What I want to explore in this essay is how sound is connected to yoga and to the art of balancing and harmonizing body, mind, and spirit.
Sound is the propagation of a vibration through a medium. Thought of in this way everything in the universe makes sound, from an atom to a black hole. The essence of sound is vibration and the essence of vibration is waves forms: two polarities, positive and negative, repeated at a certain frequency and propagated into a medium. Defined this way we live in a universe of sound and song, a universe filled with waves of sound emerging from a variety of different sources. Ssound and sound wave vibrations, of course, are also manifestations of life energy, and it might even be said that life itself is sustained with sound (through the breath).
Yet, notwithstanding this pervasiveness of sound, we humans are still dominated by our vision, a sense so dominant in humans that it leaves the rest of our senses far back in second place. Which may be one of the big reasons why we don’t realize how much sound has to do with us and how much it affect us, because we are not aware of it, not aware of the sound of nature and of the universe. So let us explore from a scientific perspective (because in general people have faith in science) how sound affects our bodies.
On a Physical level
Think of various life experiences when sound waves or vibrations have affected you. For example, being close to a large church’s bell or Buddhist temples bell, or attending a classical pipe organ concert, or a rock concert, when you didn’t just hear the sound of the music but you also felt it in your body. Or perhaps you experienced it when someone played a didgeridoo close to you, when more than even hearing it, you could feel it.
On an Emotional level
Have you ever listened to types of music that have a specific purpose, like a war chant to prepare warriors for battle, or music for funerals, or for weddings? Or just think about music that you like which makes you sad or happy and you will see how different types of musical sound vibrations definitely have a clear effect on your emotions and mind.
On the Spiritual level
On the spiritual level we have all the different types of holy or sacred music from gospel, to a Gregorian chorus, to chanting, and more. Such music helps people give themselves over to something that evokes respect and devotion, often to their god. We also have indigenous Ethnic music that has been played for thousands of years with the purpose of connecting with nature, with spirits, and with one’s community. Indeed, many ancient cultures trace the birth of the sound of the universe and the use of sound for spiritual, emotional, and psychical reasons traces its roots back to earliest human history. The origin of all manifestation starts in sound. At creation there was a sound and Sufism refers to sound as one of the first and fundamental events that occurred at the beginning of time.
Music as a healing art
The use of music as a healing tool has been known of in human culture for millennia. It is easy to understand the use of sound for healing purposes because of its vibrational, emotional, and spiritually evocative nature. The healing power of mantras such as Omkar, for example, is well known and attested to. And there are now many researchers and conventional medical associations in the east and west who now use music as a therapeutic tool for healing. From neurological disorders, to regeneration and rehabilitation in strokes, to delivering a baby, or just alleviating pain, sound is useful because the experience of the music increases endorphins, a naturally found pain-reducing hormone. Also music helps assimilate information for patients with learning disorders where it has been shown that is easier for them to process the information they get when accompanied by music and sound rather than just the spoken word.
Awareness of the importance of sound
We benefit ourselves when we are aware of the importance of sound and how it affects us on our daily life. For example think about nutrition and how the choices we make about food influence us at the physical, emotional, and spiritual level. Sometimes we may not be making a good choice listening to sounds that cause us anxiety, incitement, agitation, interfere with sleep patterns, even push our involuntary regulatory systems, increasing blood pressure, heart rate, or digestive efficiency. Therefore is important to manage music to make it do what you want it to do, by picking pieces of music that put you in the headspace that you want or give you the thing that you need.
Here is how this applies to Yoga. If you are going to use music in your classes from a cd or even live music you should be mindful which music will be playing. Most of the time when I go to Yoga classes the music is just a background sound that looks to me as if it is there just to cover the gaps between the instructions and to kill any possible moment of silence because most of the time people afraid of silence. When we use music in that way it doesn’t bring or add anything to the class, and also ends up as a distraction because most of the time it is disconnected with the class, with the intention, and with the style of practice.
There is a part of Yoga that is called Nada Yoga. Nada is the inaudible cosmic vibration known as the primordial sound. Nada Yoga uses sound as a tool to reach other realms. I mention it just to show that sound and Yoga can be and are related, and all sound affects our psyche, mind, and spirit.
In the west yoga means asanas. So I’ve had to think how to connect sound with the practice of the asanas with a purpose, and with meaning. In an asana class we have first the breath. And all breath has a rhythm, which in most of the practice you try to control and to be aware of. Then there is Om chanting as a tool to connect us, to help us calm down and look inwards. And if music has influence on our mind, body, and soul - the same as does yoga - why not design a class were sound and the practice are part of the same thing, working together. I’ve done such work and after one month people were giving positive feedback,
The instruments I chose were made out of natural elements, most of them “ethnic” instruments such as those used for thousands of years to connect with nature in ritual and ceremony. The very purpose of these instruments is to elevate, heal, and balance us. These instruments were from all around the world. The main effect on people was how helpful music and vibrations were in connecting body and mind to be more focused, and how sound motivated people in certain poses and support them, and how it help in other moments to release and relax, taking them to a meditative state of mind.
Subjective conclusion (from my own experience)
One final thought, about how sound and vibrations modify water, of which there is much supporting research. One of the most famous such experiments was conducted by a Japanese doctor, Masara Amoto, who showed how sound modified water crystals. Through his amazing pictures he shows how crystallized water changes in form depending on the type of music that water is exposed to, or even words containing strong emotions, or chants. The water would have all different types of patterns and forms that through the images one could discern the logic of the designs. And when we remember that our bodies are comprised by 70% water just imagine how much sound affect us.
No matter if you are using live or music from CDs it should be part of the resolve for the class. You will be aware of which kind of music and how this music helps or is related with the type of class that you will teach. Try to not misuse sound because if used in a good and positive way sound can became a very important part of your class. And remember, for centuries many sacred books, like the Vedas or the Sutras, were transmitted through chants or different styles of music. Sound and vibration are tools for the practice of yoga. It helps the mind to stay focused and more aligned with breath. It also helps with the flow of energy and can take students into a whole other realm within themselves and their practice.
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