What Is Nada Yoga?


The following is excerpted from The Practice of Nada Yoga: Meditation on the Inner Sacred Sound, published by Inner Traditions, Bear & Company.

One who desires true union of yoga should leave all thinking behind and concentrate with single-pointed attention on the nada. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4.93

You have lost your way. You were walking down a country road. It started to get foggy. It started to get dark. Now you find yourself walking across open country unable to see more than a few feet in front of you. What is the right direction? How will you find your way home?

As it gets darker you worry that you are straying farther and farther from your destination. The fear begins to well up inside of you, “I’m lost and will never get home.” Then you remember your home and those who love you waiting there for you. You feel love in your heart. You let it grow. You find you are no longer fearful.

You hear a sound in the distance. It is not recognizable, but it is familiar. You move toward it, but it is muted as it echoes through the fog. It is difficult to tell exactly where it’s coming from. Uncertain, you continue forward.
Dimly at first, out of the darkness, you begin to see a faint flickering light. As you move toward it, it begins to glow more brightly. It becomes a fixed point of radiant light.

As you get closer you recognize the sound as the voice of someone who loves and cares about you. They are calling your name. As you move toward them, you realize you can see, through the windows of your living room, the light of a fire burning warm and bright in the fireplace. You have found your way home to the love of your family and the comfort of a cozy fire.

Every day we try to find our way through the fog of distractions in the world around us. We search for any sound to show us the way, any light that indicates what direction we should take.

In nada yoga the calling voice is the Inner Sacred Sound.1 The warm, bright fire is the Internal Divine Light. Together they show us the way home and our connection to all things everywhere.

Nada yoga is the yoga of listening. It is a way to turn inward on a journey that may eventually lead you to enlightenment, but at the very least, nada yoga will fill your daily life with comfort, contentment, and what some call bliss. In nada yoga sound is more than what is heard through our ears. It is an internal sound that is not perceived by our external sense organs. By focusing our mind on this internal sound we re-unite our essential self with the eternal and the infinite. In this re-union we find bliss in both the body and the mind.

Nada yoga is ancient. It dates back to the Rig-Veda, a set of Indian verses in Sanskrit. It is one of the world’s oldest religious texts. In it we find the Nada-Bindu Upanishad. It teaches meditation on the nada, the Inner Sacred Sound. Much of that text was later incorporated into the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Nada

Nad is a Sanskrit word, which means to sound, thunder, roar, howl, or cry. Adding an “a” at its end makes it nada, which means sound or tone. Nada also means river or stream. If we put these different meanings together, “stream” and “to sound,” we have the object of meditation in nada yoga, an internal “sound stream.”

Scientists now tell us the entire Universe and everything in it is vibrating. That vibration is the core of what connects and coheres everything. Vibration is sound. Many ancient texts hold this same view. Everything is vibrating. Everything is sound. As Hazrat Inayat Khan says in The Mysticism of Sound and Music: “[T]hat which has created, and which is holding, and in which is held the whole manifestation and the whole cosmos, is one power, and that is vibration.”2

This Universal Vibration is without beginning or end, reaching infinitely from before the Big Bang into the unending future. Even today as the planets move through space, they are vibrating. The sun in the sky is vibrating at millions of different frequencies. The gravitational waves emanating from black holes, expanding and contracting space, are vibrations. Vibration is everywhere and permeates and connects everything. This is Universal Consciousness. Vast, pervasive, interconnected, constant, it is that which enlivens everything. Reverend Jaganath Carrera puts it this way in Inside the Yoga Sutras: “Nada . . . The first vibration out of which all creation manifests. Sound is the first manifestation of the Absolute Brahman. . . .”3

In the same way, each of us is vibrating on many levels. We are vibrating from the subatomic to the cellular level, from the rhythm of our respiration to the pulse of our heart, from the vibrational tension of our muscles to the microelectrical pulses of our nervous system.

There is also within us a vibration, an internal sound. This is the nada. Khan said: “[E]ach person has his note . . . that particular note is expressive of his life’s evolution, expressive of his soul, of the condition of his feelings and of his thoughts.”4

For each person this sound may be different, yet it is all part of the vibration of the Universe. We are all part of the Sacred Sound Stream. The nada is constant, ever present. It is always there, both within us and reaching into the greater Universe. All we have to do is listen.

We seek this stream of sound, patiently waiting for it with joyful anticipation. Once it has arisen in our awareness, it is where we place our attention. This is the practice of nada yoga. We follow the river of sound, which carries us to an ocean of bliss.

Bindu

The meaning of bindu is both physical and metaphysical. The literal translation is “point,” “drop,” or “dot.” It is generally understood to mean “seed” point or point of concentration of power.

The most widely known bindu is the dot over the Om symbol. It indicates the silent echo out of which the sound of Om will arise again.

