The Sound of Yoga

by Sharon Gannon |
February, 2002
God is the sound of OM
Bhagavad Gita 10:25

When a goal is established, all faculties can then begin to align themselves toward the realization of that goal. The practices of yoga are all practices that train the faculty of attention, harnessing and directing it toward the goal, that goal being Yoga. Yoga means union with God, the unchanging eternal reality.

Patanjali declares in the Yoga Sutras that the manifesting symbol for God is Om, nadam, supreme music. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Supreme yogic state is achieved when the nadam or cosmic sound can be heard. The aim of all Hatha Yoga practices is to hear this sound.

The practices of yoga should result in a sound body and a sound mind. The true meaning of this goes far beyond the usual understanding of physical and mental health. A truly sound body and mind is tuned to the cosmic vibration. In verse 100 of the fourth chapter in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika we find this sutra: “When one hears the nadam, the quintessence of which is the supreme, the mind then becomes one with that supreme object and is dissolved in it.”

The ability to listen is essential for God-realization. You can develop your ability to disengage from the chitta vrittis (chatter of the mind) and listen beyond thought through developing the meditative method of witnessing. By observing the mental chatter, but not listening to it, the witness allows a deeper listening to occur.

The development of refined listening results in an evolution of hearing. What does it mean to really “hear”? The Sanskrit word shravana means hearing, but it has a fuller meaning than our English word, “hearing.” Shravana is hearing in which the listener has not merely heard, but has fully comprehended what he or she has heard, so that complete learning or knowing is the result. It is like when you use the phrase “I hear you!” to mean “I really know what you mean, I got it, I fully understand.”

The refinement of hearing is essential for the attainment of yoga. One important method for refining your ability to listen, and thus to hear, is to listen to elevating music. Good music defies the thinking mind by going beyond it. Good music has no literal meaning at all. The music itself is its meaning. The spiritual experience, as well, defies the thinking mind and cannot be described in words.

The best music to listen to is music that turns the mind and senses inward toward the Divine source, allowing you to feel through hearing the cosmic vibration.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika continues to inform us:

“Audible sound frequencies influence the mind and body, even subtle frequencies affect underlying layers. When you listen to music it arouses different emotions and states of mind, and affects different areas and centers of the body. Sound is the most powerful tool in pacifying the restless mind.

“The mind, under the sway of the senses, is likened to a raging elephant confined within a garden. Nadam, is likened to a goad, because it draws and directs the mind toward internal absorption and union with its source. Just as music can calm and relax the mind, making one completely forget problems and worries, so absorption in the subtle nadam brings forgetfulness of the external world.” -Chapter 4:91-94 Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The knower of the mystery of sound knows the mystery of the whole universe.” -Sufi Mystic, Hazrat Inayat Khan

The popular interest in Eastern philosophy and yoga entered into western culture via music during the 1960s. Swami Satchidananda gave the opening talk at the 1969 Woodstock festival, where the theme was Peace, Love and Music. Here is an excerpt from that talk:

“Music is the celestial sound and it is sound that controls the entire universe….so let all our actions and all our arts express yoga. Through the sound of music let us find peace.”

With the contribution of the Beatles, especially George Harrison, the Indian musical style was made hip and Sanskrit lyrics along with Indian ragas entered into western popular consciousness. The Beatles were instrumental in turning us all on to things magical and mystical. They practiced yoga and meditation and shared with us their experiences in song. George Harrison developed a lifelong association with his teacher, the Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar.

Indian music is profoundly spiritual. As master musician Ravi Shankar puts it, “Our (Indian) tradition teaches us that sound is God-Nada Brahma. Musical sound and the musical experience are steps to the realization of the Self. We view music as a kind of spiritual discipline that raises one’s inner being to divine peacefulness and bliss.

A Hatha Yoga practice incorporates methods that develop one’s ability to listen. These practices include listening to spiritually uplifting music as well as the recorded voices of saints and insightful teachers during an asana practice. It includes listening to the teacher’s voice for direction and guidance, chanting holy words and sacred mantras, devoting time to the practice of mauna (silent listening), and perhaps the most important practice of all: listening for the scared Om in all sounds.

Only if one has truly heard can one truly say