“Devotion is the simplest form of awareness.
It is most natural. There is nothing more innocent, nothing more divine.
Devotion is not practiced. It is the spontaneous dignity of a purified life.”
~ Silvia Nakkach
"What is Nada Yoga?"
Nada Yoga is the Yoga of Sacred Sound. It can be kirtan. It can be chant. It can be in sanskrit, tibetan, and in english. It can be birdsong, or a breeze. It is our heartbeat.
Nada Yoga can be a direct route to the divine, an experiential path often overlooked by yoga practitioners in the West. What is needed to discover the power and benefits of sacred sound, or nada yoga? Simply an open mind. Curiosity. Courage. Love. Wonder. A desire for higher ground. A thirst for freedom. A knowing. The wish to be free of that knowing. The wish to be free of this very wish.
The power of sound and its capacity for healing and as a tool for the expansion of the mind and heart are the heart of Yoga of The Voice practice. Using ragas in their capacity as medicine melodies for the modern mind invokes the very core of the motivations of ancient lineages such as dhrupad, bön or icaros: sedation, relaxation, transportation, protection, elevation, liberation. Freeing and tuning the voice through singing the Sargam in tandem with study of the body’s subtle energies allows the body itself to become the instrument, not simply the voice. In time, the voice does not become the instrument of practice, but rather the energy body as a whole. The vocal cords the strings, silence the player. Our body like the gourds of the vina, full, resonant, empty. The commitment to an embodied practice of tuning the full spectrum of the voice enables a truly fruitful practice, just as a well constructed instrument finely tuned allows for greater virtuosity.
Raga is the universe expressed. We can only truly express the ragas, and threfore ourselves, though some diligence and devotion. When these two are combined, we find that we are opening wonderful new doors in our lives beyond our previous imaginings. Music moves in us much like the hands of a master on the instrument – it creates an experience, an understanding and a possibility. We can sing ragas to expand on our comprehension of these possibilities, to drink the nectar of devotion from those who have walked the paths before us in ancient lineages, creating trails for us in the dark. Those who have walked Todi, and Kalyan, Bhairav, Kofi… Nada yoga is one mountain, with many approaches. Those who master the ragas dare to tell us where we might put our feet on the paths. They are, indeed our audacious, brave, lovely, terrible, and beautiful Sherpas. With their guidance, we learn to climb music.
Much like modern science is the music theory of the natural universe, so is Sargam a visitor’s guide to ourselves. We sing Sargam, but we sing emptiness. Sargam are footfalls on the path, we cannot say neither that they are ourselves or that they are not, they are movements through space of energy and light of the same, if it must be named at all. What the raags show us is merely the tapestry of our synapses. Through the study of nada yoga we move toward universal truth, universal medicine for the modern mind. But universal truth waits in every moment for us, and does not require approach. Our yearning, beautiful minds sing to remove the cobwebs, to remove the veils, to come closer, and to move farther away. To discover stillness. To dare to ride stillness with the wind in our face, and our face buried in its mane, the musk filling our nostrils and mouth.... to run by moonlight with our hooves in the grass.
Nada Brahma was not created but discovered by man when he chanced to look at the universe reflected back at him in the river while he was looking at himself. Seeing Nada Bhrama, such treasures as Sanskrit and the Sam Veda escaped from his lips, his ears heard raga all around him and his heart beat in taal.
Raga singing in the Northern tradition of Dhrupad and Khyal allows the Western singer to begin to self-tune to inner alignment, both in the physical and the metaphysical sense to the particular will of the singer. The capacity of the singer to experience the asanas of the movements of a raag and nada yoga requires cultivation first and foremost of an ability and deep capacity of deep listening. If a singer can focus on deeply experiencing the sound, they can begin to sing, and can be ‘tuned’ and can learn to ‘self-tune’ as long as they continue a listening practice, as the ear inevitably turns steadily and more deeply inward. Once the listening is turned inward, the listening is applied to the self, both vocally and energetically.
Once the gates to the practice are opened with deep listening, movement of the Sargam as yogic study becomes available to the listener. Once the student begins to understand the relation to the body’s chakra energies, the world of traditional Indian music begin to throw its doors open to the singer, and exploration of the mystical divine through the sound becomes available to the willing participant.
With deep listening and Sargam study present, Devotion provides the motivation to pull the oars on the boat of the practitioner’s practice to deeper waters. Devotion is of course present to some degree to begin a study of this sort at all… greater personal devotion will bring the experience of a greater bounty in one’s musical grove, as constant ‘watering’ will of course provide to any garden that is tended.
Mantras and hymns in nada yoga study must be approached as what they are: divine sound. This means allowing each syllable to dwell with respect and presently in the mind and on its designated or improvised note, sung slowly in study, sound by individual sound, becoming well acquainted to the mouth and mind in piecemeal before knitting phrases and vocal ornaments together.With humility and enthusiasm, we weave ourselves a deeper understanding of the world, our place in it, greater happiness from the inside out, and a better life.
Kevin is a Bay Area-based Sound Healer, embracing an approach to sacred sound and the voice that is supported by a variety of traditions and indigenous practices as well as over 15 years of experience performing for live audiences across the country.