail about here. The contraction of the muscles of the sexual organs and the urinary system is called Vajroli Mudra. It influences two important nerve flows in such a way that the energy is freed or transformed to heat.
Muladhara Chakra is the actual starting point for Nada. When this chakra is heated, the sound is experienced by the aspirant. But the original sound is split up in different frequencies in the different chakras or psychic centres found in the spine and in the head. Vocally, they are expressed through different Bija Mantras, the seed-syllables: Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham and Om– beginning in Muladhara and ending in Ajna Chakra.
The chakras are central seats of consciousness and psychic energy in the spine and in the body. They are symbolised by lotus flowers – four-petalled, six-petalled, 10-petalled, 12-petalled, 16-petalled, two-petalled and a thousand-petalled lotus flowers. The petals represent the number of minor energy flows, Nadis, to and from each chakra and their corresponding frequencies, indicated by secondary Mantras (sound syllables) written on each petal. As an example, see the illustration of Muladhara Chakra above.
Breathing exercises can call forth or manifest Nada. As already mentioned, Bhramari (the Bumble Bee) is essential for yoga practitioners and musicians.
When you have learnt Mula Bandha, Vajroli Mudra and Yoni Mudra (see exercise 3 in the next section), then you practice them while holding the breath, turning your awareness to Bindu. This is where the Nada Yoga concentration really begins.
The Poses in Nada Yoga
1. The Nada Yoga pose is the most suitable pose for beginners. Take a fairly big and hard pillow, place it on the floor and sit astride it, so there is pressure on the perineum. Sit with the soles of the feet flat on the floor. The knees project upwards, so that the elbows can rest on them. The back is kept straight.
Then put a thumb in each ear and at the same time rest the head in the hands.
2. Sit in Siddhasana – the perfect pose – with a stool in front of you to rest the elbows. This pose should be used by those who can sit in this pose for a long time without moving.
Siddhasana is done by placing one heel up against the perineum (for men) or the vagina (for women) with the rest of the foot lying against the thigh. Then put the other foot above the first, so that the heel presses the lower abdomen and the pubic bone above the sexual organs. The two heels must be placed right over each other without touching. Finally, the toes of the upper foot are placed between the thigh and leg muscle. In this way, the pose is locked. Some people are also able to pull the toes of the lower foot up between the calf muscle and the thigh.
3. For the more advanced, Yoni Mudra – to be as in the womb – is recommended. Sit in Siddhasana. Inhale and close the ears with the thumbs. Place the index fingers over the eyelids, so they can stay closed without being pressed too hard. Close the nostrils with the middle fingers, one at each side and close the mouth with the ring and little fingers by placing them above and below the lips respectively. Then do Mula Bandha and Vajroli Mudra while holding the breath.
Variation: Do the above but without closing the mouth and nose. Stay sitting for longer and breathe normally.
Some suggest only practising Shanmukhi Mudra. It is Yoni Mudra without Mula Bandha and Vajroli Mudra. It is, however, a less effective practice, as you will understand from the above explanations.
4. For the even more advanced Nada Yoga practitioner, who has succeeded in following the sounds with closed ears: sit in Siddhasana with the hands resting on the knees and the index finger in contact with the thumb, either at its root or at its top. The three other fingers are stretched out and together. This position of the hands is called Chin Mudra.
At this stage, you need no longer close the ears if there is reasonable silence around you.
“ Bathe in the centre of sound,
as in the continuous sound of a waterfall.
Or, by putting the fingers in the ears,
hear the sound of sounds”
(Vigyana Bhairava Tantra)
When you sit in the Pose in Nada Yoga
Lock the ears gently with your fingers. Listen inwardly up to Bindu at the top of the back of the head.
When you concentrate on Bindu, after having closed the ears, it is here that the sound is manifested from the transcendental plane to the next and where you experience it as an astral sound.
Now, you may hear the sound of a bumble bee. It can be the sound of a musical instrument, a harp perhaps or a flute, the rhythm of a guitar, birds chirping at sundown, crickets or grasshoppers. It can even be the vision of the sky on starry night where total silence prevails.
Continue listening for some time to the sound which comes to you first.
Let the first sound be the starting point – the one end of a thread. Hold on to it as closely as you can. When you are getting really close to the sound, then you will experience that other sounds arise in the background. Now, you let go of the first sound, move on to another and concentrate intensely on it.
While you listen, the sound you have chosen will become clearer. You get closer to the sound, both mentally and psychically, and feel as if you become one with it. When this has happened, you discover that other sounds have arisen in the background, and you choose one of them, which you then concentrate on.
In this way, you can continue with a fourth, a fifth, a sixth sound, a seventh, eight and ninth inner sound. Different sounds can arise. It can be like a river flowing through the landscape; the distant murmur of the sea, or a bell which rings or chimes.
If it is difficult to discover a sound at Bindu, then let the mind search at Sahasrara or Ajna, or at the left or right ear drum. Or experience a space within, hearing it there in the middle of the head. Or search at the eyebrow centre – go on until you are sure you hear a sound.