A yantra is a geometric visual symbol used in tantric meditation and astrology. In most yantras there is a bindu. It is the center point. It is the place from which the yantra begins. A circle is drawn with a string or a tool with the bindu at its center. It is also the center point of meditation on the yantra, an entryway into Universal Consciousness.

Bindu is also the potential for creation. It is the point at which the capacity for the unmanifest to become manifest is realized. It is a nucleus or “egg” where prana and consciousness, Shakti and Shiva, space and time, seed and ovum come together: the rejoining of these halves into a whole causing the surge of creation.
There are many opinions as to exactly where in the human body the bindu physically resides. Hindu priests, though their heads are shaved, have one small patch of hair at the top of the back of their heads. In paintings of ancient yogis, their hair is often in a topknot. Both of these are outward physical expressions of the internal bindu.

Many spiritual texts site the bindu between the eyebrows or behind the center of the forehead. Others place it deep in the heart. Some texts also equate it with the uvula, the “bell” that hangs from the soft palate at the back of the mouth. Some believe it is the pineal gland, which is in the center of the brain at the top of the brain stem.
Tibetan Buddhists believe there are three drops: one at the crown of the head, one at the heart, and one at the navel.

At the time of the collation of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, bindu also meant “light” or “radiant point.” The Goraksha Paddhati refers to that light as the Nila Bindu, “the blue dot.” It states that “Focusing between the brows will manifest the Nila Bindu.” Swami Muktananda, guru of siddha yoga, called this the “Blue Pearl,” and talked about its qualities: “The blue light is the light of all lights. . . . The blue light is the light that illuminates the mind, that illuminates everything.”5

As we progress into nada yoga, we find that the bindu as light becomes as important as the sound itself. The bindu is a portal through which we find the nada and reconnect our individual consciousness with Universal Consciousness.

Yoga

Here in the West, when we think of yoga, we usually think of hatha yoga, the practice of a series of physical postures. There are other forms of yoga that are not physical practices.
•    Karma yoga, the yoga of action through helping others.
•    Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion through ritual and chant.
•    Jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge through education and thought.
•    Raja yoga, the yoga of meditation by turning the mind inward.

To “yoke,” “join,” “attach,” “harness” are literal translations of the Sanskrit word yoga. In its philosophical sense, yoga means to join in union, to “become one with.” It is the realization of non-dualism, where the illusion of separation between “I” and the rest of the Universe is removed so we recognize them as one. This concept can be distilled down to its essence in the Vedantic phrase Tat tvam asi, “You are that.” This means your consciousness and the Universal Consciousness are one and the same: no difference, no division.
With the practice of nada yoga, we take away the illusion that we are all separate. By following the radiance of the Divine Light and the vibration of the Sacred Sound, we strive to enter into union (yoga) and realize the blissful reconnection of our consciousness with the all-encompassing Universal Consciousness.

Practice Makes Perfect

Through listening to the nada for fifteen days the yogi overcomes all obstacles and feels blissful. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4.83

Why Practice Nada Yoga? The practice of nada yoga is not complex or complicated. It is amazingly simple. It is the act of listening, initially externally and eventually internally.

What keeps us from listening? The distractions offered up by our mind with blinding speed and deafening variety, our mind chatter. Our monkey mind jumps from thought to thought: What will I have for breakfast? . . . That was a nice meal I had with . . . I wonder if they got that job . . . Am I going to lose my job? . . . Do I have my wallet? . . . It sure cost a lot to fix my car . . . Ohh, my foot fell asleep . . . It would be nice to take a nap . . . and on and on.

We often spend so much time in our heads worrying, hoping, remembering, and planning that sometimes we miss out on life going on around us. As Mark Twain said, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened!”
So, the initial step is learning to listen without interrupting ourselves. This is the single most important premise of this practice: if we are actively listening, we can’t be talking, even inside our heads. As we move through the four levels of sound, we will learn how to focus our mind on listening so that we alleviate distraction.

Having cleared away the mind chatter, we then can find union with the nada. A quiet mind is a peaceful mind. A peaceful mind is a place where joy and bliss naturally arise.

The practice of nada yoga is quickly and easily learned. Its rewarding, uplifting benefits are experienced from the very beginning. Once the basics are mastered, we can carry them with us throughout our day and use them to bring us into the present moment; we can use them to live the life we want to live.

With regular daily practice, in a relatively short time, we can experience deep levels of meditation that will bring comfort, calm, and contentment to our daily life. We experience being part of something larger than ourselves. We come to understand that we are one and the same with the Universe. We are not only connected to, but are one with, all things everywhere.

Nada yoga is not an intellectual pursuit. It is an experiential practice. The discoveries we make are through doing the practice, rather than thinking about it. As my teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois used to say: “Practice! Practice! Practice!” “Ninety-nine percent practice, one percent theory.” “Do your practice and all is coming.” Although he was teaching ashtanga yoga, the very same principle applies to nada yoga as well.

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Teaser image by tomas sobek, courtesy of Creative Commons license.