nada yoga: listening to the sound of the universe

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.  — Joseph Campbell

A wisp of air starts to move, a low rumble beneath my feet tells me not just of a train’s arrival but of its direction and speed. Those who have lived in New York City long enough to be able to determine the difference between a north-bound train vs a south-bound train movement of air, the distinction in vibration of an express train versus a local train rumbling the tiles beneath your feet. Like wild animals sensing a danger or a meal nearby, our senses are tuned to the subtlest movements of our environment.

The train whisks you to union square, each train throughout the city carefully keeping an underground time table with the rhythm of a spider laying web. Above, a million watches tick….

Enter the yoga studio, you know it well so you navigate space without the legs hesitation , so your gate thumps out a steady pulse on the floor to the class just beginning. The sound of OM swells in the room as you take your seat at the back. The teacher says “Be still for meditation practice.” You sit up tall, you hold your body still, you focus on the breath.

Try as you might, you still feel the gentle expansion of the rib cage, the abdomen moving in and out, the flutter of teensy hairs in the nasal passage. Beyond that, there is food and waste moving around the digestive system, whether you can feel it or not. The heart beats and the blood pulses throughout the body. Hair and fingernails grow. Cells are born and die. Electrical signals flicker through the countless synaptic connections of the nervous system. Some of those signals feel like a tingle in your right foot, or an itch (real or imagined?) on your nose. As ones inner sense becomes heightened, perhaps tingling or vibration can be felt throughout the system. The body is anything but still. And yet, as we become more outwardly still, we become more sensitized to feeling or listening to the inner movement, the inner sound, the inner vibration. This most fundamental vibration of the universe is called “Nada Brahma.”

“Nada Brahma means not only: God, the Creator, is sound; but also (and above all): Creation, the cosmos, the world, is sound. And: Sound is the world.” — Joachim-Ernst Berendt, The World is Sound

Everything is vibration. On the macrocosmic and microcosmic level everything is essentially rhythm, vibration, harmony, and music. The orbits of galaxies, the cycles of the seasons, the fluttering of a birds wings, the fluctuation of mental activity. Everything depends on rhythm; therefore music. The purpose of our life is to align with our essential nature, the vibration or rhythm of the cosmos; in essence, to become musical. So say the ancient sages.

The yogic practices that bring us closer to the direct perception or experience of this Nada Brahma, the sound of the universe, are called Nada Yoga. One starts by cultivating the sense of hearing, refining one’s perception of outer sounds, for example listening to music, musical meditation practices, learning to play music or sing.  There are breathing and mudra practices specifically used to go deeper into hearing the subtler nadam, including Brahmari (bumble bee breath). However, every breath practice will inherently deepen our understanding of rhythm — from a breath-focused meditation practice to a more controlled pranayama practice like ujjai breathing that is used in vinyasa yoga practice.

The asana practice itself, taking the physical postures are also helpful in Nada Yoga. The shapes of the poses direct prana, life force, through the body in particular directions. If the shape is a little mis-aligned, the energy cannot flow freely through the posture— like a trumpet with a dent or a drum with a tear in the drumhead, that instrument cannot conduct a nice sound. In the same way, when we assume the various positions in class we are like that instrument. we want to create no barriers to the free flow of energy, no points of either tension or dullness in the body. To take a more explicit example, surya namaskar, or sun salutation, is typically practiced by moving fluidly through a series of postures set to a rhythmic breath. The breath and the body together make a sort of music and sometimes when the magic is just right, this practice gives the practitioner a glimpse into the symphony life.

There are great spiritual benefits to the practice of Nada Yoga. Adepts say that these practices are the best for developing concentration as well as opening the heart.

“If one can focus one’s heart on music, it is just like heating something which was frozen. The heart comes to its natural condition which helps restore the health of the body, mind, and soul, and brings them to their proper tone. The joy of life depends upon the perfect tuning of the mind and soul. — Hazrat Inayat Khan

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