The method to discover the sound is simple. Instead of imagining a sound, put all your attention on listening, and you will soon hear the first sound. The sound you have chosen should be followed until it becomes clear and distinct. As soon as it is distinct, another sound, another tone, finer or weaker is heard or felt in the background, and then you listen to that, till that has become prevailing.
Sometimes, it is a finer sound of the same kind e.g. a flute, but finer, more subtle, than the first, that you discover behind the first; sometimes, it is like you hear in a different way or another direction and quite another kind of sound appears, e.g. of bells chiming.
When you discover a new sound, then let go of the one you just listened to, and follow the new. Sound after sound will keep coming up as if from the bottom of an ocean.
The Nada Yoga Sadhana unfolds and reaches the unbroken sound, which in yoga is known as Anahata Nada – the sound which continues. It has no beginning and no end.
At the highest point of your practice, your Sadhana’s highest state, you may feel that the whole body and mind, the whole personality is nothing but rapid vibrations, a movement of fast sound vibrations. Thus, you experience yourself as sound.
This Nada Yoga is a great Sadhana, a great spiritual method, a process that continues until consciousness is free of the mind’s influences.
When to practise
You can practise Nada Yoga whenever you have time. However, in order to get a tangible result, a beginner should practise between midnight and two o’clock in the morning.
At midnight, there are no disturbing sounds, and the absence of light in the atmosphere also helps. Doing it at this time helps to turn the mind inwards.
Or get up at two or three o’clock in the morning, take a shower and sit for the meditation. You will find it quite different at this time, and you will surely hear something. Once you have found a trace of the sound and come into contact with it, then it’s easy to go on.
Of course, at the beginning, there are disturbing diversions regardless of the time of practice. Our mind is influenced by inhibitions, habits, tendencies and urges. But even if there are many disturbances within, the practice of this Sadhana, the spiritual practice, is generally very rewarding.
Nada at different levels of consciousness
The sounds which are heard are real. They are symbols of the contents of the mind and consciousness. The mind rests in those symbols and, with their help, goes quickly on to a finer state. The sounds are experiences from a deeper level of consciousness, they are not imaginary. They can be understood as vibrations of different spheres of one’s existence.
In the various dimensions of existence, different sounds are heard. First, there are the physical sounds. Then, when the consciousness becomes fine and transcends the physical plane, it comes into contact with the fine sounds, which arise with the movement of the prana or the vital energy in the body.
The whole range of human consciousness can be divided into three, or subdivided into five parts.
The conscious area is made up of Anna-Maya-Kosha and Prana-Maya-Kosha, two ‘bodies’ which exist respectively as physical matter, the ‘food’ dimension; and as Prana, the energy dimension.
The personality’s other sphere is made up of Mano-Maya-Kosha and Vigyana-Maya-Kosha, mainly mental and astral material, the conscious mind, and the intuitive mind or the dream dimension.
The third area of consciousness is Ananda-Maya-Kosha, which is a ‘body’, a dimension, a ‘veil’ – Kosha – a state full of bliss.
When you practise Nada Yoga, the sounds appear in accordance with the connection between the mind and the other areas of consciousness.
Consciousness can, for example, linger in the physical body and, when the ears are closed, the sounds or vibrations that come from the heart, the lungs, the brain, the blood circulation and the different metabolic processes taking place in the body, can be heard.
If the consciousness lingers in Prana Maya Kosha – the vital energy – and has merged with it, then Nada will be heard as a flute among many other sounds.
If the mind has reached deep into Ananda Maya Kosha, then sounds will disappear and the fruit of Nada Yoga will remain.
Despite this description, it is difficult to say which Nada belongs to a certain area.
In India, illustrations are given in the form of symbolic stories.
The individual consciousness, which continues to rise upwards and discover the transcendental tones is, in Indian mythology, symbolised as Rishi Narada. Without denying his historic existence, the esoteric meaning of Rishi Narada must be understood.
Narada is supposed to be a Rishi, who has a Veena (a string instrument) in his hands. According to the traditional Nada Yoga schools, the inner sound from a Murli (a flute) or a Veena belongs to that conscious sphere where Dwait Bhava or the duality of consciousness ceases to exist.
Nada Yoga in Bhagavata
Nada Yoga is illustrated in the big Indian book called Bhagavata Purana (not to be confused with the Bhagavad Gita). Krishna’s life story is related in the form of an allegory.
“Krishna left his palace at midnight and went into the jungle. The light of the full moon shone in the first winter month. He began to play the flute.
The flute’s echo spread over the quiet and undisturbed atmosphere. The music travelled from the jungle and was heard by the Gopis (village cowherd girls).
When they heard the sound of the flute, they left their homes and their men in an instant and forgot everything that had happened there.
They ran straight away to the place from where the flute’s Nada was flowing. They began to dance around the flute player. After a little while they each discovered, that they danced with Krishna himself.”
If the story seems fantastic, when it is taken at face value, it is because what lies behind it, is only properly understood by yogis.
