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Cultivating Receptivity: The Toolkit of Nada Yoga

     Nada Yoga is a the mystic practice of deep listening and cultivating receptivity.

     To be receptive is to be open and responsive to outside stimuli. It’s the practice of letting the world fill us. The more receptive we are to our environment, the more interesting it becomes— colors become more vibrant and sounds become richer. 

For some people, this alone would be enough of a motivator to cultivate any practice that increases receptivity. But those who orient themselves towards more external goals, there are benefits as well.

     Receptivity helps you become a more effective and powerful decision maker. When you’re receptive, you have access to a whole world of information. You’ll notice details that others would miss. This will enable you to practice a finer level of discernment. 

     As someone who wasn’t very good at receptivity, for most of my life, I’m much obliged to the tools of yoga and meditation. The leverage these instruments have given me is tremendous, and as I dive deeper, the benefits expand. Lately, my imagination and focus have been captivated by the ‘Yoga of Sound’, or more specifically, Nada Yoga. Deep gratitude to Russil Paul, who wrote the book “The Yoga of Sound: Tapping the Hidden Power of Music and Chant”, and where most of this article is derived from. 

      Sound is a river to receptivity.  When we discuss sound, we’re talking about motion in the air around us. The frequency of waves in the air around us. We measure that in hertz- waves cycles per second. Human hearing lies in the range of 16 and 20,000 hertz. 

 

     Although we may not “hear” all the frequencies that exist in our world, we are affected by all of them, and we affect them with our own sounds and activities as well. That’s where “The Yoga of Sound” comes into play. 

     The classical term for the yoga of sound is “Nada Yoga”. The word “Nada” means a “loud sounding or droning or rushing”, and it can refer to any sound, whether linguistic or nonlinguistic. It’s best translated as “the currents of sound” that exist in the human body and in the universe. The original texts on Nada Yoga (the Nada Bindu Upanishad) date back between 500 and 200 BC. These texts focused mostly on the sound “Om”, a mystic sound we'll discuss in depth further in this article. 

     Nada Yoga is the mystic practice of deep listening. The “mystic” element of Nada Yoga is the idea that the primary stuff of the universe is vibratory, and therefore sonic in nature. One of the goals of Nada Yoga, is to get to this point where you can actually be in touch with the sound of silence. This is going to sound kind of mystical. Most sound is made by friction, by objects touching one another. There is a sound called “anahata”, which is the sound of space. Sufis refer to this silence space as “Zat”, where all vibrations arise out of and dissolve into. Buddhists call this “sunnyata.” The ultimate goal of a sound yogi is touch this space.


     Mysticism aside, Nada Yoga is a powerful tool to find peace and clarity. There are many practices that use sound to cultivate states of receptivity. Russil Paul lumps these practice together in “The Yoga of Sound”. These practices includes chanting mantras, chanting sounds and listening to the deep tones and sounds.

 

     Consider these practices to be a sound healing toolkit: 
 

Mantra

     The word ‘mantra’ means an instrument of the mind. It’s a sacred utterance, repeated with meaning.  There are many ways to chant mantras, and Paul Russil breaks them down into three categories: Shabda Yoga (the spiritual technology of Vedic mantras), Shakti Yoga (energy flow using Tantric mantras) and Bhava Yoga (finding ecstasy through Bhakti mantras). 

Bija Mantras

   The Bija mantras are one-syllable sounds that are meant to represent the “seeds” of the chakras (energetic centers in the body). When chanted aloud, these sounds purify & energize these centers. Chakras can seem far out to some. If that’s you, I encourage you to see them as a metaphor for our embodied human experience. A lens to put in your toolkit of tricks to make yourself feel better. For example, doing core work to awaken your 3rd chakra in the morning may lead to a productive day, or doing a backbend to open your 4th chakra (heart) before a party can decrease social anxiety. 

The following Bija mantras correspond to each chakra:

1st: root (‘grounding’): “LAM”
2nd: sacral (‘creativity): “VAM” 
3rd: solar plexus (‘willpower’): “RAM”
4th: heart chakra (‘love’): “YAM”
5th: throat (‘communication: “HAM”
6th: third eye (‘intuition): “AUM”
7th: crown (‘connection’): “OM” or “AH”

Brahmari

     Brahmari, also known as “buzzing bee” breath, is a form of pranayama designed to connect you with your inner sounds. The term “brahmari” derives from the bee-like buzzing sound produced that you make during the practice. Essentially, it’s the practice of plugging your ears with your thumbs, pressing lightly on your eyes and making a humming, buzzing noise like a bee. Russil Paul details the practice beautifully in “The Yoga of Sound”, and it’s been covered on Yoga Journal as well.

The sounds “om” and “hu”

    If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty high likelihood that you’ve chanted “Om” to open or close a yoga class. The Om is an ancient mystic sound that is meant to turn us onto the interconnected oneness of the world. Being in a group of people chanting “Om” together (particularly if you are chanting as well) is a powerful experience.

 

     “Why is the “Om” so important?” asks Russil Paul, “First of all, the Om is tremendously sonorous; there appears to be no other mantra that can match its resonance in the human body….Om is the single most important sound that can, by itself, configure the human body optimally for maximum resonance.

 

     Chanting “Om” is a powerful way to focus your attention, ground you in the present moment, and remind you of a place you feel safe and secure. Physicist John Cramer of the University of Washington has created audio files simulating the sound of the “big bang”. These are somewhat similar to the sounds of a Tibetan monk overtoning the “Om”.


     In Sufi mysticism, this sacred sound of oneness is the “Hu”. It is a very beautiful, uplifting sound.

Listening to tones and ancient sounds

     My favorite practice is “sound meditation”, also known as “sound healing” or “sound baths”. This is the practice of listening to ancient sounds and deep tones to ease into profound, restorative states of meditation.

     In these experiences, participants usually lay down, while listening to the sounds of gongs, singing bowls, shamanic drums and other instruments. Many report that their thoughts are cleared away, and they experience feelings of calm, peace and rejuvenation. 

     When we hear a certain frequency, the wavelength of that frequency moves through the air and through our bodies, causing our cells and tissues to vibrate in unison with that tone. For that reason, we are soothed by the sounds of gongs and singing bowls, as the smooth, consistent frequencies they produce inspire that effect in ourselves. 

Although more research is needed in this area, it’s probable that many of these instruments produce a binaural beat effect, effectively entraining the mind to calmer states.