Nada Yogis regard Krishna as a higher conscious plane whose Nada flows in the deepest state of Nada-Sadhana. When the flute’s tones arise, the senses leave their respective objects of pleasure and experience – they withdraw to the place from where the flute’s sound or Nada flows. There, the senses dance around Nada. In that stage, the senses let go completely of their links with the outer objects and the yogi will say, “Dharana (the ability to see and experience within) has taken place and Dhyana (meditation) is dawning“.
In Sanskrit the word Krishna means
“that which draws” or
“that which attracts”.
It is derived from the root “Karshan”.
Therefore, the word Krishna means
“the one who draws”, “the one who withdraws” or
“the one who attracts”.
It also means “farmer”. And the word Gopi usually means “daughter of a cow herd family”. In Sanskrit, “go” means senses, cow, poor, the humble, and the whole visible universe. Symbolically, Gopi means “senses”.
Who then are the men who are married to these senses – these Gopis? You could say that the men of the eyes are the forms, and the men of the ears are the gross sounds.
When the music of the flute is heard, the sense of hearing withdraws from the outer audible sound and merges with the inner Nada.
This process is called Pratyahara.
Nada Yoga and Kabir
A famous Nada Yogi and poet, Kabir (see him also cited earlier in this text,
and in “Kabir – Four Poems”) says:
“Who is there playing the flute in the middle of the sky?
The flute is played where Ganges and Jamuna flow together
and the confluence of the three rivers –
Ganges, Jamuna and Saraswati – takes place in Trikuti.
Oh, this is the meeting place for Ganges and Jamuna.
The sound flows forth from the North.
The Gopis hear the sound of the flute and lo!
They are all spellbound by Nada.“
Sky = symbol for Bindu, the centre on the top of the back of the head.
Often Bindu is symbolised by the sky on a starry night.
Ganges, Jamuna and Saraswati = the Nadis (energy flows): Ida, Pingala and Sushumna.
Trikuti = The Centre between the two eyebrows.
Gopi, see above.
The ultimate experience in Nada Yoga is a sound which is higher than the sound of the flute. The music on this highest plane of consciousness is not a flute, Veena, clapping or the sound of brass instruments being hit together, nor is it any other instrument. It resembles neither the classical music of the East nor of the West. The music of the highest conscious plane is “Anahada Nada”.
Anahada Nada or Anahata Nada
What is Anahada Nada? Up to now, people have not been able to agree on this. Some say that it is the cosmic sound of OM. Others say that it is like Bhramari – a sound which is unending, unbroken like the sound of a bee. Some say that it is the heartbeat, “throb, throb, throb” which is called “Anahada Nada”.
Some call it Anahada and others call it Anahata. These two words have two different meanings.
Anahata comes from “an” + “aahata”. “An-” means “no” or “un”, “aahata” means “that which strikes, beats or hammers”. Therefore, Anahata means “unbeaten, or no hitting of two things against each other”. When a sound is produced, it happens through striking, but Anahata is a sound that is not produced through any striking. It is spontaneous and automatic.
Certain scholars say that Nada is Anahada. “Un-” or “An-” means “none” and “Hada” means “boundary” or “connection”. Anahada means “infinite”, “without beginning or end” or “indescribable”. It is a sound on which no limitation can be placed. It can be any sound.
Nada Yoga and Yogi Goraknath
Yogi Goraknath, disciple of Yogi Matsyendranath, was more spiritually developed and had greater insight into the spiritual life than even his own Guru. He describes Nada Yoga thus:
“Oh Sadhu (aspirant), carry out Japa [the repetition of mantra] with ‘So Ham’. That Japa should not be carried out by the mind. It should be experienced in the breath so that even when you are engaged in your daily activities you should be conscious of your day’s 21.600 breaths. When your subconscious or your inner consciousness unites with your breath throughout the 24 hours of a day, 21.600 rhythms are experienced with a speed of 15 to 19 rounds per minute (which is at least 900 breaths per hour). Then Anahata Nada manifests itself.”
“There will be light in the spine. The ‘Sun’ energy [which is connected to the right half of the brain], Surya Nadi, will be awakened. You will feel an indescribable vibrating sound resonate from every pore of your body and it will be like Om or Soham“.
Nada Yoga in India
Different Nada Yoga schools exist in India – for example, those which came into existence after Maharishi Mehidas, Radha Swami and Kabir.
The initiation into Nada Yoga in India is passed on personally as is the case with the initiation into the use of Mantra and into the great Kriya Yoga. While Hatha Yoga, Dhyana Yoga, Raja Yoga and other branches of yoga are more fully and accurately described, down to the smallest detail, the Nada Yoga Sadhana remains incompletely elucidated, both in practice and in theory. Perhaps because it is taught directly from teacher to student.
“The mind exists as long as there is sound, but with the cessation of sounds, there is the state of being above the mind.
The sound is absorbed in the Akshara (indestructible), and the soundless state is the supreme seat.
The mind, which along with Prana has its Karmic affinities destroyed by the constant concentration upon Nada, is absorbed in the unstained One. There is no doubt about it.“
(Nada Bindu Upanishad)